‘Look out’ Deer About

deer in corn ad 2


Harvest is well underway but with deer about, although everything looks fine and dandy, all is not quite as it appears from the ground. Once on a combine harvester, you are above the crop and can see the many trails left by deer wandering around.   Corn ears are eaten and large areas can be trampled and squashed where they lay down with yields being adversely affected.

PicMonkey Collage (6)Their present large numbers are a scourge for growers and woodland alike.   Fruit trees are damaged as the deer go after the ripening fruit.  Groups of deer roam freely between different farms at will, thereby making a mockery of Stock Movement Records on local farms.

While we might all agree they are truly beautiful creatures,  when there are too many in any one area they become vermin.  On a serious health note with more deer about the risk of can catching Lymes Disease from the tics they carry increases too.

I don’t think they can like the taste of hops,  damage in the hop gardens seems to be reserved for generally trashing plants. One plant or a small area will appear to be singled out then destroyed by butting and dancing around and on them.  Often you will only find the remnants of bines and broken strings all in a mushy heap around the hop hill. Occasionally if a stag is surprised he will take off, his antlers catching and breaking hop strings as he goes.


deer about. butted hops plant

inside an Allaeys hop machine

Hop Harvester

The last major job this year on the Allaeys hop harvester was cleaning the lateral picking fingers and replacing any that were missing. It was one of those ‘just jobs’ which ended up taking days to complete.

Any hop harvester has two basic functions, to pick and then clean the crop. At the front of this Allaeys hop picking machine are sets of horizontal rotors which strip the whole hop bines as they are pulled between them via a track. The Allaeys hop machine is unusual with this horizontal system, most hop picking machines have vertical rotors to pick.  Below looking into the mouth of the machine.
the mouth of the picking mahcineAfter passing through these first pairs of picking rotors where the bines are stripped of everything, you are left with a mix of some single hops but mostly a mass of laterals and small bunches. Single hops will drop through the chain belt onto a canvas conveyor belt below, whilst the laterals (branches) and bunches all still need be picked. These  are conveyed  on a chain link belt along to the lateral picker.

Below inside the beating heart of the Allaeys hop machine, not an easy workspace is an understatement.PicMonkey Collage (9)The lateral picker like the main picker section is also horizontal, and this lateral picker lies behind the first main rotary pickers. This lateral picker comprises of a static frame with a set of 4 fixed bars of picking fingers, above a rotor with 8 bars of picking fingers, the lateral is fed through between the static and rotary bars.

Below are the fingers and bars before renovation.lateral picking fingers before cleaning

Below from top left clockwise are 1 – spare fingers, 2 – the static frame all ready to go back inside the hop harvester, 3 – the static frame being slid back into the main hop picking machine on its rails and 4 – a close up of the replaced fingers to show how they are joined by springs and fixed with a metal bar bolted to the wooden bar.  These wooden bars are then bolted to the metal rotor.hop machine, hop harvester

These actual picking fingers or ‘midnight’ fingers (I have no idea why they are known by this name) are made of rotor modssteel wire and as they do the grunt of the work, they can take a pounding especially with mature hops, hence this year they needed a general service, cleaned of pollen build up and any missing fingers replaced. The static top frame slides out easily enough on rails but to get the rotor out of the machine was easier said than done! As always with older hop picking machines a few modifications have been made – one shown right – this time to make it easier to remove these bars individually in the future, rather than taking out the whole rotor assembly. Now it is done it all looks really good and we can’t wait to see how it picks the hops.  Below the renovated lateral picking bars ready for reassemby

renovated picking finger bars

For anyone interested after the picking, the cleaning is done in two sections by a combination of fans and belts, hopefully at the end you will have a beautiful clean sample of single hop cones. Essentially large fans blow out the leaf and pimply rubber belts do the final cleaning. The basic principal of the belts is that they run at approximately 45 degree angle, the whole hop cones roll down onto a conveyor and the strig and any remaining bits of leaf stick onto the pimply rubber thereby being moved out of the machine as waste. By the end you have two conveyors one with the clean hops ready to be dried and the other with the unwanted plant waste. The coir string used for the hops to climb up is also a plant product, therefore it will naturally biodegrade along with the hop plant waste.

It is tempting fate of course, but this is definitely the last ‘planned’ servicing job for this year! But should we ever feel complacent, I always imagine Willie Wonka around a corner ready to go ‘Surprise’ and throwing a new challenge into the ring !!

I saw this portable hop machine on the internet, it uses rubber picking fingers instead of the usual metal wire ‘V’ ones.  It would be really interesting to see it in real life.

This British Pathe film from 1950 shows a hop harvester working.


Hop Burr

This time of year, when the hop burr forms then morphs  into young hops, is really satisfying.  It’s always good to see the first young hops which are usually Phoenix, but this year these have been beaten by the aptly named July Hop, with Northern Brewer a close runner up. But nature has had the last laugh as I did a cross to trial a new hop, selecting the 4 strongest seedlings to plant out last winter for a final selection this year and all 4 have now shown themselves to be male hops!  Ho hum, it’s back to square one!

