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March in the Hop Garden - Hogs Back Brewery

March in the Hop Garden

Welcome to March’s update from the Hop Garden.

Stringing started later than hoped in mid March, as Matthew was finishing digging the drainage ditches.  But there’s only one thing on Matthew’s mind this month - stringing, stringing and more stringing!  Patience and a steady hand are what’s required. 

matthew stringing the hop garden

Last year, some of the younger plants in the hop garden only had two strings from the ground to the top wire.  Now the plants are maturing nicely and have all settled into their surroundings, Matthew is confident he can use 4 strings per plant – with 6,500 hop plants, this is going to take some time!

But Matthew has really got into the groove and has now completed 17 of the 86 alleys, starting from the top of the field – it’s easier to get the tension correct when you work downhill.

Now the clocks have changed, he has on average 10 hours a day to clear and string the garden, so Matthew is hoping to finish stringing the whole garden by 1st May.  The coils of coconut coir are already in place at the end of each alley. 

rolls of coconut coir in the hop garden

Wet weather in early March meant progress was slow.  Not only was there standing water on the hop garden.....

standing water in the hop garden

....but the pegs, which Matthew has painstakingly screwed back into the ground, are starting to come loose and lift with the tension.  The soft ground doesn’t hold the peg in place, so Matthew has had to go back to the beginning and screw the pegs back into place.  This has really hampered the pace of work.

pegs in the hop garden

By contrast the sunny spell in mid-March was perfect – helping to dry the ground and making it much more pleasant for Matthew.  But Thursday's snow flurries had him scurrying for shelter!

march snow in the hop garden

The first purple hop shoots are now sprouting but any frost will kill these off. Another few weeks in the ground will help the hop plants to gather all their strength.  Meanwhile the thistles are making a comeback and will need attention soon.

new hop shoots in the hop garden

Last year we planted a small-scale trial of high aroma hops – just 8 plants of 6 different varieties were grown around the wires supporting the anchor posts and left unharvested.

hops growing around the anchor posts

  • Mount Hood (herbal, spicy, woody)
  • Nugget (green, herbal)
  • Ernest (apricot, citrus, spice)
  • Centennial (floral, citrus)
  • Chinook (pine, spice, grapefruit)
  • Admiral (resinous, orange, citrus)

This year, we’re planning to harvest the hops and Miles is looking forward to experimenting in the brew house.  But there’s also good news for home brewers - we’ll be selling small packs of these freshly-picked hops in the Brewery Shop or you’ll be able to come along and “pick your own” packs.  Look out for more details around harvest time…..

Matthew still has his eye on some Mosaic hop plants but hasn’t been successful in getting hold of any yet.  He’ll keep trying to get them in the ground before May, but if not, he’ll leave them for next year.  Mosaic brings a wonderful, distinctive berry medley, tropical, citrus aroma.

rape seed oil field with hop garden in the background

Having consulted the agronomist to confirm the positions he has chosen for the poplars will be suitable, Matthew will be ordering the poplar “whips” shortly to plant before Easter as spring is on its way.  The rape seed plants are already coming into flower. The poplars will act as a windbreak to protect the hop garden.  Matthew will soon be recruiting Hogs Back Hoppers to help in the hop garden, so if you're interested in volunteering, watch this space!

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