Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hitting the buffers in Houston

I have sad news, at least as far as my hop growing adventures in Houston are concerned. We are in the process of moving to Washington, D.C.. There's a very good chance I will take up further adventures once there but that may have to wait 'til next spring. I should at least leave you with the current state of my hops here as well as a general summary.

We've been away for the past 3-4 weeks so they have received no attention from me at all in that time. Given this the fact that they have survived at all is a plus but there has been some loss:

This is the Willamette, which has been such as star. As you can see the cones have completely dried out and look pretty much useless. Given that I wasn't expecting much of a crop in my first year I'm not too disappointed. 

Even the really big cone that appeared at the apical meristem has suffered. The rest of the plant has survived quite nicely though and I'm sure given some more time it would recover further. This is what all three look like lower down:

Even the Goldings have reached a respectable height now, but no sign of cones though. On a brighter note the Northern Brewer cones did manage to survive the last three weeks of neglect:

I really have no idea why these cones survived while those on the Willamette did not. If I had to guess I would say that the Northern Brewer gets more shade and that probably meant less direct sunlight and thus less drying out.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with my first year's hop growing efforts. I wasn't expecting a huge amount, especially given the climate here in Houston. I've been pleasantly surprised at how well they've done. I'm sure that after a couple of years to establish themselves that these guys could start producing at a level that might be able to contribute to a brew at some point in the future. If you're in Houston and dithering about trying to grow hops for yourself, just do it!

While I'm committed to trying again in D.C., I'm not sure if taking them with me will be possible. We have a lot of packing to do and there may just not be time to arrange something. They weren't exactly expensive (at $5 a piece) so starting from scratch once there wouldn't be the end of the world. If there is time and opportunity I will take the rhizomes with me though.

That's all from me in Houston. Happy hop growing to all those here or elsewhere.

Monday, July 9, 2012

End of the line?

No not for the blog :) Recently my over-performing Willamette produced this at its apical meristem:

This obviously looks a lot like a hop cone, perhaps not unsurprising on a hop plant. Unfortunately, its appearance at the very tip gives me the impression that it has reached its limit, at least in terms of height. I suspect this is a measure of just how far it can transport water and nutrients from the soil. The fact that there is only one cone reinforces my fear that the Willamette has hit the buffers in terms of height. Also, I would expect hop cones to come in pairs:

At least these are doing well. I now have around half a dozen pairs of cones of a similar size. Fortunately, what appears to be a height restriction for further growth at the very top of the plant does not seem to be a problem lower down:

Here you can see the old, original leaves just about to fall off while being replaced by new extremely vigorous growth. There are now two new shoots making their way up twine from the top of the tomato cage and there is another nipping at their heels:

The Goldings are making good progress, in its own less hurried way:

It also has a couple of other shoots that are making an effort to climb the wire cage. I also found this little beastie underneath one of the leaves:

The sharper eyed amongst us will be able to see a spider has rolled a leaf around itself. When I saw it to start with I thought it was the work of a caterpillar. Wouldn't be the first time on these hops. Spiders on the other hand I assume will be beneficial in terms of keeping down the numbers of bugs feeding on the plants so I'm all for them. Something else I'm all for is this:

Not seen on the hops but red wasps (Polistes carolina as far as I can tell) are reckoned to be voracious consumers of caterpillars, which can only be a good thing from my point of view.

I guess I should also give you an update on how the Northern Brewer is doing. Its first shoot has now reached the top of the balcony railing:

I have provided it with some more twine to take it up to the same spot I started training the Willamette horizontally. I'm hoping it will be easy to tell which is which despite them sharing the same piece of twine.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Turning over an old leaf (and more bugs)

Something I have noticed more and more is that the older leaves on my hop plants are becoming discoloured and even brown. There is a definite gradation from top to bottom, which is why I think it is associated with age. It is most notable on the Willamette:

but can also be seen on the Goldings:

and the Northern Brewer:

Currently I am happy to attribute this to general aging and being constantly exposed to the Texas sun. It is particularly noteworthy that the Willamette is sending out secondary shoots in the same region as the damaged leaves, which are a healthy green colour. This is the main reason I don't think it is a nutrition problem. The same is most likely true for an infection of any kind. The shoots are possibly also a natural reaction to the loss of these old leaves. All of the plants are doing really well so I'm not worrying about it.

