Our Goal for this Blog

Over the years we have received and continue to receive numerous phone calls and emails asking many different farm related questions. Our thought is that we would try out a blog to keep people up to date on what we are doing here on Puterbaugh Farms and at Hops Direct.

We will just jump right into where we are at in the growing season with a very brief look at what it took to get the hops to the stage they are in now. If interest is actually shown and people are looking for more information we will continue through the winter and pick up the beginning next spring, which will allow everyone to get a feel for what a full crop year looks like from a hop grower's perspective and all of the many challenges involved. We hope you enjoy.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Harvest has finally ended!!!

So maintaining a blog during harvest did not really happen... We finished up harvesting all of the hops on our farm about noon yesterday, October 2nd after starting harvest on August 20th. That is a whole bunch of days straight operating for 24 hours. Both picking machines were beginning to sounds little bit tired with stretched belts and chains that were beginning to break on a more regular basis.

Today marks the day that we began running our pellet mill. The Cascade's will be run through the mill first followed in an order yet to be determined by all the other varieties we carry. Since from our earlier surveys it seems like mostly homebrewers found interest in the blog the main question to answer here is when will pellets be available from the 2008 crop. The first varieties to run through the mill should be rolling out sometime next week. Between here and our forum we will try to keep everyone up to date.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

One way in, two ways out.

After the hops have rolled "dribbled" off the dribbler belts they are ready to exit the machine on a series of conveyors. These conveyors will lead the hops to the kiln.

Sometimes we face problems like the one below, where there are too many hops for the conveyor to handle... if this is the worst thing that happens during the day, we are happy. Honestly though if this really does happen it causes a lot of problems because the machine will back up, chains can fall off, motors will overheat, and belts will break. A watchful eye on the amount of hops moving through the machine is a key to a successful day. We control this flow by changing the rate at which the vines are pulled into the machine. Usually this is somewhere between 18-24 vines per minute.

Trash is the second way out of the machine. A series of paddled chains carry the trash to its harvest resting place, a very large ever growing pile. This photo was from the second day of harvest. We are not almost thirty days in and the piles are very large now.

View from the far side of the pile.

This view gives glimpse of what the wooden paddles on the chain look like. They are spaced about 18 inches apart on the chain. The trash can be seen floating down. Leaves, stems, and coir.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Dribble Belts

Here are some great photos of the dribble belts. The hops fall out of a shaker onto what we call the harp (below on the right). The harp helps to separate the hops on their way onto the the dribble belts so that they are not all clumped together. The dribble belts are a series of belt that are all moving in the same direction.
The dribble belts are all moving in a upward direction from their slope (which is adjustable and is changed for almost every variety we have). The idea behind these belts is that the hops which are round will roll down and fall off the belt while the leaves and stems will not roll off. They will travel all the way to the end of the belt where they enter a trash conveyor. (this view is from the top the belts are moving away from you)

The is what the belts look like when looking back at them (belts are moving toward the camera). The hops can be seen moving over the top of the first couple belts. but as you might be able to see the uppermost belt has more hops then the next two in the photo. Most of the hops will fall through on the first three or four belts.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pictures inside Machine

This is a view of the hop vines leaving the main picker. Almost all of the cones and leaves are stripped of the vine as it moves through. The hop vines in the photo are moving from left to right on pinched between a set of moving chains, which are out of view above the top platform.

View across the dribbler belts back toward the main picker. On the nearside of the main picker are to conveyors leading up to the left and right (that form a v in the photo. The one going up to the right leads to the Tumbler.

These are the hops dropping onto the Tumbler the step after the main picker, arm picker and breaker. The tumbler will remove most of the larger stems (laterals) that were pulled off during the trip through the main picker. It will also remove a small amount of the leaves. Everything taken out during this stage is sent back around through the arm picker and breaker for a second trip around (there are enough hops left on the laterals at this point to justify sending them back through the machine again).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sweeping and Hanging

There is one other important job that is done outside the machine by the tracks, sweeping. At one picking machine are between 6-8 people who work the position of sweeper/hanger. These persons rotate between sweeping the floors and hanging the vines on the trucks. Usually three will be up in trucks hanging and the rest will be on the floor with brooms and pushers feeding the hops into the small holes in the floor onto conveyors that lead into the picking machine.

