Preparing the Land for Hops

PREPARING THE LAND FOR HOPS

While researching the environmental requirements for growing hops, we noticed a couple areas for improvement required of our land; specifically the need for well-drained soil (similar to Corn and Soy crops) and good air movement across the field.

In climates such as the humid summers we experience in Southern Ontario, hops plants can come under increasing risk of developing Powdery and Downy Mildew infestations.  These mildews can cause considerable damage to a crop.  To help combat these mildews, good airflow as well as trellis construction that promotes good airflow are both key.  To aid in the natural airflow across our rolling hills, we trimmed some of the lower branches along our windbreak (tree-line) to help air movement through our yard.  This will help move humid air and helps our plants resist mildew infestations

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The West tree-line in the process of having the lower branches trimmed

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The North facing tree-line along Perth Road 26

Our farm topography is rolling hills with abundant springs that feed into our creek which flows into the Thames River just south of our farm.  With the abundance of springs and natural flowing water, the need to have drainage tile installed to aid in the drainage process becomes very important.  The drainage tiles themself have small perforations which allow it to absorb water and transport it to a central outlet away from the field.  While all plants require water to grow, it’s not healthy for plants to sit in water logged soil.  Soil that has too much moisture can lead to root rot and ultimately dead plants!  The decision to install drainage tile was an easy one to make, not only will these tiles remove excess water, but they will prevent ground compaction, improve soil structure and increase accessibility to the land in the spring.  My father-in-law Keith sold me on this expense when he passed on this wisdom “drainage tile is the hardest working employee on your farm because even when you’re sleeping, your tile is still working for you improving your land”.

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Tile runs as seen in the spring prior to disc cultivating to level the ground

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This section of the farm will soon be very busy with the construction of the trellis system

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A 4” tile outlet that drains the North section of our farm.  This tile was running full just a week ago during the first major melt of the spring


Exploring the History of Hops in Preston Ontario

As you may have read on this website, I have a childhood connection to hops that I’ve been exploring now that we’re in the business. I grew up in Preston, a town in the city of Cambridge. My childhood home, near the convergence of the Speed and Grand Rivers, lies at the edge of an area that once was home to one of the “largest hops yards in the Dominion”, the Preston Hop Yards. This hop yard was once owned by the Moore family from which the son, George Moore, started a 70 acre hop yard in nearby Waterloo in the area of Union St. and Moore Ave. For more information on the Moore family click here. There a historical sign along the walking trail at the convergence of the Speed and Grand that explains a bit of this history. Preston actually became a town through “crafty” scheduling of its census during hop growing season. To be declared a “town”, they needed 2000 citizens, and this became possible because of the population surge that would take place during the hop growing season from the influx of native Indians that would travel up from Brantford to work in the hop yards during the summer months.
My Grandfather, Walter Hilgartner, loved to share stories with anyone who’d listen. Growing up, I remember Grandpa mentioning frequently about the Preston Hop Yards. His childhood home (which is a block from my childhood home) was adjacent the hop yards. Grandpa once told me a story of driving his first car (I think a Model T) at a young age (underage) and being chased through the nearby orchards and hop yards by a police car. At that time when they caught up to him, they just told him “Walter go home, and don’t be driving down the roads anymore until you’re older”. Something tells me things might be a little different if that were to happen today if a 12 year old got behind the wheel. My Grandpa passed away several years ago, and unfortunately my recollection of all of his stories is vague, but that story I remember clearly. If he were around today, I know that he would be able to share a lot more stories involving hop farming in Preston. Grandpa also used to speak of the old brewery located at the other end of town which was owned by the Henry Bernhardt and some of the old buildings can still be seen today. This brewery would have used the hops from the nearby Preston Hop Yards. Here’s a link about the Rock Springs Brewery.  Rock Springs Export Ale
While recalling these memories and doing research, I had read that hops can still be seen along the walking trail that goes along the old hop yards along the Speed River. This got me thinking “I wonder if we could find some of the plants and transfer some to our farm?” Soon, during a visit with my parents, we walked the length of the river trail but unfortunately we couldn’t locate any of the old plants or remnants of the old yards. Even with a clear idea of where to look, we found nothing. I decided to reach out and post a message on the Preston Ontario Facebook group asking if anyone had seen them. In this age of social media, it took maybe an hour before I was contacted by a local historian, Ray Ruddy, claiming that he had seen some of the hops while walking the trail the year prior. He even had a picture of one of the plants and there was no question in my mind that he had found the gold at the end of the rainbow. We soon setup a meeting and before long Julie and I drove to Preston to meet with Ray. We took a short walk down to the river (about a block from his house) and before long he had re-located where he had seen the plants the year prior. To our amazement, there they were! In the very place where I had walked by just a few weeks prior, we just hadn’t looked up high enough.

