Monday, May 23, 2011

Preparing the Land

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, the land on which we are going to plant the hops has not been farmed in over 14 years. During those years, a crop of young scrubby pine trees have self propagated. These trees are the offspring of the larger pine trees in the background of these two pictures.

These trees had to be removed. The wet and rainy spring allowed for easy uprooting of these trees. (With the help of our "workhorse" Ford tractor). I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for our ancestors when they originally cleared this land a 150 years ago with only a team of horses and much larger trees to deal with.

Across the meadow, behind us the test row we planted last year is beginning to "wake up"

It is time to push away the straw which blanketed the rhizomes over the winter.

There are purple shoots coming out of the ground. This is very encouraging.

Meanwhile, back in our green house, the rhizomes we planted are beginning to sprout as well.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reflection and Planning

The long winter we experienced here in Michigan gave Howard and I a lot of time to reflect upon the 2010 Hops experience. The results obtained from this experimental crop were less than stellar. Three bags of Nugget hops in our freezer...hmmmm. It didn't seem like a wise endeavor to invest thousands of dollars and give up every weekend of our spring and summer months to pursue this experiment any further.

But then..... our love for the outdoors, nature, and farming brought us to our senses. What if we only planted half of an acre? What if we concentrated on just the varieties that showed some "promise" in our test plot? What if we started earlier than we did last year?

Before we knew it, by mid March, we had placed an order for 424 rhizomes and lots of hardware. But what about the poles? Yikes! Where do you get 20 foot poles on such short notice? That was Howard's dilemna...I let him work on that for a "few" weeks.

In the meantime, Howard worked on refurbishing the 30 year old Deutz 110 tractor to get it ready for opening the ground for our hops yard. He also readied the disk and plow. These pieces of equipment have sat idle in my father's tool shed for the past decade. The prospect of having these "workhorses" in use again was very exciting.

Oh and before the really hard toil began, we treated ourselves to a Caribbean cruise. Upon returning home, we found our first shipment of hops rhizomes waiting for us on the dining room table. Yikes! We forgot to tell our daughter (house sitter) about the possible shipment and that if they did arrive, please place them in the refrigerator...our bad..

With wintery weather still upon us, we had no options but to plant the rhizomes in pots on the wintery March afternoon.

Wintery weather was still upon us in March, leaving us no option but to plant the rhizomes in pots on that cold March afternoon.

Howard got the greenhouse in our backyard ready to house our crop while I potted.

96 rhizomes planted. 348 more arriving any day. Soil tests to do, lots of poles to procure, ground to be cleared and broken... Our work has just begun.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Winter Scenes

On a sunny day in late December, I ventured out to the hops plot on my cross country skis.

All is well and peaceful. The hops are sleeping under a cover of snow.

One last picking of Hops in September

The month of September brought more warm weather. Hops cones continued to grow and ripen on our plants, so we harvested one last time before cutting down the bines.

With the absence of hot dry conditions in the old barn, we opted to use the kitchen dehydrator to dry this final harvest of hops.

Drying the Harvested Hops

What to do with freshly picked Hops? Our knowledgebase on hops tells us that they need to be dried quickly and with minimal exposure to light.

So, being the resourceful people that we are, we looked to what we had available.....

I went out in our back shed and found an old window screen and a window box fan.

Howard rounded up some bungee cords and an extension cord.

The weather was dry and in the 90 degree fahrenheit range, so the upstairs hay mow of our old barn provided the perfect conditions for drying the hops - hot, dry and dark.

The upstairs of the barn has an old hay elevator which provided a convenient place to suspend the fan and to set the screen holding the hops.

The drying process was completed overnight with no artificial heat source needed. it worked out perfectly for our tiny little harvest. We will need to rethink this process for 2011 with a greatly expanded harvest being planned.

The next step was to package the hops in air tight storage and place in the freezer. (Next to the blueberries)

Hops Farm 2010 Update

The harvest of the Nugget hops took place during the last week of August.

We had a week of very hot dry weather. Our harvest was small, as predicted - only 3 plants out of the original 14 rhizomes which were planted originally, actually produced cones of any significant size.