Thursday, June 17, 2010

Faith and Uncertainty in Hops Farming

I came across this video that was taken at the Rising Sun Farms of Colorado, one of only a handful of hop farms in the United States growing organically. A late spring hail storm caused serious damage to this 9-10 acre hopyard.

 This video is heartbreaking to watch, particularly to the fellow hop grower. As noted in the video, most of the tender hop shoots were broken from the hail storm, which is likely to stunt the growth of the entire hopyard. One of the comments on the video came from another experienced grower who mentions new shoots will develop just below where it was damaged and continue to grow upwards. True - but such damage is likely to reduce yields significantly, not to mention the additional labour required for retraining the bines.

At our hopyard, we notice that hop plants respond to broken shoots by initiating secondary shoots along the entire bine. Unless these shoots are pruned, dozens will develop simultaneously, creating a bushy like appearance below the point of damage.

From the plant's perspective, this makes sense. As a survival strategy, an explosion of new shoots ensures at least a few bines latch on to the climbing substrate to continue their vertical trajectory. From the perspective of the farmer, this is simply unnecessary vegetative growth and an inefficient use of available nitrogen.  The solution, as we have discovered, is to prune all other side shoots except for ONE just below where the damage occurred. The plant then concentrates its energy into developing this single shoot. This should be done as soon as possible to encourage this single shoot and discourage continued growth of other side shoots.

In any unavoidable disaster such as the one at Rising Sun Farms, its always a good idea to have a few cold ones in the fridge to lessen the blow. Best of luck to those growers in Colorado!

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