Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Newest arrival on Michigan Hops Farm: Scissor Lift

Catch up time...been away from the blog for a few months so I have some new things to report.

After our looney attempts at picking hops from ladders and sides of hay wagons (see my most recent post prior to this one if you missed it) this summer Howard and I decided it was "high" time to invest in a piece of equipment that will allow us to safely access our highest hops.

 And here we have it, our fun and adventurous scissor lift, recently retired from a college football stadium here in the great state of Michigan.  
Unloading at the farm......

Trying it out.....wheee!

It drives down the rows and goes up and down.

We took our friends, Lisa and John for a ride one Sunday morning this fall. It gets a little creepy up on top if the wind is blowing. I kind of felt like we were going for a carnival ride.

The view from the top is pretty spectacular.

Looking down upon the apple tree at the northeast corner of our hops yard.  Off in the distance is the pumpkin crop growing on our farm this season. 
  Our hops bines are all removed from the yard at this point, but the view of the pumpkin field being harvested adjacent to our hops yard is quite magnificent.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Harvesting of Hops

By early July, cones were already forming on the Northern Brewer, Hallertau and Perle varieties.  A long spell of hot dry weather seemed to contribute to early maturation of the cones.

In early August, our many of the hops were ready to be harvested.

This being our first year of having hops grower higher than our reach we had to devise a method of harvest which allowed us to reach the cones which were 16 ft above the ground.  We wanted to increase our yields by harvesting several times, so we opted to pick the hops directly into buckets and leave the bines in the hop yard until the final harvest.

This was accomplished by using Howard's long reach and a very long ladder perched against one of the old hay wagons.

The hops cones were sliced in half to determine readiness.  The lupulin content is present and appears to be dark yellow in color.

Later in the season, the bines were cut down from the high wire for the final harvest.  This was a very risky task for Howard.  Next year with over 600 plants, this method will have to be abolished.

The Nugget variety was the last of the hops to be harvested in early September.

The bed of our brand new pick up truck served the purpose of hauling hops to our barn very nicely.
Back in the barn, the hops cones are plucked from the bines and sorted into buckets.  Only the best are used for brewing.  Any cones showing signs of wind damage will be used for making hops pillows, a side product of our operation.
Our daughter Stephanie harvest the cones from our trial Magnum plants

Howie and Amber picked the 1st year Nugget hops.  They have some brilliant plans for using hops in new cooking recipes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hops are prone to Japanese Beetle attacks

In Mid July, I noticed a few of the 1st year plants had japanese beetles crawling on them.
I had heard of Japanese beetle traps.  They are very effective according to our farm neighbors.
I ventured off to the local box stores to buy a few of these traps. It turns out that lots of folks are experiencing Japanese beetle problems this summer.  The traps were in short supply.  We purchased six of them and hung them at the west end of our plot.

We also hung one way up on the top of the trellis for the 2nd year plants.  Even though there wasn't huge evidence of Japanese beetle presence here we thought we should protect the bines which were just beginning to flower.

The beetles are attracted to the traps by the scent of a solid disc which is lodged above the bag.  The results are immediate.  The bugs fly into the bag without hesitation.

Problem solved....or so we thought....

The following weekend we arrived at the hops yard to see this:  Our hops bines had been inhabited by thousands of Japanese Beetles.  The bags that we had hung were overflowing with rotten smelling dead bugs.  There were beetles all over our 2nd year plants.

The leaves were destroyed.  Japanese beetles eat the flesh of the leaves and a "lacy" skeleton of a leaf is all that remains.
The beetles also ate many of our Northern Brewer hops cones.  These will have to be discarded.  We lost over half of our early harvest varieties to Japanese beetles damage.

Frustrated, angry and disappointed, we sat down under our 2nd year hops bines to have a cold drink and rest in the shade.  As we sat there we noticed that the beetles seemed to be flocking towards the trap from the nearby swamp.  Could we be causing a greater problem by locating the trap directly next to our prized plants?  What if we placed the trap 50 feet away at the edge of the swamp? 

It turns out that by using these traps we caused greater problems than if we had not used them at all.  These traps need to be placed very strategically away from the plants you are trying to protect.

Once we moved the traps away from the plants the bug problem on the hops subsided.  We were able to salvage the remainder of our hops from more beetle damage.  Even thought the Nugget variety had considerable damage to the leaves, the flowers went on to produce cones free of bug damage.

We learned a valuable lesson the hard way.  One of many to come I'm afraid.

Growing crops of any kind is not easy.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hops Grow Amazingly Fast

Hops is a perennial plant which dies back to the bare ground each winter, sends out shoots in early spring and grows like crazy until mid summer here in the northern midwest.

It is time to take a break from construction of the hopyard to chronicle the growth of our 2nd year hops plants thus far this growing season.

 April 9:  The first signs of life.  The purple shoot towards the center of the picture is a new shoot.

May 7: Robust growth of shoots has occurred.

May 14:  The bines are forming.  The two strongest bines are selected to train onto the strings.  The remaining bines are pruned.

May 20:  The selected bines begin to exhibit sturdy growth.

May 21:  Steady growth to reach the top of the trellis is occurring.  During this period the hops will grow up to one foot a day.
June 9:  The bines have almost reached the top trellis line.

Large leaves are forming on the lower sections of the bines.

June 16:  The bines have reached the sky.  Side branches are forming at this point as well.

The side branches are where the cones will form.

June 17:  The first flowers are forming.  These will become cones in a few short weeks.

July 9:  Prolific growth has occurred.  Side branches from neighboring plants are meeting each other.
The tops of the bines are growing over the trellis and hanging off in the breeze.

July 12:  The flowers have formed into cones and will soon be ready for picking.

Three short months yields very tall results.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hops trellis establishment

The poles are all planted.  It is time to work on the trellis which will connect the poles.

The first step was to prepare the anchors. We have very large anchors.  Sinking them into the stiff clay which lies beneath our topsoil was not going to be an easy task.

Howard uses his grinder to sharpen the anchor so it will cut into the soil easier.

The power drill with an adaptor will be used to drive the anchor into the ground.

The drill was working quite well.

But after 3 or 4 anchors being set, the batteries used to power the drill ran out of energy.

That was no problem.  This became a perfect excuse for us to purchase yet another new toy for the farm, a brand new generator.  Howard has been wanting one of these for a long time....

The anchors were quickly set after the generator investment was made.  Howie provided the extra muscle power needed to manually drive the anchors the rest of the way into ground.
The next step was to prepare the cables which will connect the poles to the anchors.

All ready to go.

Meanwhile, our 1st year hops plants were growing faster than the trellis was being created.  I decided that it would be worthwhile to establish a short mini trellis (7 ft tall) using the poles and old rolls of baler twine we had laying around from the hay making days on our farm.
Amber and I had this task done in no time at all.
The baby hops plants were grateful to have strings to stretch upward on. Each plant had to be wound clockwise around the string.  I made the mistake of winding them counter-clockwise for the first 50 for so plants.  ughhhh... I had to go back and rewind them.