It is hop twiddling time once again in the hop gardens of England and as always a lovely time of year as the countryside greens up and pings back into life. The cooler weather has slowed down this growth, hence we are well on top of the hop twiddling (or hop training as it is also known). This can change rapidly when the temperature rises, then the bines will shoot up the strings like long dogs; they can grow 6 inches in length on a warm night.
Each hop is trained a minimum of 3 times through the growing season. Twiddling hops is not difficult, it just takes time to do each one and as with all ‘hop’ work it needs a few people to make the day swing along more companionably and to see your progress at the end of each day. Working alone in a hop garden makes any progress seem infinitesimally minute.
With the typical Admiral hop shown here, you first need to know how many bines you will need to put up, the number required depends on the variety being grown. A quick cursory glance will then show if you have plenty to choose from, it is usually 6 or 8 to go up four strings. The temptation is always to put too many up rather than too few, one for luck is not to be recommended!
This is how I like to twiddle, but other people will have their own way and the end result should be the same. First of all I pull out the very long coarse first bines, they aren’t wanted so best get them out of the way before you start. It is thought that the first growth probably contains mildews which overwinter in these first buds, therefore it’s another reason not to use them. I then select finer bines of the right length, preferably of a fairly uniform length, approx 14 – 18 inches long which is enough for two or three good turns up the string. It is best to select them from the middle of the plant if possible, this keeps the hills nicely contained because if you were to take a bine from a runner away from the base of the hop hill this risks getting caught in a tractor tyre later in the season and then broken off.
I do a quick check for a long narrow head on each bine, then if you have 2 bines per string you can wind both up each string together. They need to go up the string clockwise, hops follow the sun unlike runner beans which grow in an anti-clockwise direction. If they happen to be put round the wrong way, by next morning they will have unwound themselves. It is good to get them tucked in firmly at the base before you twist them up onto the strings, this is to prevent them being dislodged if you get a windy day before they have really got underway properly. Like the one pictured the plants next to hop poles tend to become stronger plants, possibly they never get run over by a tractor at harvest or it could be they are just more protected.
If the weather is cold and breezy then some varieties will snap easily, if this happens you need to take that bine out and replace it with another which has a head. Warm temperatures are simply kinder for both people and hops.
That is all there is to it really, you pull out the rest of the unwanted bines, then move on to the next hill.
Rules are simple – choose fine bines, make sure they have heads on , decide how many you need for each hop hill and stick to that number. Twist them clockwise up the strings then pull out the rest and move on. Below shows there are plenty more to be twiddled yet, they just need to grow a little bit more!
This week I spotted a few Spanish Bells growing fairly close to a bluebell wood. They were probably escapees from nearby cottages but I have dug the bulbs up now and they have been destroyed. We did not want them cross pollinating with the native bluebells.
The winter storms had also dislodged two Barn Owl boxes. Barn Owls are a protected species, so after having the situation checked by the Barn Owl Trust we are now able to fix one back in situ knowing there are no eggs. The other has tree ducks nesting in it so that will be secured later in the summer. Barn owls have been successful around the High Weald in the past, this is probably due to plenty of grassland and some margins close to the boxes which were left rough to encourage short tailed voles. It is wonderful to watch a barn owl flying silently as it hunts at dusk.