As well as being an exciting time for any grower, the appearance of the hop burr also gives us a more accurate idea of a start date for hop picking, the saying goes ‘Three weeks in burr, Three weeks in hop’.

Below the burr of the 4 varieties offered as prizes in our draw earlier this year.  Clockwise from the top left is First Gold, Bullion, Chinook then the Northern Brewer shown as both burr and young hops.

hop burr


The July Hop and Keyworth Early taken on 24th July

PicMonkey Collage (2)

Now it is time to toast the first of this new seasons hops with a very special delivery brought to us this week from Cornwall!  Cheers and a big thank you to Lorna and Paul.

beer in the sun


Colours of June

The Coming out Ball for English gardens has to be celebrated in June and the disheveled abundance off massed old fashioned roses are for me are the Queens of this Ball. Quite simply June belongs to the rose, therefore I have contained the colours of June to these old fashioned roses. Their romantic names and fascinating histories beautifully match with their mixed scents and colours – from Damasks to Moss roses, and individual varieties like the dusky Gallica Cardinal de Richelieu, Rosa Mundi, Veilchenblau, Madame Isaac Pereire, Reine des Violettes, Tour de Malakoff is to name but a few. Many of the darker ones fade gloriously into wonderful purple and greyish hues which look perfect with clematis or geraniums rambling daintily through them. Really this month the only thing to do is enjoy them whilst they are at their best.

PicMonkey Collage (2)

Hop Picking Machine

In any spare moments throughout the summer, work is continually ongoing to get hop picking machines ready for harvest in September.  Hop picking machines are a dream for anyone who likes a machine.  They are the real deal, all belts, chains, cogs, fans and picking bars, each section moving in synchrony with each other section, producing a wonderful cacophony of different noises.  They are proper boys toys, to me any hop picking machine looks like it would be more suitably situated in some fantasy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory type setting and I am enchanted by this little picking machine.

allaeys 2

I have a Belgium Allaeys, which was delivered with great care by its previous owners 3 years ago.  Obviously it has always been well loved.  It is  red, compact, very beautiful, and ingeniously designed. Each section is able to be independently adjusted, it is really very clever. This Allaeys does the same job of picking and cleaning hops, but it is just neater, more compact and much cuter looking than the normal Bruff I am used to.  The Allaeys machines are no longer available as such, they were taken over by the German company Wolf who still manufacture similarly designed hop picking machines.

hop picking machineMy husband and his friend Bas are doing the work, they seem happy to have me out of the way while the work is going on – I am a little concerned they are getting a tad over possessive! But the new belts due to go on next are heavy and will probably be awkward to fit, so I am happy this time round to deliver tea and cake.

hop picking machine

Belgium not only the built the Allaeys hop machines but they also hold their triennial Hop and Beer Festival at Poperinge. Here they celebrate their famous national beers as well as their hop growing.

We have only been to Belgium once, when we spent a long weekend in Bruges.
This beautiful medieval city is a prefect size to explore on foot.  Whilst in Belgium we  naturally had to try a beer, so on one of our strolls out we stopped at a bar where we were handed an A4 tome with a solid wood cover. I thought it must be a menu, well it was but but not for food, the menu was solely for the beers they served. Each A4 page described a single beer, listing the malt and hops used, the flavours were described in detail and the original gravity given, quite astonishing. Clearly Belgium takes its beers very very seriously, far more so than I had imagined and we were literally spoilt for choice.  So much choice made it very hard to decide on one, very hard but fun.  It is definitly a place to linger and take time to savour your drink. They brew over 1000 beers  in Belgium, many of which are their trappist brews. Not only a staggering choice of beer is served but it seems each has in its own special glass – amazing.

These tours are seriously tempting and another reason to book another trip to Belgium asp –

If you live near Canterbury, La Trappiste stock many Belgium beers and  have regular Belgium beer tasting evenings.

Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus gives insights into the history of brewing in Belgium

Another example of a completely eccentric machine was sent to us recently by friends and worth sharing.  This Wintergatan  Marble Machine is marvellously ingenious but delightfully a bit bonkers too.  This invention is a musical instrument built using 2000 marbles.










original gravity hop apron. original gravity competition, hop fabrics, BBQ apron

Original Gravity Competition


original gravity hop apron. original gravity competition, hop fabrics, BBQ apron

If you have not already discovered Original Gravity Magazine and you like beer then do check it out quick sticks. This magazine is a perfect read for ‘all things beer’.

In the latest Issue the lovely people at Original Gravity Magazine  have kindly previewed my hop fabrics for their ‘Perfect 10’ column.

In conjunction with the team at Original Gravity you can enter our free draw to win the unique ‘Hop’ Apron pictured above, perfect for the Kitchen or Barbecue!  Just flick through to Page 8 to find the article and the link you will need to enter our free competition.

