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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On complicated sex and harvesting

Last year I saw some smaller cones on my Columbus around the time I harvested. I had hoped they would turn into a second harvest but had to move them and that stopped that dead. I have seen them again this year:

Doing some reading this year I found this piece that clearly states that these are in fact male flowers. I had known previously that hops are dioecious, that is they have two sexes. What we think of hop cones are the flowers found on the female plant. The presence of male plants nearby is not desirable as there is a chance of pollination and subsequent formation of seeds within the female flowers which are not something we want in our beer. What I had not know was that some strains of hops are "triploid" and can thus have both male and female flowers. The above article specifically names Columbs (as well as Zeus) as an example of a "triploid" hop variety.

"Triploid" means that the plant has three copies of each chromosome, in contrast to us humans who normally have just two copies in most of our cells ("diploid"). The exception to this rule being our gametes, which have half the normal number (ie one of each, that is referred to as haploid). In contrast, plant genetics can get very weird and complicated very easily. Some crops (such as strawberries and sugar cane) can be up to octoploid (8 copies of each chromosomes).

The above article is written by the head hop grower at Great Lakes Hops and she says that male flowers in Columbus appear when the plant is severely stressed. This year has been a bit dryer and hotter than last year but I don't think they could be described as "severely stressed". Certainly last year it did not appear to be stressed at all and there were a good number of male flowers. However, last year they did only appear after all of the female cones had developed. This year, with a bit more stress, I have seen them appear much earlier. Perhaps this is sign to make sure I water them more regularly. I have mostly been relying on our weather so far this year, which has provided plenty of rain but not at regular intervals.

Although there are some signs of stress this year, it doesn't seem to have affected the production of cones much. I have already started harvesting some from the Columbus:

And Cascade, with plenty more to come:

The cones on the Willamette are not yet ready to pick but there are plenty of them:

This is just one lateral arm. If you remember last year, this is a plant that gave me a whopping total of three cones. I'm particularly pleased with this as the plant itself does not look overly happy in comparison to the others:

I am hopeful that I will be able to continue picking hop cones for several months to come. If I'm very lucky I might even get an increase in production in relation to last year. The Willamette is certainly set to give me a lot more than its first year.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Middle-aged spread

The sharp-eye will have noticed that vertical growth has almost stopped. The graph (top right) showing heights has almost entirely levelled off. This hasn't meant that growth has stopped though. There has been much more in the way of secondary growth further down, something I can sympathise with (if only in my case it were a sign of continued vigour). The Columbus has been putting out lots of new secondary shoots:

It's cones are also looking like they are getting close to harvest time (I haven't used soft focus for this pic, it really is just that hot and humid here now):

The Cascade is also showing signs of the same kind of spreading lower down:

The Cascade is also producing lots of nice looking cones, although not quite as many as the Columbus. The Cascade cones are also a little different in that they are appearing and maturing from the top down whereas the Columbus is from the bottom up:

The Willamette is also showing plenty of lateral growth but primarily higher up:

One very nice change this year is that the Willamette is making a lot of cones:

Compared to the three whole cones I got from the Willamette last year this is a huge improvement with dozens of cones in their early stages.

I've also had some more sightings on the bug front. Found this one sitting on a leaf shooting eggs out it's butt (at least that's what I hope they were). If you look closely you can just see a white streak behind it:

I've no idea what kind of bug this is but it's clearly not going for a parent of the year award. Also found this bug, which I'm hoping is an assassin bug of some description:

What with the efforts of this bug and some of the others I've seen this year there has been relatively little in terms of actual leaf damage. There have been one or two that I've felt the need to discourage though:

Again, I'm not sure what kind of caterpillar this is but I know I don't want it eating the leaves of my hops, as it's been caught red-handed doing here. I suspect the fact that it's hairy probably means that the spiders and assassin bugs didn't fancy it, so I took matters into my own hands. Haven't found any others since.
Overall, everything is looking pretty good and I suspect I will start harvesting some of the Columbus cones and putting them in the freezer for brewing at a later date.