Four seasons in, and we think we are finally getting the hang of this. We know what we need to do to increase our yields and improve conditions of the yard. First thing is we will be removing grass from the rows and fabric from the hills, both create more problems than they help. Fabric was a great starter solution but grass grows right on top of it.
We do know that the yard is its own biological entity, with a robust lady bug and beneficial spider population. It is also host to a growing Japanese beetle infestation, all as a result of yard conditions (we see signs of the good and the bad). We got the spray schedules down (to help our nearly downy-mildew devastated Centennials bounce back and keep the yard under control from downy mildew pressure). We can anticipate when the pests will show up, and are continuously fine-tuning our attack. Our fertilization methods are always improving. We have the harvesting down (thanks to the Pompius Plucker!) and the baling down; we'll need a bigger dryer and cooler next year.
One thing left to conquer: the weeds!!! We now have two farm tractors and will be working this fall and spring to remove the grass and improve our ability to hill the yard and cultivate weeds in the aisles, so we can focus more on the rows of plants and give them an ever improving chance to bring more and more of our flavorful NY hops to your beer.
Thanks to all who volunteered this year we couldn't have done it without you, and thanks to those that attended our events, you give us a glimpse of what it will mean to be an agriculture destination, one of our goals for the Town of Fabius and the Pompius community -
2015 will always be the year we will remember as the year we took chances and learned exactly what our limits were. 3 acres is going to truly test our strengths, as we look for ways to involve the community in our hop farming adventure and strengthen our resources. You don't plant a hopyard without a long term vision, and we are looking forward to becoming a community asset. We want to open our farm more to the community and fellow growers than we already have, and to the possibility of events but first we need to get this operation running smoothly. We know now what it takes for four people (plus an occasional volunteer or two) to manage the stringing, weeding, twining, pruning, scouting, and spraying - not to mention harvesting and drying, all while installing a new acre (and working full time jobs off the farm) - and how fierce mother nature can be.
June was a pretty nasty month. Many hop farms struggled with the rains and cool weather which brought on a virtual statewide epidemic of Downy Mildew (which, when out of control, is the reason hops left New York in the first place). Many farms went right ahead and ripped out their Centennials, seeing first hand that that variety is not a great choice for our climate.
We put in more. We did suffer a great loss in yield to our Centennials, not gonna lie, that stung like a son of a bitch. But we have a plan in place to hopefully manage this nasty disease and continue to foster our Centennial reserves. We also chose not to grow an exciting new hop called Cashmere because we got wind (in the nick of time) that those girls don't really like to come back after the winter. Saved by the grapevine there...instead we added Crystal which gives us a low bittering option.
All right, now onto the real story. We had a vision for what a harvester could be, and invested in a guy we'll call AMAZING to work with us to design an all electric, fully adjustable portable harvester. The Pompius Plucker tested out on some 140 bines/hour, and put in some 8 hour days without breaking a sweat (or a hydraulic line). We are thankful to those that tread before us in this arena, and after testing her out on some beefy second year bines, we know what tweaks to make to be able to handle our ever maturing yards, and possibly meet the needs of other small acreage hopyards. it is our goal to help other small farms manage their own destinies (and harvest schedules, and tractor hours...) and this plucker could very well answer that call.
The Clark Hollow Hops Families
The longest winter...ever.
It’s been one of the longest, coldest winters in a long time. That doesn’t mean we hop farmers were just sitting around drinking beer. Wait…yes we were! But we are methodical about drinking beers – we like to talk shop with brewers and other hop farmers, and this winter we have been getting a better sense of the state of the hops industry in New York. The industry is young but it is growing, and while there are certainly learning curves, both farmers and brewers are excited to see the hops side of things take off. Lately there has been a lot of sharing of valuable information among the farmers and the brewers with the continuous goal of improving our growing, drying, processing, and packaging. We expect no less than for New York to provide the same quality hops as the more established hop growing regions of the country. And we're always surprised when lo and behold, our hops come up! They made it! They love us, they do.
