Tag Archives: horticulture

Meet Huguenot Hops.

100_0899 (1024x768)The Midlothian yard is owned and operated by Kurt Stanfield and his business partner Devon Kistler. 2013 was their first year growing hops as a commercial venture, but the results have been good and they have begun to increase the size of the yard and set up new plots for the upcoming season. Kurt and Devon work alongside fellow growers in the state and members of the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative who enjoy swapping ideas, networking with brewers, and helping one another at harvest time.  

100_0903 (1024x768)This year, Huguenot Hops grew the Cascade variety, which appeared to make it through the wet, humid summer unscathed by problems like downy mildew that can sometimes haunt hops in Virginia and North Carolina. Perhaps that is due in part to the yard’s unique trellis design. Rather than training the hops to grow in parallel vertical lines, Kurt and Devon arranged them in an open V-shape and spaced them to allow for plenty of airflow. They train each bine to grow clockwise up the twine towards the top of the trellis. However, they are still perfecting their support system design and have plans to make some adjustments to the cables and poles in the new plots that will be used to grow the Nugget and Zeus varieties next year.

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Kurt and Devon are planning to take soil tests on the existing yard and the new ground so that they can amend the soil pH and nutrient levels accordingly. Like any crop, hops need sufficient levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to remain productive. The yard is also working on perfecting their weed control system using ground covers like mulch and cloth. In addition to suppressing weeds, covers like mulch help the soil retain its moisture. Moisture control is critical in hops, and during most summers the plants require irrigation to supplement rainfall.

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Hops growers can start yards with rhizomes, cuttings, and field-ready plants from other growers. The hops grow each year out of the crown at the soil level. In order to ensure that only the best bines grow up on the trellis, Kurt and Devon cut the regrowth several times early in the season. This helps remove any shoots that may carry certain diseases and eliminates any possible “bull shoots,” or shoots that are not ultimately productive.

100_0908 - Copy (1024x768)Kurt and Devon hope to harvest one and a half to two pounds of hops per year from each plant that has been growing for two or three years. Because hand-harvest of a sizeable yard requires ladders, lots of time, and a small army of volunteers, they are considering the possibility of turning to a mechanical harvester that strips the cones off the bines. What else does the future hold for Huguenot Hops? Some new practices and improved trellises seem to be in the cards, and if all goes well, plenty of local hops will make their way into Virginia brews in the coming years.

100_0906 (1024x768)Additional Resources for Readers:

North Carolina Hops Project

Huguenot Hops Webpage

Old Dominion Hops Cooperative Webpage

Meet David Goode.

100_0874 (1024x768)He operates Piedmont Hops, LLC in Mosely along with Steve Brown, who runs the other part of the business at a site located in North Carolina.

David and Steve began growing hops for their personal use a few years ago, but the project quickly grew. Today, they supply hops to breweries who strive to include more locally-grown products in their craft beers.

100_0889 (1024x768)Growing hops in central Virginia has its challenges. Most varieties are designed to provide maximum yields under the day lengths, temperatures, and growing conditions of the states in the Pacific Northwest, where most of the hops production in the U.S. occurs. Why are there so few hops growers in Virginia? For one, growers in this area must select varieties that are better suited to Piedmont weather, soils, and growing conditions. Furthermore, the warm, humid summers in Virginia can be particularly conducive to the growth of certain diseases that prey on hops. For these reasons, David and other growers have turned to help from the North Carolina Hops project, an effort run by North Carolina State University faculty and specialists. Research data from this project helps Virginia and North Carolina growers choose varieties and growing practices that suit this region. If the market for local hops grows in Virginia, plant breeders may be able to make more progress towards developing varieties that suit local needs and resist local diseases. 100_0892 (1024x768)

David has enjoyed trying different varieties. This year, he had Cascade, Chinook, and Nugget. Next year, he plans to add a few more varieties and increase the total number of plants in the Virginia and North Carolina yards. His hops grow on bines—not to be confused with vines—that climb up strings supported by wires and cedar posts. New and aspiring hops growers may find that these trellis components are responsible for a large percentage of the input costs for starting a yard. Furthermore, growers need materials like drip tape for irrigation and weed cloth to start a yard. Labor is also a costly input, as it can take an hour or more to harvest one pound of hops by hand. Harvest typically occurs in late summer, although certain varieties differ. During the spring and summer, growers will spend a considerable amount of time working on weed control, training hops to climb the lines, and repairing any broken supports.

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Despite the challenges, hops production has been a worthwhile venture for David. He has had the rewarding experience of watching his hops go from the farm to the consumer. Furthermore, as is true in most business ventures, David has found networking with others to be a valuable use of his time. He has helped other growers with their yards, and in turn, growers have visited his farm to harvest hops and swap ideas. 100_0894 (1024x768)

What is next for Piedmont Hops? David is thinking of ways to address the labor requirements that come with an increase in acreage, and he is looking into some ideas for preventing and controlling any fungal diseases that may show up in the future. His work and the work of his colleagues may help turn hops from an impossible challenge for Virginia growers to a successful venture for those who are willing to learn and adapt. 100_0895 (1024x768)100_0883 (1024x768)Additional Resources for Readers:

North Carolina Hops Project

Piedmont Hops Webpage

Old Dominion Hops Cooperative Webpage