Thursday, October 24, 2013
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Growing hops was Phase One of the farming project at Helderberg Hops Farm. With 100 hops in the ground last year and 1,000 more this year. The hop farming is well under way. Phase Two: Can we grow barley of good quality which can be malted and used to make beer. After a visit to see Andrea Stanley at Valley Malt in Hadley, Massachusetts last spring I thought we should give it a try. Well turns out you can’t just buy any old barley seed. Barley comes in two-row and six-row. Which to plant? Or, more accurately, what kind can you get? Being that barley has not been grown for the beer industry in New York State for a long time none was available from local seed sources. I put in a call to Andrea, who, as a grower of barley, could feel my pain. She a gave up 100 pounds of Endeavor winter barley--for a price. I liked the idea of winter barley for two reasons. One, it would get a good head start on the weeds and two, it should be ready to harvest in early July. Barley doesn't like hot, humid weather.
As this is an experiment I did not invest in a grain drill, which is a piece of equipment you with the broadcast way. Winter barley in this part of the world wants to be planted in mid September. Unless it rains all of September and you pull behind a tractor to plant seeds. As there is not a lot of grain farming in Albany County, none of my neighbors have one to borrow--so I thought. So I went So I went with the broadcast way. Winter barley in this part of the world wants to be planted in mid September. Unless it rains the whole month of September and you can’t get on the field until mid-October. We started our barley planting with good seed, a poor planting method and a late start. The Endeavor was growing nicely even with the late start. Around mid-January we had some very cold nights--negative ten, and the wind came up and blew the snow cover off the barley.
Large brown dead areas appeared in both one acre fields. What to do? As this is an experiment I started looking for some spring barley. I called Andrea. No call back. She must be sick of people like me looking for seed. So I called the only other maltster I know--Marty at FarmHouse Malt in Newark Valley, New York. Marty says he knows a guy outside of Rochester. I find Cold Spring Farm has 100 pounds. of Lacey six-row spring barley seed and organic to boot.
So now I’m on the hunt for a grain drill. For months I had been looking on craigslist and asking every farmer I ran into. I had my uncle scouting the Mohawk Valley. April 15th is the magic date for both spring barley and taxes. You have to beat the weeds. Turns out I find out on craigslist that our beef farming neighbors, the Millers, have had a grain drill hiding in there barn all along. By pure coincidence I see the post and call five minutes. after they listed it. For $200. including delivery, we are the proud owners of a 25 year old McCormick International 16 X 7 grain drill. On April 15th one acre of Endeavor is turned under and is replaced with one acre of Lacey.
Did I mention I’m looking for someone to truck the 35 year old Allis Chalmers pull behind combine I bought to the farm? More on that later
Monday, June 3, 2013
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
The Helderberg Hop Farm started in 2012 with 112 hills of hops. 50 Brewers Gold, 50 Centennial, 4 Cascade and 8 Heirloom Helderberg hops. I planted Cascades, Fuggles, Saza and Willlamit 20 years ago with only the Cascades surviving. Last year I planted the pilot yard of 50 Brewer’s Gold and 50 Centennials to see if I could do this on a larger scale.
The Brewer’ Gold and Centennials were chosen for two reasons. One they are both reasonably disease resistant and I wanted to have a high alpha aroma hop (Centennial) and good hardy bittering hop (Brewer’s Gold). Also I had read that Brewer’s Gold was an old variety that was once grown in New York.
As word of my new adventure got out I received an email from Daniel Driscoll. He wanted to know if I would be interested in having some heirloom helderberg hop rhizomes. Well sure I would take a few. I was thinking of planting a few hops along the end of our barn as a way to make a little shade for a beer garden. First year hops are not that productive. You might get enought cones for some home brew. The Brewer’s Gold produced about a 2lbs of cones the Centennial’s about ¼ lb. The Cascades after 20 years of producing very well where a disaster. Cones all turned brown two weeks before harvest. Upon close examination it a periers the irrigation line running to them got clogged. They must have heard this was no longer a hobby and was going to be farming. The Helderberg Hops produced 2lbs of cones. From 8 first year rhizomes. That gave me enough to send a good dry sample to Alpha Analytics which is the hop testing part of Hop Union in Yakima, WA for testing.
What would the test show?
We know that Adriaen van der Donck reported to the patroon Kiliaen van Rensselaer that wild hops were growing here in 1642. We know that the English and the Dutch had brought hops over very early on. I have read the some varieties grown here were Cluster, Pearl and Brewer’s Gold. I was really hoping they were not Brewer’s Gold. The test came back as Alpha 5.7 and Beta 3.4
The closest corresponding hop variety is Cluster. Alpha 5.5 and Beta 4.5
So there you have it a local climatized survivor from the last century.
The word from Mr. Driscoll isthat he got these hops in 1970 from Earl & Alvina Williamson in Berne, NY.
And the Helderberg Hop Farm is born.
This year we will be planting a full acre of hops. 1000 hills in all. We will have 5 varieties.Nugget, Centennial, Brewer’s Gold, Cascade and The Helderberg Hop (Cluster)