Welcome to Hop Alley.
Hop Alley is a top secret location where we have begun to grow our very own hops. Why? Two reasons, the first being that we’ve long obsessed about producing a special beer with our own (100% Irish grown) hops. It has become something of a mission for us and with the opening of our brewery, to finally plant out Hop Alley seemed a natural progression. Nurturing and controlling our hops from first shoots to finally immersing them in the boil kettle is something we’ve long dreamed about. They are of course, grown without fake fertilizers, no chemicals and no ‘miracle’ growth formulas. To know exactly what has gone into the hops and when, how’ve they’ve grown in the conditions (cold, sun, rain etc), the soil type and so on gives us a level of control we’ve never had before. We’re not even sure we’ll get a crop out of them in the first year but that’s ok, brewing has never been a quick process for us.
The second reason for starting Hop Alley is to highlight the lack of commercially grown hops in Ireland. We have a good climate for them, the right soil, sun, rain and with many breweries opening, the market for them exists. Yet breweries across Ireland have to import their hops from across the world. It would be like having to import spuds. We hope that by highlighting this, an opportunity will open up for somebody to take advantage and begin commercial hop cultivation. We’re pretty sure many breweries in Ireland would jump at the chance to brew with Irish grown hops. Irish Farmers: OPPORTUNITY beckons.
Hop Alley began as a furze covered patch of land. Many weekends later of backbreaking work, we finally had a patch cleared large enough to begin mapping out where to drive the stakes and support networks of ropes for the hops. It’s been immensely satisfying to see Hop Alley come together and we’re looking forward to the summer growth and more importantly, the autumn harvest.
As Hop Alley grows and matures, we’ll document our progress here through caring for our hops plants, harvesting and drying the hops until finally, we produce beer with our very own hops.
To view the full set of pictures of Hop Alley, view our gallery HERE
After a very wet and nervous June I was worried the hops might suffer. But most of them have reached the top of the poles and are nearly half way across the top horizontal line so I begin topping them. Small flowers beginning to appear. Weeds still a big pain but determined to keep this 100% organic. Maybe it’s the patch of ground I choose for this project that weeds are proving such a problem.
It’s been so busy lately at the brewery and I am nearly overrun with weeds. Shoots are popping out of the ground in all directions so I begin training the ones I want to keep. Weeds seem determined to reclaim this particular patch of land and the through crosses my mind of setting fire to them. I desist and spend a few days weeding to give the hops more light and space. I place sheeting down to prevent the weeds popping up again – visually not the most attractive but at least it’s keeping weed growth supressed. Pleasantly surprised with hop growth – the month has been good for sunshine.
Have begun re-stringing for this years growth. Weeding has been consuming a lot of the time – furze, briar and weeds seem determined to retake this patch of land. Pretty pleased that most of the stakes have lasted the winter – a few have taken a battering by storms but by and large everything intact. Hoping to have everything ready by first week of April.
The whole month is a blessing of hot, hot weather. And a few good showers. Seems ideal weather for hop growing. Really noticing how the hops are strengthening. Still some slow hops that are really struggling but the majority have grown up and across the guide wires – which is as far as we allow them grow anyway. Snip them at the top once this point is reached. At the end of July am thrilled to see the start of flowers taking shape – we may just get our first harvest this year! No signs of any disease and chuffed that we’ve grown them organically.
Weed growth is the major battle front. Thistles, briars and furze all seem determined to reclaim this patch of ground. Most of the hops reach the top of the guide ropes but some are still struggling to reach half way up.
Most of the hops are starting their long trek up the guidelines. We keep pruning any runaway shoots. Lots of warm weather in May which helps a lot. Regular waterings during dryspells, once every two days.
Early April: We’ve finished the support network of ropes for the plants and are pretty chuffed with progress. Some of the hops have grown enough to begin winding them around the ropes. Watering every second day and checking progress.
End March: Start digging holes for the support stakes. These are 2×2 lengths of timber onto which we’ll fasten a network of ropes. Hit rock soon after starting to dig the holes so will need to encase the bases of these in concrete soon.
Late March: Begin planting outside. Put plastic containers around the plants to protect against frost and more worryingly, rabbits. If I see one critter nibbling on our hops….
Mid March: Has the last frost passed? It’s just after St. Patrick’s Day and boxes of rhizomes have arrived so we decide to play it safe and plant half outdoors and half in pots to transplant outside later. The weather is warming up noticeably but we’re suspicious that severe frosts are just waiting until we’ve planted before they strike again.
Early to Mid March: Digging up the roots of the furze is completed. Backbreaking work. Surprised it hasn’t killed me. I have a new found respect for what prehistoric man did in clearing ground for cultivation.
Finally finished cutting all the furze from Hop Alley. As we look back over the roots of the furze, we rightly suspect the hard work is yet to come. Toy with the idea of calling in an airstrike to clear the roots in one go.
Decision made. We’re going with Hop Alley. Hooray! Set a mental date of April to have patch of land ready for planting. Refuse to let freezing weather or rain deter us and set into clearing the furze. It is SLOW progress. It’s difficult to swing a slash hook in here so revert to bush-saw.