Thursday, May 14, 2015

Risotto 2 - Hop shoots 0

Time has again arrived to thin out the hops so that only the strongest shoots are left to climb. Last year I only felt that this was necessary with the Columbus as the growth of the Cascade and Willamette was not that prodigious. This year we have something of a contrast, the Willamette has not appeared at all yet and the Cascade is out growing the Columbus.

Previously, I talked about using a different system for training the growing hops. They have since done a very good job of ignoring it. Here's the Columbus:
 

You can probably see some bines trying to climb up the bamboo directly rather than sticking to the twine. Admittedly, this is what they prefer to do. Here's the Cascade clearly trying to sneak straight up:


Both are clearly in need of thinning out. Last year I had three lines of twine per plant with three bines on each. As a consequence I'm hoping to be able to grow nine bines up my helical arrangement. After deciding on the strongest nine looking the rest were cut off at ground level leaving the Columbus looking like this:


And the Cascade:


And a quantity of shoots and leaves:


Like last year, the plan was to make a hop shoot risotto. I was hoping that this year there would be stronger growth as the plants are in their second year. Certainly the initial growth as been very encouraging. The amount that I pruned this year (pictured above) is more than I would look to put in a risotto, especially as there are a lot of leaves. As a consequence I removed the tips from the rest of the bines:


To give this pile:


This was further thinned out by removing any leaves. The tips of the shoots were taken off to act as a garnish for the final product:


With the rest being included with the rice, shallots, garlic and white wine:


To give a very tasty dish that had almost no flavour of hop shoots:


Even when eaten raw, the tips had almost no flavour. The flavour wasn't unpleasant just absent. As this was the second year of disappointment I decided to do some research / investigation. Fortunately, Geoff at The Hopyard very kindly responded to my questions. It seems that part of the problem may be that I need to cut shoots for the risotto a lot earlier. If you look here you can certainly see that what they are offering are shoots that a lot closer to the ground than mine were. It's also possible that my plants are still a bit young still, being only in their second year. Perhaps next year they'll give me stronger initial growth. If you look at the pictures of my early shoots, they clearly have the same purplish colour to them as Geoff's do, I just need more of them. Hopefully next year will provide more shoots and if I cut them earlier we might just end up with the intended dish. In the meantime, Geoff tells me that the majority of their crop of shoots went to Liquid Riot in Portland, Earth in Kennebunk and a distributor in Pennsylvania. If you're anywhere near those please do give them a try and report back on any hop shoot recipes.

I will continue to persevere with risotto experiments if for no other reason than the final dish is still tasty and it's better than just throwing the thinned out bines on the compost heap. Something to look forward to for next year.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

You turn your back for a couple of weeks (but more so this year)

Have been out of town for the past couple of weeks (much like last year). Main difference is this year we're a couple of weeks later in the year. When I left there were just a couple of shoots appearing that were just a few inches long. Getting back I was greeted by this sight:


Amazing just how much growth you can get in such a short period of time. They were even picking fights with the poor tulips that are just trying to flower:


Unfortunately, despite all this growth there is still no sign of the Willamette. This is all I found where it should be:


Pretty sure this is just a tomato volunteer from the compost and as such has been discarded.

In previous years I have initially used tomato cages and then strung twine up to the window above. The hope was that they would provide some shade during the hotter summer months. The amount of shade actually provided was quite pitiful so I'm trying a different method this year for corralling them. The plan is to use four bamboo poles per plant and string up the twine around them in a helix fashion. I'm afraid I don't remember where I first saw this arrangement otherwise I would give a reference. Fortunately, we have a wooded trail near us that has a couple of stands of bamboo that are constantly being cut down as they try to invade everything else. From here I dragged out several lengths which were further cut in half:


One of the nice things about bamboo is that it is very easy to work with. The only real problem is convincing it not to split. To ease embedding in the ground I cut angles off the bottoms:


Come the zombie apocalypse I'm making bamboo spears! Once completed it was a matter of making holes in the raised bed with a crowbar and then stabbing downwards with these newly sharpened poles:


