training hops

It’s Twiddling Time for British Hop Growers

Right now it’s twiddling time for British hop growers and many hands make light work.  This is always true of any seasonal work in a hop garden, but especially when training hops the first time around.   training hops

It can be quite daunting to sit in the middle of a hop garden on your own surrounded by a sea of plants, all needing to be ‘firsted’ immediately.  There is an optimum time to twiddle the hops and if the weather warms with perfect damp conditions they can quickly get out of hand, quite literally. training hops This week some of the varieties have been at that perfect stage.  Like Goldilocks’s porridge they were not too short and not too long but just right.

training hops

training hops - before

training hops

A twiddler’s eye view of a hop before and after twiddling.  Depending on the variety we put up between 4 – 8 bines.  The variety shown is Admiral,  a high alpha hop with a clean marmalade aroma.
training hops - after

Once the correct number of bines have been put up the strings, excess bines are pulled out and left beside the hop hill.  We try to pull the whole bine off at ground level, I find two hands at the base of the shoot works best.  If the shoots are only broken off, then the piece left will send out fresh shoots from each leaf axil, making even more work next time around at seconding.

 

hop trainingVery little equipment is needed, this week just hats, gloves and stools.  Sunny, warm days spent outdoors with blue skies and good company, twiddling time is a pleasure.

Below is an area of hops all firsted, you can see the little piles of unwanted shoots left beside the hop hills.

 

hops firsted

 

 

UK Chinook Hops - A Bushel of Hops Spring Draw Prize

Enter A Bushel of Hops Spring Draw

Enter A Bushel of Hops Spring draw and win a pack of hops.  As thoughts turn to Spring, it’s perfect time to brew that beer to enjoy drinking later  this summer and the draw is free to enter.

We also wanted to celebrate that Hops have been selected by the International Herb Association as their specially chosen herb for 2018.

Whatever your taste, maybe a sharp hoppy pale ale style, a barley wine or a complex sour, we are offering 1 x100gm pack of our UK Chinook hops for this prize. Chinook give a pronounced citrus, pine, grapefruit and light floral flavours to the beer.   And there’s more…….there will be an additional bonus prize offered to the winner!

For this Spring competition to win our 100gm pack of UK Chinook hops, there is no obligation to buy anything.  Just answer the following question correctly to have your name go forward into the draw,  which will be drawn on Sunday 7th May.

NB This competition is open UK residents only

Name the other American hop variety we growing here at A Bushel of Hops – Fill in the Form Below & Submit – Good Luck!

 

A Bushel of Hops Spring Draw

100g of Chinook Hops – A Bushel of Hops Free Spring Draw Prize

hop fabrics

Hop Fabric Bags

Some new hop fabric bags have been on my ‘to do’ list for a while now. When the snowy weather arrived at the very end of February, I speedily earmarked this period for some sewing time. Perfect. Guilt free sewing with no niggling thoughts of   ‘I really should be doing ………..’   This is one of winter’s pleasures.

With outdoor chores speedily completed, it was straight back indoors. Warm and snug, a cup of tea to hand, time to get down to some serious stitching. I wanted to use some of the Bushel of Hops fabric stash to make some new shopping bags.

I have made straight oblong totes before which are fine, but the plastic bags, which supermarkets used to give away free, always seemed to hold a lot more in comparison to these totes. Reasoning that the supermarkets probably put a lot of thought into the size and basic design of their plastic bags, I thought I would base my new fabric shopping carriers on these now redundant plastic ones.

hop fabric bagsSide gussets give them extra capacity and as a hop grower, they definitely need to be strong enough to carry a few beer bottles! I lined one of the hop fabric bags, this seemed a good idea to try out, especially as I put in a small pocket to hold a phone or purse, but other than that a lining is not essential. It is very easy to vary the design with different fabrics according to how much of each you have, it is very relaxed. A patchwork of bits would work just as well but then I would recommend stitching in a lining just to be sure it up to the task.  Whatever design they fold up neatly in your handbag.

The rest of the bags were not lined but I did do French seams. Mainly to give the hop fabric bagsseams a neat finish but for practical reasons too. French seams are not difficult to sew, they make the seams stronger and also prevent them from fraying when the bags are washed. Mine seem to get grubby quite quickly but that could be because I now leave them in the back of the car!

With the hop fabric bags ready to go, time to get stitching a few more things on my sewing ‘to do’ list and start another quilt before Spring sunshine stops play.  The swallows will shortly be arriving and we have a new fabric to celebrate their return.
hop fabric bag

Hop Stringing Time – the Beer Year Begins

Hop stringing has begun in the hop gardens which means the start of a new beer year for hop growers. The season starts with hop stringing and ends at hop picking when the crop is safely gathered and dried.

