Memorial Day, 2009
Our very first planting consisted of a one acre trial and included five types of hops,
Brewer's Gold, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Galena.
In our first trial acre, we went with various row widths including 15, 14, and 12. All poles in the row were spaced at 40'. We determined that you could go at close as 12' with a tall trellis system, if you have the right equipment to get down the rows. Special consideration should be given when it comes to the size of your mowers, sprayers, tractors, picking equipment, etc. Remember that you will need to bring a skyjack or trailer modified with scaffolding down your rows, so ideally the site chosen will be relatively flat.
We measured out the yard, used an 3-point auger and drilled holes 4' deep and then dropped the 22' poles. It actually was fairly easy, just find the "sweet" or center part of the pole, tie a chain around it and then have some brave soul guide into place while lifting it with the tractor. Extra precaution needs to be given here. Save the beer until after this part is done! Trust us, this part can be very dangerous.
One the poles are up, fill the holes with dirt and then put a good 5 gallons of water around the base of that hole. This will help settle the pole. At this point you may need to add more dirt and perhaps more water, don't get it too wet or you will have to wait for the water to drain. Once the pole seems fairly stable and the water has drained, compact the dirt. We used heavy boots, a sledge hammer and a hand-held soil compacter. Make sure the pole is straight, a level would come in handy at this point.
It's a long story, but the first acre of poles we used were conventional poles that were signed-off on by our previous organic inspector. Our new certifier didn't like them and we were lucky enough to have that acre "grandfathered" in. After this acre, everything that we have use has been non-treated black locust wood. Incredibly strong and rot-resistant, but there is not a straight pole among them. It certainly adds character to the hopyard and it's organic.
First year plants at around 2 months of age. As you can tell by the photograph, the straw does provide a really good weed barrier, but it has its issues, including too much water retention and a negative impact on soil temperature.
On the first acre we tried non-treated newsprint as a weed barrier and for soil moisture retention. The paper worked well, but the straw had its drawbacks. It kept the weeds in check at first, but it also negatively impacted the soil temperature and introduced an environment for mold. With this trial we have determined that a clover or trefoil cover crop may be our best organic option for weed prevention.
A very young plant started by rhizome. First year growth for our Cascade, Chinook, and Brewer's Gold were excellent.The Centennial and Galena lagged a little bit, and took much longer to fully develop. As a side note, the Brewer's Gold was the biggest first year grower reaching 20' and produced cones the first year.
An all terrain vehicle like a skyjack or 4wd scissor lift would be ideal for running cable in a hopyard and possibly for hanging coir once the yard is up. For cabling we used 5/16 7x19 GAC for all our main lines and 3/16 7x19 GAC for our trolley wires. This was easily the best choice for us and it avoids a lot of the re-tensioning associated with other wire.
Once all you wiring is up and tight, you will need to secure it to the ground. For us, we decided on 4' earth anchors drilled into the ground by a 3-point auger with a special attachment that clamped onto the anchor. Very easy and it has been very secure for us so far. Some farmers will use slanted end poles for the sides and end rows as well. Hey, whatever works.
First year plants at around 4 weeks. Today, all theses plants easily hit that top wire at 18' and beyond. You will notice in this picture that we have a cover crop of clover that is growing in our drive rows. We do that to prevent dust and thus eliminate possible spider mite breeding conditions. It also adds a little bit of nitrogen back to the soil. We use a low growing clover like dutch white or a New Zealand clover.