Friday, April 12, 2013

New season, new state, new hops.

A lot has happened since my last post. I'm no longer in Houston but have moved to the DC area. This unfortunately meant leaving behind all the work I did last year. I'm hoping that this loss will be compensated by more favourable growing conditions further North, particularly with the longer summer days. I have no idea whether the hops I left behind will be retained by the new tenants. While we were away the landlord's gardeners had ripped out all of the plants in the raised beds in the garden. The only exceptions to this were some asparagus and my hops. I very much like the idea of the next people there being pleasantly surprised by hops appearing this year, the asparagus was well established too.

On to this year. Our new garden does not have any raised beds so I have just had to make one. Why bother you may well ask. If there is one consistent thing I have read about the requirements for hops it is that they do not like being water logged. Rhizomes will rot if they spend a lot of time sitting in water. Drainage becomes the most important thing as they are really not very fussy otherwise.

I thought I'd use my first post this year to detail how I've made this raised bed (laugh a minute on this blog). First off I used timber that you should be able to get at any hardware store or garden centre. For this I bought 5 x 8ft lengths. The two long sides each have two on top of each other and the fifth length was cut into four 2 feet lengths which are stacked two high at the ends.

The whole thing is stabilised by having the corners overlapping, holes drilled through both planks and then nailing the them together. Ordinarily I would have chosen to use an iron bar of some sort for this but I don't have any way of cutting one. So I spontaneously invented the bamboo nail, by cutting single sections of some bamboo we had lying around the garden:

I don't really know if I've invented this but googling "bamboo nails" isn't very helpful and returns results for nail salons. Patent pending I think I'll call this for now. Each corner had three holes drilled and a nail driven through and into the soil, which should help to keep the whole bed in place:

With the frame in place the next step is to try and discourage anything from growing up through it from underneath. To this end I covered the ground with cardboard:

As I mentioned before, drainage is very much a concern. To help with that I added a layer of gravel:

Now we're ready for the earth itself. I reckon the volume of this bed so far is ~8 cubic feet (8x2x0.5) so I bought 5 bags of earth, each 1.5 cubic feet, giving me 7.5 cubic feet. This actually slightly over filled the bed:

You may or may not be able to tell from this pic but the earth is somewhat piled up. I suspect this will settle down with watering, rain, etc.. The cost of all these materials came to ~$50.

Next step is to plant the rhizomes, which arrived the same day as their bed was made (being able plan things around shipping estimates is great). This year I bought my rhizomes from Austin Home Brew, which is where I get all my homebrewing ingredients and kit. This year I got Willamette (particularly given how well they did in Houston), Cascade, Galena and Columbus rhizomes. I've updated the hop height graph at top right. It will probably be a couple of weeks before there is anything to report there though. Here's a pic of the Willamette being planted:

All of these rhizomes looked promising, as judged by the fact they all have at least one new shoot coming out from the main root. You can see two in the pic above. The rhizome is placed in a hole a couple of inches deep, covered and then the whole bed given a good soak:

We even got a good amount of rain last night to help. It remains to be seen how well the rhizomes have survived the journey through the post. Last year I bought them directly from DeFalcos in Houston and planted them as soon as I got home. Fingers crossed they all survived.

The ultimate goal, other than producing some hops to add to my beer, is to have them grow over some garden furniture to provide some shade. At the moment I'm thinking of a sturdy porch swing but it will be several weeks before a final decision needs to be made.

This has ended up being something of a marathon post. I suspect future posts will be a lot shorter and sweeter. 

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