Planting trees to play tricks on potential customers

I love hops as well as the creative beers in which they are used so I aspire to to be a small hops producer. I have good relations with various breweries in the area and hope to court those that are sustainably oriented.

But I also want to instill some good natured confusion upon those that visit the farm.

A cool tree that stuck with me from studying forestry in college is the Hophornbeam, Ostrya virginiana. Its flowers resemble green hops and turn brown as the flowers sheath the new fruit.

From wikipedia:

“Ostrya virginiana 2” by Eric Hunt – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ostrya_virginiana_2.jpg#/media/File:Ostrya_virginiana_2.jpg

I will plant a pair of these at the farm entrance. Think of the possibilities! I can jest that I’ve grafted hops to a birch tree and am the first ever producer of tree hops. These trees will serve as a good conversation starter!


General Pasture

Virginia Native Prickly Pear Cactus are fruiting!

My amazement of the native cacti growing on the exposed rock in the pasture has been the subject of a previous post.

Only now the cacti are fruiting!


I still can’t get over how diverse the plants on land can be even after only a decade of being allowed to grow wild. These cacti and their fruit are the perfect demonstration of such!


How much is a tree worth? Emerald Ash borer

Atop a rise at the edge of the pasture sits a massively sprawling lone wolf tree. With nothing behind it except the view of the valley floor below, the tree has become ingrained in the identity of the farm itself. The spectacular image to which the tree contributes is one that begs the question: Will the farm be the same without it?








With Emerald Ash Borer confirmed in the closest city of Harrisonburg, this tree has an expected life span of only 10-15 more years. Remaining a part of the farm will come at a high cost. But what exactly is that cost?

The expertise of an arborist and tree service company was called upon. Measurements revealed that the lone wolf White Ash tree is 44” Diameter Breast Height (DBH) which is used to calculate how much treatment is needed, thus the cost of treatment.

So how much is a tree worth? Thinking entirely pragmatically, the tree is actually costing feed value due to shading out the pasture grasses. Are aesthetics and sentimental value worth $330 per year in treatments?

Garden, GIS Planning

Perennial Species Highlight: Hops

Beer has been around since some guy in ancient Mesopotamia left grains or bread sitting in water around 10000 BCE. The first appearance in recorded history are in reliefs on Egyptian tombs or in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the first chemical evidence of barley beer is from before 3,000 BCE from jars in Iran. Bitter local herbs have always been used to counteract the sweetness the grain fermentation yields, but in modern times the added anti-microbial properties of hops have made them them almost the sole bittering agent used around the world. The craft beer boom of the last few decades have capitalized on the aromatic and flavor characteristics of some varieties as well.

Hops are vertical vine climbers and will be grown up the front of the barn. While enjoying full sun, they can get scorched with too much afternoon exposure so hopefully they will enjoy the trellises hung from the barn rafters 25 feet overhead while getting some afternoon shade from the structure. If they shade the open section of the barn, awesome! More than anything I just want them to grow UP and not outward on ground level. They will be contained by root barriers like these: 24″ x 100 ft.  or 18″ x 100 ft. Rhizome plantings are used to produce female-only plants as males plants pollinate the flowers causing them to seed which destroys their use in beer.

Same varieties are recommended to be planted no closer than 3 ft’ apart while separate varieties should be no closer than 5 feet apart (source). Soil ever allowed to dry completely will likely kill the plants growth for the year so heavy mulching and regular watering will be applied. I’d like to branch out and see which varieties grow well here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia using organic methods but here is my starting point.

Sticking with my garden theme of focusing on growing plants I will personally use (or help the plants I enjoy), I will grow mostly Cascades and Willamette hops, with smaller plantings of Magnum/Zeus (CTZ) or other High Alpha Acid Percentage (AA%) hop meant for bittering. I’m going to try out a rhizome of Sunbeam Golden hops as the leaves are beautifully yellow and they prefer partial shade. I’d love to grow Simone or Amarillo hops but their genetic information is patented and I could not sell them let alone obtain rhizomes. There are literally zero recommended companion plants as they would most likely get smothered by the spreading hops roots. I plant to toss in some marigolds, a sunflower or two and some potted basil to determine the best companions myself.

Using the growth requirements mentioned above, the mapping part is as simple as adding the data to each grid. Here is a peak into the GIS database which represents where to plant the individual rhizomes.




Virginia Beekeeping Legalities: Good!

Learning that my state offers a grant program to encourage new hives and beekeepers, I assumed the state would share friendly beekeeping laws. However state code § 3.2-4403. Duties of beekeepers caught me off guard. Specifically:

Beekeepers shall:

1. Provide movable frames with combs or foundation in all hives used by them to contain bees, except for short periods, not to exceed the first spring honey flow, and to cause the bees in such hives to construct brood combs in such frames so that any of the frames may be removed from the hive without injuring other combs in such hive;

As raccoon, opossum, mice and skunks are part of the natural ecosystem of my farm, I had been planning to utilize Top Bar Hives as I feel they provide the best intruder-free bee habitat opposed to Langstroth Hives people most associate with beekeeping. However that State code I included above made me wonder if the top bars in my hive design are considered “moveable frames”.

A quick call to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services put me in touch with a extremely knowledgeable individual in Mr. Keith Tignor. In the span of 4 minutes he explained in great but easy to digest detail the law, how to design a top bar to fit into the law, the reason the law exists (protect the hive from damage when inspecting for disease), and how to utilize the state grant program.

All I need to do is design my hive so that brood comb can be removed without damaging it. Furthermore, this lets me build my own hives from wood milled on farm which preserves the grant funds for other beekeepers!

It was a win-win-win for everyone involved.