Monday, September 7, 2015

Skip forward to harvest time

This summer has been a very busy one. Various other responsibilities (including a new job) have left me with very little time to keep up with this blog. Fortunately, my hops can look after themselves to a great extent, especially with an automatic drip watering system in place. I was able to take a picture for the weekly overview and I've put the progression down the right hand side of the web-version. You can see from these that both plants do very little growing over August and September. Can't really blame them though, it's been very hot here (even the grass has stopped growing).

The whole reason for growing hops is to have cones that can be harvested and put in beer. The first cones appeared at the end of May:

This is in a very early stage of development. My understanding is this is the stage at which they may be pollinated if there are male plants in the vicinity. As with last year, the Columbus produced both male:

And female cones (you can see some male flowers in this pic too):

I have yet to see any indication that there has been any successful pollination happening, either with itself or the Cascade which is right beside it. Some of this is presumably due to the timing, the male flowers always appear after the female flowers (on both plants) are no longer in the receptive "burr" stage.

The final result of all this growth and cone formation was this:

12oz of Columbus and 1oz of Cascade were vacuum sealed and thrown in the freezer. Shame that the Cascade proved to not be very productive this year. Perhaps this will improve once it has established itself more. Alternatively, the Columbus may just push out all of the competition. The Willamette has been almost absent this year. Here's what it looks like at the start of September (you might just be able to see it growing up along the string of lights to the right):

One of the nice things about having a nano operation like this is that I can get more than one harvest per year. While I was picking these first cones I saw this on the Columbus:

Which led to this second harvest (close to another 5oz of Columbus):

Looking forward to putting these into some beer later in the year.

Bugs have caused as much of a problem as they did last year, which is to say not enough to make a noticeable difference to the growth of the plants. Here's a typical example of the worst kind of leaf damage I've seen:

Anybody following from my days in Houston might remember I had previously found a tobacco hornworm on our tomato plants next to my hops. Same thing happened this year too, only with a worse outcome for the hornworms:

This rather gruesome end comes thanks to a parasitic (Braconid) wasp that lays its eggs inside the worm. When the eggs hatch they eat the hornworm from the inside. When the time comes they chew their way through the skin and form a pupa on the outside (those small white things hanging from the worm). Not entirely sure how they convince the hornworm to grip the underside of the plant like that but then I'm also not entirely sorry for them either.

Now we are into September there are signs that Autumn may be on its way. The Cascade, which has always been less productive in comparison to the Columbus, already has some bines that have died off:

The Columbus also has some signs of the oncoming autumnal purge, even if not quite as dramatic as the Cascade:

All told the summer appears to have been much less productive compared to last year. The Columbus gave me a ~1lb this year compared to nearly 2lbs last year, the Cascade a handful of cones vs nearly 2oz last year, and the Willamette barely even appeared and didn't produce any cones at all. I'm wondering if this is due to neglect on my part or perhaps the extreme heat of this summer. I don't remember the grass stopping growing altogether last year. All of this after the extreme cold of last winter. I had to entirely cut back a pair of well established fig trees that didn't make it through the cold. Obviously, I'm leaning towards the climate being the problem, especially given that we used an automatic drip system this year which should have taken a lot of the neglect out of the equation. Hopefully the coming winter will be milder and the following summer kinder. Regardless, I will still be using what I've gathered for a fresh hopped beer of some description in the coming months.

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.