Saturday, April 28, 2012

Michigan Hops Farm - Weekend Warriors go at it again

This last weekend of April, our family (4 kids) all came home.  It was a good time to get some labor intensive tasks done in the hop yard.

Our daughters are taking their first ride up in the scissor lift.

Laura described the experience like a "junky carnival ride" after hearing the lift squeak and feeling a swaying motion when the wind caused the basket to sway.

Howie teases his sister with another new tool while she tries to assist with pole straightening tasks. 

Stephanie learns to drive the tractor.

Laura delights in testing the properties of the new flame weeder while Howie and Amber stand back for safety reasons.

Howard and Howie are hard at work adjusting tensions on some of the trellis cables.

Stephanie has become bored with her job of leveling and begins practicing her Jedi skills.

Laura is weeding around the second year plants.

Stephanie distributes some old bales of mulch straw to the expansion area of our hops farm.  The straw will decompose and add humus to the soil.

Amber clips early season growth off of the plants.  Many of the plants have frost damage on the tips from the overnight freezing temperatures we have been experiencing here in Western Michigan.

Even though it looks like we did lots of goofing off, we got lots of work accomplished on our hops farm today.  We enjoyed spending the day working and playing with our family.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spring Happenings at Black Creek Hops

2012 is going to be a busy year for us at Black Creek Hops.  I was still busy working 60 plus hours per week in the heart of tax season when the new hops rhizomes arrived.  I ordered them from a large supplier in the Northwest.  With the mild weather we had in March, there was no reason to delay giving the Crystal, Spalt, Tettnang, Galena and Sterling hops a chance to get an early start. I took a break on a Sunday afternoon to get them planted.

I gathered up all the miscellaneous planting pots I could find in my greenhouse and prepared to get dirty.

I use a mix of organic garden soil and bagged manure to give the rhizomes a healthy start.

It is really important to label the rhizomes immediately upon planting.  I use popsicle sticks with the variety written on each stick, the most economical method I could think of.

Here we are in Mid April.  Tax season is over and we can begin our work out in the hops yard.  Howard is replacing one of the poles from our very first trial year row.  The old pole was planted in the wrong place and was out of alignment with the rest of the newer poles which we planted in 2011.

The field is green.  This is a very good thing.  Last fall I successfully planted rye seed and clover as a cover crop.  The rye and clover help to prevent soil erosion in the winter and spring months.  Rye grass helps discourage pesky weeds from growing and clover adds nitrogen to the soil.

Here is a close up view of one of the 2nd year hops plants.  This is some very vigorous growth.  At this time last year, there were barely any sprouts appearing.  In the middle of the growth there is a stalk which is dark and bent over.  This is the result of the heavy frosts which we have experienced in the past few weeks in western Michigan.  Luckily, hops are very resilient plants and new shoots will take over for the fallen ones.

Some of the bines are reaching, looking for their strings to grow on.  They are going to have to wait a few more weeks.

I have spotted my first enemy for the season.  There seems to be numerous butterflies near our yard.  I believe this is the Eastern Comma Butterfly.  I did a little research and found out that another name for this species is Hop Merchant.  This species happens to love hops.  I am dreading the caterpillar stage for this insect.  They feast on hop leaves at night.  The best way to control them is to manually pick the caterpillars off the bines.  Yuck!!!!  I am thinking I might like to go back to my office job in a few weeks.

Howard has finished replacing the old pole and now he is adjusting the tension on the overhead wires in this very first row of our yard.  He wants to get everything "right" in the first row before we move on to setting up the trellis in the remainder of the hop yard.  Another long day.  Plenty more to come.

Yet another task completed.  We took a trip to visit a fellow hops grower up in northern Michigan today to pick up a bale.  This bale contains 2400 strings of coir rope, imported from somewhere over in the Indian Ocean area of the world.  These are the strings which the hops plants are begging for so they can begin their upward spiraling growth.