We make our best decisions while drinking craft beers!
Especially this Bullard-Johnson family partnership and our decision to grow hops. Joking aside, we’ve had several very serious meetings over the winter, planning how to improve farm processes and growing regimen for our hops. We are finalizing our biggest sober decision yet, and that is regarding what direction we will be going with harvesting. Stay tuned, all we will say right now is that we don't plan on hand picking this year! We will also be expanding and improving our drying and baling operations.
We're adding Crystal!
Crystal Hops bears a low alpha acid rating of 3.5%-6.0%, and carries a relatively high myrcene content. This combination makes it ideal for aroma additions in the wort as it bring with it a mix of woody, green, some floral and fruit notes, with some herb and spice character. Crystal Hops lends itself to a number of beers like Light Ales, such as Goldens, Pale Ales, Aroma for India Pale Ales, and even Stouts and Lagers.
Watch for us to be installing the new trellis over the summer and planting field grade plants in September. We think this is a much better strategy than trying to work around spring’s finicky antics (this year it snowed on April 23!) and will hopefully give us a stronger start for 2016 for the newest acre. As always, we welcome visitors, but would appreciate setting up an appointment (i.e. call first! - so we can set aside time for a tour, and offer you a frosty beverage of course), and volunteer field hands are never turned away….(thanks to all who have helped so far, we couldn’t have done it without you!!!)
Eric, Shana, McKenna, Sidney, Brian, and Erin
The Clark Hollow Hops Families
We started harvesting the Clark yard in mid August - Centennials were early for everyone we hear - and finished with the Cascade acre on September 7 this year. Beyond our expectations for first year. We are learning a lot - for one thing, Perles are strugglers the first year but take off like crazy the second. Newports lay in the shadows, unassuming little beasts until year two. Centennials grew the most in our Shackham yard but it was the Cascades for which we had to call in the troops. Those puppies were loaded, even our first year, more than we expected. Could it be the improved feeding and watering system? We think mayhaps. We had to build a bigger oast this year. Like our handpicking parties, that is a temporary situation. Next year a whole section of the Johnson barn will have to be partitioned off for drying, and we'll have to make room for the harvester that we are going to buy....
All in all a pretty good year. Still have to tuck the plants away for the year under a bed of compost but we can take a breath until the frost, giving the plants one last feeding before then. Turn on the switch for that, Farmer Brian!
We can't send out enough thanks to those who have helped along the way!!!
No one said it would be easy. Two hop fields, two different locations. Our two year field is being checked daily for those little critters that like to eat the hops - potato leaf hoppers showed up a couple weeks ago, but we can count them on one hand. We have an existing colony of ladybugs that are sticking around, and added 1500 more just for kicks. Last week the Japanese beetles made their presence known, but similar to last year, we can count them on one hand too. The difference between last year and this year is that most of our hops by now have reached the top of the trellis, making it hard to hand pick the little orgies and stomp on them! But we beat them away with a stick and make sure they don't proliferate.
Then we ride over to the Shackham yard to check the progress! Our fertigation system is running like a charm and we can see the difference in the health of our plants right away! They are growing like weeds! The yard receives a full day's supply of Vitamin D and uninhibited breezes, better than our Clark yard, so we know we have the right ingredients there!
We hear New York yards are doing really well this year, busting out burrs early. Our first cones appeared on July 4 at the Clark yard, and we see 1 foot growth every few days on many of our Shackham plants. It's an exciting time, and having two separate yards is giving us a unique position of being able to try methods on a small scale that can be improved upon on a large scale while we prepare for calculated growth of our business, and the little yard is a preview of what to expect on the large yard. Our goal is to continuously improve so that we can best deliver consistency and quality...
Gearing up for a beautiful summer -
Memorial Day was early this year. It snuck up on us. We set out a calendar since the middle of March for what our weekends would look like. We had yet to install our trellis, till and fabric our rows, and install the irrigation. And we had the schedule set up in our brains to have our plants shipped so we could plant them the weekend of May 31. Then it hit us, and our grower, who ships on Mondays - we might not get our plants on time so we needed to plant a week ahead of our schedule. That's great, right?! We want the plants in the ground sooner rather than later, but spring did not cooperate!
