Friday, May 31, 2013

Hop Tending 2013: The Progression of the Hop Garden

With living in Michigan again, I once again can take care of my hop plants that we (my mum, father, and I) planted three years ago. It is a lot easier living 90 minutes away instead of 5.5 hours away to come back and take care of the girls. I call them girls because that it what they are, female. The cones, in which brewers use to bitter or give aroma, is what is put into the boil kettle when making beer.

Hop plants (Humulus lupulus) are monoecious, meaning that each plant only has a single reproductive morphology on plant, compared to dioecious plants which has both. Monecious plants have either the female reproductive parts, called the stamen (located in the hop cones) which receives the pollen, or they have the male reproductive parts, called the anther which develops, carries, and delivers the pollen to other plants and reproductive parts. Diecious plants have both parts contained within a flower.

Like grasses and corn, hop plants are wind pollinated, which do not require insects (such as bees) for pollination. The pollen must be transported by wind from the male plant to a female cone. Brewers do not want hop plants to get pollinated and harvest them before this happens. Brewers also do not plant male plants. Hop breeders do plant want male plants so that the female cones become pollinated to develop new varieties. A lot of work is done to develop new varieties for different aromas, amount of alpha acids (the chemical that provides the bitterness), disease resistance, and efficiency. Some the newest varieties that have been developed in the past few years have became very popular (i.e., Simcoe and Citra).

On the other hand, diecious plants either do or do not require (plants that can self pollinate called “selfing”) require insect to pollinate.

After moving up to Hamilton, Michigan to work at Saugatuck Brewing Company, each week I travel to my parent's property in Edwardsburg, Michigan to work on the hop garden. On the property, both of my parents have their businesses. My father owns a tool shop, in which he makes plastic injection molds to produce parts. My mum owns a greenhouse business, in which she also sells that harvested hops each year. I hope that working in the brewing industry will give me more of a market to sell my hops in, but being whole hops has drawbacks. Mostly, the hops needs to be bagged for the boil or they clog the lines.

The first weekend of May was my first time working on the hops for the year. I started with clearing the rows of weeds. It was a difficult task with using a hoe, so I located a rototiller that was in one of the barns. This rototiller is very ancient! I don't think that it has been used in 10+ years, but my father and I pulled it out, sprayed the carburetor with some starter fluid, and pulled the starter cord. It started right up with first pull!

Now that I cleared the rows between the hops vines, it was time to trim the hops back so that each line had two vines growing up it. With the plants being very young, it also makes them very fragile. I only broke maybe 4 vines that I tried to maneuver to that they would twist up the lines. The total time spent out in the garden was only around 4 hours to do 5 rows of 5 hop rhizomes.

The next week was relatively easy with only trimming new shoots away. It is amazing with the growth of the vines. In direct sunlight, I would estimate that the vines grows aboot 3 feet during a week.

Week three the vines on some varieties were all the up the lines! This week again did not require much work. Mostly, I didn't feel like doing much work after driving through the night from Oxford, Ohio back to my parents, with a bee hive in the back of my Subaru Outback, full of bees (in which I use for honey production, unrelated to my hop plants). As you can notice in the photo at the end of this paragraph, the bee hive located in the background, to the right, under a tree.

Last weekend (25 May, 2013) was fourth weekend working on the hop garden. By this time most of the hop vines have crawled up and over the top of the lines. During this week and did a lot of trimming of new shoots coming up, weeding in between the rows, and makings sure that the rhizomes didn't cross over from one row to another by digging out extra rhizomes. I also tried to “train” the vines to curl around the top lines. A few of the vines were broken off by the wind. This will make the vines fuller as the apical meristem is broken off and meristems at the nodes of the plants are allowed to grow.

The last few things that was done this final week was watering and checking for insect pest. I set up a sprinkler in between the rows and ran it for aboot 20 minutes. For checking for pest, I looked under the leaves for pests like aphids and spider mites. I found none of these to speak of and if they do become a problem, I apply my knowledge of biological pest control and will by predatory mites or lady bird beetles to consume the pest.

I will provide further updates as the year progresses.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Completing my move

This past weekend I took an adventure to make my move complete. Now that I am currently living in Michigan, I needed to go back to Ohio to retrieve my bee hive full of bees. This past spring I had to replace my bees and queen because my hive, and the other ones that a friend of mine had, all died. There was a combination of factors that lead to this. First, we harvested honey too late, and when winter came, they ran out of food. Second, we didn't treat for mites. Finally, a long, warm fall with no resources left nothing for our bees to forage on.

We also wanted new bees, mostly because our bees were mean (but hey, wouldn't you be mean too when all of your hard work of gathering nectar is stolen from you?). Many, many stings over the past summer told me this. In the hives from last summer, all of the bees came from the same hive; we split the hive a couple of times this past year to make 3 hives. My friends (now we have 4 people tending bees) and I, this past spring bought 6 hives, with each hive having one of two different types of queens, either an Italian or a Russian queen. I decided to go with a Russian queen, I named her Anastasia. I'll proved photos later because I neglected to take any this time because I forgot to bring along a camera. What I saw as strange with my queen, it that the abdomen in completely black. I think that this is really kind of cool!

I needed to find a way to bring my hive back with me to Michigan and here is the story aboot my travels with the bee hive. This past Saturday, 18 May, I made the drive from Hamilton, Michigan (where I currently reside and work for Saugatuck Brewing Company), to Oxford, Ohio. It was a 6 hour drive. First thing, once I got to Oxford was to join up with my friends, Kait and Mike, to inspect the hives and cage the queen to travel. We wanted to cage the queen to make her safe, so that she was not injured in the move. Kait built a luxurious “double-wide” cage to hold the queen. The dimensions for the cage was 10 cm X 10 cm and was 3 cm deep. On one face, we stapled wire mesh and on the other face was solid wood.

