Winter hop gardens and it’s wire working time once again. This mean any of the following, from replacing hop poles that were broken during hop picking, to checking all running wires, bearing wires, curbs and anchors. Sections of wire that have become slack from the weight of the crop can be tightened and individual broken wires replaced. Whilst Painting the Forth Bridge may now be complete for the next 25 years, in the hop gardens wire working maintenance is still a continually ongoing enterprise. Generally a small area of top wire is selected annually to be replaced, eventually needing to be redone once you have got to the end!
It is good to get as many of these jobs done as possible before the ground becomes too wet or the real chill of mid-winter sets in. Like most outdoor work it is simply easier to move without needing to wear lots of layers to keep warm. However, tightening the wires means it is difficult to wear gloves while doing this and chilly hands can be an occupational hazard. The obvious difference in the wires before and after tensioning is shown below.
Still the old poles but freshly tightened running wires neatly wound off.
While the ground was still dry a small area of poles were augured in place ready for the top wires and anchors to be attached later. This garden will be ready for setts to be planted out later this winter.A few winters ago while moving a pile of wood, underneath I found this perfectly preserved skeleton, by it’s size I presumed it was a grass snake. Although I am not keen on snakes, as this one couldn’t move it was fascinating to examine closely. It was flawless and I am pleased to say it eventually found a good home in a nature cabinet.
Still on snakes I was given an unusual curio by an Australian friend, I cannot really call it a gift, of a bone with individual vertebra from a snake glued around it. Once painted they look like little people singing from very large song books. I came across it the other day and could not believe I still had it!
However, the bare-bones I most enjoy are our trees in winter when leaves have fallen and they can reveal their basic structure. Silhouetted against a wintery sky and surrounded by plants laced with hoar frost, I love a proper winter.
Autumn in the hop gardens, bine cutting is underway and we are almost at the end of another hop growing year. With shorter days, the urgency of harvest and corn sowing is over, life now shifts to a slower pace on the land. For the hop farm, bine cutting started at the end October after we had our first frost. At hop picking the top part of each hop bine is cut off to be taken to the picking machine, this leaves the lower metre still attached to the hill. This bottom length of each bine is now cut off and burnt.
Because of the wire work structure needed, hops grow in the same ground year after year, they cannot be rotated annually like other crops. Burning this excess plant material is therefore the best way to ensure that any possible plant disease present does not overwinter to infect new shoots in spring. Like most hop work it’s not difficult but it is time consuming and hands on. Each bine is cut off close to the ground with a swap, they are placed in small piles which are later collected up and burnt, leaving the gardens neat and tidy for next year.
Winter wire working repairs have already started but that is for the next post.
We are proud to introduce our new HomeBrew Hop Aroma Packs, or to be more specific our HomeBrew Leaf Hop Aroma Sniffer Packs. A bit of a mouthful certainly but exactly as stated on the label. This introductory pack contains 25gm each of 8 hop varieties – Admiral, Bramling Cross, Cascade, Goldings, Pilgrim, Phoenix, Progress and Target. It comes with instructions how to ‘rub up’ your hops to get the best aroma from these samples and the aromas normally given for each variety. The packs could be used for different purposes.
With Christmas just around the corner, if you are at a loss what to buy the Home Brewer in your life, this could be just the gift you are looking for?
Or stuck in a brewing rut, is your home brewing too safe, always using the same malt and hop variety? If you fancy the chance to savour different varieties you may be pleasantly surprised or you may decide that your favourite hops are still your favourites!
If you are planning a beer tasting get tougher with friends and want something different to make the party more interesting and push the boundaries a little, well look no further…. For your beer tasting get together these could be put into bowls for a blind aroma test, write down the aromas you can each detect then compare your results with the accepted norm for that variety. Any left over hops can of course be used to late hop your next brew or even used to make a hop pillow!
*1 winner will be drawn at random from all the correct entries received before the draw at 9am on the 21st December. The winner will be notified by email and the prize will be posted asap, however, this will not arrive in time for Christmas. All draw entries will be added to our special offers and newsletter list which we send out from time to time. You can unsubscribe from this list at any time by clicking the link in the email.
I hope others are also finding time to enjoy this fabulous autumn weather, lots of sunshine this year with only the merest hint of chill in the air so far, it is wonderful. Here in the South East it is still remarkably dry underfoot which is perfect for walking, for the moment at least our Wealden Clay remains tamed. Leaves are rapidly changing colour and being so dry, they rattle down through the branches as they fall. Autumn sown corn has germinated with the young shoots giving bare fields a fresh green colour wash.
It is perfect weather to be outdoors. Last weekend we made time to brew up a cup tea over a fire. Even a simple toasted sandwich tastes so much better outside. Watching the blue wood smoke wafting up through the autumn tree canopy while waiting for the kettle to boil, I could understand a little the significance of Japanese tea ceremonies. The only trouble was the watched kettle boiled too quickly!
Surprisingly two fallow deer wandered up wind towards the fire to graze under a couple of large oak trees about 30 yards away. There was no undergrowth so they must have been picking up the acorns. In the neighbouring gyhll a rutting stag could be heard. The two does were completely unmoved by his persistent grunting calls; these two ladies definitely preferred to lunch!