You never realize how long, wet, and cold spring can be until you begin farming. And is there really a need for all that fog in the valleys of Fabius??
We started work many weekends only to find our equipment got stuck in the mud, and there goes our schedule! A crazy Ford commercial: picture an F150 towing scaffolding...being pulled out of the mud by a tractor! Disheartening to say the least. We did accomplish everything just in time, though we had to hand water the plants (cue trailer and 275 gallon reservoir) after they got in the ground because we ran behind on irrigation. That got completed soon after of course, but we wish no hand watering of 2100 plants on anyone.
Note to selves as we plan for expansion...earthwork in the fall! Trellis work in the fall! And, if all goes well, plants in the ground in the fall. We've got our next area tilled already and plan to enjoy a laaarge family garden to enrich our (already very healthy soil) so hopefully that schedule can be maintained...
Grow little guys grow! Your buddies on the Clark Hollow field are doing amazing...overwintered like champions...now it's your turn! Your soil tests came back in amazingly good condition and we've got a fertilizer plan, all you have to do is be the little hoppers that you are.
It's been a long cold winter...we keep peeking at the Shackham yard to see how the snow is melting. So far it isn't! But our plants are wintering nicely at Great Lakes Hops, building strong roots and getting ready for the field. We know we've got a lot of work ahead of us, and just can't wait to get started.
We are beyond excited!!!!
Farmer Erin has been accepted as one of 20 farmers across New York State to participate in the Class of 2014 Beginning Women Farmers and Ranchers program through Holistic Management International! This will bolster our farm's success as we continue to network with hops experts (and some awesome women farmers) to ensure our hops are being grown right and that we have a calculated plan for growth, marketing, and resource management.
This intense class runs from November to April, and will arm us with a Whole Farm Plan, not to mention some serious education from the best our state has to offer! And she was wondering what was going to keep her busy during the off season....
Well, what a whirlwind weekends that was, huh kids? From sunup to sundown, we stripped poles, tarred poles, dug holes, placed poles, then came back to shovel dirt back into the holes we dug for poles so poles could be poles and wait patiently for wiring. Stay tuned for October when that fun begins!
1. A skid steer is MUCH better than a manual auger!
2. Sometimes you have to ask for help, and boy are we grateful for it! Thank you Troy Johnson for really getting into it any time all the time, Martha Gardner and Kay Johnson for helping with the kids, Dave Gardner for helping on the assembly line, Lee and Mandy Mielnik for working their muscles, and Nate Dablock for taking the first shift on the longest Saturday of our lives! Thank you Charlie for barking at the big bad sheep next door!
And we can't forget Zach Howard and Thomson Knox, who helped us with our business card design.
3. Cold beer hits you real hard at the end of a long working day in the sun!
4. They make chain saw attachments for stripping poles. Thank you, Steve! We could have used that tidbit of info a little bit sooner!
We were glad to have Camp 'Burban II (our 30' travel trailer) on the lovely knoll as a respite from the heat and as tool storage (and beer storage...and a toilet...). We hope to get into a less rigorous routine next summer to actually use it for camping! Or is this the end of our free time as we know it? We don't care, we love this adventure and can't wait to share our bounty with all of you.
Closing day! The day our lives changed forever. We are on our way to being commercial farmers, a dream each of us has harbored (though we didn't realize it)! Drink up now, peeps...the hard work has just begun!
Thank goodness the property is right between our two houses, on Shackham Road in the Town of Fabius. We met the neighbor across the street, and she was relieved we weren't building a house - that would ruin her views - but does she know how tall hop poles are? We think they are majestic, who wouldn't want to look at them!?!?
We are a company now...we have to have meetings. So, we have meetings
and we plan...but our business trips are where the real fun begins! We are all agreed - two acres now, all in. As for what the future brings beyond that...only time will tell!
Meeting adjourned, for now...