Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Establishing the Trellis, Chapter 1

This post is wordy, but needs to be here so that we may look back and appreciate the hardships we encountered along the way.

May 29, 2010 Howard purchased lumber and more hardware to construct three 16 foot tall poles for our test row of hops plants. The local lumber yard did not carry beams this long, so the beams were constructed in 2 sections, bolted together. The poles needed to be sunk into the ground to a depth of at least 3 ft., so the total lengths of the poles are 19 ft.
A shorter beam was attached horizontally to the top of each pole to allow two separate cables to run the length of the hops plot. There would be strings extending from these cables to the ground next to each hops hill. This would allow for the adequate aeration of the vines during the growing season.

May 30, 2010 Howard completed construction of the poles at our farm yard. Having access to electricity and cold beverages helped expedite this task. Especially since it was 90 degree weather!

May 31, 2010 Upon transporting the poles back to the plot to be erected, Howard encountered a mysterious visitor. A very large turtle (at least a foot long shell) had planted itself in a hole close to our Hallertauer hops. We were wondering what kind of creature was making strange "hole like" tracks in our strip of worked up soil. It seems the turtle was appreciative of the loose dry soil as a place to lay its eggs. We had no idea that turtles this big resided on our farm. We are continuously amazed at the endless variety of animal species who choose to make their homes on our farm.

Anyways, this was the beginning of a very frustrating day.


After finally getting our old Deutz tractor started and fixing its flat tire, Howard managed to hitch up the old post hole digger and head out to the hops plot to dig the holes for the mighty poles. I drove out ahead of him and waited. When he finally arrived, he had a funny look on his face and stated, "the bridge made a strange sound as I drove over it". I shrugged my shoulders and said, "let's get going here"

The three holes were dug with ease with the big old equipment. Thank goodness we didn't have to dig these holes by hand. One foot beneath the topsoil, rested the purest clay I have seen since visiting a pottery studio. I made a couple of clay marbles just for fun.

It was time to go up to the house for lunch. I left ahead of Howard and drove around the apple tree to the bridge and stopped the truck dead in its tracks. The tired old bridge was no longer horizontal. It rested at at least a 20 degree angle in front of me. Perhaps if I floored the accelerator I would cross the bridge and launch the truck 10 ft into the air.

Howard was able to straighten the bridge back out with some beams he had stored at his nearby deer camp settlement and the truck barely crossed the unstable bridge. The tractor was definitely marooned back on the meadow for now.

The gracious neighbor behind our farm allowed Howard to drive the tractor over his land to the next road south (Hansen) of our farm. It was then a three mile drive via roads to get the tractor back to its shed.
That was enough hops farming for one weekend. We watered our baby hops plants, mulched them and bid them farewell for the week.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A trip to the Big Hops Farms

With the rhizomes planted and nothing better to do while waiting for the hops plants to sprout, we left Michigan for a week of family vacationing in the Pacific Northwest. We attempted to climb to the rim of Mt. St. Helens on the eve of the 30 year anniversary of it's eruption.

Then we did some hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Then we visited the Haystack Rocks coastal region of Oregon.

Then finally...we visited two major hops farms south of Portland Oregon.
Goschie Farms, Near Silverton Oregon
Rogue Farms, near Independence Oregon

We studied the trellising systems and irrigation systems they had established. We took lots of pictures and scribbled lots of notes and measurements. We also noted that the hops plants in those fields were at least a month ahead of ours in size and growth.

Now back to Michigan to check on our baby hops plants (hopefully) and to set up a trellis system for our first year plot.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vacant land gets a makeover!

In April, Howard researched different types of hops and their properties. I had no idea that there was more than one variety of hops. Thanks to some of his friends who live in Germany, he got some good suggestions. He was drawn towards a German variety called Hallertauer.

We ordered rhizomes from a company located in Oregon. Along with the Hallertauer, we purchased Perle, Nugget and Northern Brewer varieties, hoping to get a broad range of alpha acids from the hops we harvest. (More on this in a later post)

Meanwhile, we had a field waiting for us. Realizing that we were getting a really late start, it was time to open up the soil for our rhizomes which were being shipped. Our little Ford tractor with rototiller attachment crossed the old bridge without a problem.
Howard made a one hundred foot long pass across the north end of our plot.

The poles to support this first year's planting were our next consideration. A local utility company was in the process of replacing all of the telephone poles nearby. Howard talked to the workers and they said they would gladly give us the old year. It would take up to a year for all of the various lines connected to the poles to be moved to the new ones being installed. What to do now??? We did not want to transport poles from far away and we don't know of any sources for poles on such short notice and in such small quantities. No worries, something would materialize in the month of May...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One hops pole is standing!

After 3 months of talking, reading, decision making and hard physical labor, we finally have one of our three hops poles standing on our hops plot. It has been an interesting journey and now is a good time to stop and document our actions thus far so we can look back and learn and make good decisions in the future.

In March of this year, Howard and I decided to try growing hops on our little 7 acre meadow at the back of our farm located in Scottville, Michigan. This meadow is a unique triangular shaped parcel of land bordered by a Black creek to the north east, a quaking bog forest to the west and a neighboring farm to the south. This land is inaccessible without the use of a wooden bridge built over 20 years ago by my father who was looking to expand his wheat farm back in the 1980s and needed to be able to drive a large combine to the crop at harvest time.

During the past 13 years this land has remained untouched by any farm implements. None of the farmers to whom we have rented the rest of our farm land have had any interest in risking their equipment loads on this little bridge over Black Creek. Several ideas of what to do with the parcel have "cropped" up over the years, such as a garden or a feeding plot for deer, or a grove of walnut trees. But none seemed to move us as much as the idea of a hops plot. We had visited a hops farm during our trip to Germany in 2003...

....and we were so intrigued by the massive height of these vines. With the numerous microbreweries popping up all over Michigan and Howard's own interest in brewing beer, hops growing just sounded like such a unique idea. We had never heard of anyone growing them in Michigan so we decided to embark on this journey.