1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Hops

(Part 73)



The hop is an important crop in several of the southern countries of England. Although an indigenous plant, it was originally brought into England for cultivation from Flanders in 1525. It is cultivated to a considerable extent in Belgium, Bavaria, in the United States of America, and more recently in Australia. Hops, as is well known, are chiefly used for preserving and imparting a peculiar flavour to beer. Probably the only parts of the hop flower which enter into the composition of the beer are the seeds, an the yellow glutinous matter which surrounds the outer integuments of the seed, and lies at the bottom of the petals. This yellow matter technically termed the condition of the hop) has an intensely bitter taste, and emits a peculiar and very agreeable aroma, which however, is extremely volatile; and hence the necessity for close packing as soon as possible after the hops are dried. When kept over a year, much of this aroma flies off, and hence new hops are indispensable in brewing the first kinds of beer. Several varieties of the hopsare cultivated in England. Of these, the Farnham and Canterbury whitebines and goldings are esteemed the finest. These are tall varieties, requiring the poles of from 14 to 20 feet. The grapes, so called from growing in clusters, and of which there are several varieties of various quality, require poles from 10 to 14 feet long. Jone’s, adapted for lighter and inferior land, requires these but 8 to 10 feet. The colegates are a hardy and late-ripening variety, which grow best on stiff soils; and the Flemish redbine, only cultivated from its less liability than the other to be attacked by the aphis or black blight. The hop is a very exhausting crop for the land, requiring to be planted only on the most fertile soils, and to have them sustained by frequent and large dressings of manure rich in nitrogen. Hops are principally cultivated in the countries of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hants, Worcester, and Hereford, and to a more limited extent in Essex, Suffolk, and Nottingham. The best quality of hops are grown at Farnham in Kent, upon the outcrop of the upper greensand formation, from whence the phosphatic nodules or cropolites now so well known in the manure market are obtained. In 1871 the land under hop cultivation in Great Britain measured 60,030 acres; in 1872 it amounted to 61,927 acres, of which there were in Kent 37,927, in Sussex 9738, and in Hereford 6106 acres.

In forming a new plantation, the ground soon after Michaelmas is trenched to the depth of 18 inches, if it has previously been in meadow or old pasture, taking care not to bury the surface-soil above half that depth. Subsoil-ploughing will suffice with land that is in tillage. If the land is wet, drains are made from 4 to 5 feet deep, laid with pipes, and a foot of broken stones over them, to prevent the roots of the hops from obstructing the pipes. The distance between the drains is determined by the necessities of each case. Perfect draining is essential to the success of the crop; and the hops are planted in squares or triangles at equal distances, varying from 6 to 7 feet, according to the fertility of the soil and the greater or less luxuriant habit of growth of the variety selected. The plants are raised by cutting off the layers or shoots of the preceding year, which are bedded out during the month of March in ground previously prepared, and in the succeeding autumn become what are called nursery plants or bedded sets. Early in November these are planted, one, two, or three being used for a hill according to the strength of the plants. Care must be taken to introduce a sufficient number of male plants, six hills to the acre being deemed sufficient. The presence of these is found to induce earlier maturity, and to improve both the quality and weight of the crops. The ground must at all times be kept free from weeds and have a good depth of pulverised soil. From the first, a stick, 6 feet high or so, is placed to each hill, to which all the young bines, as they shoot out during summer, must be tied. A liberal dressing of superphosphate of lime and guano is in June hoed in around each hill, which is repeated in July, under which treatment 2 or 3 cwt. of hops is obtained the first year, in addition to a crop of mangolds, turnips, or potatoes, grown in the intervals between the hills. On newly broken up ground lime is applied the following spring. When a plantation has been established, the annual routine of culture begins in autumn, as soon as the crop has been gathered, when the haulm is stripped fro the poles, and stored away as a substitute for straw. The poles are stacked or piled in quantities of 400 or 500, at regular distances on the ground. During winter they are sorted and repointed when required, and new ones substituted for those that are broken or decayed; this work and the carrying on of manure being accomplished in frosty weather. The ground is dug over by the fork at this season. In March the earth is removed from the plants by a beck or pronged hoe till the crown is exposed, that the plant may be pruned. Immediately after this the poles are set, the length and number of these for each hill depending upon the kind of hops and amount of growth anticipated. They are fixed into holes made for them by a hop-bar. As the season advances, the ground is hoed and again dug or stirred by a nidget or scarifier drawn by a horse. Early in May the bines or young shoot, as soon as long enough, are tied to the poles with rushes or bast. This tying is repeated several times as the bines get higher, and has even to be done by step-ladders. In June the hops are earthed up or hilled, at which time weak plants get a dressing of guano. Throughout the summer weeds are destroyed as they appear, and the soil kept loose by the nidget or the hand-hoe. If poles are blown over by high winds, they are immediately replaced.

The picking of the hops usually begins about the second week in September, and furnishes ample employment for several weeks to the entire population of the districts, and to a large influx of strangers; men, women, and children all engaging in it. The hop-pickers are arranged into companies, and are supplied with baskets or bins, holding 7 or 8 bushels each, which are gauged with black lines inside to save the trouble of measuring. Each company is under the superintendence of a hop bailiff, who keeps an account of the earnings, &c. Under him are several men called pole-pullers, whose duty it is to supply the pickers with poles of hops, and to assist in carrying the picked hops to the carts. They use an iron lever called a hop-dog in pulling up the poles. The hops are picked, one by one, into the bins, care being taken that no bunches, nor leaves, nor mouldy hops, are included. The hops are dried in kilns or oast-houses, on floors of haircloth. Great improvements have been made of late years in the construction of these oasts. Much nice discrimination is required in managing the drying so as to produce the best quality of hops. As soon as they are removed from the kiln they are packed into pockets, which during the process are suspended from a hole in the floor, and the hops trodden into them by a man. This is now done more accurately by machines, in which a piston presses the hops into the pockets. Hop-growing is a hazardous speculative business, the return at times being very great, and at other times not covering expenses. This arises from the liability of the hop to the attacks of insects, but more especially to blight and mould. The blight is caused by innumerable hordes of the Aphis humuli, which sometimes destroy the plants altogether. The mould is a parasitical fungus. It is believed that a means has at last been discovered of checking the ravages of these assailants, by enveloping each plant separately in a light covering, and subjecting it to the fumes of tobacco in the case of mildew. In blight years it usually happens that some grounds altogether escape, in which case the returns from them are enormous, owing to the enhanced price.

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