Ever feel like so much is happening around you that you just can’t keep up? That has been the brewing community around me lately. So much is happening it is hard to be every where at one time.
It has been a while since I was last up at Hop Head Farms. In the eternity between visits they have gone through harvest season on their own yards, finished the oast, built a new expanded hop fridge, and gotten shipment of German hops to process. Quite a bit has been going on to say the least.
Recently they held a brewer’s open house (ya, I must be special. I got to hang out too). The event was held for two goals. The first being to show off the completed facilities to those who had not yet seen the finished work. The other was to introduce area brewers to the new stock as well as set orders for the next year.
With the limited growing space of most hop farms throughout the world, breweries need to plan ahead for their hop needs. At times this can make it difficult for new breweries coming into the market. A few years ago when we experienced a hop shortage, the hops available were already spoken for by existing breweries.
Unlike a restaurant where it is possible to change a menu based on availability, a brewery and the beers they make require consistency from batch to batch, year to year. When they plan out their hop purchases they are looking over the amount of beer they intend to make over the course of that year. Breweries get their orders established as early as possible to ensure they will have what they need.
Aside from just the business side of things, an event like this is a great time to get together with the people who make the beer we drink. Sadly, I still haven’t had a chance to fully explore the completed oast. But I spent some time with old and new friends.
Time for a pint…
Here we go with the status report for my garden this year. The drought last year was horrible. We did get some production out of the garden but the heat just wouldn’t let up and our plants did not fare well at all.
This year is a polar opposite. We have had steady rain and great growth all around (Pics to follow). We are still waiting on the tomatoes to give us more than a couple reds here and there. But the plants are filled right now with fruit that is poised to ripen at any time. The beefsteaks are getting nice and big too. This is a first for us.
The zucchini and cucumbers have been doing quite well at producing. It seems like every time I turn around I am bringing an armload from the two plants.
Last night I made some cabbage rolls from our first ever cabbage plant. That went over well. It was a mix of veggies from the garden as the basis for the filling. Of course that means I used zucchini, we have gone through quite a few of those now. This was also our first year for growing lettuce. I will be harvesting the plant for the third time this summer within the next few days.
Check out some pics. The veggies are coming in great.
Time for a pint…
Progress like this is a beautiful thing. This was a hot day. Not unexpected in Michigan during the summer, But still it was toasty. To see the building crew pushing through to get this build out finished, you gotta admire the dedication. The oast build out at Hop Head Farms in Hickory Corners is moving along. They expect the new oast to be up and running around the middle of August.
The amount of work that has taken place over the past couple months is huge. At one point engineers from Germany had come out to oversee the build out. The design is tied together well. In one continuous stream hops will be able to go from the field to the picker directly into the oast. The oast house is traditionally where hops are dried for storage to eventually find there way to the brewers who make the beers we drink tasty.
It was shortly after I left on this visit that the roof was hoisted by crane and placed on the tower in the center of the buildings. Yep, this is that kind of construction project. They have all sorts of toys to play with to get these buildings finished.
I spent a few minutes wandering the hop fields. The original fifteen acres (planted last year) are thriving this year. While walking through I had the prevailing thought of being lost in a hedge maze.
While wandering through the bines, I was directed over to the centennial rows. The centenniels are showing some of the best growth. The size of the hop flowers are amazing.
Lost in the field there was a few minutes of some of the crazy Michigan weather. At first I thought maybe I was getting hit with splash from the irrigation system (they use a drip system). Turned out even in the scorching heat of the sun, it was raining. Sun and rain were there to feed and care for the growing hops. What more could you ask for?
Time for a pint…
I know I skipped my normal Friday post this week, but I had good reason for doing so. June 1st fell on a Saturday this year. June is the month where the Bank Street Farmer’s Market in Kalamazoo Michigan, moves into full swing.
From June through October the market will be open three days a week. In a conversation with one of the vendors they may be making a few changes though. There is talk of changing their hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays to better suit patrons (I have not had official confirmation yet so this is still only talk). If these changes happen, the weekday hours will switch to: 11am to 6pm. Which will be great for those who need their farm fresh veggies during the week.
This is the farmer’s market I grew up with. My parents and I would spend Saturday mornings at this market long before going to the farmer’s market was cool (hipster moment).
I made it there before they were open this morning, so I could get some shots before the crowds arrived. Even getting into the start of their busy season, there were enough vendors that the overflow was setting up. The growth over the years of local and fresh has pushed the market’s growth. It is now at a point where the original covered area is no longer big enough to support the number of growers. The benefit to the consumer is not only great produce all around, but also a larger variety of fresh produce and other artisanal items to choose from.
Time for a pint…
Hop Head Farms has been busy not only getting ready for this coming growing season but also with expansion. Back in February we took a look at the hop field expansion. This expansion will be taking their growing space from 15 acres to 30 acres.