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If not for the cones on the plants, they would have been hard to identify because much of the leaves had been defoliated by insects. I inspected the cones and couldn’t see any seeds which to me means there must not be any males nearby and therefore these plants were all female which would be what you’d expect if they were from the old hop yard. These plants were right at the edge of the old farm,  the rest of the area now covered by subdivisions. I can’t say with 100% certainty, but my belief is that these roots are part of plants that have been in the ground for over 100 years on land that ceased being a hop yard nearly a century ago.

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We carefully harvested a couple roots from the plants and not have approx. 100 plants in the ground

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While we can’t immediately identify the variety, we can have next year’s cones tested to see what kind of brewing qualities are present in the hops. Our expectation would be that these would be a German Hop, likely brought in the form of rhizome by the original settlers of the area but only genetic testing ($$$) in a lab can say with certainty their origins. We’re still searching for some of the old brewery recipes from any of the area brewers (that would have used hops from those yards) and are interested in re-producing them using some of the original ingredients (specifically cloned plants from the old hop yards). If we can get these to grow and produce a desirable product, you might just see them in a beer in the near future! Check back under “Wild Hops” for updates on our progress.

 


There’s a Wolf on the farm!

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me explain that the “Wolf” we’re referring to is our modified Wolf WHE140 Hop Harvesting machine.

But let’s step back 6 months….

With the goal of scaling our operations to support the growing demand for hops, a method for harvesting hops efficiently took the forefront of our planning process.  After a lot of research and planning, we chose a modified “Wolf-Hopfenpfluckmaschine” which translates into “Hop picking machine” which will allow us to strip approximately 170 *bines per hour.  We contacted Thomas Frazer (tfrazer@dmfg.com) at Dauenhauer Manufacturing Company www.dmfg.com.  Thomas patiently answered all of our questions and quickly found us a machine to suit our needs.

After a long voyage from central Germany, across the Atlantic Sea, Montreal-Toronto via railway and finally down the road to arrive at our farm on Tuesday April 8th 2014.

*Bines are a climbing plant which use downward-pointing bristles to grip and wrap around a central support and climb upwards (vines use tendrils and suckers to climb).

 

Wolf1The truck arrives at our farm at 7:30am

 

 

 

 

Wolf2The container is opened and some of the small contents are removed by hand

 

 

 

 

Wolf6A new toy for the day to help with unloading

 

 

 

 

Wolf4The top section of the machine

 

 

 

 

The bottom half of the Wolf Harvester arriving Spring '14

The bottom half of the Wolf Harvester arriving Spring ’14

Being unloaded by family/local farmers Ken Brenneman and nephew Paul Brenneman

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A special thanks to all of our machinery operators and riggers for the day:  Owen Wallace (and his tractor), Paul Brenneman (Zoom Boom driver extraordinaire!), Ken Brenneman, Keith Brenneman, Mark Brenneman (and his tractor), and Jamie Romano.  Jeremy and I are extremely lucky to have such great family and friends willing to help us out!

 I’d also like to thank Marilyn Brenneman and Pam Wallace for watching Nash and showing him all the tractors!

 


Water Anyone?

Do you remember those photosynthesis charts back from grade 8 Science class?  One of the most critical parts of the process of photosynthesis (process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy that can be later be released to fuel the organisms’ activities i.e. growth of cones) is WATER! Photosynthesis

While there certainly was no shortage of rain in the 2013 crop year, the prior 2012 crop year saw one of the worst droughts in years in Southern Ontario (and much of North America).  With hops requiring a lot of water throughout the growing season, we decided not to take a chance on rainfall and instead opted to build our own irrigation pond.  Adjacent this pond will be a pump-house that will filter and pump precious water onto our hop yard.   Our pond was dug in early March while there was still frost in the ground to help support the large excavating equipment.  Once dug, the pond quickly filled with water from underground springs coming out of thawed ground.

Our irrigation system will monitor the moisture level in the soil through underground sensors which will trigger the irrigation process when the soil no longer holds adequate moisture to feed our plants.  The irrigation will be done through a drip line suspended above the crown the hop plants.  This irrigation system will also carry valuable nutrients to our plants as required.

Our irrigation pond is in a low lying area of our farm that has springs and 3 drainage tile outlets which drain water from  area farmland (see blog entry #1)Pond4

 

 

The newly dug pond after the first Spring melt

 

 

Tile2 Water entering our pond from a nearby tile outlet

Pond2An underground spring entering the side of the pond