The idea with this arrangement is that harvesting will be a lot easier as I will hopefully have managed to grow up to 30 feet of hops with only 8 feet of bamboo pole. All being well I should be able to do the harvesting from the upper reaches of the plants with just a small set of steps. Next up is twine. This year it occurred to me to try and make measuring their heights a little easier by marking 5 foot lengths in the twine with knots:


This way I only need measure to the nearest knot to work out how tall they are. Next step is winding the twine around the poles in a helical fashion. Obviously this alone will not ensure it stays put so I decided to staple them in place each time they go around a pole:


I appreciate there's a chance putting staples in like this might result in splitting of the bamboo. No sign of that yet but I will be keeping an eye out for it. Worst case scenario, I'm sure splits can be dissuaded from spreading further with gaffa tape. Final step is just to gather hops and train them along the twine. Here's the Columbus:


And the Cascade:


As the twine is not even close to being arranged vertically (what the hops would prefer) there will be a need for pretty much daily supervision to make sure the bines are sticking to the twine. In previous years this hasn't been a problem at all as I still get a kick out of having plants grow several inches per day. During the peak growing period there is a noticeable difference in height between the morning and evening. I'm also hoping that my Willamette will make an appearance this year even though it wasn't looking very happy at the end of last year. There's always the possibility that it has been squeezed out by the other two plants though. As always, only time can tell. I don't really want to go poking around in the earth looking in case I do some damage to shoots that are just about to appear.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Get a move on!

Seems that my addition of compost was a wake up call for the Columbus plant at least. Here's what I found just a couple of days after applying it:


And then a couple of days after that:


Still no signs of life from the other two plants. Seems winter means that we'll be starting a little later this year. I'm going to be away for 10 days so it will be interesting to see how much the Columbus grows in that time and whether the other two decide to grace us with their presence.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

It's that time again

Spring is trying really hard to begin here. There are few tentative buds on the trees. My hops have been covered in snow several times just like last year. It also seems that they have been the victim of something trying to dig them up. I'm tempted to blame the dog as his paw prints were everywhere but he's not really that much of a digger. He was probably just investigating upheaval in his back yard:


Fortunately, it's time to give them some more compost which will help to cover any exposed roots. The compost has been collecting all year and even contains a good amount of spent grain. All very cycle of life. It does seem somewhat magical that biodegradable material goes in the top and compost come out the bottom:
 

To give a great looking (if somewhat pungent) dark compost:


You may be able to spot the odd eggshell in there. We've also been adding avocado stones and skins which really don't seem to break down much, although I suspect they leach all sorts of nutrient goodness into everything around them. There was also a wriggle of worms (yes I had to look that up but I'm glad I did). Worms in compost are apparently a very good thing. Here's the end result:


The pungent smell passed in a couple of days. Now I'm just looking forward to seeing shoots come up through. No sign just yet but I'm hopeful it will happen very shortly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Harvesting home and away

Harvest time has come and gone for all three of my plants. Fortunes were somewhat switched around this year. The Cascade did not seem to have a very happy year, at least as far as producing cones is concerned. I actually picked its cones some time ago as it had stopped producing more and I hoped that it would put some energy into making new ones. This is all I got:


No more were forthcoming. The Willamette on the other hand did much better than last year. Not difficult to do as I only got three cones from it. This year, despite the plant looking decidedly unhappy, I ended up getting more cones than the Cascade. This is what they looked like prior to picking:


They may have been picked slightly early but I was concerned that I was losing some due to heavy rains. I previously found this when I came out to check on them:


I figured it would be better to harvest them early than lose more to unpredictable weather. This is what I ended up getting:


I have read that the ratio of wet hops needed per dry hop weight is ~5:1, so this is roughly equivalent to an ounce of dried hops. Not exactly breaking the bank.

