Hop burrs

The numerous little hop burrs are now present on each of my seven varieties of hops.  These grow on the sidearms of the bines and each burr will turn into an individual hop cone.  These cones have actually already developed on my earliest-maturing variety, Centennial.

Hop sidearms

One of the most noticeable features of hop bines may be their excessive vertical growth, but it is actually their lateral sidearms which extend horizontally from the main bine that are most important.  It is on these sidearms, which are easily identified on the single bine in the picture above, that the actual hop flowers and corresponding cones will grow.  When the sunlight hours are nearing their peak duration during the growing season, the hop plant will start to put less energy into its vertical growth and will prioritize on the development of its sidearms and horizontal growth.

Heading barley

The barley is starting to look more like barley now that the heads have emerged on some of the stems/tillers. The heads, also referred to as the spike or ear, contain the florets that will eventually become each individual grain of barley. The long hair-like wisps that extend upward from each floret are called awns. The timing of heading, number of florets on each head, and length of the awn can vary significantly between different varieties of barley.

Rain, rain, don’t go away

We finally received some much-needed precipitation yesterday and last night, about two-thirds of an inch in total. And wouldn’t you know that it just took getting the 1,000-gallon water tank out of storage, filled, and pulled out into the hopyard yesterday to finally get it to start raining! Check out the Cheese City Beer Company Facebook page for more pictures taken minutes before the downpour.

Throughout the growing season last year, we received several timely rains that really helped to establish all of the newly-planted hops and get everything off to a great start. But with a consensus of “long-term” weather predictions calling for a hot and dry summer this year, I’ve started to revisit some plans to install a gravity-fed irrigation system in the hopyard, thus making the watering process more uniform and efficient.

Tillering barley

The barley is now into the “tillering” stage due to the additional shoots that have grown from the original stem that initially emerged from the ground. These additional stems (“tillers”) also have their own grass leaflets and grow outward at a slight angle from the original stem. Check out the Cheese City Beer Facebook page for an additional picture where multiple tillers originating from a single seed can be identified, as well as another picture of the lush green barley field that has been helped along by this recent heat. Now we just need some rain!

Training hop bines

After the pieces of twine are tied directly above each hop plant, it is now time to train the hop bines (yes they are called bines with a “b” instead of vines with a “v”) onto the twine. This is all done by hand and is one of the several labor-intensive tasks involved with growing hops. To do so, I will choose the most productive-looking 3-5 bines (there are 3 in the picture above) and manually wrap each one after another around the twine in a clockwise direction. It is important that they are wound clockwise in the northern hemisphere so they can follow the sun as they grow skyward. If they are wound counterclockwise, as is done in the southern hemisphere, they will unravel themselves from the twine from which they were trained.

Stringin’ hops

This past winter I cut 1,700 pieces of baler twine measuring 20 feet long each in order use in the hopyard this year (that’s almost six and a half miles worth). By standing on the platform on the hay rack wagon, I can tie one end of each piece of twine to the top cable directly above each hop plant as my dad drives a tractor pulling the wagon up and down the rows. This involves a lot of starting and stopping as you can imagine. After I’ve tied around one or two hundred pieces on the top cables, I’ll then go through and tie the other end of the piece of twine to the bottom wire located between the poles about a foot off the ground.

Homemade hops equipment

This is the small square hay bale rack wagon my dad and I repurposed into a hopyard cabling/stringing/harvesting piece of equipment last year. By bolting and welding on a platform, with a floor at 13 feet high off the ground, we’re able to pull it up and down the rows of hops to accomplish several tasks at the height of the upper cables. Each of the hopyard poles are 18 feet high off the ground with a cable strung north and south along each row.

Blades of barley

The Cheese City Beer barley has emerged and has been up for a few days now. This picture was taken early in the morning so you can still see the droplets of dew on the tips of several of the blades. At this point it basically looks like blades of grass that are growing in evenly-spaced rows. This type of barley is referred to as 2-row barley. 2-row barley is the most popular type of malting barley and I’ll be discussing this in more detail in future posts. Check out the Cheese City Beer Facebook page for a few more pictures.

Green growth

The plant on the left is the same one from the picture that I posted on April 13th. You can see that the pinkish shoots are now entirely green and the tallest have grown to about 10 inches. I used the straw from my barley last year to mulch over all of the hop plants for insulation during the winter as well as future moisture retention and weed control. The plants in each row are spaced three feet apart from each other and there are 1,700 plants in total (i.e., 17 rows with 100 plants in each).