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.
The odd wet day earlier this season meant I could play with our hop fabric designs and managed some remarkably guilt free summer sewing time! Those gloomy days meant there were some magical silver linings within those cloudy skies.
I really wanted to use the latest Hop Fabric designs in cotton poplin supplied by Woven Monkey to make curtains for Liz and Andrew’s Shepherd’s Hut. Attached here are the pictures of the two small windows, they each use a slightly different version of this stripy design. It is always nice to have an excuse to make up a few cushions, so a cushion made with the green and white toile completed this ‘happy-hoppy’ ensemble. As ever I am extremely appreciative of Sylvie’s magic digital graphic design skills.
A few other examples of the things made earlier in the year with some of our hop fabrics. Door stops – I got carried away visualising large rustic doors so these aren’t dainty, they are best described as fit for purpose – ‘heavy’!
Other odd and ends stitched up were a set of place mats with the hop tile fabric and a mixed medley of beer mats to personalise that gift of a special bottle of beer.
I also completed my latest quilt project, ‘When Grandmother was a Girl’ from a pattern by Judy Gray
It was made mostly from scraps I already had, favourite colours left over from other projects. The scrap pile hasn’t gone down – I am sure those fabric scraps breed! Doing this portable appliqué project over the last 8 months has been a pleasure, but although I really enjoyed piecing this up I did not want to do the quilting. The solution and always a special treat was to have Debbie Holland quilt it for me on her super duper ‘long-arm’ quilting machine. Debbie produces beautifully detailed quilting to enhance and customise any project. It feels like Christmas waiting to collect it, I am always impatient to see the finished article.
The result is I have already missed having this easy appliqué project but have an idea for another one. This time round the blocks will be smaller and just as before easily carried in a small bag. It is surprising how much you can get done by only sewing for the odd few minutes now and then. At least waiting isn’t boring anymore.
Our little Massey Ferguson 187 Combine has done a sterling job once again.
Alongside today’s larger sleeker combines she may look like a joke with her 7 foot cutting head, but she is feisty, although undeniably grubby and tricky to handle. No matter, the all important resulting end grain sample is equal if not better than many of the samples from these more modern sophisticated combines. The 187 does her job well.
Over the last ten years little has had to be done, other that general servicing, but this year the two jobs we knew should have been dealt with, did not get done. This was because of work needed on the Allaeys Hop Picking Machine. Ironically, neither of these half-expected breakdowns happened. They say it is a ladies prerogative to change her mind, instead she had two creatively unexpected breakdowns up her sleeve.
First was the main drum-drive belt. We were very grateful that our clever local combine engineer was able to replace this promptly with out much ado. However, with rain imminent the second breakdown needed a speedy running repair. Full credit has to go to my husband Richard for this very practically inspired repair and to the combine for being basically engineered. This could not have been so simply achieved on one of the large computer programmed combines, so she won the day and completed the harvest for another year.
The solution was an oak board sawn up, then wedged and wired into place to replace the worn fan bearing and housing. This Heath Robinson assembly was then all well greased-up, it allowed the shaft to be held centrally, between two boards as if in the stocks, long enough for the little Massey Ferguson 187 Combine to complete a whole day of harvesting. Luckily it was the last day!
Triumphantly on her way to the shed,
and with straw hanging out she looked a bit like a horse returned to it’s stable.
Today it has rained putting pay to harvesting for the time being.
The colours in the countryside have changed from the lush greens of May to golden harvest browns. Dusty cars used at harvest will need to be washed off and straw bales are being gathered in as quickly as possible for winter storage.
The hops in the valley are the only green harvest remaining for this year.
Meanwhile in the hop gardens the bines are putting out laterals as if they want to hold hands with each other accross the hop alleys. In the sunshine clumps of hemp-agrimony attract clusters of pollinating insects.
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.
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.
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.
After 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.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.
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.
These actual picking fingers or ‘midnight’ fingers (I have no idea why they are known by this name) are made of steel 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
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 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.
The July Hop and Keyworth Early taken on 24th July
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.
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.