There are a number of similarities I’ve found over the years between three of my passions; Farming, trail ultras, and mountaineering. The first of which is “slow and steady wins the race”, and winning doesn’t necessarily mean being the fastest, it simply means achieving the goals you set for yourself.
Farming, and in our case hop Farming, is a full growing-season long endeavor. In our region of the world, these perennials begin poking above the soil in mid-April and we harvest them in September. We aren’t working on multiple crops (at least not at this point), we aren’t planting some and harvesting others, it’s simply hops.
Ultras and mountaineering are quite similar. There’s a specific distance to be run, or a peak to climb (and return safely from) and it’s not a sprint, it’s not even a marathon, it’s more than that and it requires time and patience. There are ups and downs, high and low points, over and over again throughout the course of one run or one climb. So it goes in Farming.
And it’s not just the crops you’re growing, it’s the equipment you’re using, the weather you’re dealing with, and the folks you share the journey with. Sometimes the tractor starts right up, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you’re climbing in the sunshine, sometimes you’re trudging through frigid temps and high winds. Sometimes you’re running in a pack of hundreds at the start of a trail race, and sometimes you’re running all on your own miles in the backcountry.
This year, like many, the weather hasn’t been off to a great start. Just last week we got 3″ of snow in one night, then 60-degree weather two days later. Makes for an interesting pace at the start of the season. Additionally, when I was up two weeks prior, the tractor didn’t start, by itself or even with a jump. As it turns out, time for a new battery and a higher CCA (cold cranking amps). Fired right up.
With the tractor now back in action, we were able to get the manure pile turned. We are lucky in that we can source it from a nearby horse Farm, Windfall Farms, just down the road from us. This process will continue for a number of weeks as the pile is, rather “fresh”. Another early-season task that requires the use of the tractor is tightening all of the trellis cables. The tractor pulls the hops “siege tower” that allows us to get up to the support cables 20′ up from the ground. We then also tighten the exterior cables that support the trellis as the hop bines grow, cones develop, and a heavy cover of leaves grow in size and weight.
Now, the most recent weekend at the Farm introduced another Farming/running/climbing parallel; fear of trying something new. Much like a new path you’re exploring or climbing a route you’re unfamiliar with, Farming also has its firsts, and along with those come fears. Fear of failure, fear of doing something wrong, fear of doing a task inefficiently, and eating up time you already do not have.
This weekend’s Farming fear is a process that involves the splitting of crown. Hops grow from what is called a rhizome, which is essentially a root or root mass, which develops into a crown. Over time the crown spreads out underground, very similar to the roots of a tree. This signals a healthy plant, however, it also means where the bines emerge from the soil moves from one central location from where it was planted to a very wide area. This makes it very difficult to string those bines so they can grow properly and produce cones. And in our case since we weed by hand versus spraying, it means alot of extra work to get things under control.
Splitting the hops involves careful digging at the original site of the crown and with clean tools (hand spade, shears) making careful cuts. I mention “clean” tools specifically as if there was a chance somehow one plant was infected in the previous season with any one of a number of diseases hops can develop, we don’t want to spread it from one plant to the next. This being my first time, the thoughts that ran through my mind were, “what if I kill the rhizome by trimming it wrong?”, “what if my transplant cuts aren’t right and they never grow in their new home?”, “what if this takes me forever to do and I miss the transplant window, back up all the other projects, and tank the season?”. You know, basic stuff 😉
As I mentioned with the weeding, the vast majority of our tasks are done manually, by hand, not mechanically from the seat of a tractor watching a pricey implement doing in seconds what takes us all day. In larger, commercial yards there are implements that do many of these time intensive tasks like crowning, maintaining the structure of the hop hills, and a myriad of other tasks. We’re too big to be hobbyists/homegrowers, but much too small to have the toys the big guys use. But it’s our choice, it’s the situation we find ourselves in, and we learn to live with it.
One last comparison. Much like trail running and climbing, I’m never first…never have been, never will. But in the end, somehow the task at hand gets done. Most times it’s not pretty, but that’s not the point. The point is to feel like what you’re doing matters, that it’s done to the best of your abilities, and that when all is said and done, you can look back and be proud of all you’ve done.