We sweep the floors because many of the hops from the vines that are making their way up the tracks fall to the ground. A majority of the material that falls off is individual cone and complete laterals as the vines are pulled loose from the bed of the truck. It is also common for two vines to get stuck together on the way out of the truck, one will fall to the ground in most cases. These vines are not swept into the machine as they have a tendency to plug up the belts forcing the machine operator to shut the machine down to pull the vine out of the bottom. Therefore, all vines that fall are thrown back into the truck, which is no easy take especially when picking established hop yards with lots of foliage and hops on the vines. Best guess is that your dragging around 30-40 LBS of vine that are 18 feet long, sometimes more than one at a time. We usually try to throw them back on the truck when the hangers have finished unloading. This creates less chance of the vines becoming tangled, which would cause them to fall again.

Sweeping loose cones and laterals that have fallen to the ground below the hop vines moving across the track above.
Fallen vines being straightened out to be thrown back up onto the trucks. Once on the trucks the hangers will re-hang the vines. Fallen vines cannot be pushed through the bottom of the machine... this causes too many problems.
The vines are being wrestled back onto the truck. Notice that it takes three people to move this mass of hops. One person can reasonably throw two vines back on a truck, if the number is higher there is not a chance.
Sweeper sweeping hops into the conveyor running below the floor. To the left of the man sweeping is the conveyor leading up into the bottom of the main picker.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hop Shirts Now Available

We have received our newly designed short sleeve shirts.

All are printed on American Apparel 2001 Short Sleeve T-Shirts (Asphalt colored). Sizes run from S-XXL.

The shirts can be found in our Hop Shop (at the very bottom): http://www.hopsdirect.com/hops/shop.html

Please do ignore the first shirt entry as I somehow managed to lose editing capabilities after saving the file. It is now lost somewhere inside computer land.

Here is a view of the shirt from the front. The artwork wraps under the right arm to the back.

The back looks like this. Please note that our web address, www.hopsdirect.com (without the underline), is located on the late sleeve of the shirt in the same "font" as the names of the hops.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hanging Hops

Here on our farm we still do most of our picking the old fashion way, hanging the vines, instead of running a hop combine other folks in our area do. The trucks pull into place below a set of hooks on tracks. The driver of the truck and one other person, normally called a "hanger", will begin to place the hops onto the hooks. This is a job that can be very tiresome... I'll explain hanger rotation later.

As I noted earlier the part of the vine nearest the ground is located by the cab of the truck and the top of the vine is toward the back. This is important because the hanger will grab the vine (bottom end) and place it onto the hook, pulling the hook into position so that a chain with teeth spaced about every three feet can come by to grab the took pulling the whole vine upward out of the truck. When the hanger moves the hook into position it triggers the release of the next hook in line to move into position to receive another vine. Usually the driver and the hanger will hang vines back and forth, that is the hanger will hang one while the driver is picking one up... then the driver hangs his while the hanger is grabbing his next vine... and so one until the truck is empty and all the vines are moving through the machine. (I read this over once and believe it makes sense to me, but I see this stuff everyday, so I apologize if this is just a confusing mess of words. Please do enjoy the photos though.)

View of truck inside below one below each set of tracks. As you can see the vines on the hooks are being taken upward on the tracks. Rough estimate of the height would be around 22-25 feet at the top of the tracks. There are three more trucks waiting to enter, but we always keep them off the cement until the truck in from has cleared out, that way the floors can be swept.

Here the three trucks are lined up right below the hooks. The driver in lane one is my cousin (red hat), he and the hanger are waiting for hooks to return from the top. This means that either they are really good hangers or the machine broke down... I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he is a good hanger, which is the truth.

One of our longtime employee's nicknamed "Cowboy" lifting a vine to the hooks.

View of truck from above in the machine at night, this photo was take near the top of the tracks. Note the small hole in the floor between the first and second truck from the bottom, we will cover its purpose next.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Release of our 2008 Crop

We just received our first couple State of Washington Department of Agriculture "Brewing Value Certificate" documents. We are required to have our crops inspected and certified by our State before we can sell any hops from the respective lot they belong to. Now that we have received these we have posted the following varieties in our online store. Centennial, Cluster, Mt. Hood, Tettnanger, Willamette. We are now harvesting Cascades, which means our first lot should have a certificate sometime in the next week.

There is a chance the pound you order can be seen in the picture below.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Just a little busy out here...

Just to throw it out on the table, its really hard to find time to sit down at a computer to post a blog while harvesting.

In the past few days/nights, it's all a blur, we have been working our way through Willamette's, and ran through some Mt. Hood's as well. Most likely by sometime in the early evening we will be moving on to Cascades.

