Common Harvest Farms is a 34 acre transitional farm (should be certified organic in 2013) owned and run jointly by two farmers, Jill Elmers and Tom Buller. The farm is a diversified farm growing around 50 different vegetable and herb crops, a small orchard, several acres of perennial rhubarb and asparagus, and a small amount of grains for sale through the local farmers market, several community supported agriculture programs or CSA’s, restaurants, and local grocery stores.
Jill Elmers also operates Moon on the Meadow farm which is a 3.5 acre certified organic farm next door to Common Harvest Farms. She has been farming this land since 2004 and has owned it since 2006. Tom Buller previously operated from land leased at several locations. The need to expand and diversify brought these two farmers together to purchase and run Common Harvest Farms.
Our operation is in the process of organic certification so we rely heavily on sustainable agricultural practices. We use cover cropping heavily, with the major portion of our nitrogen coming from legumes. We use integrated pest management strategies. We have been using these methods the entire time we have been farming.
Our project was to explore the possibility of producing hops profitably in this region of Kansas as well as examine techniques that would make this production of hops feasible on small sustainable or organic farms.
Our farm is dedicated to sustainable agriculture, and we wanted to develop organic growing techniques for hops in our region while at the same time allowing us to produce a profitable crop on our small farm. We hoped this would lead to increased hops production in our region and other regions around the country.
We decided to try many different varieties of hops in hopes that we would find several that would really grow well in our region. Unfortunately because it was late in the planting season for hops we were limited some on the varieties available. We were able to acquire 12 different varieties.
In laying out the field for the hops plants we went with an 8’ row spacing to allow good air circulation between the rows and to allow us to mow between the rows. The hops were planted 4’ apart in rows approximately 100’ long. Two rows were dedicated to each variety of hops.
One of the goals of our project was to attempt to design a trellising system for the hops that could be easily repeated and built by smaller growers. We planned to install 8-10’ posts between the plants and run heavy wire at the top and the bottom, horizontally. Then between these two wires [we would run] several strings or wires from the plant to the top vertically, in a wheel spokes pattern. The idea was to allow 7-8 runners from each hop plant to grow up the vertical strings. The advantages here would be more runners for flowers and easier harvesting. As stated in our progress report the brutal summer weather of the first year did not require the trellising system as the plants did not get tall enough. The Brewer’s Gold, Cascade, Chesnock, Nugget, Willamette, and Zeus plants showed the most heat and drought tolerance with the highest percentage of plants coming back after the first summer. Last summer we had the same issue and the trellising system did not get finished. We are hoping some of the plants will come back this year (2013).
Bill Woods with the Douglas County Extension Service assisted in identifying weeds and provided ideas on how to rid the plot of the different varieties.
As mentioned above in our process section there were several hops varieties that were more heat and drought tolerant than others based on the ones that came back after the first year. We did not get a harvest of hop blossoms either year.
We learned many things while growing hops. Initially and perhaps most importantly, we did not find hops well suited to our area. Perhaps this is due to the extra heat and drought we have experienced the last two seasons. Hops in our region must be irrigated to survive. We have had trouble producing many crops that we are more familiar with and have experience growing, and this seemed like a bad time to adopt a new and experimental crop.
Each fall, the Kaw Valley Agri-Tourism Council conducts the Kaw Valley Farm Tour. We were a part of this tour in 2011. The farm tour draws over 2000 people both eaters and farmers, and in 2011, over 400 people attended and toured our farm. The hops project was part of the tour.
We participate in the Growing Growers Apprenticeship Program which is a regional program that matches future farmers with host farms to give them hands-on experience in farming. We included the work of this project in our training of our apprentices.
We also used our Facebook page to provide updates to our followers including photos and explanations.