Another pleasure of autumn is mushroom picking, I love the magic of mushrooms, you can never be sure when or indeed if they will appear. The only place of finding them with any teensy bit of certainty is around the fairy rings in the fields. I know there are solid scientific reasons why fairy rings grow as thy do, but I prefer to believe in magic. After all, fabulous Autumn weather like is truly delightful.
We are pleased to announce our special offer of hops for home brewing in 1Kg blocks. These blocks are aimed at the keen home brewer or they could be shared within a brewing group. I understand that home brewers often want to buy larger quantities to benefit from a more favourable pricing structure. Hence this special offer which is for a trial period only to see how this idea is received.
Please note – with this special offer of hops for home brewing in 1Kg blocks, each block can only be ordered individually and posted singly. I reserve the right to withdraw this offer if I need to preserve 100gm stocks of any variety for our smaller home brewing customers.
Hop picking is over for another year, the crop has been harvested and dried which means A Bushel of Hop’s Shop is now open for this season’s hops. My hops are not bought in, they are grown and packaged on the farm. Packaging begins as soon as hop picking is finished to get the freshest, ‘hop-garden to brew-pot’, hops possible for the home brewer.
After listening to brewers, the other change instigated this year is our uprated packaging. Even though I only sell hops from the current season, this new 100% foil packaging allows hops to remain even more freshly vacuum packed as it prevents all ingress of light and oxygen. It is still important that packets are stored in a cool place or they can be frozen.
I also understand that some home brewers believe they sometimes get the raw end of the deal where hops are concerned when compared to the larger breweries. My primary aim at A Bushel of Hops is to grow and supply the home brewer. To this end I grow small quantities of different varieties, some not normally available elsewhere and sometimes in minute quantities from only a couple of plants. As an English hop grower it is important to me that home brewers can enjoy freshly packed English grown hops. This is the reason I put a ‘use by date’ on all my hops, to keep in line with my own commitment, to only sell the current seasons hops policy.
I have put together a Special Blend of Old English Hop Varieties for home brewing. I might be sticking my neck out, but it is a risk I wanted to take, to try out something original and hopefully offer a fresh concept to the home brewer. After all it is hop-picking time and it’s easy to get carried away breathing in all that heady hop aroma all day!
Blending – well they do it with tea, whiskey and wine, so why not for beer? Slightly off piste? Not really, commercial brewers do it all the time by mixing their chosen hops in the brew tank!
So new for this year we are offering for the first time our unique Special Blend of Old English Hop Varieties for home brewing. This Special Aromatic Blend contains a selection of the following 5 heritage Old English aroma hop varieties, Mathon (1729), Cobbs (1881), White Grapes (1822), Early Bird (1887), with a few young Fuggle hops (1875) popped in for good measure. These historically important hop varieties were picked and then mixed well before drying in a traditional oast house.
In the 1919 book ‘English Hops’ by George Clinch, he describes each of these Old English Varieties as having good flavour and/or aroma favoured by brewers. Julian Healey also gives an account of these varieties from a brewing perspective, in his informative and excellent modern day ‘Hops List’.
At a Bushel of Hops we are growing modern and heritage hops specifically for the home brewer. It is the selection of hop varieties in this blend that is unusual. They are hard to source as apart from Fuggles, rarely grown commercially today. I hope this specific blend of old english hop varieties for home brewing will appeal to a few more adventurous home brewers. This blend is a trail run only, therefore limited to only 8 x 100gm packs which will be available once the shop is open at the beginning of October.
If the mix does generate a little interest then it could be repeated next year. As well as individual hop varieties I would like to offer a couple more special blends next year – I already have some exciting ideas for combinations of different heritage hop varieties. Perhaps a ‘20th Century Aromatic Variety Mix’? or maybe a pick of varieties with a shared parent? Each chosen combination would be very different to each other.
Meanwhile, whilst on this historically hop growing theme, I was sent a photo recently which Jane took whilst in Denmark this summer. I didn’t know anyone still grew hops on the pole system. A delightful image, grown like this they look like a really neat fairy-tale hop forest, reminiscent of how they were grown here before the permanent wirework system prevailed.
For more pictures of pole work scroll down to photos 6 and 7 on this link. They were taken in Davenport, Delaware County, USA, coincidentally around the same time as the hops chosen for our Special Old English Hop Blend were also being grown here in UK. If you like old rural photographs you will probably enjoy looking through the whole link.
The hop plant is host to the hop-dog caterpillar and we are very happy to report that there has been an increase in sightings of these caterpillars this year. It is lovely to see them increasing in numbers..…I wonder was it the weather conditions this summer or just luck in spotting them? But as I am working in the hops one downside of this is that I have not been able to take the time out to photograph these caterpillars as I would have liked to, one would always turn up at the most inconvenient moment!
The hop-dog caterpillar holds fond memories for hop-pickers from the hand-picking days. Children enjoyed finding them with their yellow furry bodies and distinctive red tails. Warnings that they would give you a nasty rash if picked up, probably saved many a little creature from well intentioned over-handling! I have of course included them on the Hop Toile fabric as they deserve their place in the ‘hop story’.