Here is the only picture I have that follows the sequence started earlier. After the trucks leave the field they drive to the picking machine (large building in the picture). The trucks will pull through the doors and park inside where the driver and another person will hang the hops to ready them for their run through the machine. Our machine pictured below runs 24 hours a day in two shifts. The transition between shifts is fairly smooth so that hops are continuously flowing through and happens at 6am and 6pm.
Here is a picture of one burner running during the night. We dry the hops at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit for about 9 hours on average. Hopefully more about this will come up later.
Hops that have finished drying laying on the kiln floor. We have to let the hops cool down before we send them up the conveyor on the far right of the photo to the baling room.
When working with the night shift you get to see wonderful sunrises. There are not really any clouds in the sky, but it is still great sight. In the middle of the photo you can see the "trash" pile beginning to form, take note of its size (it will change drastically as time goes on).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Harvest has begun.

We are now officially in the midst of our harvest. Currently we are harvesting Willamette's in one picking machine and Cluster's in the other one and will be moving onto Centennials later in the day and continuing through the night shift.

The first step after deciding which hop yard we will be harvesting is where to start in the field. We do not pick hop yards by the row all the way across, this can cause great amounts of stress on the trellis system. The trellis does not like to have major changes in tension in order to allow for the we usually start harvesting our yards right in the middle. The means that trucks get pushed down a row and actually have to back out. We do two rows as a time on the first pass in order trucks drive with more ease. A normal yard will have about 40 rows in it, we call one pass while harvesting a "push", since the tractor or top cutter will literally push a truck that is in neutral down the row. For example if the rows were numbered 1-40 (left to right) we would take rows 21-30 first then move to 1-10, 31-40, and finish with 11-20. (I'll try to remember to take a picture of this at some point)

We use a bottom cutter to cut the vines at about 3-4 feet off the ground. Then a truck will pull in under these vines, the driver will put it into neutral and process to be pushed by either our top cutter (if they are running well, which has been the story of the first days of harvest this year) or by two persons on a platform cutting the vines with a machete. The vines then fall into the back of the truck with the ground end nearest the cab and the top of the vine at the end of the truck, an important detail for later in the process. Once the truck is full the cutter will back up allowing the truck space to move out and another truck will fill its place.

Bottom cutter moving through the hop yard. The bottom cutter stays just ahead of the top cutter and trucks as it become more difficult to remove the hops the longer they have been cut. We keep the time from cutting to machine as short as possible.

Truck being pushed through field.

Tractor with platform pushing the truck. You can see the two men standing on the platform each swinging a machete to cut the vines down.

This is a truck full of hops getting ready to leave the field on its way to the picking machine.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Got Married!!!

I'll be back with a post sometime tonight. I disappeared due the fact that I was in my own wedding (August 16th) and went on a short honeymoon followed by a business trip the East Coast. We got married outdoors in Eastern Washington on a day which I believe was the hottest of the year for us at 105. Please hold the questions about why one would choose to get married right when harvest was starting:)


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hop Cones Up Close

Per yesterday's request we went out into some of the hop yards to grab a few cones in order to demonstrate how far each of them are from harvest for us. At harvest time for each variety we will try to take pictures of each variety in the kiln so that you can see exactly what they look like at maturity.

Here are some Tettnanger hops that are still rather small probably 20 day out for our harvest. Being small they just look like baby hops of almost any variety. Size they are small it is difficult to see the luplin, but it is a pale yellow color.

This photo shows Mt. Hood's . The cones take on a more rounded shape and have significantly darker foliage than other varieties. These hops are about 15 days out at this time. The luplin is yellow in color, being an aroma variety there is a moderate amount.

In the high alpha varieties the abundance of luplin can be seen right away. These high alphas still have about 30 days to go until we begin to harvest them.

The Cluster's pictured here will be one of the first varieties we harvest. The cones are a mid length in comparison to others, being a mid-alpha hop there is a decent amount of luplin present.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cones all over.

On the farm the time has come for the hop cones to show up in mass. We can now get fairly accurate estimates of how each yard will pick as far as yields are concerned. When the crop gets heavy the wires will start to sag under the weight and the anchor poles in the yards begin to bow slightly.

The yard pictured below has reached the point where the cones are noticeable.

A fair amount of hops on the high alpha vines, these will be harvested around mid-September, the middle of harvest for us.

The Nugget yard on the other hand will be harvested near the end of our season, as you may be able to see cones are just beginning to form (leaving the burr stage).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Big Storm on Friday

Well flying out of Chicago is no fun, my flight got delayed and it took forever to get home.

