July arrived and we were off to Cooperstown for our fist mini-camp of the summer,a business trip built around a Hop Conference. We attend as many of these things that we can in an attempt to expand our knowledge and answer questions we have about increasing our production efficiency. This one proved to be informative, and although most of the information wasn’t new to us, we did manage to come away with some valuable nuggets that will help us down the road. For instance, I bet you didn’t know that a Hop plant likes its water at the most extreme heating times of the day. Now you know. Water them often and when the sun is the hottest! We also spoke to some other NY Hop farmers over lunch and talked about the number 1 maintenance issue for organic farmers- WEED CONTROL!!!
Weeds can get pretty dominant if you don’t find a way to control them. Hops will outgrow weeds, but weeds compete with the hops for valuable soil nutrients and moisture. Weeds also attract destructive insects to your field. We briefly struggled with Japanese Beetles this year but now that we’ve gotten a handle on the weeds the threat has decreased significantly.
Thanks to our son BJ, along with Butch and a couple of hired helpers, who helped us clear the rows from weed growth. Nothing beats hand weeding, and believe it or not, there is a technique to it. I think BJ is the newly crowned weed champion, not an easy feat for over 1000 plants!
After carefully exposing the strings, irrigation tubes, and bine rootings, we were able to cut down the rest of the weeds with a push- type weed wacker that operates like a push mower with strings instead of rotary blades.
Once we get the rows neatly trimmed and free from oppressive weed growth we use our new piece of equipment called a Weed-Badger to keep them clean. We were late this year getting the machine in time to get a jump on things, so we are still playing catch-up, but next year we should be able to handle the weeds with the machine before they get established. Anyway, it does take 3 years before the hops fully mature and have enough root support to consistently reach the top wire year after year, so we’re still in the nurturing phase. We feel good about our progress and are looking forward to another decent harvest at the end of August.
Check out the WWC (World Weeding Champion) on his record setting pace of 1 fully weeded row per hour, a feat not matched by anyone else! Check out his awesome technique. Incidentally, as of this writing, unlike me, King BJ has not mistakenly pulled one bine out of the ground!
Now that the weeds are under control and the cones have emerged in full bloom, we can begin to focus on our new processing and storage facility, a project with many dimensions and infinite usage possibilities. Stay tuned for the next installment which will highlight some of our progress with that project.
Here is a picture of the side door to our fully insulated plant. So far I’ve completed a back door ramp and this side door stair entrance deck. All of the wood used came from Toby’s lumber mill, rough cut and natural, just like we like it!
I could continue to ramble on, but its already 80 degrees with a forecast high of 92, so I better close and get busy pulling weeds. Only a couple of rows to go, I’ll try to finish one today before I keel over from heat exhaustion!
I’ll leave you with a quote from Tom Hanks as he spoke to Gina Davis in the movie “A League of Their Own”. This is something that I keep on my desktop and was especially helpful during the 5 years I spent writing, reading, and revising my dissertation. Hanks said, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great”
I guess I’m going to have a great day. I hope you do too!