Shoots emerging, wirework completing, stringing underway. Our hop garden is a buzz of growing and constructing as work steps up the pace to complete the garden before the shoots start to grow.
The first sign of shoots started to appear at the end of March. Initially it looks like the English Cascade have been very resilient to the move and are growing well but the ever-more tend Farnham White Bines are a little more patchy with some good growth and some where we are still waiting for shoots to emerge.
Completing the wirework
With this in mind, the team got to work finishing the garden wirework structure which will need to be strong enough to hold up the almighty combined weight of the hops before harvest. The wires are put under tension to keep the poles upright and this skill which was once known by hop farmers across the country is now held by just one hop wirework specialist. Mervyn and his team from Herefordshire have been helping us from the start and have been slowly introducing our team of Matthew, Colin and Bruce to the basics of this skill so they can get on whilst they are back on their farms.
With the wirework mostly completed, Colin and Bruce have begun the laborious process of adding a total of 13,000 hooks to the wirework so that Matthew can add the strings for the hops to climb. Stringing is a fine art that Matthew honed in our previous garden but now has to reach an extra 4 foot in our much taller and much bigger garden - it could take some time!
Thank you to the Tongham TEA Club!
The Tongham TEA Club have been involved along the way too. From the initial help moving and replanting members have seen the first successes of their work by tending the first shoots. Our hop Shoot (or Poor Man's Asparagus) picking event helped to temper the eagerness of the first shoots whilst gathering the ingredients for the Red Mist Hop Shoot Challenge. The plants tend to focus their energy on one or two shoots where we would rather they grow 10 -12 shoots per plant to increase the yield. Once Matthew had strung a few rows, TEA Clubbers came back to help twiddle the hops. This involves picking 3-4 shoots to run clockwise up each string as they start to pick up the pace to around 3 inches a day!
We were joined for the first day of twiddling by BBC Radio 4's On Your Farm who were keen to know more about our 'From Field to Firkin in a Furlong' initiative. They spoke to Rupert and Matthew about the garden and to members about why they come and help and what the project means for them and the local community (well that's what we hope they talked about!)
Keep watching our social media channels for confirmation of when the show will be aired.