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.

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