6 weeks ago when we put into ground our barley crop for out 2016 Estate Ale, we did so with a forecast of rain to follow the sowing, and provide the barley with great conditions for emergence and a sound foundation for crop establishment. We did get those rains, as well a very localised downpour 2 weeks later, which lead to great coverage across the crop.
Since then things have dried out significantly, and the forecast for summer not much better. With the success of any crop not under irrigation heavily dependent upon seasonal rainfall, the forecasted dry conditions will no doubt impact on the crops yield potential. This is one of the major reasons why we selected a modern cultivar, Westminster, when we decided to put the crop in. Even if conditions don’t improve as we hope over summer, this new variety of barely holds a much stronger chance of delivering a harvestable crop than if we’d selected a more traditional variety of grain. Fingers crossed we do receive some rain in the not too distant future, us along with the majority of Tasmania, and other parched areas of agricultural Australia.
Hops from our experience are one of the most vigorous, yet temperamental crops we’ve ever grown. We've just been through and trained all the leading vines, and pruned the lateral vines that were looking to send down roots for themselves and take away precious water & nutrients form the leading, flower forming vines. For those that have grown hops before, seeing 20cm of growth on the leading vines overnight is almost common practice, with some of our plants 6 feet up the strings already. However, hot & windy weather, the forecast for summer, aren’t what hop plant relish. Even a couple of days without water and the plants shutdown and are very hard to recover to yield optimally.
Fortunately we have irrigation on the hops, and we’ve started this program as of last week. It’s the 4th year most of these plants have yielded, reaching maturity around the 3rd year, so we’ll be expecting a bumper crop come March. Previously we’ve been hesitant to train more than 2 vines per plant, but our row spacing is greater than in other hop producers’ farms, so more airflow & sunlight between the vines has prompted us to increase to 3 & 4 vines per plant. This should see us yield greater than previous years, which will increase our options for brewing next year.
We’ll update you in weeks to come on how things are progressing as we strive to create this 100% brewery-grown Estate Ale.