Friday, May 15, 2015

Monarchs and Hops

The monarch population has been getting a lot of publicity lately.  It's about time, maybe almost too late really.  In case you hadn't heard, the population reached critically low last year and it was foretasted by some that the migration may not recover. This years numbers were almost double what they were last year however and some hope was restored.  But, those numbers are still really low.  

Fourteen years ago the population of monarchs was almost 1 billion reportedly in Mexico.  This year, a little over 2 million.  I only saw one or maybe two monarchs this spring and got no caterpillars from my milkweed patch.  I was lucky to get 15 cats from a friend  and raised them to the chrysalis stage that formed just yesterday. Now, we will be able to continue our supply of monarchs for the tours here at the farm. 

 In more news concerning the butterflies here, I have planted 1/8 acre of zinnias for a great nectar source not only for the monarchs return to Mexico in October, but for all of the other pollinators in our pollinator habitat.  I am really excited to also add another 1/8 acre in native wild flowers as well.  If all else fails, it will be beautiful here to say the least this summer!

Now for the really bad news.  I definitely have downy mildew in my hop yard this year.  Chemical treatment for the disease if expensive, repetitive, and not very friendly to humans.  I refuse to lay the chemicals on my plants so this may very well be my last year raising hops.  It has been a good ride, and has definitely drawn some national attention to the farm, but I think it is over for me.   
The ugly spike phase of Downy Mildew

Although I was one of the first in NC to start up a hop yard, I am not the first to surrender to this non productive crop.  I know of 4 other hops farmers who have tried and have already plowed them under.  So much expensive infrastructure and work was involved for such a little return that when they tallied up their expenses, they found that there was no profit involved in the game.
Note the small leaves and short internodes.  It's a never ending battle from here on.

I, on the other hand, knew that right from the start, but managed to stay with the crop due to expanded niche markets.  But handling these disease problems from here on out is not what I intend to do, so for that reason "I am out", as the Sharks would say.  

We still will hold the hop harvest tour this summer on August 22 at 1 pm. with beer made from my hops by Lookout Brewery right here in Black Mountain.  This has been one of our most popular and fun events. We will have music again this year and food!  So, stay tuned for that.