Hop cultivation at Virgil Gamache Farms, Inc. requires hard work, planning, precision and creativity. Growing hops takes approximately nine months, starting in February and ending in October. In February we dig roots and prepare the rhizomes for planting of the new fields, which begins in March. At that time, crews prep mature fields by mechanical mowing and field clearing. Workers raise the trellis. They use natural yarn, made from discarded coconut husks. Trellis have two strings per hill, or about 1,800 strings per acre. Next, in April farmers install drip tubes in the fields. Irrigation begins in May.
So as May continues, the lengthening hours of sun warm the fields and the vines grow quickly. Workers busily train the vines on the trellises. The growing hops will climb to over 25 feet on these trellises. By June, field workers are out in force. They begin manually hoeing the baby plants, while other hands mechanically till between the rows of hops. Hop petial samples guide our farmers in carefully dialing in proper nutrient and water needs for the hops.
Next in June and July, soil cultivation kicks into high gear as the hops begin to flower. Flowering typically happens from June 22nd to July 14th. Workers scan the fields and cull out any male plants. In August, things calm down briefly during a period known as “laying by”. Never-the-less, the hop growers stay vigilant in managing nutrient levels and pests. Also during laying by time, crews are readying the fleet of harvesting equipment. Others clean and prep processing and storage facilities.
After growing hops comes the harvest, with early harvest beginning in mid to late August. The bulk of the harvest begins early September and lasts for about five weeks. As the newly harvested hops are brought to the processing plant, the vines are still attached to the yarns. There, workers attach the vines to fast moving indexing machines. The indexing machines gently pluck the cones. They separate the cone clusters from leaves and vines.
After sorting and cleaning, the cones head to the kilns for drying. here they are dried to an outer moisture content of 2.5 to 3% and an inner moisture level of about 16%. Next they go to cooling rooms. There the hops go through what we call, “the sweat.” During the sweat they attain a uniform moisture content of 9.5%. Finally, the hops are now ready for baling, labeling, and lastly shipping. You can watch an entertaining video on our recent hop harvest on our News and Events Page.