Monday, August 1, 2011

With a Litle Help from Our Friends

Welcome to the hops jungle
Helping friends made it possible
In the last three weeks, we finally completed construction of the hops trellis system. We could not have done it without the huge help from our friends and family. They even said they had fun sweating in the afternoon sun, pushing and pulling heavy 21’ poles into place. Thanks to them, our hops are happy climbing up and up and up!

Happy hops farmers  
The trellis system design and construction plan are Rich’s brainchild. Here is how we planned ours, in case you ever get the wild hair to do one. (Don’t bother, just get your hops from us!)

Used a 10-inch auger to dig holes
Rich looked at several hops farms to see how trellises were designed, including Leavy Farms in Oregon and Foothills Farms here in New York. Trellises have some structural requirements. Hops are large climbing vines, so the trellis support poles must be 15-21 feet tall and able to support the weight of 1,000 lbs. steel cables and hops and withstand wind and weather. The hops are planted in rows with 4 feet between plant mounds and at least 8 feet between rows so you can get a tractor or truck between them for spraying and harvesting. Each plant needs a line to climb up that is attached to the support wire above (coconut fiber rope, called coir, is the most popular). The trellis becomes a grid of poles connected by cables. It also needs an irrigation system because hops love water.
Poles were cut from woodlot

There is no one way to build a hops trellis. Each is unique to its setting. Ours needed to fit into the space allotted and be made with the stuff we had on hand. Our system needed to fit 110 plants in an area about 75x115 feet. Each of the seven varieties needed its own row to avoid confusion. Rich designed (and redesigned) the system into sections, so it could be expanded or dismantled. To keep setup costs low, we cleared a test field and cut our own poles from the straightest hardwood trees we could find in the woodlot.

Here’s Our Trellis Project Plan

Made cable loops from old garden hose
Step 1: Cut support poles 21’ for 3’ below ground and 18’ above; cut top ends at an angle for rain/snow run-off, painted the ends with deck sealant to prevent rotting and capped them with aluminum to extend the lifespan, then added a large hook 6” from the top of each pole to support the cable.

Step 2: Dug 22 holes 3 feet deep, 1 foot wide; used an auger for most and our hands to dig out the rocks.

Step 3: Measured and cut cables for each section between poles. Used 1,000 feet of 3/16-inch galvaniz ed cable for the main support lines , and 800 feet of 1/8-inch cable for the lateral support lines (so the trellis doesn’t sail away in a storm).
Poles ready to raise for each row

Step 4: Looped the ends of each section of cable, lined them with old garden hose, and clamped each cable end loop with two wire clamps. These cable sections are looped over poles and rest on the hooks. Instead of having one long cable weighing down the length of the row, the cable sections make it easy to lift off the poles when harvesting the hops vines, and add or remove sections of trellis.

Used two clamps for each loop
Step 5: After poles were raised (see below) and cables looped, we anchored the ends of the cables of both the main rows and lateral rows (22 in all) with earth anchors and tightened the cables to secure the poles in place.

Step 6: Strung the coir, secured with W-clips in each mound and trained the vines, wrapping them clockwise around the coir to follow the sun.
The Great Trellis Raising

Brace to help raise poles
The most daunting part of this whole process was raising the really heavy, long poles (essentially tree trunks). We were fortunate to have friends who were willing to help us and we ended up doing it by hand, using the tractor only to drag the poles into place and carry dirt to each hole. Here is how we raised the poles:

Rich designed and built a brace that was placed into the 3-foot hole. It acted as a pivot for the pole to slide down and also to prevent the sides of the hole from collapsing.

Group effort to raise poles
We had a good system going with loops and pulleys (and brute strength). The base of the pole was positioned against the brace in the hole. Rope was looped around the top of the pole held by someone beside the brace. Another rope was looped around the middle of the pole, two other people stood on either side, holding the ends and guiding the pole to prevent it from swaying to either side. A fourth person stood near the top of the pole, he lifted the end of the pole above his head and walked down the length of it, pushing up with his hands, raising it upward, while everyone else pulled on the ropes. We got pretty good at this and could raise a pole in about 13 seconds – check out the 13-second video!

Hanging the coir twine
Finally, the pole was straightened in the hole to align the hooks and then pond mud was packed around the base. (We didn’t use concrete to set the poles, so we can remove them, if needed.)

In the end, we all sat back and enjoyed a cold adult beverage while surveying our job well done.Back in March, we rookie farmers naively thought that we could just construct the trellis one week and plant the hops the next week and be done with that. As with most big projects, the actual process took us 1,000 more steps and four months longer. And we’re not done yet. Our next project is to install drip irrigation. Thankfully, family in town has offered to help. We hope to get that done before the hops are ready to harvest!

Completed hops trellis


  1. Great Job guys!!! Wish I could come and help you with something.

  2. Thanks, I wish you could come help, too, Selvan! You and Rich could design energy-efficient equipment and tools.

  3. I love the outcome of your project. It looks perfect. This hops trellis is well made. Any update about the drip irrigation? I look forward to seeing the completed project.

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