Meanwhile when I did not make it home we had a huge storm, thanks to my aunt have a few pictures of it to share. During the summer here in Eastern Washington we can have rather large thunderheads roll through, nothing like the Midwest, but still enough to strike fear in the hearts of farmers who see them coming. The worst part is you never know the path they will take and cannot control it anyway. As luck would have it the hail in Friday's storm hit about a half mile to the north of our fields, but we did see large volumes of rain (check out the pond that formed by our picking machine).

There was also a hop yard that fell down near some of our yards, which is a devastating site to see. I should have some better photos of it tomorrow and will try to dig up some old photos of us harvesting a downed yard to show you what the grower will do to salvage as many hops a possible.

Currently for an update on our harvest starting date, it looks like we will be going with a soft start running only one of our machines with a day shift on August 20th. From there we will start a day shift at our other machine and then roll into 24 hour a day operation soon after. This gives us time to work out any issues in the machines as it is easier to do repairs during the day.

Normally we do not have a pond in from of the machine, but we had one on Friday with a very small amount remaining until even today.

This photo was taken from ground level, as you can see we are looking straight at the top of a pole which should be 18 feet in the air. On the right you can see that the corner of the field can be seen still standing in the distance.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Brewery Visits (Chicago)

Your main blogger took a red eye to Chicago to visit a few microbrewery clients in the greater Chicago area. I'll be back at the farm on Friday with some new posts. Lesson learned on the trip, don't try to sleep in a car after taking a red eye flight...It is probably better to just not even try to sleep at all.

Monday, August 4, 2008


As always questions lead to posts and we have been receiving lots of questions about the purchase of rhizomes for fall or winter planting. From a hop farming standpoint there are no fall or winter plantings of rhizomes. Rhizomes are cut from established crowns in the early spring and placed back into the ground at their new location as soon as possible. The shorter the duration out of the ground the better.

Something that the new hop growers out there should know is that first year hop plants established from prior rhizome cuttings so not usually produce many rhizomes if any. Instead the first year plants "focus" most of their time on establishing a strong root system which is more important from a longevity standpoint. In the second and third years rhizome growth will start to appear and cuttings can be taken from the plant to propagate new hop yards or to add to your home garden. In any case once the crowns have reached maturity they can produce upwards of 20 new rhizomes per year by some estimates. This means that the hops can take over large portions of your yard if left unchecked, which is why in our fields we disc and till the ground around our hills in order to keep the hops in check (we only want them to grow in specific areas of our hop yards, not all over every inch of our farm).

Due to the fact that we are not digging rhizomes a this time I have not photos...we will wait until spring for that.

Friday, August 1, 2008

It's a boy...

Sometimes, even here on the farm we will have a male hop show up in the middle of our hop yards. This will even happen in an established yard that has had no male hops in the past. In our case normally we will take them out, rhizomes and all, as soon as possible to prevent the formation of seeds in the cones nearby. We do this because our goal is to always have a stem and leaf content under the 2% mark, which allows the hops to fall into the premium category. Premium from a farm standpoint is related to the stem, leaf, and seed content, which can be controlled by the grower. The grower controls this through making sure there are very few if any male plants and by how the hop picking machines are set up for harvest.

This is what a male hop looks like. The one shown here is in the middle of a Willamette yard that is in at least its fourth year. In our opinion there really is no use for this plant on the farm, maybe at home people think they are pleasing to the eye, or add character to their yard.

Here is a closer view of the male hop plant. It does not have any cones and through pollination with the female plants in the vicinity will create unwanted seeds.

The cones below are Nuggets, this vine was a little more mature than some of its counterparts in the yard. As you will see below the cones will actually be fairly sizable as they mature.

I did not have a ruler handy to demonstrate the size of the Nugget cones, but my hand works well enough to give a rough idea.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Craft Brewers Conference

As we were going through photos today we stumbled across some of our booth that we use when attending the Craft Brewer's Conference each year. The conference occurs in April each year. The 2008 conference was held in San Diego and next two will be in Boston '09 and Chicago '10. Our family attends the conference because we like to show everyone what we are all about, which is being a family farm... We would encourage anyone who is living in the Boston or Chicago areas to come visit our booth at the conferences if you have a chance. The main attraction is that we almost always bring a full bale of hops (200lbs.) with us, and most people cannot believe how large, heavy, and fresh the hops are in the bale. Of course we also have prizes for the people who are able to correctly identify the variety of the bale by smelling the hops.

As you can see we built a mini version of a hop trellis complete with the actual wire we use in the fields, most are blown away by the gauge of the wire and the fact that a real trellis setup is about 2.5 times higher that the mini version we set up. (in the front right are our pickled hop shoots that we traditionally serve with cheddar cheese cubes to guests, you either love or hate them)

Beside the door on the left side is bale of hops, this year we brought a Willamette bale of hops with us. The nice part is that we normally never have to take the bale home with us, because normally someone really wants to take it.

