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.

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.