On a completely different, more bug related note, I found this guy on our tomato plant not too far away from my hops:

I was told initially that this is a tomato hornworm. I've left my thumb in the picture to give you some idea of scale, not a small critter. Further reading seems to indicate that mine is in fact a tobacco hornworm rather than a tomato one. As you can see by this picture they look very much the same:

The most obvious difference is that the tobacco variety has stripes on its side whereas this one has V shapes. Also, the "horn" at the back (looks more like a tail to me) is black on the tomato version and red on the tobacco. If you look very closely on my picture you can see the red tail disappearing behind a leaf. The moths they turn into are even more alike. Here is the tobacco one:

And the tomato version:

Glad I don't have to tell these two apart. I haven't seen any indication that the larva has moved from the tomato plant and onto the hops. Somehow I think it will be a lot easier to spot on the hops than the tomato plant and so will quickly be dealt with.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cone today, beer tomorrow

I might be getting ahead of myself a little but I found these on the top of the Willamette:

Obviously this is my first year of growing hops, but these look a lot like hop cones to me. They're not big enough or plentiful enough to make a dent on a batch of beer yet but then it's only June of their first year in the ground. High hopes for the future. The Willamette is now well above the railings of the balcony:

One thing this means is that the part of the plant about the level of the balcony will be getting light all day long. It remains to be seen if this is a good or bad thing with the Texas sun. Also, I've had to consider what to do about further growth. I'm thinking what would be really nice is to have a hop canopy for the balcony. Would give us a bit of shade as well as a little more privacy from the neighbours you can see opposite.

In the middle of the balcony I've used a bamboo pole that we had elsewhere in the garden in the hopes that something would grow up it but that never happened. Think it was something we found lying around after Ike came through Houston. All being well and the Willamette will be making its way along rather than up.

The other two have also been doing really well. The Northern Brewer is nearly at the level of the balcony too:

Not only is it about to the clear the balcony but one of the secondary shoots it produced when I decapitated it earlier has now started winding its way up the tomato cage:

It may not be as tall as the Willamette but with two actively climbing shoots there may be just as much yield. I live in hope.

The Goldings are also starting to look like they might be making some effort. The main shoot has now grown enough to need some twine to grow further:

Not only that but I've just found the first evidence of secondary shoots:

I'm still hopeful that I will get at least some cones from all three but it's still early days for these last two.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nightcrawler II. This time it's personal.

After reporting previously about finding a mysterious bug on my hops after dark I have come to the conclusion that it is really not welcome. I posted this picture on the pest ID thread on the Home Brew Talk forum (a very good place to go if you're having similar problems):

Along with this picture of the damage I think it's causing:

I was rewarded with and identification as a June bug (thanks Phatspade). This was confirmed by further research. I also got the impression that the best way of distinguishing between this and a Japanese beetle is that the segment immediately behind the head is brown on a June bug and green on a Japanese beetle: 

Not to be confused with a Green June bug which is all green:

What all of this means is that I will be eliminating them with extreme prejudice whenever I find them. Seems that they are more than capable of decimating hops. Their larvae are also pests. Apparently they feed on the root systems of grass and can destroy lawns. I think this is true of all three of these beetles.

Another pest I've found recently, that made the mistake of taking a stroll around the tomato cages, is this guy:

Further research leads me to think that this is some form of Hop Merchant. Although the caterpillars are not identical by any means they are both certainly brightly coloured and quite hairy. Finding eggs on the underside of my leaves previously, which were arranged exactly as they are described here, as well as rolled up leaves with small caterpillars inside leads me to believe that this is what they are or something very similar. Here's an example of a leaf that had a caterpillar living rent free:

I haven't noticed a lot of damage from them but certainly don't want to be encouraging them.