When inspecting the hive we easily found the queen because we marked her with a blue dot that we applied with a paint pen. Kait carefully picked up the queen by the thorax and guided her through the hole (in which she will use as an exit) that we drilled into the cage. We also gathered two workers to keep her company in cage also. Once this was done, we plugged the hole with a piece of cork. We hung the cage inside of the hive between two frames by some thinly gauge aluminum sheeting that was stapled to the cage. Now that was done we tended the rest of the hives to make sure supplies were adequate. Kait found in one of her hives that that she forgot to insert a frame into, the bees filled the space with burr comb from the cover to the base of the hive.

After we were done, I wouldn't return until after dark to retrieve my hive, so I met up with a few other friends to hang out for a bit and get some rest. I needed to take a nap before making the trek through the night back to Michigan. I had a wonderful home-cooked dinner and conversation with my friends Ty and Amanda, then later we went out to a local dive bar named The Circle Bar. Nothing is better than hanging out with the locals in a bar situated in a college town.

After all was said and done, I said my final good-byes (for a while at least) and went and gathered my hive. Shortly after 11 p.m., I made it to the property that had the hive. I closed off the opening with some wire mesh so that the bees could not make it through. A couple of bees were sacrificed (crushed) and trapped by the duct tape that I used. One bee though, managed to get to me to sting me. Then I gathered some no-see-um (like mosquitoes, only smaller holes) netting and completely enveloped the hive with it then secured it in my Suburu Outback wagon.

Other being long, the 4-hour drive back to my parent's property in Michigan was uneventful. Only one bee escaped into my car, but I removed it at a rest stop in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. I also took a 30-minute nap because I found that I was day dreaming a lot and couldn't pay attention. I arrived at approximately 4:30  at my parents in Edwardsburg, Michigan to unload the hive and make it into the house to go back to sleep. Of course, my parents were awake, because they usually make an early start to their day (just like farmers). Later in the morning, after I awoke, I released the queen back into the hive where it is once again safe. Instead of removing the cork and plugging it with a marshmallow, I instead used my hive tool and removed the wire mesh and guided the queen back into the hive.

This coming weekend, I will go back to tend to the hive and probably add another box, because it they are almost ready for it. The good thing about Russian bees is that they are slow at building, but very resistant to mites and other diseases, therefore I didn't have to travel with my hive that was stacked two boxes high.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ch, ch, ch, ch, ch changes...

Over the past year I have made a transition in my life. I realized that I was a slave to the academic machine and did not like the way that I was treated in my field. I loved my friends that I made at Miami University of Ohio, but everything else there made me a person that I did not like anymore. I was turning into what my academic advisor wanted me to be; a machine. At first I liked my advisor, he was nice to me, but after some time I got a look under his mask and saw who he really was. In reality, he is a dick. He comes off as nice, but always had snide comments aboot his peers at the university (little do they know that he talks badly aboot them, it's really too bad that I cannot mention to them that he does), and when he was irritated with how you performed, he made off-handed comments showing who he really was.

I got fed up with it and came back and had comments right back towards him. By the end of last April, it was enough. I have clear recollection of the incident where I was blamed for not having the undergraduate's data organized that he handled. For some reason, I was to blame not the undergraduate, even though I kept on her aboot her data. I received an e-mail, not the undergraduate, in how my advisor had to spend the night trying to figure out the data that my undergraduate had sent to him and how I was to blame for not having her organize it. She, of course, did not hear a word. In May I started to look for a job outside academia, in the brewing industry.

To start off, I got no returns on applications or inquiries. Then in July, I had a hit. I had a phone interview, then an in person interview/half-day of work at Aviator Brewing Company in Fuquay-Varina, NC. It was great time, but they decided to go with someone with more experience. Then at the beginning of August I got a call from Founder's Brewing Company, a dream job. They wanted a second interview over Skype, but it wasn't until I was back at school and had teaching duties. I had to turn it down, something that I originally regretted, but have now gotten over. A third interview, that was on site at Ohio Brewing Company in Akron, Ohio went well, but the owner never called me back, even after he told me to check back and he would get back with me. By that time I was ready to leave and tell the university to go to hell with teaching. My co-workers fully supported me also, which was great!

After the new year began, I was on a Research Assistantship and had no teaching duties. My ambitions took off. I started to volunteer at a new upstart brewery in Cincinnati, OH called Mad Tree Brewing Company. This was fun and they really enjoyed me working with them because they saw my passion. I sort of disappeared from the university, and I guess my advisor noted this. Then in April I applied to a posting on and I got a call back. I went back to my original state of Michigan to interview at SaugatuckBrewing Company. I was energized with the whole thing. A few days later, when I was out for drinks with a few fellow graduate students, I got an e-mail letting me know that I had the job if I wanted it.

I had three weeks to tie up loose ends and wrap things up. My advisor was none too please, and with me suddenly leaving, I guess that I would be not happy either. Looking back, I sort of did it out of spite, but I could have been much more vindictive, but I'm not going down that road. Moving was a chore. I had help in the morning of my move from a good friend, but not much other help. I ended up leaving a half-day later that I wanted to.

Starting the new job was fantastic. I got my hands in everything, from quality control, the cellar work, to brewing, I was brought in for my lab work and the ability to do quality control, but I have moved up within the first 10 days and have been trained to brew. Over the past two days I helped brew a batch and have brewed two batches. On Thursday, I get to do one on my own, under supervision of course. This is on top of the quality control work that I have been brought in for.

Now that I have gotten out of the realm of academia, I will be able to put more effort towards other things, including this blog. I will be able to have a life for myself now.