Seconding at Hop Training

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.

 hops ready to be firstedand 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.
firsting Collage

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.

seconding Collage

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.

seconding

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.

trapped head Collage

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.

into the hop garden

Hop Sett Update

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.

NORTHERN BREWER 17:5

 

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.

CHINOOK hop setts 17/5/16

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!

BULLION HOP SETTS 17/5/16

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.

FIRST GOLD HOP SETTS 17/5/16

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 colour of May

Colour of May

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.

Colour of May

trees re-greening

Wild Garlic and Red and White Quilts

track into the woods. wild garlic,native woodlandsAt 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.

wild garlic collage

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.

close up wild garlic

 

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.

 

Hop Twiddling Time

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.

hops in spring, hop hill, hop training, hop twiddling,

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!

hop twiddling, hop training

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.

Colours of April

spring in England

Spring has been teasing us through March but the early part of this week has made up for that. With the sunshine the banks along the lanes have exploded into colour with a diverse mix of wild flowers. Bluebells are for me the bells of the April Ball  but none of these wild flowers are wallflowers. Dainty stitchwort growing delicately in amongst grasses, the soft mauve hues of the milk maids and bouquets of primroses in swarths along these banks. Violets just blooming under the rapidly greening hedgerows.   Fabulous –  then to cap it off today 16th April, as if to really confirm that Spring has arrived, I heard the cuckoo for the first time this year. It called for about half and hour and then I saw it fly off directly towards the north east. I have never heard and seen the cuckoo for the first time both on the same day and by evening someone else will have the pleasure of hearing him call.  It is exactly as Robert Browning wrote “OH, to be in England now that April’s there”.

natural dyeing with hops

Natural Dyeing with Hops

I have always loved the colours that you get with natural dyes, their soft watercolour shades are so very British.

I have been wanting to ‘have a go’  for some while and obviously wanting to experiment dyeing with hops.    When I was searching the internet for information about natural dyeing before hop picking I came across this lovely site .  (Donna and Bill of the hops soda success) and was even more determined to have a go asap.
Along with different weights of linen and cotton fabrics, I also used some pieces of silk cut from an old shirt. Gathering up this mixed bags of scraps, I used the few blackberries I had reserved in the freezer, dried hops and some local walnut husks. All set, gloves on and the experiment is ready to begin.
My last efforts had resulted in insipid, wishy washy colours, that literally came out in the first wash, but this time I was using different mordants and used an old aluminium saucepan for the boil. Apparently this is better than stainless steel for some reason which I do not know, but handy anyway as I had this redundant old aluminium saucepan with a good solid base. The mordants I tried this time were vinegar, baking powder and alum.
First I simmered 3 pieces of silk with red onion skins, then divided it up and put each in a separate batch with a different mordant, vinegar, baking powder and alum, after each boil I put the mix into a separate polythene bag and left them all for 2 days.
Next I dissolved alum into some water, added 2 handfuls of dried hops boiled them for an hour with the fabrics all mixed in together, then left the whole caboodle for 24 hours to soak outside covered with a lid. I have yet to try vinegar as a mordant with hops and possible baking powder. Not knowing what end results will be is the best bit but not the waiting. Waiting is trickiest, it is hard to be patient but once the soaking time was over, I rinsed them all, then gave them a gentle wash with detergent and hung them out to dry.

dyeing with hops
Walnut husks produce a brown dye which does not require a mordant to fix the colour into the cloth. That makes it easy, the whole lot was boiled and left it to soak overnight. It is a shame that dyeing with hops makes a yellow dye as I am not keen on using yellow but a little can enhance other colours in a project. Next spring I will try hop shoots and leaves, they are supposed to produce a brownish red dye.

natural dyeing with hops
The dyeing results from this first session are all shown. I was fascinated to see the differences in colour between the red onion skin dye lots using the 3 different mordants, that was a hey presto moment when they were ironed to fully reveal the colours.

natural dyeing with hops
So what are they for? Well they are all intended for a special project that I am doing with my daughter in Australia. Since she emigrated to Australia with her husband 15 years ago, we have made 4 friendship quilts. Over the months we send and swap little pieces of fabrics in letters, but this time we have decided on a smaller project in the form of a scrap book.
other natural dyeing links:-
http://echoviewnc.com/natural-yarn-dyeing-experiments/
http://www.indiaflint.com/

hop viniculture structure, hop garden, hop growing

Essential Hop Viniculture

Essential for any hop viniculture venture is a framework for the vines, or more correctly hop bines, to climb up and framework sturdy enough not to blow over as harvest nears when the vines are at the heaviest. I like to think that hops and hop viniculture are to the UK what grapes and grape viniculture are to the French. I may be biased of course, but with beer there is an infinite combination of malts, hop varieties, yeast and water to challenge and keep any brewer or drinker fascinated for years. With some excellent new beers and up and coming micro breweries this complexity and diversity of flavours is to be celebrated.

