growing hops

Yes we grow hops on our flower farm. We love them. They are a beautiful addition to floral designs and Nich likes to brew beer, so we fight over them every year. Our answer to this dilemma was to plant more hops! It all started about 5 years ago with a couple of rhizomes from a friend who thought we should grow some. So we did. The next year we planted a few more, and then a few more, and then…. We now have 22 different plants, all different varieties, growing in a line next to the hoophouse. Here are some of the lovely outcomes of our hops production:

Plant the rhizomes in the spring (like now) and we always spring for the jumbo roots. We have gotten some from a local home brew shop, Freshops.com, Great Lakes Hops, and an organic producer Thyme Garden. They all have great info on their websites but one of the best websites for when and how much individual varieties produce is Beer Legends. Another fantastic resource for us has been Gorst Valley Hops. They offer intense workshops and have done lots of research on growing/producing and what not. Rumor has it that they are going to be selling plants that are certified disease free, which is great because nobody else does that and we did get in a disease last year from a previously reputable source. Sounds like this is becoming more common with the growing popularity and demand for plants. The vines are actually bines, but I am going to call them vines because I always think bines looks like a typo. They are aggressive plants and need to be thinned and pruned during the season to keep them in check. We select about 4 of the nicer looking sprouts to keep every spring and then pinch out the other sprouts, you have to do this every week because they keep on coming. It slows down in July.

They are heavy feeders and drinkers, if you want pretty green cones you better make sure they get plenty of water. We have an irrigation line on them and feed with a granular three times per year as well as a good dose of compost in the spring. They grow about 20 feet high by their second year, you can grow them horizontally but they may require a bit of help. We set up this weenie trellis the first year which broke and then we tried a couple of other things in the next year but it was apparent that we needed serious support. And if you want to grow 20 plants you would need a lot of room to go horizontal. Black locust is the tree of choice for this because it is abundant in these parts, it is very rot resistant, and it grows tall and straight. So we went into the woods with Gramps, his tractor, and a couple of chainsaws and we came out with three 25 foot long posts. They went about 4 feet into the ground and were set in cement. Wire cables are attached to the top of each post and run down to ground anchors to keep the whole thing from toppling over. Those plants get tall and bushy and on a breezy day… well, the guy lines are a good idea. Wire cable also runs along the top and bottom with coir rope attached for each plant to grow up. Yes that is a twenty foot extension ladder and yes it makes me nervous. You have to go up every spring to tie the ropes and every fall to cut the plants down.

You won’t harvest much the first and second year. There will be some cones that you can pick but leave the leaves and vine in place. Much like peonies you need that plant to feed the root system so that you get nice plants in the future. By the third or fourth year you should have vigorous plants and it is then OK to cut the entire plant when you harvest.

I like to harvest when they are pretty and green, which is too early if you want them for beer brewing. It’s about a 2-3 week window before they begin to lose their vibrancy and get a little papery, which is still pretty… but not as pretty. With all of our varieties I can have hops for design use from about mid-July through September, maybe early October. So what are some of my favorite varieties? I will have to update this at the end of the season after some of these plants come into their third year but for now they are:

  • Cascade: this one is easy to find, you can probably pick one up at your local garden center. It is vigorous and produces tons of cones on appropriately sized side branches.
  • Nugget: produces big beautiful cones. I know some people like Chinook for this but I prefer the shape of Nugget.
  • Saaz: it is a European variety which I have heard complaints about it not growing very well here. I think it produces lovely cones and produces early. It is not as vigorous as others but it work for me.

A few issues/lessons learned:

  • They are prone to some viruses and downy mildews. Allegedly most of these should not be a problem for your flower crops but I don’t trust that. We thought we had some hops downy mildew and sent in a sample, turned out to be wind damage and probably also not enough water. Whew! What a relief. The leaves were not attractive and had to be removed but most of the cones were fine. We also though we had a virus on one…. and we were correct. The plant had to be destroyed and removed.
  • Japanese beetles can be a problem but we are already used to that. Not much you can do but pick off the unattractive parts
  • Spider mites, we got them bad one year. It was the year of the horrible drought which was also the year that soybeans were planted in the adjacent field. Most hops were not usable but we have not had that problem since.
  • They are heavy feeders! We planted these about 2 feet from the edge of my hoophouse. There were dahlias in there planted about 5-6 feet away from the hops. They did not perform well and some looked a bit chlorotic by August.
  • Use new rope every year. Even if you are able to get the hops off the rope intact that rope will not be able to support those heavy plants next year. It will come down with a strong wind three weeks before they are ready for harvest on a day when you really don’t have time to deal with it… hypothetically speaking of course.

