Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hops Spring Update

We've had a surprisingly warm Spring here so far. Spring this year is five weeks earlier than last year, according to another Lockport farmer. That means that everything has started to bloom and sprout early. Including the hops. So, we get to give you an update on the hops a whole month earlier than we planned!
Those aren't asparagus, they're hops!
The first shoots have already sprouted and are about 5-6 inches tall. Early spring also means that we have to start preparing and maintaining the hopsyard a whole month earlier, too. Ugh, we did not think we'd have to weed in March. Today was a good a day as any to get out there. We pulled out mostly dandelions, a type of knotweed, grasses, and a few thistles and little maple saplings rooted in the mushroom compost after the whirlygigs landed in the fall. We got the two rows of Cascades weeded and cleaned out before it got too rainy.
Carefully weeding and not breaking grow tips
The weeding chore was brightened up by an exciting discovery. When we lifted up the fabric row covers, we found lots of worm castings hiding underneath. This means that the soil has maintained good organic matter! Hops typically require a lot of nitrogen. We need to make sure the soil contains enough for the mature bines. We're currently searching for sources of manure and straw to add more. In our seed order this year, we purchased Sweet Clover as a cover crop that we'll put in between the rows, which will help. Seeing those wormies and their byproduct was a welcome sign.

The Growth Plan
As exhilarating as it is to see the tender shoots pop up, most hop farmers prune back the first shoots. According to some research done at Oregon State University that we learned at the 2011 Fall Hops Conference, two-three strongest shoots from the second growth may be less prone to mildews than first shoots. Pruning the first shoots that come up between March and May and then training the strongest shoots from the second growth will help regulate the maturation time of cones. Since we'll probably have a few more frosts between now and May, including one frost on Monday night, we'll clip back these first shoots and wait for the May shoots. Except for a few we'll save to eat. People say they taste like asparagus and are excellent pickled or as an ingredient in Spanish paella dishes!

The Expansion Plan 
The hopsyard is going to double in size this year. Throughout fall and winter, we cleared the overgrowth surrounding (and shading) the yard. This will make way for five more rows of hops and have the size up to 3/4 acre. We selected and felled 25 more pole trees for the trellis system. In the winter, we ordered 150 more rhizomes through NeHA. So, the hopsyard will have:
  • 48 Centennial
  • 48 Cascade
  • 24 Fuggle
  • 32 Nugget
  • 32 Chinook
  • 32 Willamette
  • A few each of Magnum and Golding
We took out the Perles that we planted last year. In the end, we conceded that the chipmunks won. Every time we planted the Perle rhizomes in the ground, we'd return the next morning to find the rhizomes dug up and thrown next to the hole. Not chewed, just dug up. We even saw a chipmunk run from the hopsyard back to the packing shed. Eventually, the rhizomes dried up from all the exposure. Darn varmints.

In April, we'll also trench a drainage ditch around the hopsyard, so that rainwater runoff drains away from the hops rows. We also will level out the land where we had dug emergency trenches last Spring to prevent complete flooding.

An Experiment Plan
Hop clipping under grow lights
This post will wrap up with Farmer Rich's latest experiment. For more Fuggles, he is starting new ones from this year's clippings. If we can start our own, it would guarantee disease-free clones and bines we know are vigorous. It might be the start of a whole new venture.


  1. I barely understood a word of that, but I'm glad things are going well. *Smile*
    Our spring weather here is also unusually early. I hope my flowers don't get frosted back unexpectedly.

  2. Awesome pics and information.... I'll be cutting back my first growth now I guess. For the "experiment" - is Rich using rooting hormone, or is he simply sticking the cuttings into potting soil and keeping it well watered?