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Hoperations at Empire Farm Brewery

16
Aug
2016

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After a late start on hop planting at the Empire Farm Brewery we have been working hard to ensure these young plants can endure a Central New York winter. Weeding, soil amendments, and training have been the name of our hop game. Let’s take a closer look at what these methods do for our favorite perennial plant:

Weed control has proven to be the most time-consuming task in the hop yard. Weeds compete with hops for nutrients in the soil and also restrict airflow causing damp conditions that foster disease like downy mildew. Surprisingly, there are very few organic methods of weed control aside from hand weeding. UVM’s 2015 Hop Weed Management Trial states that, “While relatively effective, hand weeding has taken as much as 200 cumulative hours of labor per acre per year.” The good news is that our weeding efforts will pay off when our hops are established enough to ward off weeds.  Did you know a hop plant can send roots up to fifteen feet into the ground?!

Soil amendment refers to any material mixed into the soil. For us this means compost. OCCRA has provided us with the best USCC Certified organic compost in the area (see photo above). Compost offers numerous benefits as a soil amendment. It adds nutrients to the soil to promote plant health, retains moisture, and suppresses the spread of disease and weeds. There are similar benefits to the application of compost tea. Compost tea is just as it sounds, it’s the act of steeping compost in water. At the farm we use the method of fertigation to evenly distribute the tea (see photo below).

Lastly, one of the largest factors in strengthening hop bines and promoting growth is training. Training involves wrapping three or four bines in a clockwise direction around each string. The bines are trained clockwise to follow the sun as it rises and sets. Since, we have seen significant growth in a number of plants, the largest bine reaching well over seven feet! If you think that’s exciting we are also seeing flowering and the start of hop cones, but more on that in the coming month.

Even with a late planting this season we have been busy cultivating healthy soil and a system of organic practices in the hop yard. Be sure to stop by the farm before the end of summer to see our young hops while enjoying our award-winning handcrafted ales and lagers!
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