On a completely different bug note, I saw this brightly coloured fly and was lucky enough to get this pic of it (you might need to view it in larger form):

The colour doesn't come out as well as it does in real life (probably a combination of my camera and skill with it). While doing research on the June bug, I just happened to stumble upon a page that seems to ID this bug as a long-legged fly. According to this article these are beneficial insects as they eat others, rather than my hops. Probably here as a consequence of all the other bugs that seem to like it in my garden. Hope to see more of them.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Mystery of the Leaf Thief

Anybody who has cast even a sideways glance at hop plants will know that leaves from the main stalk come in pairs. This means that it is very obvious when some are missing. Imagine my surprise then when I looked up the other day and saw this:

There is also one missing from further up above the level of the deck (yes it has gotten that far up). Here is a close up of where it looks like it has been pulled out of the stalk:

As you can see it had just rained. Can't imagine it rained so hard that leaves were ripped out. It does rain like it means it here in Houston though. I found a leaf on the ground being consumed busily by woodlice and snails:

Maybe this one was just one too many to carry away for whomever or whatever fancied them. Another, slightly more prosaic, answer that was suggested by my other half is that one of our cats had been left out on the balcony and had jumped/clambered down taking several leaves with him. He has a history of jumping from the balcony if he isn't let in quickly enough for his liking. I have to say I still prefer the idea of some urban wildlife Raffles character snatching them in the night. Just hope they got all they came for.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Found this bug clinging to the Northern Brewer the other night, apparently with its mouth parts. Glad it didn't try to bite me:

Here's its underbelly in glorious detail:

Not sure if it was eating the hops or just about lay some eggs. Not welcome either way. Just hope it isn't something that would eat hop pests.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


We had some showers (along with some thunder and lightning) today that gave the garden a good soak, including the hops. This also means that the snails are out in force and there are always going to be some that fancy some hop salad for lunch:

Here are a couple of woodlice, which I have never heard of being a plant pest. They were probably just trying to avoid drowning, I think they actually prefer the damp though. I left them where they were. The snail on the left was a different matter. I just hope they can say "weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee":

It also seems my excitement about finding buds that I hope will lead to cones would have been even greater if I hadn't been like some teenager in a horror flick and just looked up. Found these closer to the top (had to do some clambering on the railings to take the photo):

Looking down resulted in finding these buds, which also look promising. Seems they are also popular with the ants:

Haven't seen any sign of aphids so perhaps ants are also hop heads. Hope they don't like lupulin too much though as I have no intention of sharing. Might have to look up some anti-ant measures, or just leave them something more appetising somewhere else in the garden. Maybe they'll give me some of whatever they make with hops in return. I'm hoping for beer although will settle for mead, which is probably more likely. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Darling Buds Of May

I just noticed today the first signs of the buds that will become the side shoots that the cones will grow on. Exciting times (for a novice hop grower anyway). Here are some on the Willamette:

They obviously have a very long way to go before (or if) I see cones but things seem to be heading in the right direction. The whole plant is becoming a challenge to measure (involves some clambering on the railings):

The Northern Brewer also has some, so I'm hopeful about it too:

I'm a little concerned about the really pale leaves at the top, but they do seem to be deepening in colour as times passes. It now looks like this now:

No evidence of any on the Goldings yet:

Early days yet as they only look like this:

I have also been finding more pests. These are what I assume are butterfly eggs on the undersides of the leaves of the Willamette:

Really don't want these guys hatching to become hungry, hungry caterpillars so I have been getting rid of them as soon as I find them. I have found at least one leaf that a caterpillar was in the process of wrapping around itself like a blanket. Fortunately I was able to unroll it and relocate (ie fling across the garden) the caterpillar inside. The leaf seems to be recovering fine. On the up side, I did find some of these little guys on the other side of the garden:

Ladybird (ladybug if you're American) larvae are apparently voracious little predators. If I continue to see things eating my hops I might have to transplant as many as I can over to help in the fight. Overall though, despite some damage from pests all three plants seem to be able to grow faster than the bugs can eat them. Also, I've been doing a lot more watering myself (only in the late afternoon or evening so there isn't any direct sunlight) of late as the temperatures have been in the high 80's low 90's F (approx. 30 degrees C) and we have had precious little rain. Fingers crossed hard we don't end up with a drought like last year.