What to expect from your Hops in Spring
April is always an exciting time in our ‘Hop Garden’, as we see the first shoots emerging from the hop plants that have been dormant below ground all winter. (‘A Hop Garden’ is what a field planted with hops is called!). Hops are perennial plants and so they remain in the ground for many years, re-growing every spring. As the days become longer and warmer in April, tiny purple buds poke upwards, soon extending into longer shoots bearing tiny green leaves, which unfold into the sunshine.
A huge trellis of wires, supported on chestnut poles, is suspended over the entire hop garden at a height above the ground of about 5 metres (16 feet). Every March strings are attached from each plant up to this wirework trellis by our ‘stringing’ man Bob. He ‘knits’ about 12 miles of coir string into place ready for the extending hop shoots to grow up.
This coir string is made from coconut fibers, not plastic, so it is completely bio-degradable. The string is naturally rather rough, which makes it just perfect for many plants, not just hops, to grip onto as they climb. Because it is so useful, we sell these huge balls of coir string – running to some 350 metres (1150 feet) in length – enough to keep an enthusiastic gardener in string supply for years to come!
When the shoots are long enough, we need to select 3 or 4 of the strongest hop shoots manually and ‘twist’ them onto the string and get them started. Surplus shoots are pulled off at ground level to ensure all the energy of the plant goes into growing the chosen few shoots. Hops grow around these strings in a clockwise spiral (runner beans grow anti-clockwise!). So, if you find yourself walking the Darent Valley path past Castle Farm’s hop garden in April and you spot a team of people crouched on their hands and knees – you will know they are ‘training’ our hops to grow up the strings!
After this initial ‘twiddling’ the hops grow unaided and amazingly fast to reach the trellis wires 16 feet up in only seven weeks, traditionally they reach the top wire before the longest day, June 21st.
Hop plants can grow several inches in one day.
It is only then that these shoots begin to branch out and flower, taking on the more familiar appearance of the hop garlands or bines that we sell for decorative use from mid-August.
Stay tuned to read more about our Hop harvest in August and September. At this time of year, we are busy hand-cutting and despatch hundreds of Hop Bines for events, weddings, film shoots and decoration in homes and pubs across the country.
Every Bine is hand cut one it reaches full growth in August & September
We also dry Hops in our specialist kilns for use in our Natural Sleep collection and for interior decoration when the fresh season has finished.