Thursday, May 29, 2014

Terminal cone

So in previous years I have noticed that my hops get to a certain height then decide that they've grown far enough and produce a cone on the apical meristem, which is the origin of vertical growth. In Houston this happened at the start of July and last year here in Maryland it was closer to the end of July. The Columbus has already produced an apical cone on the tallest of the shoots and we're still in May:

As with previous years, I'm hoping this will mean that the rest of the plant will begin to fill out and hopefully produce more cones as a consequence. There are already a lot forming on the Columbus:

There's currently no sign of cones (let alone terminal ones) forming on the Cascade:

Or Willamette:

I guess this means that they haven't stopped growing vertically yet. There is still plenty of growing time left this year so I am still very hopeful the Cascade and Willamette will end up being more productive than last year in terms of cones.

I'm really not sure what determines the height hops grow to. It seems to me that at less than 14 feet tall the Columbus is somewhat short of what would be considered normal growth, especially for commercial growers. Perhaps I've ended up with a dwarf variety somehow. It's also possible that they are not getting enough water. I have only actively watered them once so far this year as (I feel) we have had plenty of rain so far. It is also possible they are just not able to transport water any further up the stem than this. I have a vague memory from a botany class a very long time ago that plants rely on evaporation through the stomata in the leaves to achieve transport of water up from the roots. If this is the case I can see that living in an environment with high humidity (such as we have here) would make this more difficult and thus limit vertical growth. This would also explain why (relatively arid) Eastern Washington state is an ideal growing area for them. There may well be a trade off though between having the plant putting energy into vertical growth versus cone production. What is the ideal point for switching from one to the other?

The shorter stature may well make it easier to harvest, so no complaints from me on that front. My biggest concern is successfully getting cones from these plants that I can use in my beer. I suspect the reason for the apical cone appearing earlier this year has a lot to do with these being in their second year of growth and are thus much more vigourous. The Cascade and Willamette still have over a month to produce an apical cone if they are to stay on the same timetable as previous years so I'm not worried at all. I'm still quietly confident that this year will provide an increased harvest compared to last year.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A growing community

In previous years I have had more than a few problems with bugs and pests. So far this year there has been surprisingly little. With any luck the cold winter we had here has knocked down our resident bug population a little. We've also had fewer in the way of mosquitoes so far too, so fingers crossed. This doesn't mean that there have been no signs of damage though:

This is the worst of what I've found so far, which really isn't that bad in relation to the whole. I haven't been able to spot anything doing this kind of damage. The suspects so far:

I'm reasonably sure that this is a juvenile stink bug of some sort. Apparently the brown marmorated version has become a particular problem in Maryland and Northern Virginia. It does sound like they particularly target fruit rather than the plant itself, so I'm quietly hopeful that it does not pose that great a threat. Still, having said that, this one was eliminated with extreme prejudice.

I also found this:

No idea what this is or who it belongs to but it gives the impression of being eggs laid by an unwelcome pest. A fair bit of prejudice was used in disposing of it too. Hopefully I wasn't eliminating something that might help me. Speaking of which, I have observed these guys:

This looks like what I would call a hunting spider, which in this case appears to be dealing with a red mite of some description. Always happy to see bug predators to help keep down the numbers of things that might damage the hops. I've also seen spiders of the web-making variety:

As well as this one that also looks like a hunting spider of some sort but with a bright red spot on its abdomen:

It's not just spiders that seem to be on my side. I found this and was initially unsure:

I now think it's a two-lined leather wing. This reference says that their larvae eat others insects, so again, very welcome.

All told, this year has seen very little in the way of damage to the hops from bugs and pests in general. The presence of these predators would indicate that there is certainly enough for them to survive on. I will just have to hope that they keep on top of their numbers. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Thinning & hop shoot risotto

Standard advice for growing hops suggests pruning back excess growth so that the plants can concentrate their energy into growing their most successful shoots. I have decided that only the Columbus is in need of pruning as the other two still need to establish themselves more. Here's the Willamette:

And the Cascade:

Both of these plants could certainly do with filling out. The Columbus on the other hand is much thicker at this point:

It has even been trying to escape. Here it is throttling a nearby daffodil:

From the pruning advice above, I have settled on nine shoots overall (three per line of twine). Once I'd identified these nine shoots I cut everything else back to the rhizome. Here is the slimmed down result:

That gave me a quantity of hop shoots:

As mentioned earlier my plan had been to use them to try making a hop shoot risotto. The shoots on their own are not unpleasant just a little bland. This unfortunately proved to be true once they were included in the risotto, which was eventually reverted back to having more flavour by adding mushrooms. Some of my own homebrew was used instead of wine though, which definitely enhanced the flavour :) There was no hop shoot flavour perceivable in the finished product, which was nevertheless pretty tasty.

Not entirely sure why this wasn't more successful. Perhaps I just didn't have enough in terms of shoots, perhaps I pruned too late in the season. There are many possible reasons. Unfortunately, this is a dish I can only try making once a year. According to the page on which I found the recipe this is a Venetian delicacy. I don't really think of the Italians growing hops so it's also possible that the varieties they use for this risotto are quite different to those used for making beer. Hopefully I will be able to try again next year with an even greater quantity of pruned hops. I may also try pruning a little earlier in the year. There's also the possibility that the Cascade and Willamette will be thick enough to need pruning and thus contribute to the harvesting of shoots. Many possibilities to try, just a very long time between experiments.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Time flies when you're growing fun

I've realised that it is going to be all too easy to lose track of what's happening with these hops if I don't keep on top of this blog. The observant will have noticed that I have changed the hop height graph to show change over time. This means that I can calculate a growth rate, even if three data points per plant aren't of earth shattering significance. The Columbus has grown nearly 4 feet in two weeks, which I reckon comes out at a little over 3 inches per day. At that rate falling behind will be all too easy if I'm not paying attention. Here's a side view, you should be able to see one of the Columbus shoots (top right) is well ahead of anything else

Also, all three plants are showing signs of lateral buds that will become cones. As always the Columbus is the most obvious:

The Cascade buds can at least be seen without squinting too much:

The Willamette cones need a much closer look, but they are just about poking out:

Overall, good progress is being made with plenty of upward growth. I haven't quite got the stage of cutting back the shoots of the Columbus to thin them down to the best performing 9 so that I can try them out in a hop shoots risotto. Should be soon though.