Here is a link for an IPM guide, it’s a big one but if you really want to know something about IPM on hops this is the place to look.

may showers

It finally rained last night and a whole lot today too. They kept on saying it was going to rain last week and it really didn’t, which sort of caused me to fall behind in my office work. So I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it started to come down last night. Not only is it giving me a day to catch up with inside work but it has been couple of weeks since we got any measurable rain at the farm and the ground was starting to dry up. I have transplanted so many things in the last couple of weeks and a good soaking is just what they need. What have I been planting you ask. The list is long: lisianthus, snaps, stock, bells bupleurum, sweet peas, dusty miller, campanulas, grasses, dianthus, scabiosa, and more stuff I can’t think of right now.

It finally got warm last week and so many perennials and shrubs are coming up and leafing out. There will be a lot happening in a couple of weeks, inside the hoops and out in the garden. Right now I have anemones and ranunculus in the hoop and fritillaries, narcissus, and tulips outside.

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The to do list seems endless right now. There are still so many transplants to get in the ground, more seeds to start so I’ll have flowers late in the summer, irrigation lines to set up, weeding to do (yes, so much weeding), and my first wedding of the year is on Friday.  Yikes! At least Mother Nature took care of the watering for me today.

april madness

April is one of my busiest months as a flower grower and, as it is in it’s final days this year, I am thinking about all of the things that should be done by now but are not. Not entirely my fault, most of it can be chalked up to the weather. We have been on a roller coaster ride for the last few years so I think I am over the anxiety that it causes (mostly over it.) By now I would like to have a whole lot of annuals planted out. I did get a couple of beds in last week: snaps, stock, sweet peas, bells, calendula, but there are about 20 more flats sitting out there waiting for the ground to dry up a bit so I can till and plant. ImageIMG_0363

I have also been ordering, paying for, and receiving stuff. You know the type of stuff you know that you need but you don’t really have the money to pay for it because it’s only April, but you need it if you want to have a productive season. Stuff like plants, bulbs, shade cloth, landscape fabric, cover cop seeds, market booth fees, a new market table, gas to get to the farm…. It’s enough to give a girl a headache. I try to keep my attentions pointed in the near future and resolve that this fall I will save more money so that I can make it through the long and expensive spring. It is hard to do when you need so many things to run a profitable business, sometimes it’s hard to draw the line. But look at what I got last week, a bunch of bare root stuff. Probably won’t pay for itself this year but hopefully next year I will have at least recovered most of their expense.

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And I am still starting seeds, both annuals and perennials. The annual seeding schedule starts to lighten up a bit in the basement and moves into more direct seeding as the weather warms, assuming that it will warm! On my list now are more heat loving plants: celosias, marigolds, gomphrena, grasses, as well as more successions of scabiosa, and snaps. On top of all the actual work of growing the flowers April is a big month for marketing and beginning to sell these flowers. I can grow as much as my heart desires but unless someone actually pays me for them, well, I don’t eat. Tulips and anemones are blooming in the hoop. Ranunculus, stock, snaps and poppies are getting buds set. Mother’s day is coming, people have weddings on their mind, and I almost always feel like I am forgetting something. And that is the madness that is April, every year. It brings new life and excitement along with long work days which are scheduled around the unpredictable weather.

4.14.14

What is going on out there these days? That is what everybody wants to know. It has been a long and cold winter and all of the plants seem to be sleeping in this spring. I can’t really blame them, it is snowing again right now. The weather had been nice and warm for a few days, then rain and now snow. It will warm up later this week and I think that a lot of plants are going to be in a hurry to get up and do their thing. Already I have iris, narcissi, tulips, lady’s mantel, dianthus starting to poke up out of the ground. Lilac and viburnum buds are beginning to swell and I saw a couple of witch hazel flowers starting to open. I think that spring is actually here. I am so happy that we got those hoop houses up last year. Even though spring is late I still have tulips ready to go for Easter.

