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.
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.
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.
My 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.
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.
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.
Claudine 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
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.
and 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.
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.
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.
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.
I thought those who entered the draw ‘Be a Hop Grower For a Year’ might like to have a ‘hop sett update’ and see how each of the 4 different hop setts offered as prizes in the draw are progressing, in particular the variety which you picked.
All the hop setts were Grade A, excellent quality and all equally good, but each variety had quiet different roots. Generally it has been a slow start into growth for most hops this year due to the prolonged wet, cold spring, we had especially cold night temperatures. But they are nicely going up the strings now. The catalyst they had been waiting for were the warmer night’s accompanied by that good days rain we had a couple of weeks back, they were up and away immediately.
Each Northern Brewer hop sett had elegant thoroughbred style roots, these setts were the first of all the four varieties to show growth early on before the weather warmed up. They showed true ‘northern grit’ and did not seem bothered by the colder temperatures. They have always shown even growth, which is something I like to see when looking down the row.
The Chinook hop setts had the thickest roots I had ever seen, I expected the plants to grow away like thugs but they coyly stayed as buds until 2 weeks ago. They have now grown fairly evenly but several bines are still too small to reach the strings. However, I am confident they will be fine. A few later varieties of established hop plants are also at this stage. I have never grown these before so I do not know whether they are normally later or simply more sensitive to cold nights.
The third variety was Bullion and they are moving nicely up the strings, they were triggered quickly into growth a fortnight ago, as soon as the weather perked up. We have grown Bullion hop variety before on the family farm and they were very strong growers, which made it important to keep the bines pulled back when training. After their shy start it now appears that they haven’t changed their spots after all!
Last and sadly definitely the least are the First Gold hop setts. And yes of course this is the hop variety, that Ashely as the winner of the draw, chose for his prize! So far they are uneven and bushy, they are the least well grown but I have never grown a true ‘dwarf’ variety before so I have to pop a caveat in here, maybe this is their normal growth pattern, I simply don’t know. What I do know, is that this is proving to be rather more of an unknown venture than I had expected for both Ashley and myself! I keep looking to see if there is much improvement with these First Gold hops, willing them on, but it’s rather like waiting for that proverbial kettle to boil! If they produce the 1Kg of hops for Ashley I shall be satisfied.
Apart from Sod’s Law effecting the First Gold hop setts, I do find it completely fascinating how different hop varieties grow and watching their individual characteristics emerge. It’s the little things that make it so interesting e.g. Goldings must be sweeter than other hop plants, as any passing rabbit will always choose these to nibble on. Pilgrim hops have very fine, delicate looking bine at twiddling, but come to hop picking and these same bines are as tough as wire netting, they are the steel magnolias of the hop world. It is impossible to be bored when you grow hops.
I will post a picture of each of these 4 varieties when they are fully grown and again when they come into hop.
Green is the colour of May. This verdant month means two things, hop training and the re-greening of the countryside. No hay has been cut, no corn ripening yet, the countryside simply turns into a spectacular panorama of different shades of green. I love it and from March onwards always look forward to the trees getting their new leaves. The wait can seem long and drawn out. Of course the blossom and wild flowers are rattling out too and it amazes me every year how each flower perfectly coordinates with the particular green if its own leaves. So many beautiful flowers, the countryside is awash with colours, but for me the one colour that truly depicts May has to be green.
At the beginning of May as you drive past any damp native woodland you will most likely catch cool glimpses of wild garlic between the trees. The wild garlic comes hot on the heels of the delicate spectacle of wood anemones, rapidly superseded by the stunning colour wash from carpets of bluebells. The wild garlic is now in flower and en masse it softens the light inside our native woods, lending them an almost greyish ethereal feel for a short while. The garlic flowers seem to flow over the curves of the land, mirroring its shape and following undulations perfectly as they dip down along the banks of tiny streams. It is as if a white sheet has been thrown out to cover the ground. I absolutely love this time of year so decided to photograph the red and white quilt which I had made with the wild garlic as a back drop. There will not be much time for sewing now that the growing season is here, that is more of a winter pleasure.
Red and white quilts are a weakness and I have now made two with a third already planned. This one pictured is my second attempt, a simple star pattern but an easy quilt to use. The first one was more complex and a shared project with my daughter in Australia. We had swapped different red and white fabrics, but drew and stitched our own embroideries to decorate each white block. These embroideries were of something that was important to each of us, that we either liked or something which was significant in our lives. Of course we ended up with many of the same subjects but we each depicted them entirely differently. As Nova’s husband put it I did verbs and Nova did nouns! Whatever the end results, it was a special shared project which we both thoroughly enjoyed. It was the 4th quilt of these shared projects since her move to the other side of the world. We are now doing a journal, so a much smaller project this time round, but one to get brains ticking and still with the fun of the ‘show and tell’.
Talking of red and white quilts, there was an amazing exhibition 5 years ago at the America Folk Art Museum in New York.
Mrs Rose was asked by her husband what she would like for her 80th birthday and he granted her wish which was to see her collection of these quilts all together in one place, it would be a first as she had 650 quilts in her collection! You have to love Mr Rose, bless him for his incredible generosity. The exhibition was arranged and his generosity extended to free admission to all comers for this event – not only a beautiful gift to Mrs Rose but an extraordinarily generous gift to New York and everyone who loves these quilts. I was not able to go but there is a UTube view of the Exhibition, for anyone who enjoys quilting, it is worth a look see.
Adding wild garlic leaves or flowers to a salad is fun and this recipe is a seasonal treat – Wild Garlic Pesto. This must be with the caveat to only take a little, always forage with permission & respectfully, remembering that it is a treat. Take only a few leaves and leave the wood or river bank as if you have not been there, I have seen large areas completely cleared by professional foragers, horrible. We grew up being told we are not allowed to pick wild flowers so this still goes against everything we were taught.
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.