With Midsummer’s Day now behind us, it’s time for June’s roundup in our Year in the Life of the Hop Garden series.
There’s good news from the hop garden – all 51 alleys of Fuggles and 22 alleys of Cascade hops have now been “twiddled” (or “twizzled” as it is sometimes called in certain areas), meaning the hop shoots have been trained up the strings.
Never an easy task, our nimble-fingered volunteers have been plugging away stoically to complete this important task. The Hogs Back Hoppers have been out in force this month.
Along with our loyal hop garden volunteers, aka the Hoppers, we’ve had some volunteers from Cask Marque, the independent organisation that monitors cask ale quality, and we have been indebted to Anna, Natalia, Yulia, Svitlana, Viktoria, Sasha and Vitalia, who have rolled up their sleeves to help. Originally from Ukraine, they have been offered a home here by generous residents of Tongham, Puttenham and Seale, and have been happy to help us out.
The hops are almost growing before our eyes! Clinging tenaciously to the coconut coir strings, it won’t be long before the first of the laterals push out from the bines and the first "pins" appear, starting the initial process for the hop cones to form.
As the old saying goes, by 21st June the hops should have reached the top of the 16ft wires. Happily the Fuggles and Cascade have. Even some of the Farnham White Bine are sprinting away, like this one up the anchor post wire!
This June has been one of the coolest recorded since records began in 360 years ago. It is not helping the sun-worshipping hops to grow but the recent showers have given a welcome dousing of rain to a very thirsty crop. But this hasn’t penetrated deep down to the extensive root system and it will take a lot more rain to reach them!
Most of the Farnham White Bine hops have been twiddled - 11 rows in total - but there are still 3 rows where Matthew will let nature take its course and the hops will now be left to grow without too much help as a majority of the plants have naturally grown up the coir strings and reached the required height.
Finishing twiddling is Matthew’s priority as the thick growth will stop the light, air and water reaching the Farnham White Bine plants and could cause mildew if not addressed. Farnham White Bine hops are prone to Downey Mildew – one of the reasons that this hop fell out of favour as a commercial crop and which caused the old hop gardens of Surrey to be grubbed up in the 1950s and 60s.
There’s also the small matter of keeping the thistles and other unwanted organic growth under control around the hop plants, as well as general maintenance such as checking the strings are still all in place.
The local deer like to munch on the thistles and weeds and are welcome visitors, but the muntjac tend to lean against strings for a good old scratch and snap them. Meanwhile red poppies adorn the parts of the garden that are yet to be twiddled and the local buzzard is regularly spotted flying overhead.
The agronomist has visited and given the hop garden a clean bill of health. But once surrounding fields of oilseed rape are harvested at the end of July, the hops will be under attack from migrating aphids, as well as spider mites, which lay their eggs under the leaves. Their offspring hatch and begin to drain the moisture out of the leaves so Matthew will be keen to eradicate them with a natural predator to avoid using chemicals.
Away from the garden, the tractor puncture has been mended and the rear tyres will be replaced next week. There's also a new set to tyres to be fitted to the automated blue Bine Puller Trailor. Later in August, they'll be given the once-over service so that they are all in tip top condition for the harvest. Another big job is the maintenance, cleaning and oiling of the picking machine, which will begin in July. But the main focus is working on a new baling system. Last year, the baler just couldn’t keep up with the pace at which the hops were being picked and dried, so Matthew is working with the suppliers to come up with a solution.
If you want to become more involved with the Hogs Back Hoppers, get in touch! Matthew is keen to extremely keen to recruit more Hoppers to the team in early July ahead of the harvest, which should start at the very end of August or early September. So sign up now and we'll be in touch.so watch out for announcements in the newsletter and on social media.