What’s been happening on-farm?
So you’ve been out on-farm during harvest, likely picked a few fresh cones off the bine, and smelt like hop oils for the rest of the day.
But ever wondered what’s happening this time of year up in the Victorian high country at Rostrevor Hop Gardens and down in the Derwent Valley at Bushy Park Estates?
No? Read on and we’ll tell you anyway.
There are nine principal growth stages of the hop (see below, in full here) identified in detail by the Biologische Bundesanstalt, Bundessortenamt und CHemische Industrie or BBCH scale – a common tool in horticulture to chart plant life cycles as triggered by the environment.
At this time of year we’re normally sitting around stage 3 ‘elongation of bines’, just about to arrive at stage 5, ‘infloresecene emergence’.
But that’s all dependent on the weather.
As with any agricultural crop, the pace of growth is dictated by conditions of the growing season, which in 2015 has been greatly influenced by the El Niño event (1). The event typically sees low rainfall in winter and high temperature extremes in south eastern Australia during spring (2), as a result of the Pacific Ocean absorbing less heat from the atmosphere at the same time as the “easterly trade winds stall or reverse, resulting in a build-up of heat. Rainfall patterns also tend to shift eastwards away from the western Pacific.” (6)
This impact has been felt on both farms.
The Tasmanian growing season has seen record breaking weather patterns to date. Winter saw the coldest mean temperature in nearly 50 years across the state (3), while Bushy Park experienced the lowest rainfall in October since 1871, when records were first kept – 10.6mm in comparison to October’s average of 57mm (4).
Thankfully Bushy Park Estates sits at the intersection of two large rivers, the Styx and the Derwent, so Farm Manager Oliver Ward, was able to commence irrigation exactly when required to make up for the shortfall.
Victoria has also experienced abnormal weather conditions with winter seeing below average temperatures and the lowest average rainfall since 2006 (5).
Allan Monshing, Farm Manager at Rostrevor Hop Gardens, was concerned when forecasts predicted below average rainfall continuing throughout spring, visibly seeing the Ovens River levels dropping rapidly.
Thankfully, Rostrevor saw good rains throughout October and early November.
So what’s the impact been in the field?
After harvest and coming into winter, our girls go dormant, with the record breaking cold allowing a long sleep over winter.
They woke up late but with a start, when unseasonably high temperatures hit at the end of September and early October; Bushy Park saw it’s highest October mean temperature for more than 50 years and Victoria beat both its average maximum and mean temperature records .
The warmth, along with early irrigation in Tasmania and good October rainfall in Northern Victoria, stimulated rapid early season growth (Stage 0), which we took full advantage of, training the bines up their strings up to a week early for some varieties (Stage 1).
A few cooler nights, approaching zero with near frost and cloudy conditions settled them back down to be in line with a regular season (Stage 2).
What stage of growth are the hops at?
Right now we’re in the growth stage with bines shooting up their strings (stage 3). It’s a crucial stage as the plant is already determining how many flowers and therefore hops the bine will yield.
At Bushy Park, Galaxy, Cascade and Enigma are quite advanced, sitting about 2+ metres up the strings. Ella and Super Pride are close behind with Summer, as is characteristic, proving to be the slowest.
Up in the north of Victoria at Rostrevor, second training is now done with Galaxy and Super Pride growth on par with previous years while Vic Secret and Ella are slightly more advanced.
Once our girls reach full height and hit the wire, it’s all about growth control – ensuring they’re focusing their nutrients on growing hop cones, not further vegetative growth.
At mid-December we’re now focusing on this growth control and looking to inflorescence and flowering over the next two months. We’ll report more on the progress of the crop and the vagaries of the weather in our next farm update in late January 2016.