Just like with everything else in life, never think you know all there is to know about growing hops and running a hop farm. Nature will school you soon enough.
I probably could have guessed a few of the lessons I would learn…which makes them even tougher to admit! All of us that work out on the farm are there in a part time capacity, and occasionally life gets in the way. Planning ahead should take care of some of these issues, but even then you can’t predict everything. Our number one issue that carried over from last year was…weeds.
We knew that the only way to tackle this massive problem was to spray pre-emergent before anything began to grow, most likely in early to mid February. In 2015 we called a local company several times and never received a call back. So for 2016 we started calling a new company back in September to allow for any delays. We called again in December, and then in February. That’s about the time we stopped receiving a response from the company. After several voice mail messages left by more than one member of our team, we received a call back in March with the response that it was too late to spray the yard because weeds were now growing. Frustrated isn’t even close to the way we still feel two months later. The weeds were out of control, stealing water, blocking sunlight, and choking out the new hop growth. As I type this, we have a team of workers that arrived at 7am in order to weed the entire one acre so that we can focus on fertilizing, training, and trimming.
The next lesson I personally learned, but my partners did their best to shield me from was to trim back all empty hop bines before winter. Most hop farms don’t have this problem since they cut the ropes on top and bottom, and cut the bines so they can take the entire growth back to an enclosed processing area. But for the past two years we have picked the hops while the bines were on the ropes. This allowed us to save the cost and time it would take to string new ropes. In October of 2015, my partners worked their butts off to trim and unravel about 80% of the yard without my help. So during the Spring I found aggressive hop bines intertwined with the dried previous year’s growth. This means that the new growth isn’t able to grab and climb the coconut husk sisal rope like we prefer. The old growth is slick and won’t hold the new growth in heavy winds and rain nearly as well.
Lastly, we noticed that the rhizomes we ordered online our first year, put in the greenhouse for a few months until they started to burn, then but outside in wooden planters and partially ignored the first and second year, seem to be doing extraordinarily well so far this season. The Willamette hops reached the top of our eight foot fence a month ago, and are now over 10 feet tall. We’ve added some new soil and watered them more regularly this year, despite the lack of steady warm days in Central Oregon so far this year. And I’m sure that zero competition from weeds helped a bit!
So every year we learn a little more about growing hops in Central Oregon…and as always, we pass along our lessons to those who ask and are willing to listen.