The hops in this area are mainly strung using ‘Umbrella Work’ but other growers will use ‘Worcester Work’. Which method is used

is determined by tradition and how the hop gardens were originally planted. For Umbrella Work each hop plant is 6’6” apart in the row, with each row also spaced the same 6’ 6” apart. Oddly that’s 2 metres but the 6’6” measurements were used long before England even thought about going metric. With Worcester work the hops hills are at 3’ spacing and this hop stringing method does not need banding in.


coir yarnBecause coir stretches slightly when damp, the balls of string are soaked overnight before being used. If the coir string was put on dry it would stretch when it rained, especially as the bines become heavier as they mature. That is just a practical point. Equipment required is minimal – a long bamboo cane called a goad (stringing monkey to some) and a bag to hold a ball of string with a wide strap to go over one shoulder. The strap can be padded across the shoulder for comfort. These bags are generally made using a hessian sack adapted accordingly as to what each stringer finds most comfortable. The string is tensioned as the string runs through the hands so gloves are also required.

 

Each stringer has a ‘cant’ or section to string. It is normally the men that have traditionally done this job. The stringer will first walk over the hops hills in his cant (or allocated area) first, pulling up any screw pegs which are bent over and replacing any that are missing. Once all the screw pegs are checked he is ready to start.

The string is threaded through the end of the goad and a simple loop tied in the end of the string to attach onto on the first hook on the wire work.

String is tied off at the end of each cant before the next area is started.

If a ball of string runs out the end is simply tied onto the start of the new ball and stringing continues as normal.

We have had some beautiful warm sunny days recently I wonder if this old folk lore will prove to be true?
“When the cat in February lies in the Sun,
She will again creep behind the stove in March.”

And The Winner is……….

And the winner is Simon H. Congratulations Simon. You will receive a confirmation email shortly, then your pack of Old English Blend will be winging its way to your brew-pot.

We had 51 entries in all, with 38 having both answers correct – Mathon, introduced in 1729.  A massive thank you to everyone who entered this time. For those of you who’d like another chance to win some hops we will have another draw coming up shortly.

Making Marmalade

Last weekend I had hoped to do several outdoor jobs, those satisfying pottering jobs that tie up loose ends. But those plans were thwarted by the weather, rain stopped play. So taking D.H.Lawrence’s advise I made some marmalade. Not that I was feeling gloomy, the skies may have been grey, but the Seville oranges are in season and they are only here for a short while.

marmalade makingI usually make two batches of marmalade one a dark Oxford style sometimes with a little whiskey added and the other batch I follow a bright fresher recipe, putting the saved juice in just as the marmalade reaches setting point. That was a very satisfying time spent and I had something to show for the time at the end of the afternoon. And just as Lawrence mentions, yes the floor did need a scrub too. The boiling marmalade thoroughly splattered stove and floor.

 

I got the blues
thinking of the future
so I left off and
made some marmalade,
It’s amazing how
it cheers one up
to shred oranges
and scrub the floor.

D. H. LAWRENCE

making marmalade

English Hops For Home Brewing Competition

Do you enjoy using English hops for home brewing? If so then you won’t get much more English than this Old English Blend  and this is your chance to win a free pack in our easy to enter competition.
A special blend of 5 heritage varieties of English hops, Early Bird, Fuggles, Cobbs, Mathon, and White Grape, you can win 100gm pack of this Old English Blend.
It is completely free to enter the draw with no obligation but please note that entries are only open  to UK residents.
To enter simply answer this question in the form below and hit Submit –
Which is the oldest English hop variety in this blend and in what year was it introduced?

 

So if you have an old recipe you’ve been wanting to try for a while using some heritage English hop varieties,  or just wish to brew your favourite traditional ale but would like to sample this blend, then this is your chance.

old english blend of hops

All correct answers will go into the draw and the winner will be picked at random on 1st February.

The winner will receive 100gm pack of the Old English Blend. Good Luck

If you can’t wait that long, head over to our Shop to see the other varieties we have in stock.

 

wedding hops

Dried Hop Vines v Dried Hop Bines – What’s the Difference?

Dried hop vines v dried hop bines – what’s the difference? There are important similarities they share as growing plants. They are both perennials meaning that once planted both hop plants and grape plants will live for many years. They both have a dormant period in winter.  The vital difference is defined by how they grow.

I think the easiest way to remember the difference between vines and bines is when you see how each one grows. A grapevine, ‘Vitis’, has smooth woody stems which climb using tendrils to cling tightly to any support. The resulting woody framework of stems will last throughout the vine’s life. The stems do not die back to ground level each year.

