Welcome to the July update from a Year in the Life of our Hop Garden. Everywhere the hop garden is bursting into life!
The hop plants are pushing ever skyward. There are more and more perfect pairs of lateral stems emerging from the bines.
The first pins are starting to sprout and some are erupting into the spiky burrs.
Despite the lack of rain (the driest July since 1911), the deep-rooted hops are continuing to grow. With the benefit of being another year older, they are more robust. The Fuggles hops are the most far advanced. Most of the pins – the first stage of the hop cone formation – have emerged and many of them have already progressed into burrs, the next stage of hop cone formation.
It normally takes about 3 weeks after the pins for the burrs to form. Then it's another 3 weeks from burrs to cones, so we should start to see them in mid August. Then it's a waiting game for the hops to start producing the oils that give all that wonderful aroma.
But this very dry spell does come with consequences for anyone growing crops above and below the ground. The crop is experiencing Drought Stress - the perennial hop will concentrate its energy on self-preservation, by pushing out feeder roots underground in search of moisture which slows down the process of lateral growth and cone development.
USA Cascade hops normally grow in places like Yakima Valley, so they flourish in hot, dry conditions. Our English Cascade hop cones are normally slightly smaller than the giant ones found on our Fuggles. What they lack in size, they make up for in quality, being the most aromatic of the hops we grow. But our English Cascade plants are producing plenty of pins, and there are many burrs in evidence already.
The White Bine are a little further behind, with pins more in evidence, but still at the stage Matthew would expect at this time of year.
With little rain forecast and some warnings of drought in August, Matthew will be keeping a keen eye on the hops.
The greening of the hop garden is drawing lots of comments from the Tap Room visitors as the vista changes weekly.
The resident deer also appreciate the shade the garden is starting to provide and have been much in evidence in recent weeks – they seem little worried by the comings and goings of us humans.
The fields of oilseed rape, which surround the hop garden, have now all been harvested by the local farmer, so Matthew is on the lookout for any migrating aphids and spider mites, which might be looking for a new home in our hops. We don’t mean to be inhospitable but they are definitely not welcome! Matthew will have his work cut out to keep them at bay. One good consequence of the recent high temperatures is Red Spider Mites cannot exist in heat of 34C or above, so they have all perished.
But it’s not just the hop garden where Matthew is needed….
Elsewhere, the tractor has been given a new set of rear tyres. The tractot is 50 years old this year and so the new tyres are its golden Jubilee birthday present! The tractor has already been put to good use, helping move soil from the new pond being dug in the Sunken Garden.
The automated Bine Puller Trailer has a set of new tyres. It will be in use for the first time this year, to help reduce some of the manual labour in pulling down the whole hop bines from the wires. That’s that most fun bit – being on the back of the tractor with hop bines falling around your ears! The scent is absolutely amazing but after your 4th run of the day, the pleasure does dwindle as it is such hard work (but don’t tell Matthew!). So this year, it should be a bit easier…..
Maintenance work on the Picking Machine has begun. New chap, James Marshall will be on hand to help on the mechanical side.
A new hoist has been designed and delivered to site. This will facilitate the lifting of the hops out of the kiln to the conditioning area. Matthew has somehow managed the task on his own up to now but this nifty new device is going to make it an awful lot easier.
Matthew, Miles and Rupert have been poring over designs for the new baling system. They are finally in agreement and the baler is being manufactured as we speak. It should be delivered to site in August. Unfortunately, you can’t really do a dry run with it, so fingers crossed.
Recruitment for hop harvest volunteers is well underway with our trusty Hogs Back Hoppers! But if you want to get involved, get in touch as there are still lots of shifts, particularly in the afternoons, available should you want to take part in return for a drop of beer. Please email directly to Matthew@hogsback.co.uk.
Tours of the hop garden started last week, so if you want to see for yourself what Matthew and the team are doing, book a place.
August is bound to be busy so sign up below to the newsletter for all the latest pre-harvest action or follow us