Their next big project is the buildout on their German designed oast house. An oast house is a building with the primary purpose of drying hops. Their equipment made the trip from Germany recently and they have been spending the past couple days unloading it all from the back of semis.
While they are busy unloading they are filling up their hop picker house. The oast house is still under construction. The heavy rains we have been having in South West Michigan have slowed construction a bit. This doesn’t dampen the spirits of the Steinmans though. Jeff mentioned that they should have the oast finished by mid may, more than enough time to prepare for next seasons harvest.
The current building construction.
Oast interior (still needs the floor finished)
Parts upon parts of the oast pieces piling up in the home of Griselda Wolfenstein (the hop picker)
Jeff hard at work.
Time for a pint…
I spent some time at Hop Head Farms earlier today. You gotta love having a hop farm pretty much in your back yard. The objective today was to do some sampling of the tester/ experimental beers I had brewed with their hops not too long ago. Of course I took the opportunity to check out the slumbering hop yard and the work in progress of the next 15 acres.
At least it was a nice sunny day but it was decently cold to be working outside. The process of placing the poles called for one team to dig the holes and the second team to place the poles. At this point they currently have roughly half the poles up getting ready to be fixed in place. But in the grand scheme that is only about 7 acres or so.
Though the ground is still a bit frozen, there is quite a bit to be done to finish up this section. Hopefully by spring it will look a bit more like the currently finished 15 acres of the hop yard.
The next step for the project yard will be to stabilize the poles and then run the trellis similar to what you see in the finished yard. We are getting closer to a year ago when I helped plant a row of hops with them. They hadn’t planned on growing quite this fast, so this will be another planting year.
After walking through the snow into the hop yard I spent a few minutes in the nice, warm office with Bonnie and Jeff. It was a good day talking about hops and the oast they will be building soon. They currently have the fun task of translating the plans from German. But the reward will be an oast unlike any in the United States currently. For referrence an oast is a place where hop farmers dry their hops for storage (for either use as whole cones or as pellets).
Look for more updates as we come into the new growing season.
Time for a pint…
I got to spend some time at Hop Head Farms again recently. This time was spent watching Griselda Wolfenstein do what it does best; process hops. Aside from being a great place for hops, the Steinmans planned to make their farm a processing center for other area hop growers. This is a great advantage to smaller farms considering the high cost of hop picking machinery. The hops in question on this day were from Lyle Schmidt at Michigan Organic Hops and were destined for New Holland Brewing.
At this point here, the hops are ready for use in a fresh hop beer. The other option would be to place the hops in an oast to dry. Once dried they can either be pelletised (more often than not) or be used as whole leaf hops.
Time for a pint…
Farming is rife with constant work. Even a hopfarm where you might think that once the hops are in and growing life would get easier. I made a trip back to Hop Head Farms recently to see how the growing pains are going. Out in the field it is nothing but a sea of green, a vibrant contrast from what it was a couple months ago when we helped do a bit of planting.
As you can see back in May the fields were pretty much empty.
But now with the grow ropes up and the fields planted the whole place doesn’t feel as empty and barren. There be life in them there fields…
Days are now filled with weed control and ensuring that the bines are growing up the grow ropes.
This being their first year having the larger field (from less than an acre to now 15 acres) time is spent nurturing and prepping for future harvests. The plants they have right now will spend this year forming root structures and building a good base so that in the future they will have a huge harvest.
Though there is still much to do out in the fields, nature is going to do its job now and hopefully the plants will grow big and strong. The Steinmans are now anxiously awaiting the arrival of their hop harvester. It is currently enroute from Germany and almost like a major organ transplant, there is a team on stand by for set up when it finally arrives (within the next couple weeks).
I don’t know about you, but I think I need a pint…
We always think that we have so much to do, and we wonder how we will ever get it done. When you see the amount of work that needs to be done on the hop farm you realize that you really don’t have quite as much to do as you once thought. We spent a few hours at Hop Head Farms yesterday, helping to plant some hops.
HHF is in Hickory Corners Michigan not too far from Gilmore Car Museum (had to add the link cause the car museum is actually pretty cool). The farms current planting covers 15 acres and the varietels of Magnum, Nugget, Chinook, Centenniel, and Cascade. The planting we were doing yesterday was a bit of the Centenniel plantings.
The farms ownership team. Mind you this was after spending a few hours in the sun so we were all a bit sun beaten and dusty.
This is a good portion of the Centenniel that need to be planted. We planted roughly 6 or so flats.
The ropes that will be used in the trellis for the hop bines to grow on.
This view of the hopfield doesn’t really give you the full impact of just how many plants will be growing .
This is the platform that will be used during the harvest.
Main support trellis lines.
Setting in planting holes
And now it is time for a pint…