Art work for the labels for some of these new breweries is another interesting factor.  For instance two local Sussex Breweries have outstanding labels –

The Three Leg Brewery  used local artist Jo Waterhouse  for their art work,  whilst  The High Weald Brewery  used  Studio Parr  for their equally amazing label creations.

Rach Smith in her beer blog takes a look at Sussex Bottled Beers which again reviews some interesting labels, in addition to the contents of course!  Among her beer selection, this post also includes the two above breweries.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, this has certainly been a first, and not to be recommended, completely unconventional hop garden extension. The hop setts were planted first, well before any sign of this hop vinicultural framework making its appearance! However, I am so pleased that the setts were planted when they were, these recent rains will have bedded them in nicely before the ground dries this summer. The cause for the delay was the exceptionally wet ground for the whole of this winter. We normally get a spell of cold weather which freezes the ground hard enough to allow you to get onto the land for this sort of winter job without doing any damage.

As soon as the ground was dry enough to get the tractor on the garden without causing any ruts, the poles were augured in, top wires put up and anchors attached. Phew, a great relief. Hurray and three cheers but only just in the nick of time as the hops are beginning to shoot.

hop viniculture, putting up a hop garden, hop growing

Hooks were put on these top wires this week to finalise the job and now it is all ready set for stringing, I like to leave this as long as possible in this garden as the deer will walk through, often breaking the strings which is a constant nuisance, hence the reason I am not in a rush to get this done. There’s not much movement yet, but you can ‘hear’ the hop plants readying themselves on their starting blocks for their annual dash up the strings.

hooker 2

hooker tool. vintage toolsBut as with most things there is a balance to achieve. A priority is that I like to get the first young bine, especially from any young hop setts, up onto the strings. This is in case any rabbits come along, they are less likely to nibble these vulnerable and probably tasty shoots once they are going up the strings. Later on rabbits can be a nuisance by occasionally biting the strings through along with the mature hop bine for no apparent reason. Perhaps rabbits need to sharpen their teeth?? Whatever the reason, it is a pain, they just bite the stems and strings but don’t eat them, the result is that hop dies back, such a waste.

screw pegs, hop growing, hop viniculture, hop setts, Another outstanding job before stringing and before the ground dries up, was to replace some screw pegs. This type of peg has not been successful. When the hops were up the strings once the wind blew they turned upside down allowing the strings to come off. This is more sensitive in the Sussex Zig Zag system so they needed to be replaced for this year. Luckily only two rows had them and now all have the ‘proper’ spiral screw pegs in situ.

 

bill's hop soda

Bill’s Hop Soda

bills hop sodaWhilst doing a casual ramble around the web searching for natural dyeing I found Donna Kallner’s Site.   In it she mentioned her husband’s hop soda which he makes as well as his home brew beer.   I was fascinated, all thoughts of dyeing quickly receded.   I had never come across hop soda.   I contacted Donna to ask her about it and she kindly came straight back with Bill’s recipe, which I pass on below.

I made my first batch with Cascade hops, the result was lovely, a refreshing light grapefruity-flavoured drink, exactly as Donna described.   My main criticism of this first attempt is that I did not leave the hops to steep quite long enough.   Not wanting to mess it up I was too tentative hence had erred on the side of caution…. it could be a teensy bit stronger in flavour.

The hops are not boiled so I think this is what helps make it so fresh tasting.  Next time I will be braver, add a few ‘marmalady’ Admiral hops to the Cascade hops and leave the them to infuse for a little longer than 2 days.   Well just as per Bill’s instructions, ‘until the mix tastes right’ – exactly right, if all else fails follow the instructions!!

Thank you and Cheers to Bill and Donna – this recipe is definitely a keeper.

bill's hop soda

Bill’s Basic Hop Soda
(produces 1 gallon)
1-3 oz. hops (fresh or dry-packed and frozen)
2 cups sugar
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon champagne yeast
One Step No-Rinse Cleanser
8-10 16-oz. plastic bottles and caps

Method
In a large non-reactive kettle (stainless steel)   combine 1-3 oz. hops  (fresh or dry-packed and frozen) in 2 cups water + 1 cup sugar + 1 T. lemon juice +1 T. lime juice and let soak for a few days until it tastes right (yep, that’s the recipe).

After soaking, use cheesecloth or a straining bag to filter out the solids.

Add 2 quarts water.  Add lemon juice and lime juice and remaining 1 cup sugar now to taste.

Warm the liquid to 120-140 degrees for 10 minutes to kill any wild yeasts.

Cool the mixture to below 90 degrees. Add champagne yeast per packet instructions.

Use One Step No-rinse Cleanser to sterilize bottles, caps and bottling equipment (funnel and measuring cup)

Fill bottles with the cooled mixture and cap. Dent the plastic.

After 24 hours, start checking the bottles. When the dent is pushed out and the bottle feels firm, move the bottles to the refrigerator to slow the fermentation.

Cascade and Citra hop varieties make a grapefruity soda.  Centennial has a bit more bite. I generally prefer a mixture.