Where I Want to Be

Monday, June 29, 2015

Virginia-grown Fuggles and Chinook Hops @hawksbillhops

The Fuggles have already formed cones.
During my weekly status walk of Hawksbill Hop Yards I went deep into the yard to check out all of the varieties - we're growing Cascade, Chinook, Columbus/CTZ, Fuggles, and Goldings.  We're looking pretty good all around, with the Cascades ready to deliver a solid yield, and the Golding lagging behind the others.

But I was pleasantly surprised over on the Fuggles row (we have 60 plants), and the Chinook rows (120 plants).  Just like with the Cascades, there were burrs growing on the Chinook, but the Fuggles have already set cones.

I do not expect a commercial yield from the Fuggles this year, and I'm planning to use them in my own home brews this fall - a series of honey porters that will use these hops and local honeys from a friend in Bethesda and two others in Luray.

Plenty of burrs on the Chinook!
More about one of the honeys in the next post, but the Bethesda variety will come from a work friend's backyard hive - I'm getting 2 pounds from there - and a friend in Luray who has supplied a nice woodland style to me in the past for use in this beer.  I'm looking forward to brewing again, and honey porter is my signature style.

I took a photo of the most vigorous Chinook plant.  About a quarter of them have reached the top cable, but most of them are at least over 10 feet.  In this case, we have two or three bines that are intertwined on the rope, and it is well-leafed and pushing out a lot of cones.

This variety is well-suited to IPA styles, and is readily identified in Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas (check this link!) - it's described as spicy-piney.  It's a high-alpha variety with decent aroma properties.

From the looks of things, we'll have 20 pounds of wet Chinook for brewers looking to do a harvest ale with this variety.  That's something to look forward to!

More Virginia Hops - Cascades @hawksbillhops

We finally had a break from the rain on Saturday afternoon - David says we got two inches, and I wouldn't be surprised.  In any case, with sunshine finally breaking through, I took a drive over to the hop yards to have a look around and see how things were going.  This post is about the Cascade bines, but I've got two more posts going up from the visit following this one.

We put in 300 Cascade (out of 680 plants total).  It is the variety we'll have the most of, and we chose it specifically for it's popularity in American ales.  We had a great success rate of over 90% on the bines, and they are truly the high-achievers in the yard, with half of them approaching or surpassing the 16 foot cable at the top of the trellis!

The lore is that hops grow vertically until the Equinox, which was June 21, and then they start branching out laterally.  That's exactly what we're seeing in the yard, although some of the bines are still looking for someplace to go up.  Instead, they'll probably follow the cables and keep the main bines moving that way.

When they are mature, these plants will yield anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds of wet hops.  We'll be able to support any interested nearby breweries that are planning harvest ales with these (leave a comment if you're interested!).

We'll dry what isn't taken wet, which will reduce the weight to between a half to full pound per plant.  Conservatively, the first year plants will yield from 10% to 20% of what a mature plant produces, so I estimated a yield of from 60 to 100 pounds wet (it takes about 6 pounds per barrel for a harvest ale), and between 15 and 25 pounds dried.

A closer look at the photos will show that the plants are not only branching, but producing "burrs" - the early stage of the flowers, or cones, which is what we'll harvest.  We've already gotten to work figuring out our harvest and processing plans for the hops - we welcome inquiries from anyone who is interested in "amazing" Virginia-grown hops!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Weekly Check-in @hawksbillhops

At Public House Produce, David and the team are right in the middle of busy times - they picked 160 pounds of cauliflower yesterday and the pick-up for CSA shares was on tap.  He still found time to make some rounds in Hawksbill Hop Yards and send along some status photos, which I'm sharing here in this post.

After we built the one acre trellis earlier in the spring, we had a volunteer event to plant 680 rhizomes in five main varieties - Cascade, Chinook, CTZ, Fuggles, and Goldings.  In an earlier post, we had verified a 95% success rate with these plantings, which had left 120 or so fills for next year, when we plan to expand to a second acre and add another 800 plants.

We got about 7 weeks of vertical growth from the first-year rhizomes based on the time between our 2 May planting and the equinox on June 21.  I was anxious to see how much vertical growth we'd get - so that's the main reason for David's photos yesterday.

I wasn't disappointed: the first photo shows that the Cascades have proven as robust as their reputation - quite a few of them have reached the top cable of the trellis, approaching 16 feet tall.  Some of them are even looking for places to go from there - they still want to climb, and in general we are starting to see good branching.  On Saturday I will walk the yard to see how many of the plants are starting cones.

The second photo shows some highlights of the CTZ, Fuggles, and Goldings.  The CTZ are getting bushy - it's as if they worked on pushing out leaves and branches rather than reaching for the top of the trellis.  From the looks of the bine in the photo, with all of those burrs turning into cones soon, this may be the first variety we harvest!