The hops covering the wire in near the back of our booth are actually silk hops. They actually look pretty good, even up close. Another thing to note is that we used a single disc (from the disc's we run through our hops) as the base for our poles. (please disregard the picture of pumpkins on the computer screen in the background that's just a part time hobby of ours, the younger cousins love selling them in the fall)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What do we raise?

As always the questions we receive lead us to most of our postings. Many are wondering what varieties we actually raise here on our farm and why we choose to raise the ones we do.

The first part of the question is simple, we raise fourteen different varieties at this time. We raise the old mainstays Cascade, Cluster, Willamette, Nugget, and Galena. We like to grow small amounts of what we would consider specialty hops which include Tettnanger, Mt Hood (not extremely common in Washington), and Magnum. Of course we also have super high alpha varieties as well including some of CTZ varieties. For mid alpha we have Chinook and Centennials.

The question of why we choose the ones we do is a little more complicated to answer. We select varieties based on numerous factors... Ideally we like to have a hop that fits well with our soil profile and climate conditions. Hops such as the Tettnanger, Magnum, and Mt. Hood for instance do not grow extremely well in our area because it is too hot, which is why we have very limited acreage of these varieties. Each variety also has a pickability factor, that is the rate at which we can run the hops through our machine, which can be extremely costly for some of the varieties that are notoriously harder to harvest.

Two of the most important factors would be the price of long term contracts for each variety and how the varieties fit into our harvest schedule. For instance, even if there was one variety that was receiving the best price across the board we could not plant just one variety. There is a specific time frame in which each must be harvested (our harvest is 45 days long), and we have a target date for each type of hop we raise so that they can all be harvested at their peak. This is only possible with great diversification of varieties.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Patience they are not ready yet.

I have been receiving more emails and have read on many forums that people are beginning to pick their hops. From most of the pictures I have seen posted they do not look mature, so be careful out there. Since our cones are almost developed at this point we will begin to start posting pictures of them so you can see what we are looking for to determine harvest times. But since harvest is still three weeks out for us it seems a little premature to start doing so. In our hop yards we like to see uniform timing of blooming and the formation of the cones so that the entire yard matures at the same time.

In our mature Centennial yard cones have already formed. Please note that although these look like fairly sizable cones we will not be harvesting for at least another 21 days, that is why I would stress patience to those who grow hops at home. Currently on our farm it looks at though the Centennials may actually jump the Cascades in harvest order this year.

On another note here is a picture of one of our super high alpha yards taken on July 28, 2008 (yesterday). As you may notice there are no cones forming, in fact we would be excited to see more leaves and laterals and foliage... This yard luckily will be one of the last ones harvested in our season (around September 24th) so it has a little bit of time to try to put in one last growth spurt.

Here is a picture of one of our sprayers at work in the morning. We use large usually 400-600 gallon Air Blast sprayers in our hop yards. Notice how there is coverage all the way from top to bottom (0-18 feet), as well as coverage through the rows to the sides. When spraying we drive down every row as the vines have a tendency to twist and turn a lot when they are getting pushed around by the air movement. Complete coverage is essential.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Don't break the mainline!!

Today I was out changing the settings on our automatic timers for the drip irrigation in one set of hop yards as per my uncle's instructions. Of course man is smarter than most machines so there was no way to make them do what we wanted them to. (we even stooped as low as reading the instructions, don't recommend doing this... waste of time) But more importantly midway through I noticed a small ravine running down one of the rows. Tomorrow's project is to fill the whole thing in, it's only a 14 mile drive in our loader and back so that's a good hour plus sitting on the loader with flashing lights (we don't have a trailer big enough to haul it). As always photos will help tell the story.

So there was a rather small trail leading down a row... I decided to follow it out of curiosity.
The hole began to open up a bit more as I continued to walk down. Since our hop yard is on a decent pitch I assumed it would only get worse.
As you can see the ravine is pretty big. Tractors no longer will fit down the row with out falling into the holes that were created. The saving grace was that it ran straight down on row instead of sideways across the field, which would have been a major mess.
This hop was not as lucky as the rest. It's a little hard to survive 90 degree heat with no soil around your roots.
Hops are tough though. These one have fallen down 3 to 4 feet to the point were the twine is holding them up. Upon closer inspection I notice that most of the rhizomes were out of the soil and only the roots were reaching into the ground.