How would you like to spend your October long weekend?

“Building hop trellises!”

Ah… how it sounded so easy. Just lop a few trees, dig a few holes, string a few lines and badabing badaboom, we’re done.

One thing I’m learning is that when we embark on something like this, it always takes 3 times longer than I first thought.

Remember, we don’t have any farm machinery. This is all being done using a combination of tools on hand and Egyptian pyramid building principles.

The objective is pretty simple. Get a cable 6m in the air and string some twine down to the hop bine so it can climb like a sherpa, yielding us a bounty of delicious flowers.

Here’s one I prepared earlier

The serious hop farmers are all using machinery to install huge precut, treated poles, linking them with commercial grade cable and no-shit tensioners. Conversely, we’re blessed with an abundance of straight trees, eBay supplied me with some no-shit tensioners at $8 a piece and I bought the strongest 5mm cable at Bunnings for what seemed like a bargain at $3 per metre. I ended up getting a great deal because my Bunnings helper, Shivrin, couldn’t be arsed measuring out the roughly 100m of cable left on the spool, so just he plugged in 60m. 40m free cable! Thanks Shivrin!

Onto the job of selecting and cutting the poles.

I had in my mind a vision of long girthy trunks, strong enough to survive a hurricane and packed full of masculinity. But after ending the life of a happy thick tree, I realised there’s no way we’ll be able to lift this bad boy into place, I could barely lift just one end off the ground…. “haha, mate…. you’re kidding me right?” was Dave’s feedback.

He had a point… That tree just gave his life for our brewery, and I’m not even going to use him. Poor fella… Anyway, bushfire reduction and all that… it’s not the end of the world.

A few chainsaw snips later and we had our first set of posts. The thing with posts is, they look small when lying on the ground. As if you could throw them over your shoulder, like that weird Scottish game the queen watches on her birthday. But try lifting one off the ground by yourself and you’ll give yourself a hernia.

Using ancient Egyptian principles we managed to get the first post almost in place with Dave holding it while leaning at a 45 degree angle, halfway up a ladder. “Don’t take it away from me!” he shouted over my shoulder as Roger threw away the first support ladder. I could feel the weight of the trunk shifting towards the hole. One more push and surely it would fall into place. “Don’t take it away from me!” Dave shouted again….

But the prospect of dropping this post into the perfectly dug hole, just metres in front of me was too great. We couldn’t stop now, and with a final grunt, Roger and I lifted it home to the sound of a ladder crashing and women screaming. Dave had just eaten shit, breaking his fall with a combination of skull and an already dodgy ankle… To his credit, he jumped up to help ram it home, before turning to us and saying “Man… I just f##ked my angle”.

(scroll to the bottom of the page for the video)

First post in! But with a man down and 5 posts to go, we had to get creative.

If there’s one thing I like doing, it’s using the winch on my ute. It’s one of those things that I rarely use and pretty much never need, but I just like knowing it’s there. In case I find myself bogged in a swamp or, as coincidence would have it, pull five large trunks into a vertical hole. From that point onwards it was fairly straightforward, pull the trunk into position with the ute, tweak it slightly to be just above the hole, then get a one-legged Dave on crutches to engage the winch while Roger and I gently guided it into place.

A few hours and a few bags of concrete later and we had our posts standing to attention, ready to support the cable across the 25m span.

Originally the plan was to give the cable additional support through a centre post, but due to a lack of time and energy, it was decided that “she’ll be right” and if the cable does lag, we can always stick up a thin supporting post later.

Now onto the cable. Our 5mm cable was threaded through eye screws at the top of each post which would then be secured to star pickets smashed into the ground using my  industrial grade tensioners, bought on eBay

Have you ever hammered a star picket into hard soil? Man… it’s hard! These 1.8m lengths needed to be driven as deep into the ground as possible. After 15mins of uncoordinated sledgehammering, I was only in about 50cm. “She’ll be right” I said to myself as I wiped the sweat from my brow with the bottom of my soaking t-shirt.

A break for lunch and I return to find a 64-year-old Roger had hammered 4 pickets in to within an inch of their life. Only a 30cm head sticking out of the ground… I looked in bemusement at him “How the hell did you do that?”. He smiled and just said “Maaate….” Give me that damn hammer Roger. God damn star pickets…

Once I’d properly beaten the rest of the pickets to death, I strung cable through the holes of the pickets, a bit like a shoelace. Then secured it using cable clamps. A quick run up a very unsafe looking extension ladder to straighten the eye screws, and we were up and away. I looked up at the taught cable like an ancient architect who had just placed the final stone, completing a historic church. “Look at that…!” I said to nobody in particular.

The coir twine was then thrown up and over the line, twice, in an attempt to reduce slipping and pegged to the base of each plant. I then welcomed each bine to its new home by winding her clockwise around the twine. Interestingly, bines grow clockwise in the southern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere. Who knew!

About half of the bines have grown enough to grip the twine. The Super Alpha’s seem happiest, which isn’t surprising considering the rhizomes were about 4x the size when planted.

The Mt Hood hops are a bit of a concern with only a single tiny shoot sprouting above the mulch from the 10 we planted. After digging around I can see there’s still signs of life, so we’ll just have to see how it goes. This first season is a huge learning curve for us, there’s only so much you can learn without having a crack yourself. So this is our attempt at getting down and dirty to see what varieties work best with our climate and soils.

Hops take up to 3 years to fully establish themselves and now they have a well-secured length of twine to climb, we’re hoping at least most of them develop well over the season ahead.

We recorded some of the drama for your viewing pleasure, complete with Dave’s dramatic ladder dive.

The next step is fixing up the existing shed, that’s slightly falling down, in preparation for the 100L pilot brewery currently being manufactured in China.

 

 

 

 

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