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Virginia Hop Yard: Week 1

Greetings from Virginia everyone! This blog post follows my first week at my internship at Whipple Creek Farm, which is primarily a hops farm. Our farm has about ¾ of an acre of cascade hops. A little over half the plants were planted this year, and the other half are three years old. We grow cascade because they are very resistant to certain diseases and perform the best in this environment. On the farm we also have vegetables, chickens and piglets! I arrived here Sunday, May 26th and it’s already been a crazy time.

On Memorial Day I worked at our hop field stringing hops.  To string the hops you first need to put up the string using a ladder or tall device, then stick it into the ground on each side of the irrigation using hop clips. Then you pick 3-4 plants and twist them up the string clockwise. Our goal was to get the all the first year hops strung by the end of the week.

After a busy morning, I then went to Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company in Lexington Virginia to tour the facility and help my roommate (who is a brewer there) and her co-worker do a Belgium stout homebrew. Devil’s Backbone’s Lexington location is called the Outpost and has a 30 barrel brew system (1 barrel is 31 gallons). This was such a wonderful experience because I saw and helped with certain tasks required for larger beer production and do things like drain yeast. I also got to help make what will hopefully be a delicious homebrew.

Over the next couple of days we continued stringing hops. Then on Thursday I went to two other hop yards, Blue Mountain and The Barrel House. Blue Mountain Brewery has four and one year cascade plants, and intercrops them with soybeans as a weed control and to increase soil health. I spent the majority of the day helping string hops at The Barrel House. We used a cart that was pulled by a lawn mower type machine to first tie up the strings to the wires. I went up on the cart, learned the knot they use and finished a couple of rows. Later in the day The Barrel House had a stringing hops event that they posted on their facebook page and local newspapers that asked for volunteers to come from 3-7 pm to help string hops and eat free food. This was an excellent marketing strategy and we were able to have enough volunteers to get a couple rows finished. We drank good beer, ate delicious food and had great conversations while getting a lot of work done.

On Friday there was more stringing in the morning at Whipple Creek. We were so close to finishing, only one row left, but we had to stop early to go to West Virginia to pick up the piglets! We bought three Gloucester Old Spot piglets, two female and one male all about 2 months old. Before we picked them up we set up a small paddock on the property so they could graze on the tall fescue and orchard grass there. We used electric movable fencing and plan on rotating them weekly. The pigs will be bred and used for meat.

On Saturday I accompanied April (my roommate) and Devil’s Backbone to Strings and Spirits, a bluegrass and beer and wine festival in Roanoke Virginia. It was a super hot sunny day but I got to listen to good music, meet new people and try some local beer, cider and wine. It was a great festival that helped showcase local musicians, artists and brewers. We then went and got a tour of Buried City Brewery, whose main products include Dam Lager and Red Clay IPA, before we made our way back home.

On Sunday we finally finished stringing all the hops! Next step, weeding and mulching.

I made a new best friend. Everyone, meet Muchen.

Overall, it was a pretty great start to what I hope will be a wonderful summer.

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