Matthew is patience personified as he plugs away at the important task of stringing the hop garden.
Stringing in the spring sunshine with just bird song for company is all very pleasant. But there have been some very sharp showers and a sprinkling of frost too this April.
The combination of rain and sun has meant the hops have all burst into life. The bright green foliage of the very newest leaves stands out in sharp contrast to the older leaves.
The shoots are really getting up a head of steam, despite April being colder than average, and March being the wettest in 42 years!
Some of the shoots have already latched onto the strings and are heading skyward!
But these “shooters” won’t be fruitful in terms of the hop harvest so they will need to be trimmed back – another important job in caring for hops.
The recent frost has done no damage to the hop shoots. It may have slowed the growth for a few days but the hops are relentless!
Luckily, so is Matthew! Weather permitting, all 51 rows of the Fuggles hops will be finished today which means it’s just the 21 rows of Cascade to go. The intricate pattern of the strings is created by a very precise set of moves, repeated over and again.
There is real skill in stringing, as it is vital when it comes to harvesting, the tractor can go down the alley with the Hoppers cutting and pulling the bines on their right.
The process is the same for each hop plant. Matthew starts by attaching the coconut coir to the top left hook on the top wire, before bringing the string to the peg. This first string is called a “stock”. Then from the peg, it’s up to the next hook on the left hand side as a “half stock”, back down to the peg, and across to the top right hook with another “half stock”, back to the peg, before another full “stock” to the next peg on the right, so he is positioned ready for the next hop plant. In this way, he will work his way downhill, from one side of the hop garden to the other.
All around the hop garden, a green mantle of new growth is emerging….. the prickly-leaved thistles are back too.
Luckily the slugs seem to have gone away but the deer have started to nibble the hop shoots instead!
Removing any debris from the old plants or weeds as he goes is another of Matthew’s chores, but it’s important the hop shoots get light, air and water.
Soon it will be time for the trusty Hogs Back Hoppers to stretch their muscles and limber up for the first big task of 2023, namely twiddling or training the bines up the strings. Many nimble-fingered volunteers have already signed up, so there are hopes of a Super Saturday to encourage even more people to get outdoors in the fresh air, working alongside like-minded people. Here they are helping out in October to dress the hops.
If you are interested in volunteering as a Hogs Back Hopper, get in touch. Twiddling starts Tuesday 2nd May from 9am – 1pm in great company, with a beer as well.
In the meantime, we hope Matthew hits his deadline of the Coronation weekend to finish the stringing!