Monday, January 18, 2010

The Big Freeze & The Big Bad Trellis

Here at Bitterbine Farm/Ranch (we haven't quite figured out which description best describes our 18 acres...) we bring in the New Year with a half-finished trellis for the one-acre hop yard. There has been a Herculean effort by friends and family during the fall to get us to this stage. The majority of their sweat was poured into making the 88 hand-made cedar poles - the cellulose bones of the trellis system.

After getting a much-needed tutorial from our neighbour Hal on the ins-and-outs of working with such massive raw timber, we pulled out or brand new Stihl Farmhand Chainsaw and started cutting the cedar timber to size.

We found it fitting that much or our Lumberjack work occurred during the month of Movember while Tim and I were sporting our magnificent moustaches, which brought in hundreds of dollars for Prostate Cancer research!

Each pole was measured to 21': 18' out of and 3' into the ground. The final product was just the right size for one person to maneuver with only partial back strain. We split the poles to have substantial girth (a few additional inches than what is recommended) to withstand Lillooet's infamous wind gusts that shoot through the Fraser Valley during the hot summer months.

We're also putting our faith in the natural strength of Thuja plicata to flex and not break in the face of gusts exceeding 80 km/hr. We were given a taste of what's to come on the night of November 30th after putting up a dozen poles: Strong winds and torrential rain fell that night, forcing over poles that were only partially back-filled.

With the pole yard count reaching the magic 88, we set our sights on getting them into the ground before freeze-up. With the help of Hal and his hard working Deere, we managed to install the perimeter poles to the yard by the end of Movember. But with forecasts calling for some serious sub-zero nights for the first week of December, we had precious little time to get the rest of the poles in before the ground became like hardened concrete. Turns out Mother Nature gave us one last day - December 1st - to install the remaining 50 interior poles. Good luck, we thought. Nevertheless, we added a powerful skid steer to the equation and managed to push through the encrusted piles of soil to infill about a dozen more poles.

By about 2:30 pm, we looked at our progress and Garrett the skid steer operator said, "Boys, winter will be here in about 20 minutes." He was right, the sun was heading back behind the mountains and a rapid chill could be felt in the air. Although the unfinished trellis was a little disappointing, we figured to just pick-up where we left off come spring time.

In the mean time, let's make some hoppy beer!


  1. ou are super luck to be able to use cedar. Here in SW Wisconsin I am using black locust which we are able to harvest locally for close to nothing from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

    Will your hops be grown using organic methods?

  2. Hi there,
    I had no idea we were getting comments to the blog - I should check this more often! Yes, we struck gold with a great deal on a truck load of cedar from a local mill. Hand split, they should retain their flexible strength and be able to weather the elements better than any pine, fir, or other conifer. Not many hardwoods to speak of on this side of the Rocky Mountains. Glad to hear the DNR was supportive...and we are transitioning into a fully organic farm, hopefully for the 2011 harvest.