For quite some time to come, Memorial Day 2018 will in my mind bring back memories of heat, humidity and grass clippings galore!
This day’s work was a back and forth mix of hand weeding directly around the hops to clear a foot circumference and then returning with the weed whacker and safely clear the grass, clover and weeds that have erupted so far this Spring between the plants. Yes…this happens every year as we don’t spray for weed control nor will we ever. I’m not complaining per se, rather realizing more and more that given the jump we’d made 2 years ago from 30 to 400+ hops with just myself, and at times family and friends helping, is not cutting it (pun intended).
To have a productive hopyard of this size typically requires a more mechanized approach, and/or a larger paid staff in this critical time of year getting the yard off to a good start. I see the yards of other Farms we follow on social media, either in our region or in Michigan and New York, and their yards’ progression at this time of year seems light years ahead of ours. Most larger yards do not keep a ground cover in the alleys as we do. At present we have a clover mix there that was present in the field before we planted the new hopyard. The intent was to keep the ground covered and feed nutrients to the nearby plants. These larger yards I reference will typically plow the lanes every Spring, peeling a layer of soil away from the hops crowns, amending that soil and then plowing that “juiced-up” soil back against the hop hills.
So there are changes we are noodling for after we wrap this season’s harvest up. These include using sheet mulching techniques in the beds themselves to cut down on the weeds which will also assist in retaining the soil moisture. Along with a proper mulch bed on top, this will slowly feed nutrients to the plants and help break down our heavy clay soils. Another change would be to transplant the hops from in between the poles into what are now the alleys and attempt the mechanical approach I’d mentioned above. However instead of leaving the soil uncovered, we’re considering putting in a cover crop to maintain the soil integrity and organically add nutrients back. More to come on which approach we’ll seek.
At the end of the day, we were able to weed almost all the beds. There are a few sections to finish up before we string the hops hopefully the first weekend in June. At the very least, the end of the day in the yard requires a trip back to the house through one of my favorite sections….a drive down the “Old Keystone Road”.