Welcome to the first of our special updates from A Year in the Life of our Hop Garden.
If you haven’t already been introduced, meet Matthew, our Hop Garden Manager and all-round hop guru. By the way, he doesn’t always go around wielding bill hooks but instead tends the hop garden and when not doing this, is part of the Brew Team.
January is very definitely a month for maintenance. It can be a bit of a lonely job clearing all the weeds and thistles but it has to be done as they prevent the new hop shoots appearing.
Not that we want the hop plants to start sending out shoots just yet……..The plants, with their deep tap root and extensive root system, were cut right back to soil level at the end of last year and should lie dormant over the winter months in the cold soil. This conserves their energy for when it is needed most in the spring as early hop shoots don’t make for a good harvest.
So the recent crisp and frosty weather has been just what Matthew has been hoping for.
Despite the misty mornings, the stray bines and string left over from last year’s harvest must all be carefully removed from the overhead wirework. As a rule, Matthew tries not to use the tractor at this time of year, because it cuts into the soft soil between the narrow alleys of hops and leaves ruts when the ground hardens in the sun. But a few runs have not caused any damage and the job is completed in record time.
Thanks to his efforts, the garden is looking immaculate!
Now the painstaking task of checking all 6,500 skewers can be started. The skewers sit in the ground beside each hop plant, and from these are attached the strings, up which the hops will start to grow in the spring.
It’s normal for the skewers to get dislodged and start to unscrew during the growing season or at harvest because of the weight of the hops. So every skewer has to be individually checked, replaced, realigned or reburied. Matthew started on Monday of last week and thinks it will take him until mid-February to complete.
Although Matthew won’t start stringing the garden until spring, the 100 miles or so of coconut coir needed to string the garden have been ordered and are in-bound from Sri Lanka as we speak.
There’s always plenty of wildlife in and around the hop garden, so this year, Jill and Colin donned their binoculars to take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. They spotted rooks, magpies and pigeons aplenty but were pretty sure that the visiting deer they spotted in the distance couldn’t be included. Read their full report here.
Inside in the warm, the historic photos of the local people from yesterday, who grew hops in this area, now adorn the walls of the Kiln. I wonder what they would make of our hop garden?
In our next update, Matthew will be preparing to string the garden.
Historic images courtesy of The Museum of Farnham