- Agronomic: hops
- Animals: poultry, sheep
- Pest Management: biological control, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management
- Soil Management: soil quality/health
Hop bines and cones have the potential to be heavily damaged each year by pests such as aphids, Japanese beetles, and spider mites. This can result in the loss of an entire crop, and the costs of treatment and loss of the harvest are high. Many large commercial growers use harmful chemicals to control the populations of these pests and to minimize the damage they cause. While using chemicals can control pests, the financial and environmental costs are high. Bi-weekly applications of chemicals can come with a significant price tag. More importantly, these chemicals can have lasting negative consequences for ground water and soil.
Downy mildew and powdery mildew are hop diseases that can infect and destroy entire hop yards in wet conditions. These diseases cause long-term damage that may require replacement of hops bines. Traditional fungicidal sprays and pesticides can kill or repel insects that benefit hops by controlling pests. Stripping the lower leaves of bines helps to control the spread of disease by allowing adequate sunlight and air to the entire plant, but can be labor intensive. This project will use grant funds to determine feasibility and effectiveness of using sustainable practices of pest and disease management. One goal is to reduce the carbon footprint of my family farm, and return the land to its more natural state. Producing hops using sustainable farming practices will also make the product more marketable to local breweries. An increasing number of consumers are conscious of the products they buy and the impact those products have on the environment as well as their own health. This project will help other farmers learn how to combine more organic practices in their operations.
Herbs and flowering plants that attract beneficial insects will be introduced around the entire row of hops. These plants will keep the good bugs in the hop yard by providing shelter and additional food. It is important to have plants that flower at various times throughout spring, summer, and fall. Dill, caraway, fennel, coriander, Queen Anne’s Lace, lavender, parsley, lemon balm, and zinnia will be planted each spring. Lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies, parasitic mini-wasps, and tachinid flies will then be released into the hop yard. These insects will feed on the hop pests as well as their larvae and eggs. The combination of insects and plants will keep the beneficial insects coming back to the hop yard in future years.
Chickens will be introduced into the hop yard in the first year of the grant. Chickens eat grasshoppers and other flying insects while scratching the soil to improve airflow between plants. They also provide fertilizer and aeration. I am using a cover crop of alfalfa in between all rows to improve nitrogen levels, help minimize weeds, and control erosion. In the second year of the project (year 3 in the life of the plants), I will introduce sheep to the hop yard. The sheep, like the chickens, will fertilize the hop yard. The grazing sheep will control weeds, eat cover crop in the alleys to minimize mowing, and eliminate the need for cultivating. The sheep will prune the hop plants by stripping off the lower 2-3 feet of leaves from each bine. This will improve air flow and reduce the risk of downy mildew and powdery mildew, which can heavily damage entire hop yard if unmanaged. Stripping of the bines also means removing leaves where pests could reside.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Explore the use of beneficial insects and attractant plants, chickens, and sheep to control pests, weeds, and disease in the hop yard.
- Positively impact the environment by using less herbicides and pesticides, cover cropping and livestock fertilization.
- Investigate whether these methods of growing hops can improve yield and benefit farmers economically.
- Share results through a journal article, social media, and a short documentary.