A hop plant ‘Humulus lupulus‘ on the other hand does things differently, it dies back to ground level each winter, therefore it is herbaceous. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary’s definition of Herbaceous is “not forming a woody stem but dying down to the root each year.” Spot on. However, because it lives for several years it is a perennial as well, consequently it is a ’herbaceous perennial’. Many of our cottage garden favourites are herbaceous perennials, for instance Aquilegias, Astrantias and Delphiniums. Each year a hop plant will produce brand new stems or bines. Each bine has hairs growing backwards from the tip which help it to stay in place as it wraps and twines itself up and around any support; it is these coarse hairs which scratch your bare skin. Hop bines will only twist themselves clockwise around a support as they follow the sun, unlike runner beans which climb anti-clockwise. You can see hops being trained here.

Dried hop vines v dried hop bines – what’s the difference? well a grapevine is a woody perennial vine and a hop is a herbaceous perennial producing new bines each spring.

Botanical correctness aside, dried or fresh hop bines make stunningly easy, user-friendly decorations. They are ideal for weddings if you would like some wedding ideas using hops you can visit my pinterest board.

hops for weddings

wedding hopsDifferent varieties of hops will vary, some offer a dense froth of small hops when dried, these often compliment the atmosphere in a cosy country pub. Other bines will grow in fine neat lengths with larger cones ideal along the top of a welsh dresser or for a beam in a low ceilingcountry wedding marquee cottage. Some varieties have red stems and others green stems, Individual hop flowers can be tight like a Brussels sprout, some dark green, others soft and light green, and some even have turned up tips like tiny Chinese lanterns.

These gorgeous archways of hops and flowers were arranged by Lucy Gribble. Lucy uses a traditional barn as her business base, a beautiful setting for a wedding.

A marquee decorated for a country wedding using hops with fairy lights entwined, classically simple, no glitz but beautiful and oh so classy. Thank you Lucy, Confetti and Toast, Hannah, and Josie for these gorgeous photographs.

hop vines v hop bines - what's the difference?

We only sell fresh bines direct to the customer via the contact page on the website, that way we know customers are happy with them and the bines are taken straight to where they are needed. Special orders can be taken before or during harvest, we also also take orders for bines to be kiln dried to preserve their colour for collection later in the year. If you have an autumn 2018 wedding planned or want some for next Christmas then again please order via my website where orders can be taken for 2018.

wedding hops

Dried hop vines v dried hop bines – what’s the difference? well like the song says, it does not really matter as we will know exactly what you mean!

Last but no least a huge thank you to everyone who has purchased my hops. I appreciate your support and wish you a happy Christmas whatever you are doing and may 2018 be a super duper ‘top of the hops’ year for brewing.

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old photographs showing rural life and hop picking

Old Photographs Showing Rural Life and Hop Picking

I have always loved old photographs, especially old photographs showing rural life and hop picking naturally or just general images of country ways of life that have disappeared. I find them all fascinating. So when Tony from The Ostrich Hotel in Robertsbridge told me that he would lend me some photos of bygone hop picking days I was over the moon. He very generously suggested I should have them copied so that I could share them on this website.

Well, that all sounded fine until they arrived when they turned out to be glass plates, I had assumed they would be ordinary negatives ….. yikes… Not only a huge responsibility but also less straightforward to have them copied. Fortunately I met Jon, a young man who works at Jessops, who is interested in photographic conservation work. He literally took them under his wing and I am very grateful to him. I hope that Jessops value their young staff members who are prepared to go that extra mile.

I find these photos are poignantly beautiful, the hats are divine, and the children appear naively innocent. They were of course unaffected by a constant social media flow. These images also record our social history. I had not expected to be so affected by the children.

old photographs showing rural life and hop picking

 

These two old photographs showing rural life and hop picking, were probably taken around 1900. Life may have been hard then, indeed harsh for some families, but although life was tough these children almost certainly knew where their food came from and had direct contact with the land. It struck me that because those children were personally involved with the harvest, usually working alongside their extended family, they instinctively realised its significance, also that the wellbeing of their families depended on pulling together. Gathering the harvests in was a priority and local country schools closed so that children could work with their families until these vital harvests were completed.

I am definitely not saying this was a desirable situation for any child to be in, nor am I hankering after some nostalgic idyll. For some of the children there was no option and I know some loathed hop picking. But I do feel sad that the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction leaving a lot of children far removed from any natural contact with the land. The result is they have no true understanding of where their food comes from, and a small percentage have no idea at all. Many are unaware of either the commitment or responsibility of caring for livestock, the practical effort that growing demands and consequently the significance that harvest once held. Not that long ago most families would have preserved at least some food at home for the winter months. Today supermarket shelves are brimming with foods from all over the world. Ready meals, fresh fruit and vegetables available year round whether or not they are out of season in this country, if you have the money you can purchase whatever takes your fancy. Reality has gone bonkers, this cannot be sustainable.

Life may have been far from perfect then, but this year an estimated £13bn of food waste will be thrown away in the UK, yet we have more food banks than ever – we don’t appear to have advanced at all.

 

old photographs showing rural life and hop picking