HOPS FARMING

 

Spring Tasks

Pruning is an annual spring task which holds back the vigorous new growth until the proper training date for each variety. Mechanical pruning, using tractor-drawn equipment with spinning steel fingers, begins in March and removes debris from the prior season, and leaves a clean surface from which the new shoots will arise. Another pruning is performed in April, to remove early growth and allow more even emergence for training.

Soil samples are taken from each hop variety to determine the soil fertility. Samples are analyzed and specific fertilization programs are developed for every hop variety to balance nutrients and assure the highest quality and the best yields.

In early April the stringing process begins, crews using tractor-drawn elevated platforms tie the twine to overhead trellis wires and secure the lower end of the twine into the center of each hop plant with small metal clips. The biodegradable twine is either paper or coir (coconut fiber). Depending on the variety of hop, two to four strings are secured into the ground at each plant.

Training is the operation of wrapping hop shoots in a clockwise direction around the twine. During the month of May, one of the most labor-intensive parts of the hop growing process begins. Hop plants are trained to climb the twine supports. Workers visit each hop plant and wrap several shoots around the twine support in a clockwise direction to begin their journey to the top of the trellis. Two or three strong shoots are started around each string during May. A second and sometimes third training follow until each string is supporting the desired number of shoots. Training time is one of the most critical factors in determining yield, due to the relationship between plant height and day length, which affects flowering.Producing hops is a very labor-intensive enterprise, requiring a skilled labor force

Summer Tasks

By late May or early June, as determined by weather conditions, irrigation of the hop fields begins. Drip irrigation is the predominant method used to provide water to hop plants, along with sprinkler and row irrigation methods. During an average growing season, the hop field will require 20-30 inches of water. Irrigation water comes from mountain reservoirs, filled by melting snowpack.

Cultivation or mowing during the season keeps weeds between the rows under control. Within the row, hand mowing is necessary for weed control. Weeds in hop yards can reduce yields, interfere with irrigation, serve as hosts for insects and plant pathogens, and impede harvest.

The season's first cultivation takes place in early April, after the soil has dried from winter precipitation. Final cultivation usually takes place in late June or early July, as the fibrous root system of the plant begins to grow. To protect the roots, no additional cultivation takes place until after harvest. Regular professional scouting allows us to continually monitor pest and disease progress, ensuring that control tactics are timed properly to take preventive actions, while producing a high quality crop.

Plant Protection

Hops are susceptible to a wide assortment of viruses, diseases and insects. Each year, cultural practices are refined to better control their spread, and the damage they inflict on the crop. The most severe arthropod pests of hops are Two Spotted Spider Mite and Hop Aphid, which must be controlled annually. Two major diseases also impact hops - Hop Powdery Mildew and Hop Downy Mildew. These mildew diseases are minimal in the dry arid climate of Colorado. We work closely with private and university researchers to ensure the quality of all our crops.

Harvest

The annual harvest begins in late August, and progresses through early October. Each variety reaches peak maturity at a different time, and must be monitored closely. Harvest begins in the field as the hop vines are cut at the ground and at the overhead support wires, and fall into a trailer or truck bed. The hop-laden vines are transported to a stationary picking machine which is capable of picking 2 acres in a single 10-12 hour shift, or 4 acres if picking runs round the clock.

The vines are hung upside down on hooks and carried into the picking machine, where hops and leaves are stripped from the vine and sent through a series of cleaning devices to remove leaves and other debris. The stripped vines and other debris are chopped, composted and spread back onto fields to improve the soil.

Cleaned cones are immediately transported by conveyor belt to the hop dryers. Cones are spread to a depth of about 8 inches. Once the dryer is filled, drying occurs when warm dry air (100 degrees Fahrenheit) is forced indirectly through the bed of green hops. Drying requires about 9 hours, reducing the hops to 30% of the green weight, with 8-9% moisture content. Hops are removed from the dryer and cooled for 24 hours. After cooling the hops are compressed into 200 pound bales, wrapped in burlap and subjected to quality inspection. At this point they leave the individual farm operation and are transported to cold storage warehouses.