The little fellow shown here below had amazingly been right through the hop-picking machine, before being shelved from a full poke and miraculously landing safe and sound on top of the bed of hops in the kiln of the oast house. Luckily he was spotted and rescued before drying of that particular load began. If he’d been cat he would have used up all his nine lives in this one adventure!
We like to see them and don’t consider them pests, we certainly haven’t noticed any damage done by them. After all a mature lush hop garden is a pretty copious and abundant environment with plenty of leaves to go around.
For some extra images and information about the hop-dog caterpillar see this blog post by Doug Mackenzie Dodds. He has taken the photos I wished I had taken, and not even in a hop garden!
I would like to spot the grown-up version of the hop-dog now, the excellently camouflaged Pale Tussock moth. Earlier this year I did see two equally well camouflaged moths, a pair of poplar hawk moths mating on our car wheel. Their camouflage proved pretty hopeless against the black background, which actually made them stand out.
This year’s Modern and Heritage Hop Varieties for the home brewer have been selected, all that remains now is to complete picking, drying and packing them all. Hop-picking is always an exciting busy time but nothing can be guaranteed until the crop is safely in the bag, quite literally!
The four varieties offered in the draw earlier this year, as expected were all very different once in hop. For consistent performance, the star of the show this year has to be the Northern Brewer hop variety. The setts grew away before the other varieties and it was the first variety of the four to come into hop. The individual hops grew out well and definitely had the largest cones. The 20 Northern Brewer plants were picked at the beginning of last week. Below Northern Brewer hops.
The First Gold hop variety which was Ashley’s choice as winner, were also looking good at the back end of the growing season. As the only dwarf variety, the bines may have been short but they more that made up for this lack of stature by being covered with hops top to toe. So that kilo of dried hops for the winner was secured this week. Hurray, I am hugely relieved and hope Ashley is pleased with them and has enjoyed his year following their progress as a virtual hop grower.
The only downside was the picking which wasn’t even a problem. The hop machine was designed to pick tall hop varieties, so picking those shorter bines meant the first 2.5 foot did not get picked properly. This was easily rectified by putting the bines through the machine again upside down!
The Bullion hops definitely had the bona fide Bullion aroma early on, they were the first of the varieties to have a nose to them. They have grown away well and like the Northern Brewer all the plants grew evenly throughout the year. They were picked along with the Northern Brewer at the beginning of last week.
However the Chinook hop variety also chosen with home brewer in mind were the slowest of these four offered to grow away this Spring, they were also the last to come into burr. I will not pick these this year but allow them to ‘grow and blow’ so they can gain strength for next year. The full-on aroma of the Chinook hops is quite powerful. But then it should have some oomph, after all it is the Brew Dog’s number 1 favourite hop.
All the photos below were taken on 22nd August so you can clearly compare the differences between them at that stage. Clockwise from the top left are Northern Brewer, Chinook, First Gold and Bullion.
This has not been a ‘normal’ growing year. However, the long cold wet spring with little sunshine did help the young hops establish simply because the ground stayed moist for longer than usual. Generally, across most varieties we noticed the burr was slower dropping out into hop. This was probably due to the combination of very dry conditions combined with the sudden very hot sunshine at that crucial time, but that is this year and every year is different.
Another of the Heritage hop varieties for the home brewer is the Keyworth Early variety, the swirled rosette shaped ends of these cones are pretty. This variety was also picked this week.
I have often wished there was a reference book for the different hop varieties. Julian Healey’s ‘Hops List’ has ticked that box, he has listed 265 different hop varieties from a brewing perspective. He set himself a pretty awesome task to brew and taste all those hops. It is available as an ibook or for Kindle via Amazon, who described The Hops List as ‘the world’s most comprehensive hop dictionary’. I don’t own a kindle and being a bookworm prefer to sit down with a cup of tea and browse, so will await the paper version with anticipation.
At the end of hop picking I will list any other heritage hop varieties for the home brewer which have been picked. Some varieties will be in very limited quantities so it will be on a first come first served basis. This seasons hops will be ready for despatch from beginning October onwards. 2015 hops are no longer available.
It’s hop-picking time again and with it comes the usual seasonal outbreak of ‘Hoppyitus’.
Whilst the majority of people have complete immunity from this condition, for the few who do contract it, it is completely incurable. Once you succumb, it is for life. Hoppyitus is a recurring disease, it can occur at any time of the year but the highest incidence is always in September at hop-picking time.
A foggy ‘hop-picking’ morning in late August carrying with it the scent of the hops is a certain trigger for an attack. Even Rudyard Kipling wrote about it. There is no known cure, a walk through a hop garden may help a tad but for the serious cases, the only real relief is secured from a spell of hop-picking.
Those who cannot come picking for what ever reason often gravitate to the oast house during this season. Attracted like the Bisto Kids they will linger a while to soak up the atmosphere, any traditional oast house is a very special place during the harvest. A natter, a sniff and poke at the dried hops suffices.
Some happy hoppers for the time being relieved of their Hoppyitus.
All photographs for this post were taken by Dave Berry and used with his kind permission.