The transition from winter to spring has seen a remarkable awakening in the hop garden. In fact with little or no frost and a fair bit of sun, the hop bines are even a little ahead of schedule, reports our hop garden manager, Matthew King:
If you passed by the hop garden in March, you were likely to have seen me stringing the hop garden ready for the first hop plants to emerge from the ground. This labour-intensive task of securing one long piece of natural coir string, made from coconut fibre, to hooks in the ground then to the wirework high above over and over, took around three weeks and 30 miles of string, not to mention a rather stiff neck!
The stringing took place just in time too – the unseasonably high temperatures of late March and April roused the dormant roots, particularly the English Cascade, with new shoots rising from the ground in abundance. Finding the hooks in the ground to secure the string around without damaging the brittle hop shoots would have been very time consuming.
With hop bine growth ahead of schedule, we even had to bring forward our annual TEA Club hop garden events. We had a great group out picking Poor Man’s Asparagus, when we remove the excess hop shoots from the plant which would traditionally have been eaten in a variety of ways – this year we had pickled hops and our annual competition with Red Mist pub chefs produced some amazing creations.
Also the twiddling of the young hop shoots around the string has been undertaken almost a month ahead of schedule. Our dedicated TEA Club members again joined me in the hop garden and sped up the process but, with 3000 plants and each hop plant producing as many as 70 to 80 shoots, we did have to employ some help. Stripping back the shoots growing ahead of the rest, a limited number of shoots (3-4 per string) are then encouraged to grow clockwise around the string. Mind you, this is not really a problem as the shoot are very capable of doing this on their own!
Just to be sure, we’re now having regular visits from our expert Agronomist who is keeping an eye on progress in the hop garden and an eye out for signs of anything undesirable such as aphids.
Having now had years of experience myself, I am also now able to identify irregularities, which I look out for whenever I’m walking through the hop garden, from stresses and viruses to diseases and of course, weeds! The battle over weeds is ongoing. The war against thistles last year has now moved onto mares-tail which drinks up all the limited and precious moisture left over from the dry spring. I suspect we’ll be fighting this battle for months to come!
Traditionally, the 1st June is when the hop plants ‘should’ reach the overhead wirework… And I can report that ours are doing very nicely! Many have now reached the wire at almost 20ft high, some are lagging behind a little and some have even surpassed this and are now growing happily along the wire. We will be keeping an eye on this as the season goes on.