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We planted all of the new hops yesterday in the rain. I think that there are 20 different varieties now. Yikes!

I’m going to start field planting annuals late this week, not too far off schedule despite the slow start. Last week I planted a ton of alliums that I got a good deal on, since it’s spring and my supplier was hot to get rid of them. Mention bulbs on sale to me and I loose my mind. No self-control whatsoever.  Another round of lisianthus just showed up as well as some scented geraniums and succulents. Oooh my basement is over flowing with all kinds of good stuff.

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Seriously overflowing, I have flats on the floor. Not a great pic but you get the idea. Most of it can get moved to the hoop after tomorrow night’s return to frigid temps. And I am going to fill that germination chamber up with annuals one more time this week, then it’s on to the the perennial project.

 

4.2.14

This week I feel like spring is actually going to happen. The rhubarb and daffodils are coming up outside and almost all of the snow has melted. I can finally a run a hose over to the hoop houses and get some serious watering done! This part along the back is where Nich’s hops are planted and it had the deepest snow cover as it backs up to a giant empty corn field. Image

And another sign of spring: tulips in the hoop! SO exciting. I really had been hoping that we would have a normal spring so I could be selling these things by now. I could use the money, April gets a little rough in the financial arena for me. All of my needs for spring are getting purchased with little in the way of income. It makes me anxious.

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I have gotten most of the planting done in the hoop houses and I am mostly caught up on my seeding schedule. I have another big round this week then I can start to focus on the perennials that have been patiently waiting in my fridge. I am not sure where I am going to plant some of these but it seemed like a great idea during that LONG winter we just endured. Seriously! It was the longest, coldest, snowiest winter of my life. This is not me over exaggerating, these are facts.

 

in like a lion…

Around here we learned that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. Well if they are still teaching kids that today I’ll bet that they are confused. I had to go out and cover up all of my little plants in the hoop house. Come on, it is the end of March! I should not have to cover up cold tolerant annuals inside of a hoop. Forecasted lows in the single digits got me scared and out I went to cover those babies up. And yes I am still watering with melted snow in buckets, though they were mostly frozen this morning.

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Also on my schedule for today was to catch up with my seeding plan, which I mostly did. I’m feeling pretty darn good about that. There are few items that I have just decided to skip for one reason or another. And I have had to modify some of my plans since it looks like I probably won’t be planting out in the field for at least three more weeks (probably more). I had it on my schedule to start seeding into my paper chain transplanting system but that requires the ground to be in good shape (not too wet, not too dry) and most of what I am planning to plant probably shouldn’t sit in those trays for more than four weeks. The one exception is my lisianthus. Not seeds, transplants, only crazy people start seeds. I fill up that flat very loosely with my potting mix and then I just smoosh the little plants on top. The cell size is about the same as the flats that they arrive in but a little deeper and way easier to plant out afterward. And that is my favorite reason for having this fancy little system.

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3.19.14

Last week was a busy one for around here. The weather finally seems to be less of an issue so I started planting in the hoop house. Anemones, ranunculus, with sweet peas down the middle of the bed. Snaps, stock, and godetia in another bed. And those are buckets of snow melting so that I can water everything since the water source is located 300 feet away over at the house and there are still crazy snow drifts between here and there.

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I picked up some willow cuttings and they look great. I am super excited about these guys. When I got home there was a box of lisianthus plugs and a box of dahlia tubers waiting for me. More exciting stuff! The willows I stuck in a bucket of water for now and the lissies I set aside to deal with later. The dahlias I had order because I lost all of mine from last year. I tried that plastic wrap method and it did not work for me. I had a moldy box of plastic and grossness. I tossed the whole thing and ordered new stuff.

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The dahlias I potted up into some cow pots and I will take cuttings after they sprout. Since I had to start over with the dahlias I decided that it would be cost effective to propagate through cuttings this year. Of course I have never this before but I am really banking on it working since I only order about 40 dahlia tubers.

On my list for the rest of this week is more planting out into the hoop and starting lots more seeds. I am about three weeks behind. Some stuff I am just going to skip but I will try to catch up as much as possible. I should be mostly caught up by the end of next week. Then I can move on to the perennials and prairie seeds that I am going to start.