This year’s hop setts have arrived just in time to coincide with the arrival of storm Doris tomorrow! That will probably delay planting for 24 hours, but we planted several out today and the rest are now safely bedded-in until Doris passes. I love baby hops and as always these setts from Stephen Wright are superbly grown.
We have the more popular varieties already growing which we wanted to bulk up, but also 2 ‘brand new to us’ varieties for the home brewer to try. Hopefully these new additions to our range for 2017 harvest will whet a few appetites; well certainly enough to give them a try in a brew.
There should also be 2 Heritage varieties on offer this year. But I will wait until closer to harvest to select which two will be listed.
This year’s 2 new additions to our range are Willamette and Perle. I am now really looking forward to seeing how they grow this season.
Snow drops are out, a few early daffodils along sunny banks and the hellebores are as stunning as ever. This year’s hop setts have arrived, hurray Spring is not far off.
A new hop growing season begins. In this area hop stringing has just started. I love this fresh ‘new-page-in-a-note-book’ feeling, with the accompanying expectation that as a new hop growing season begins, this is it, this year there’ll be a perfect hop crop! Of course we know reality will not be like that! Each season always turns out to be very different to the last one and just when you think you have things sorted, along comes a completely different set of problems to keep everyone on their toes. But just for now we can dream a little, it will all be perfect!
Hop string soaking before being put on wet. If it was put on dry it would stretch when it rained.
Bines have been cut off and burnt up, winter wire working is complete, allowing this tentative beginning to hop stringing. This job is weather dependent therefore can continue in fits and starts over the next 3 months. Banding follows on as soon as each garden is strung. Below the first strings silhouetted against a wintry sky.
Stringing at A Bushel of Hops will not get underway until after this year’s new varieties have been planted. The screw pegs will go in as each hop sett is planted, each screw peg is needed to be in place before any string can be put onto that garden.
What makes this crop so exciting is within 6 months these plants will emerge from the bare soil, they will grow to 16 foot and be harvested. Zero to hero!
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.
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 –
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.
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.
But 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.
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.