This has been one of THE wettest, coldest Springs I can recall in quite some time. As such, looking at the very slow growth of the hops in both yards and witnessing how extremely wet the new/large yard was, it felt like we were on schedule. It felt like taking a day to get the tractor back in condition – changing fluids, filters, greasing fittings, etc. – seemed like a good way to make use of the time. “There’s no way I could be stringing coir, training plants to bines, taking soil samples…it’s too damn wet and cold to be in the yards!” I convinced myself. And then a week of warmer temperatures arrived and upon my next trip to the Farm I suddenly realized, “Shit! How can I now be behind…by a month!!”
Also in the period from early April until now, I was able to attend an incredible tractor maintenance and safety course, given by the well known and respected Shane LaBrake. The stellar folks at Cornell University hosted and coordinated this 2-day training at their Belmont extension campus. This was EXACTLY the type of course I was looking for as both a neophyte tractor owner as well as someone not raised in an “Ag” family. Now we’ve had smaller compact tractors at the house along with hand mowers and I could fiddle my way around these the majority of the time, but our International Harvester 674 diesel was a different category and I’ve neither felt safe nor competent using this machine since we got it in the Spring of 2016.
So while I’m so thankful for the opportunity to take this course…AND to make use of it right away getting the IH674 ready for the season…when I walked into the hopyards at the first week of May, I got that punch to the gut that things had spring boarded ahead and it was now time to play catch up. The small hopyard had a number of bines that were definitely at trainable length. That’s wonderful, too bad I don’t have the coir strung yet! So on a cold and windy Sunday (I was able to head up a day early thanks to my awesome wife Jenn!!), with the help of my brother Mike driving the tractor and my Dad handing coir and equipment to me, I was able to run up and down to the crow’s nest stringing the coir at the top and then securing it at the base. “Huh…that’s nice…oh hey, those beds are super weedy and you need to also actually train all those bines” was the little voice inside my head.
We string our yards somewhat differently than other yards…and it’s an experiment. Typically the coir is strung along the top wires…as we do…but then uses “W” clips driven into the ground at each hop plant to secure the bottom of the coir. Well I didn’t want to have to drive all the metal into the ground…at every plant…each and EVERY single year for the 20 or so years of these plants (God willing!). So my AccuWeather boss and good Farming buddy Tom Carey came across a flexible anchor designed to be driven into soil to secure any type of cabling. So in addition to having not to replace these every year, saving ourselves time by simply tying the coir to these year after year and being able to do it well before the hops emerge, we could replace these when they fail, removing old materials from the soil.
I attempted to put these in late last Summer as our large hopyard was at least 2 months behind schedule, and well, that clay was bullet proof. So slamming them in with a “hops harpoon” Tom welded together for me, was insane. This year with the soils super saturated, I was able to simply step them into place using the same tool originally intended for the “W” clips. I would’ve liked to pat myself on the back but I was kicking myself in the pants for being behind again this year, albeit not nearly as bad. However last year I didn’t yet have an additional 400 plants for us to attend to. Scheisse!!!
After getting the small yard primarily started and all the coir hung (thanks again to my Dad and brother Mike!), I then turned my attention to the large yard, again where we’d starting banging in soft anchors but stopped when we realized we wouldn’t be stringing hops by any stretch of the imagination in 2016. Dad, as always, offered his services and although I wasn’t able to use his energy in the small yard weeding…something that destroys my back at 46 let alone at 79 like my Dad…it was great having his company and extra help in the large yard. He’d hand me the flexible anchors and I’d drive them in, clearing whatever immediate weeds that needed taken out to get to the hops. Even though the temps were a bit warmer this day, the wind was still blowing and it was colder than normal for May. But we got over 2 full rolls completed and that leaves us less than 1 full row to be done. Then the monumental effort will be to string the coir up there like in the small yard, except for 420 not 30 plants…AND 2 coirs per plant! Did I say “Scheisse” yet?!!
I also knew that no matter what, I had to get the brush hog into both hopyards as the clover was going insane and encroaching on the hops hills. Additionally in the large yard, water was pooling substantially. I’d meant to get the subsoiler in there last Fall but it just never happened. So with the yard trimmed down, I threw on the subsoiler and went to town ripping multiple 6-8″ deep veins into the soil to open it up in the hops to reduce the compaction caused by the large tractor and drain the water. Now in general it was still too wet to have the tractor on those alley ways, but we had to do something to loosen up that soil and drain in. And dammit…it just felt good to look back and see that subsoiler opening up the soil to “breathe”. I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up a very busy two days!
And so on the next trip up, the goal will be to finish weeding and complete the training of all the bines in the small yard and if possible, begin the early work on stringing a portion of the large yard. We’ll need additional hands as May goes along with that project so I’ll be calling on some buddies to see if they can lend and hand in exchange for a small stipend, pizza … oh, and yeah…the best beer around (Straubs!)