All you need to do is fill in your details on the form that pops up and click the Enter Now button to enter the Original Gravity competition to win our fantastic ‘Hop’ Apron. This will be drawn on 14th July and the winner will be notified by email. Good Luck to everyone who enters.

hop decorated pottery, hop decorated pattern flagons, hop decorated ware, hop decorated jugs

Hop Decorated Pottery

hop decorated potteryClaudine Cecil is a potter living in the High Weald of Sussex where she makes hop decorated pottery.  Her work is very diverse, she crafts items for a wide variety events which include Druid, Viking and Medieval festivals. Amongst my favourite pottery in this eclectic range of goods, is the  slip ware, in particular Claudine’s beautiful medieval styled encaustic tiles.    Naturally amongst these favourites is her hop ware! This hop decorated pottery comes in a selection of jugs, flagons, mugs, plaques and bowls, some of which are pictured below. Claudine takes commissions, but all orders need to be collected in person. Claudine can be contacted on  –  01435 883388

ale jug



hop decorated pottery bowl



hop decorated pottery

Seconding at Hop Training

I have been asked to explain exactly what ‘seconding’ at hop training is.  During hop training each year you will train each hop plant at least 3 times, normally starting in mid April and working throughout May until early in June. For ‘hop training’, ‘hop twiddling’ or even on occasion ‘hop tying’, these three visits per plant are called, rather unimaginatively, firsting, seconding, then finally heading.

First things first, because when hops are done well the first time round this really does make a difference when you go back over them the second time around. The exception to only firsting once is for young hop plants in their first year after planting as setts. We will walk over these as many times as necessary to put up all the bines they produce as soon as these are long enough to reach the strings. The young plants need everything up in order to make as strong a root system as they can for the following year. It takes 3 years from planting before you get a commercially viable crop off any new planting, hence this extra care and attention to detail is important to establish them well.  A newly planted area is a commitment for any grower.  Below is a garden due to be firsted.

 hops ready to be firstedand a before and after of the same hop which has been twiddled for the first time round.  It has been thinned right down to 6 bines and the rest that have been pulled out from around the bottom are left next to the plant where they will naturally disintegrate.
firsting Collage

As soon as the bines have grown above  the banding strings then seconding can take place.  At this stage they are roughly between 6 and 8 foot high.  Basically seconding at hop training is simply tidying the hops up and making sure there are no bare strings or strings that have more than there fair share of bines.  They are still easy to reach therefore they can be moved without kinking or breaking them.  Below left is a hop waiting to be seconded, then the hops done in the centre and right is the garden immediately after it was completed.  Even so in  the picture on the right, you can see the heads immediately favouring the left side of the photograph and there was only the slightest of breezes.

seconding Collage

Each plant should have its correct number of bines e.g. 2 per string so if lots more have gone up you can cull out these extra bines at this stage too.  If there are 3 bines up one string and an empty string next to it, you  simply unwind one of them, cross it back over then twist it up the empty string a couple of turns so it is nicely secured. The hop strings  are naturally closer to each other below the banding, which makes it easier for bines to crossover between one another.  This would all be fine if they did it evenly, but generally if there has been a prevailing breeze they will tend toward one side of the plant.


It is the easiest and quickest stage of hop training because you are walking along and working at a comfortable height you can cover the ground quite quickly. Gloves are generally not necessary now because you are no longer pulling out the bottoms, this in itself makes it pleasanter on a hot day. The other contrary thing they can do is to get themselves trapped.  Either in a loop of the string or between the another bine and the string, the trapped head will stay that way and as the plant keeps following the sun it will eventually screw its head right off.   Below is  a rescued bine before and after,  it has not been put up the string as it will be brittle, so best left for now to go up on its own or if not it can be dealt with next time around.  We are always careful not to break a head, by seconding there are no replacements to be had.   Cold or windy weather make a difference to the brittleness of the bines and there are varietal differences too.  If a head gets broken, you need to pinch out one of the side buds to allow the other to take over as the new leader.  This helps, but a bine with a broken head wants to put all it laterals out and grow bushy like a christmas tree, it will not grow as well as one with its original head still on.

trapped head Collage

As with most hop work, numbers of people are needed. It is not hard physically but if you had for example 10 people doing one row each, them they move along to the next 10 rows, it is satisfying to see what you have done at the end of each day. Contrarily a single person hardly seems to touch a hop garden. Hops have always been like this, it requires people about when any seasonal job needs to be done. With so much hand work the ‘man hours’  required throughout the year really add up, this is one of several reasons which make hops such a high cost crop to grow and in turn expensive for the home brewer to buy.

After seconding at hop training all fingers are kept tightly crossed for quiet weather, you definitely don’t want high winds to undo everything you have just done. Still, warm weather is ideal to get them up and over the top wires as quickly as possible, once over the top they are safe from being blown off the strings and we can all breath a sigh of relief. If that happens then minimal heading with twiddling sticks  will be required – phew.