Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fall Crop Preperation

I have started doing another weeding project on the hops today on Friday, Nov. 6. All of the bines have been cut down and because of the potential of spider mite eggs overwintering, I burned them instead of composting them. It was then possible to wind up the irrigation line and start to weed out the remaining rows.

Then I over seeded in winter rye and crimson clover and top dressed with wheat straw for a mulch. As you can see, the crimson clover I had planted earlier between the rows is coming in fairly thick, hopefully thick enough to keep out weeds. Note Sept. 2 blog

Here is a picture of my other experiment in two other rows using landscape fabric between the rows. Note the first picture has sawdust placed over the fabric and the second picture shows a thick crop of wheat that sprouted from the straw that I used. It was full of wheat grain that sprouted on top of the fabric!

Blueberry bed preparation began as well today in anticipation of around 75 replacement plants due to winter injury from the nursery this spring. In addition to the soil that was originally incorporated with 4 inches of sawdust, I have added about 5 gallons of pine bark mulch to each individual hole. This was a recommendation from Bill Cline, Extension Horticultural Specialists with blueberries in North Carolina. Since my soil is fairly heavy in clay content, he thought that this would help keep the soil drier. However, with abundance of rainfall this year, I am not sure anything would have done that.

Hopefully the new bushes will arrive within a few days. I will call the nursery Monday to check on the arrival date. You can just spot the misting bed in the background of this photo. I currently have frost cloth over the rooted blueberry sticks. I plan to remove the cover tomorrow as no frost is forcast for the next few days to finish hardening them off.

I am wondering--When is the off time for farming?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hop Pest Problems

I have just got back my latest report card from the Plant Pathology Lab in Raleigh. They are a little slow getting things done down there so by the time I got back my report, the bugs had already destroyed my entire crop! Whoa there, just kidding, but they are slow. I would assume that they have a large volume they are dealing with?

What I have found from this report and one submitted previously about two months ago is that I have no plant disease problems. This was good news of course on that front, but I did find some bad news as well. Seems that I have spider mites and leaf hopper infestations.

To keep myself informed on the disease and pest problems that can affect hops, I bought the "Compendium of Hop Diseases and Pests". The book is expensive, but worth it if you are going to be involved with this crop. I was able to get it on Amazon for $65. Compendiums are available for many different crops as well, full of slick pictures and info.

The Hops Compendium

So, back to the problem at hand. I have decided to look at biological control methods, keeping my production organic so far. After doing research on the two-spotted spider mite, I was able to find some beneficial mite predators listed. After a quick trip to the hop yard, I brought back a couple of samples of leaves for inspection.

To my surprise, I don't think I found any spider mites. Instead, I found what I think is one of the beneficial predators called a Phytoseiulus Persimilis. This guy feeds on all stages of the spider mite and consumes 2-3 adults or several dozen eggs a day. It is also suited to the cooler and wetter climates that we have here.

The "Mighty Mite" Phytoseiulus Persimilis

So, get out your hand lenses and start looking. This photo was taken with a hand lens. P.Persimilis is about the size of the tip of a very sharp pen. Remember, be careful if you are going to spray for spider mites. That spray may also be killing the "good guys" as well.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My trip to Washington

I recently went to Washington to discuss my hop operation with some of the officials there.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Blueberry maintenance

I have started my winterising of the irrigation for my blueberries and hops. The rainfall we have been getting for October is about average and I would say that our first freeze is not that far down the road. I drained all lines except for my misting station where I will continue misting at a reduced misting rate of five seconds every 25 minutes for 4 hours to help harden off the plants. I have rolled up my drip lines and labeled them for next year.

I also started my final weeding for the blueberries. Hopefully this will help keep any weed seed from being directly seeded into my beds. I am currently taking an organics workshop at the Buncombe County Extension service taught by Sue Colucci. Our next class Tuesday night is all about weeding so I will come in with good experience and dirt under the fingernails.