The Columbus on the other hand did much better than the other two and slightly better than last year:


The year I got and extra 6oz compared to last year's Columbus harvest. What with this and the much larger quantity of Willamette, I'm thinking that there should be enough to hop an entire brew with just my home grown hops, a mouth watering prospect.

On a bonus note, I recently went to visit a cousin in Maine. Turns out he had some long neglected hops growing round his patio:


Very much in need of some care and attention. As he does nothing with them, he was happy for me to pick what I wanted and take them with me. Some cones were in pretty good shape:


Others, not so much:


In the end this is what I managed to get home:


They may not be the best looking hops but 10oz is better than a kick in the teeth. I may well try and use these to supplement another recipe with commercially dried hops.

Overall, it's been a productive year. The Cascade seemed to be much less happy but the Willamette seems to have made up for it by perking up, at least in terms of cone production. The rest of the plant seems to be the other way around, with the Willamette looking less healthy compared to the Cascade. Perhaps the Cascade is just a bit fussier about having everything just so before it's prepared to commit much energy into cone production. There are no plans for us to move again next year so I have high hopes that production will only get bigger and better. I may well briefly post when I use them but until then they will sit in the freezer until they are unceremoniously dumped into boiling wort.

Monday, August 4, 2014

You can't keep all the hops happy all of the time

My Cascade is not very happy at all. It has stopped producing new cones altogether. There are still a few left on it that I hope will continue to mature. The weird thing is that the plant doesn't appear to be suffering that much, particularly in comparison to the Willamette beside it (on the left):


As you may be able to see, the Willamette is producing a huge number of cones despite not looking very happy. I have found a few dead and withered shoot tips on the Cascade recently though:


We have had something of a dry spell recently. It's quite possible I was not fastidious enough about keeping them watered. As neither the Columbus nor Willamette are showing similar symptoms, I wonder if my Cascade is just more sensitive to drying out. The cones that are left on the Cascade still look healthy (even if those particular leaves have been attacked slightly):


There is new growth on the Cascade, so I'm hopeful that it will make a full recovery:



The Columbus is going nuts in comparison, with new cones forming all the time while the older ones continue to mature (looking forward to harvesting more):


In the last few days we have of course had a good amount of rain. I think I will need to make a concerted effort to keep an eye on how much rain we're getting and water accordingly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Horton hatches the cone

I have previously seen what I thought was an assassin bug in amongst my hops, particularly the Columbus. For the past couple of weeks there is one that has remained on station in the same spot:


I think I have now identified this as a juvenile wheel bug that hasn't yet developed the characteristic wheel on its back. Staying patiently in one place like this immediately made me think of Horton hatching an egg:


The big difference being that instead of waiting for an egg to hatch, it's waiting for another bug to come along so that it can stab it with its beak and inject digestive enzymes that will liquify it from the inside which can then be sucked out. Yum! The intention may be very different but it is always in the same spot every time I look. I just hope it's getting enough to eat. Never thought I'd be coming over all maternal for an assassin bug. As Dr Michael Raupp of the U. of Maryland is quoting as saying on the Wikipedia entry: "They're the lion or the eagle of your food web. They sit on top. When you have these big, ferocious predators in your landscape, that tells me that this is a very healthy landscape, because all these other levels in your food web are intact." Needless to say, I'm feeling a little better about my efforts at organic hop farming.

Just so as to update where the hops have gotten to. The Columbus has come on with an extra growth spurt, despite producing what I thought was a terminal cone previously. As you can see from this pic, it has reached the top of the twine available and is starting to just fall back down. Fortunately, it hasn't grown over to where the Cascade is, as that would make telling them apart a lot more complicated. You can also see that cone production has continued vigourouly despite my earlier harvesting:



The Cascade has also continued to produce cones after earlier picking:


The Willamette is producing a huge number of cones but they are some way from being ready for harvesting. They also look as if they will be ready at roughly the same time, in contrast to the other two plants:


Not bad for a plant that was pretty stingy last year.

Overall, there appear to be a lot of cones to look forward to in the very near future. Fresh hop beer awaits.