The Fuggles is also a high achiever, being the first variety to break ground and also the first to four feet tall.  It looks like we have a few of them up to 10 feet, so we've had a solid establishment growing season.  I'll keep an eye on them to see what kind of harvest to expect, although at this point I don't foresee a commercial yield from them.

Finally, there is the Goldings - I'm happy to see a thriving bine here, after hearing from so many hobby growers and other Virginia farmers that they just don't do well here.  We have 60 of them, and we'll double that next year.  It is such a versatile hop and there isn't a lot of the variety in Virginia, so there is an opportunity with this one to offer something unique at quantity for some of the brewers who are focused on English styles.

That's it for the week - on Saturday I'm walking the yards to have a look at where we have cones and get a better sense of potential yields.  We'll follow that with one last outreach post to brewers - and then start planning the harvest!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Talking Virginia Hops - @hawksbillhops @novabrewfest

Our booth featured the co-op's new logo.
Last weekend I joined two other growers – Nat from Highline Hops and Gordon from Massanutten Hops, at the NOVA Brewfest.  We represented the Old Dominion Hops Co-op and spent two days talking to brewers, home brewers and the general public about hops, wet hops, and in general, why locally sourced beer is better for Virginians.  We figure our outreach had an impact on up to 1,000 people at the booth, and in the sponsor tent where “Cooking with Beer” was a featured demonstration program. 
Some good crowds at the fest.
These were good results for the co-op, and for the three growers involved.  The feedback we’ve received confirms that there will be continued outreach about our growing industry – both from the co-op and other growers.  I’m looking forward to that – first, though, we’re getting close to harvest, and that’s a growing priority. 

Hawksbill Hop Yards had a
new banner on display.
Here are a few highlight photos from the fest – tomorrow’s post will be the weekly check-in at the hop yards!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dottie's - a Souvenir

We open the mailbox yesterday and found this great surprise - two cups from Dottie's True Blue Cafe in San Francisco, a gift from our friend Brian who lives there.  They're a pretty classic shape and will hold a generous portion, just like they would if you were visiting in person.

They'll make me wish I was headed out for another visit every time I use one of them.

Brian's a big fan of Dottie's, as you'd easily see from his 67 posts and counting that mention the place on his "Breakfast at Epiphany" blog, linked in the right hand column.  In fact, he visited there just last month - the post from that visit is linked here.

I've visited a couple of time the last few years, and have been to Dottie's twice - click the label at the end of this post for links to those visits.  I stood in line both time, first at the charming original location, and again at the more upscale location they've relocated to.

The lines don't matter though - you can't go wrong with Dottie's, whether you're ordering off the menu or off of the specials board.  By the way, here is the link to the restaurant:  Oh wait, there isn't one.  You can find it easily enough on your favorite restaurant review site.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Weekly Check-in @hawksbillhops

 Last week, David sent me a photo of one of the Cascade bines that had climbed to 14 feet - nearly the top of our trellis at Hawksbill Hops (due to some slack in the cables, the top height ranges from 15 to 16 feet).  He told me that he thought we might be at the top by Friday or Saturday, so I made a point of stopping by to have a look on Saturday afternoon, inviting Dan along to check things out.  

This may or may not be the same Cascade, but it was within an inch of the cable.  Since we were planning to be there about an hour, I told him we needed to be sure and take a look when we were leaving, in case this one had made it all the way up over the course of that hour.  Also, where last week there was only one plant that was taller than me, somewhere between an quarter and a third of the yards - almost all varieties, have gotten over 7 feet, and there are many that have reached 8 or 9 feet.

In the earlier photo from David, I noticed that the plant had begun branching already - this happens as the vertical growth begins to slow, and the plant starts filling out with side branches.  He'd sent a photo of a Chinook that was showing this phenomenon, and looking closely at it, I noticed it also had "burrs" - this is the start of cones.  

My thinking on this was that it seems early for the first year plants to be setting cones, and it had me very worried:  I am counting on a harvest that begins in mid-July and later, and here the plants are maybe two or three weeks early!  We're totally not set up for it!

I did the hop yards tour and I found a lot more branching, which is great.  In our survey, we didn't find a whole lot of burring just yet, although there is some - this is a Chinook bine that has five or six burrs on a branch.  The burrs still have to flesh out to become cones, and then there is a short period of time when the cones ripen - filling with lupulin, which is the magical ingredient they provide to beer.  

From the looks of things, I think we are still a month of and maybe longer before Hawksbill Hops is ready for harvest.  So that was a relief!

As we were leaving, we walked back over to the 15-foot Cascade.  Honestly, I couldn't tell if it had grown at all during that hour - but I bet it did!