We worked like a well-oiled machine. Fran and I moved row to row, measuring out 18" plant spacings and checking each spot for potential obstacles, like roots and rocks. Johanna carefully detangled each tray of baby hops, while Clancy laid out the plants. Bob delved into the planting, while Saul followed up with refreshments: organic fish-emulsion spiked water for the newly planted hops and pints of Griffin Hill's latest test brew, a delicious NY Mild, for us.
We added seven new varieties to our hop nursery: Cascade, Centennial, Willamette, Newport, Liberty, Alpharoma, and Ultra. How will these varieties do in our environment? Only time will tell. But I think we got them off to a pretty good start.
Saul and I have been juggling multiple projects since touching down at
JFK on April 30th and hightailing it to Syracuse to settle up with our tenant, move into our house, and get our enterprise off the ground. One of our first endeavors was building a hops nursery, which we accomplished with much help from Saul's parents, Fran and Bob, who are also our neighbors now. Fran, a plant scientist by profession, is our agricultural consultant.
Witness the transformation.
There we have it. Our sweet little hops nursery. It really is a pleasure to stroll down the alleyways and scout our hops.
Just why are we bothering with a hops nursery? Isn't it extra work to start plants in a nursery then move them somewhere else? It is indeed, but this hops nursery holds many advantages for us.
First of all, it buys us some time.
We really wanted to get plants in the ground this year because hops
take several years to get a real yield. However, our permanent yard is far from ready. A nursery allows us to get our hops going at the same time as
we prepare our yard. Right now, as our baby hops are thriving
in our nursery, our first half-acre permanent yard is enjoying a
buckwheat cover crop that is smothering out weeds and will act as a green manure. By the time we are done with soil preparations, our baby plants will have a worthy home to move into next year.
A second advantage has to do with trialing.
This year, we are growing fifteen different varieties of hops in our nursery. We
don't necessarily expect all these varieties to make it into our
permanent yard. Though a true trial takes several years, we'll have a sense of how the different varieties do on our land after this
growing season. This connects to one of my main takeaways from my time
with Peter Darby in the UK: It's all about how specific varieties do on
your specific land. The only way to really find out what varieties grow
well here is to grow them. This is especially true in our area considering that the old New York hops industry was basically a Cluster monoculture. NY growers are just beginning to figure out what grows well here. And since NY is such a big and varied state, what grows well in one part may not in another. A nursery is a
good place for local trial and error to start.
Also, disease prevention
is on our minds. We do not want to put infected plants into
our permanent yard. Our nursery will act as a buffer, giving us a year to
scout and spot potential problems with plants before they graduate to
our big yard. In addition, our nursery gives us potential for in-house propagation. If our plants are good and robust, we can divide them to stock our hop yard. This year, we are growing about 185 plants. Next year, our half-acre will hold about 400 plants. We may be able to make up some of this difference without spending money on more plants. Sounds good to us!
Another great thing about the nursery is how it gave us the first-hand experience of building a hop trellis system on a small scale. Good preparation for the 18-foot poles that await us this fall!