The Positive Popping of the Plants
We all knew that sooner or later the snowflakes would stop flying and the temperatures would warm up a little. This was my hardest winter in Virginia in my 17 years of farming here. But, it is finally behind us. We still have a chance of frost as of this writing, but our buds have not opened yet so we are still protected from possible damage. The pear buds are at popcorn stage and the black raspberry buds are showing their leaves. Today we are installing drain tile into the new planting section to help drain the heavy rains away from the vines and towards the Potomac River. This is a rather labor intensive project involving a rented machine and plenty of hand digging around wires, pipes and connections. Thank goodness for a great team and the experience to teach the new guys on the job what to do. We will have the ground closed up by the end of the day and hopefully still have the rental machine in one piece. The vines will be planted in 10 days…..hopefully.
A new project we started last year is growing hops. The photo in this column is of the 2nd year cascade plants pushing up towards the sky. These will get 20 feet tall climbing the special coconut husk twine toward the sky. When I talk about growing hops, I always get the question from folks, “Are you going to make beer now?” No, I am not looking to make beer. My vision of these hops is to grow and process them to sell to local brewers. The processing of hops takes some work in order to get them to a stable state, dried and frozen. Being in the agricultural processing business as I am, I see an achievable goal of creating a processing center for hops that we can use as well as some of our neighbors. The great thing is that the timing of the harvest is earlier than grapes, so my crew is available to work both crops. Another advantage of growing hops is that they are easier and more cost effective to grow than grapes.
Now, I am not giving up on growing grapes, I am looking to fill a niche that is quite visible to me. We can set up smaller acreage plots, do not need to worry about deer or frost and they do not require near the amount of spraying that grapevines require. Many local land owners that would like to have grapes are disappointed to hear of the challenges of growing quality wine grapes on sub par land plots. Hops are not nearly as picky and with the lower maintenance, it makes sense to do smaller plots for some folks.
We have also seen the passage of the Farm Brewery Act in Virginia. This will allow farms that are growing some products for beer to open up a brewery with a tasting room. The brewers do not need to grow at least 51% of their raw materials like the wineries do, but they are supposed to grow something on their farm. As hops are one of the key flavoring ingredients to beer, sourcing local hops will be part of a marketing plan for many operations. We are looking forward to pushing this positive product toward profitability. The popping of the plants helps us all prosper. Cheers!
Written by: Doug Fabiolli