• Things we learned!

    Vauxhall, Alberta

    We installed a ¼ acre plot of trellis and planted 100 hop Rhizomes last fall. We were so impressed with ourselves that we decided to increase our test plot to 1 full acre this spring. We had a whole winter to plan and prepare for the activities, and thought we were in good shape. A few discussions of the details of our install and the things we would do differently next time. We hops you find this helpful.


    Power poles. -

    We sourced recycled power poles from a local power company. Many were 40 feet. We cut to 23’ and planted 4’ in the ground. We used an 18” auger bit to drill the holes. In some locations we drilled a pilot hole 8” and then came back to redrill with 18” as some locations we encountered a hard pan layer. We used a hired skid steer, but think we could have done this activity with a tractor, three point hitch mounted drill. We had to rent the 18” auger bit.

    After standing the poles, we backfilled the holes with crushed gravel. We talked about tamping the holes, but found tests to be ineffective at settling the gravel.

    We drilled holes through the poles at height so they would be oriented in the row direction rather than trying to rotate poles drilled on the ground. We think this was smart. We talked about using eyelets, but decided through poles was a better option.

    Drilling holes through telephone poles is not a trivial activity. We didn’t have any drill capable of powering an auger bit. We ended up using a ½ inch cabled drill with a paddle bit and an extension to drill the holes.we used 6 bits and killed 2 drills in the process. The bits with a ‘screw’ at the tip to draw the bit through the post was most effective.

    Cable. -

    We sourced recycled cable from elevator repair companies. Our per foot cost was approximately $0.40CDN per foot. The downside of this approach is that we have 4 different diameters of cable from 3/16 to ⅝. This also means we have four different sizes of crosby clips (cable clamps) with 4 different socket sizes needed for installation and maintenance. Standard cable diameter is highly recommended. 3/16 seems to be the optimal number.

    Unrolling cable from spools is a challenge. We ended up improvising a pipe through the center of the spools to allow the spool to spin as the cable was pulled.

    Tensioning of the cables was done initially by hand pulling them and securing to turnbuckles. After everything was strung we returned to each cable and tensioned the cable using a winch mounted on the front of a quad. We used a havens grip to grab on the cable to pull down. Some of cable we had was oiled, so the havens grip was not effective. AS an alternative, we applied a crosby clamp to the cable and used the winch cable hook to pull down. The quad pull was limited by the weight which could be applied to the front of the quad.

    We ran cables end to end from anchor to anchor. We would likely have either secured each pole individually from outside pole to anchor and tensioned the cables at the top of the poles (this is difficult to do at height), or we would have wrapped the cable around the pole before descending to the anchor below.

    We further tensioned the cables with turnbuckles.

    Anchors. -

    We used 6” square anchors with cables attached. The anchors were pounded into the ground to 4.5’ using a post pounder and a heavy 8’ section of square tubing to drive the anchors into the ground. We backfilled and tamped the holes with crushed gravel. We likely won’t know if this is an effective system until year 3 when the trellis is at maximum load.

    Working at height. -

    We used a combination of tactics to get to the tops of our polles to pull cables and string hops.

    Tower of terror. We constructed a 12’ box tower built from 2x4 lumber and secured it to the back of a pickup truck with ratchet straps. The tower was generally stable but is not suitable for long term use. The truck suspension sways with the terrain, and caused the tower to flex. We used it 3 days and started to see signs of the joints coming apart. We have since disassembled the tower. It was an effective low cost solution which served its purpose. 
    Tractor with front end loader and man basket. We used a 10’ wide man basket strapped to the forks of a front end loader. This was a much more stable method. It requires an operator plus the labor in the man basket
    Man lift. We used a man lift for some of the stringing work. This was good, in that one person could operate the lift from the basket. Ultimately, this would be the preferred method

    Stringing hops. -

    We purchased our coir twine in bulk rolls rather than pre-cut lengths as it is much less expensive that way. This resulted in labor to unwind and cut to length 20000 feet of twine. The challenge with this approach is getting the roll to unwind without making a large knot. Ultimately, pulling from the center with someone guiding the string to prevent tangles was the most effective method. At scale, buying pre-cut strings is a good investment. If you have time in the winter, this may been a good cost saving activity.

    We used the traditional method of typing strings at the top and securing them with W clips in the ground and we used a weight to throw the string over the cable and securing it at two places on the ground.

    Both methods are effective. At a large scale, a team of people tying strings at the top is probably most effective.

    At small scale, without access to a lift, the throwing was effective as well. You could get a lot of people working at the same time without a limitation of a single lift.

    Irrigation. - 
    We had an existing irrigation system in place at the farm consisting of a dugout, a pump and 2” distribution line. We had intended to lay ½” irrigation line on the ground and drill holes at each plant and manually monitor the flow. This approach was immediately ruled out as there was no way to effectively adjust the flow at each plant.

    After our small trial with drilling holes, we added ¾” in line filters and ½ GPH drip emitters.

    We found that a single ½” line can support about 600 1/2GPH emitters. We had 950, and needed to run two lines to our field and feed the system from both ends. So, we ended up with a loop at one end of our field, with t’s feeding each individual row.

    Installing emitters. A few key learnings here. There is a tool for installing self piercing emitters. We completed 1000 emitters with our fingers. That aside, the emitters are easier to install when the irrigation pipe is warmed by the sun. Do this task on a warm day.

    Unrolling irrigation hose. We bought our 1/2" hose in 500' rolls. Not making spaghetti was a challenge. In the end pulling hose from the center of the spool and untwisting the hose as you pull is the best case. Its important to leave the tape on the outside of the spool so that it retains its shape. Definitely a two person job.

    Ground prep, Weed control. -

    We had two different fields. One was a garden converted for hops, and the other a pasture with grass.

    The garden was tilled before planting and we maintain bare dirt between rows by means of limiting water and surface tilling. At the small scale of the garden this is effective.

    The main yard which is grass. We used a tiller to prepare each planting site rather than tilling entire rows. This allows use to mow between rows, weed whip the rows between plants, and weed the individual planting sites by hand (hoe).

    After our plants are established and growing above 8’ we intend to introduce sheep to manage the grass and weeds as well as to strip the bines of foliage at the bottom 4 ‘

    Timing. -

    We read over and over the criticality to having all of your infrastructure in place before planting. We confirm this. There are some timing issues that should be considered here.

    Prepare the ground first if possible. It's hard to do after the poles are in place.

    Lay the irrigation and install emitters before planting the plants. You have a better chance of the emitter being in the right spot if you plant underneath it rather than trying to guess where the rhizome was planted.

    When to plant. -

    We planted some Rhizomes in the October after dormancy began, and had reasonable success with spring growth in the range of 60% - 90% by variety. Those rhizomes that did survive the winter enjoyed a 6 week head start on growth over those which were planted in early May. We suspect that planting in April in Alberta could also be viable rather than waiting until risk of frost is gone.