Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hops: back in to the earth

Took advantage of a rare unbooked Saturday morning, and sprang out of bed early. My intentions of getting the plants back in to their final homes soon after unearthing them has been repeatedly foiled. So, this Saturday I looked forward to finally sinking my languishing bag-in-a-box hops back in to the earth at my uncle's farm in Berkley, MA.

My generous aunt and uncle have designated a ~50 x 3 foot row adjacent to a nursery area on their farm. I had my work laid of for me. I had to dig out about 2 feet of partially decomposed wood chips and replace it with a mix of screened loam and well rotted farm provided compost.

They had laid down this thick bed of chips to prevent weeds taking over in the nursery. While extremely effective at suppressing growth, the wood scavenges nitrogen in the decomposition process in a much more effective manner than (hops) roots can, so a huge amount of compost was needed to tip the carbon:nitrogen ratio back in to balance. Thankfully, earthworms and microbes have had at the chips for going on 4-5 years now, so they are already partially decomposed and loaded with earthworm castings. The rich loam provides sufficient mineral and tilth for the newly planted hills. I couldn't help but notice the huge population of earthworm in the compost as I was amending the bed.

So, I've successfully jostled the hops root systems from their constricting but the northern exposed protected homes and thrust them in to a new and southern exposed environment in the worst possible time of the year. I've cut back the already stunted ~4-5 foot bines to 1 or 2 nodes to keep the plants from respiring too much. Even still, this will truly test the big rep of tenacity that hops carry. My aunt waters the nursery daily to keep the potted plants going through the season, and she'll ensure that the water will hit the newly planted hill to make sure they don't experience prolonged desiccation. If they survive the next month, then I'm very confident they'll start yielding some farm-compost fueled hops for years to come.

Trellising couldn't be put up this day, but the plan is to sink 30ft telephone poles ~5feet down (Uncle Richard has some serious excavating equipment) at each end of the 50ft row. A lead wire will run across the top with coir twine staked to the base of each hill. An annual top dressing of compost will be the only additional amendment that will be needed.

Driving through the relatively rural land, my mind drifted away (back) to growing ingredients for a proper farmhouse beer, using ingredients raised in local soil. While growing and drying hops is really quite easy, the grain component can be a bit daunting to some and isn't nearly as common.

I am undeterred.

The rest of their farm is situated in cleared forest, so there's no spare 1/2 acre of so that would be needed for this pilot project, so I've begun to put out some feelers to local farmers who might be interested in bit of a land-for-beer barter.

But for now, I'll continue to scour the internet for information on growing grain in New England. There are some bits and pieces from some blogs and a recent article in the May-June 2010 BYO, but no comprehensive beginning to end experience just yet.

I am inspired by stories such as these, and I have my hopes for this project, as well, and will continue to check in on updates.
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