With fall upon us, my favorite time of the year, I have played hooky a couple of times recently and have taken a tour of the high country above me. I have included one shot taken at Craggy Gardens that shows the brilliant Mountain Ash berries in full display.
. Looking north from Craggy Pinnacle

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mountain Express Has Expressed Their Interest

This weeks Mountain Express has done an article on hop growing in Western NC featuring none other than my farm and Landfair in Buncombe County. You can check out this article by going to

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hops on YouTube

I have spent the last two days creating a two part video of harvesting hops on YouTube. Yesterday I filmed me picking cones and explaining my trellis system. After picking the hops, I then taped the weighing, drying, and packaging of them.

Here is a sample of what is available now on YouTube:

Both of the video's will be available through the following YouTube addresses.

It has been nice to finally finish harvesting the hops and due to the windy and dry weather, it has gone without a hitch. It appears that I will have harvested about 10 ounces of dried Cascades for the second harvest. I am hoping that the home brewers market will be an outlet for these.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Water table blues

I have found it really hard to get anything done in the past 5 days. It has been too wet to harvest my remaining Cascade hops. We are approaching 6 inches of rain for the period and with humidity levels staying above 80%, the cones are not staying dry. One does not want to harvest wet cones. It is the same reason wet birds don't fly at night.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harvesting the 2nd crop of Nuggets.

Even though there was some rain today, I found a window of a few hours and decided to harvest 30 bines of Nuggets for the second time this season.
Previously I had done an alpha acid analysis on these first year cones and found them to come in at 13.4% , which seemed to be right around the middle range.
The first harvest also yielded 98 ounces of wet cones. The second harvest only yielded 20 ounces. Whether or not harvesting the second
crop with a 75% reduction will prove economical in the future will have to be determined. One thing for sure is that I am not cutting any vines down, allowing them to die naturally this first year to help establish the root structure of the plants.
I still have a harvest of Cascades coming up and will see if the 75% reduction rule still holds up for this variety as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The First Hop Harvest Party Sept. 12, 2009

Well, Saturday was truly a time to celebrate here at the Hop'n Blueberry Farm. Around 60 people showed up for a pig-pickin, covered dish, and wet hopped beer tasting party. All went as well as can be expected, considering that I spent the better part of the week doing a general all out war on sprucing up the place.

I had some good folks helping me out. Steve drove all the way from Wilmington to bring in a 100 pound hog and cooked it on Vaughn's cooker for 9 hours. There was only one pint of meat left after the pickin had been done on it. There had to have been at least 40 different covered dishes of all kinds to supplement the smoked meat.

Jody had been working diligently on brewing up the "Burnette Brew" down Charlotte way. I had picked some Cascade hops, which incidentally came in at 8.4% alpha acid content, on a Saturday morning while Jody was preparing the brew down east. His girlfriend, Wendy, met me in Morganton, the half way point, after I had collected my hops and called to let them know I was leaving. The hops were added to the boil in about 4 hours. Talk about fresh!

Jody, Joe, Steve, and Wendy sample the brew

I gave a couple of tours of the hops yard while the appetites were mounting as the weather held out for a spectacular late summer day.

The beer was very fine indeed. Everyone was as impressed with it as they were with the pig. Most said it was some of the best beer they had ever had, and was perfect for washing down the delicious pork. If you are interested in more about how to brew with wet hops, contact me at and I can get you in touch with Jody.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I got the 8N blues

Seems like when it rains it pours, as a matter of fact, that's exactly what it is doing now. That gives me a chance to write about the troubles with the ole tractor. I have it up again for sale in various listings and decided to lower the price. It is currently lower than any 8N out there and I have had a few calls on it.

Since the tractor was up for sale, I decided to dress it up. Washing and cleaning it for the first time since I have had it. I also adjusted the brakes and put in new spark plugs for the first time also. Wow, it's nice to have brakes and 4 cylinders to run on. She is purring like a kitten now.

I figured since the bush hog was still mounted, I would start to mow down the summer weeds around the farm. All was going well, when all of a sudden I hit, of all things, my other bush hog and poked a hole in the side-wall of the rear tire.

What a disaster that was. I already had the lowest price I could possibly go and had several people lined up to look at it. Now she is jacked up and tireless. Those tires ain't cheap! I am also dealing with 25 gallons of antifreeze in the tire that I have drained out of the tire for added weight.

Well, at least it will have new tires all the way around and maybe I will just keep it since it is running and looking better than it ever has. Hopefully, if bad things happen in three's, all of my mechanical woes are over with for now.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sept. 4, 2009

I have come to find out the hard way that there is always something about farming that you never plan on that always comes up. Yesterday it was all about mechanics.

First my tiller just quit. I worked on it long and hard using a lot of four letter words but just couldn't seem to revise the 25 year old machine. With a big cloud of white smoke, the old girl just let out what seemed to be a final breath and would not respond to any artificial respiration. She died right there in front of me.

Then it was on to my other girl, the 58 year old 8N Ford tractor. The ole steady and reliable beast always has managed to perk up after just a few cranks and eagerly get going to tackle whatever hellish job that I had lined up for her that day. Well, yesterday she gave no indication that she was ready to start. She just labored groggily trying her best to start but never taking the task to heart.

I charged the battery with hopes that induction of higher voltage would spark her into action, kind of like using a defibrillator on a human, but was myself shocked to see no response. I had just sunk into mechanical despair. What was going on?

Just about that time, a neighbor came by and said that Ford was now producing a 50 hp. diesel "Boomer 8N" to play on the nostalgia of those that had worked with the old steady machines in the past. The old reliable 8N, HA! But suddenly something happened that has happened in the past with me when it came to frustrating mechanical moments. "Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance". A book that I had struggled with trying to finish for years.

It was a passage in the book that forever has stuck a chord with me. One that dealt with solving mechanical problems. It had to do with starting with the most simple of things first. In other words, check the essential things that make a motor run, even if it is ridiculous.

Well, the conversation with the neighbor and the new diesel tractor reminded me of fuel. I had looked in the gas tank before and saw the shinny reflection of fluid near the bottom of the dark tank hole and figured it was fine. But was it? I decided to add more fuel. I screwed the cap back and sat down in the tractor seat and pushed the start button. Three seconds later the happiest sound a frustrated mechanic can hear hit the air waves. The sweet hum of success. The purring of a machine as old as I was running smoothly.

It was now to late to do any work with her. I turned off the motor and walked away. Lesson for the day. Start earlier!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sept. 2, 2009

Hey, all of this blogging is new to me so don't get lost, I think.
I bought Crimson Clover seed yesterday at Southern States. The seeds need to be inoculated with a bacteria to make the plant fix nitrogen from the air. I didn't know that, but thanks to our extension agent, Amanda Stone, I found out that fact. That process use to mean that you had to buy the inoculant and seed separate, but now the seeds come pre-coated and all you have to do is plant them.

It is my plan to plant the clover between my rows and carefully monitor the progress of the plants and not allow them to go to seed. The last thing I want is to have to "weed" them out. I also am worried that if they get to thick, that they could in fact shade out the new vine growth in the spring.

The weather is co-operating today in that it is cool and dry allowing me to till up the inter-rows without loss of a lot of body fluids, ie.--sweat. I've lost enough of that this year already!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

News for Sept. 1, 2009

The Hops Tour of Western North Carolina was a great success. There were 90 plus people who attended the Landsfair Farm and my farm here, the Hop'n Blueberry Farm. Of course, I think the highlight for most was the final visit of the day at Pisgah Brewing Company where samples of their beer were handed out.

Pisgah purchased one pound of my Nuggets to be used in conjunction with some other locally grown hops this week in a special brew. Get in touch with them to see when this brew will be ready for consumption. Their phone number is 828-669-0190.

This week I am experimenting with inter-row coverings. I have two inter-rows covered with landscape fabric. On top of that I am trying sawdust on one row and wheat straw on the next.
I will be trying Crimson Clover on the third row and fourth rows.