Hops!

This blog covers the other front in my headlong charge to make something from my new hobby (but, very old passion!). From the beginning, my vision for ‘Brewery-dom’ involves some vertical integration i.e from raw materials to pub. On my way I have fallen in and out of love with parts of this concept, but the one part I have not allowed to fall by the way-side is the growing and using of my own hops.

As you may know, I was very kindly given some hop rhizomes of three types: Chinook, Cascade and Centennial. They are all American hops and will impart the citrusy taste to more or lesser degrees. I have read somewhere that Chinook has a taste that has been described as ‘dank’. That doesn’t exactly sound inviting, but I’m sure it refers to some very potent flavour profile. We shall see…if I ever get any hop-cones from it…

I planted the rhizomes on land that has been lent to me by very kindly relatives. So already you can see that the ‘hop journey’ has been nurtured and made possible by the ‘kindness of others’. Quite simply, amazing! Hopefully, the wider family, including children, can get involved in the harvest and have a great weekend in August or September (typhoons pending). Us adults will also be able to enjoy the fruits of the labour in the form of some good brews. Presuming I have been successful in completely getting control of the fermentation temperatures with my new ‘Wine Cooler/Cellar’, which is due any moment.

Anyway, back to the hops. They have not exactly stormed out of the gates and only the Chinook rhizome and one Centennial have put in appearances. Annoyingly, there is an invading weed with some hop-like characteristics which I will have to watch. With the temperatures here starting to really climb, plants and seeds of all types are starting to grow all over the plot. I have been raking over the ground to unseat baby weeds and expose their roots. But, alas the life-force here is strong and I will have my work cut out just to keep on top of the plot throughout the summer.

Weeds are not my only challenge. Hops growing habit is something to behold. They climb and, to be honest, I think they are in competition with NASA. They make a bid for the stars! So, they will need some support on their skyward journey. This will be no mean feat. I have already designed the support trellis (more like a frame, really) and ordered the timber. The timber is now ready, needs paying for and collecting. Then I simply have to make my fairly large structure, which thankfully my kindly relatives are ok with.

Here is a sneak peek at the hop-patch. Not much to look at, I know, but you can see where the hop rhizomes are by the locations of the mounds of earth (or ‘hop-hills’ as they are called, apparently).

The hop plot

The benefits of gardening are great. I love being outside with the sound of life around me. I find the smell of soil and plants up-lifting. Though maintaining the plot adds to my already pretty long day, it is something that will energise me and keep me happy. It may well also be a source of frustration, but that is what this journey is all about, finding solutions to problems and not giving up.

Brew Day 3 this weekend with the new brew bucket (sorry Fermentation Vessel) and my singing and dancing Wine Cooler Cabinet! Will it be the end of the ‘Homebrew taste’? We shall have to see.

A garden full of meaning

As you may know, my project of starting a brewery also entails developing a garden where I can drink my experimental brews without being pestered by mosquitoes. However, todays post touches on this, but focuses on something that just struck me this evening. The garden is imbued with meaning! Sound strange? Read on.

As far as defeating mosquitoes are concerned, the garden is progressing nicely, but as I mentioned above a lot more is going on.

A couple of years ago my daughter started playing piano (stay with me) and one of the tunes that came up was ‘Lavenders Blue’. Though I am English, I had never heard the tune before, but immediately fell in love with it. Anyway, we were watching the recent real-life incarnation of ‘Cinderella’ on Friday night and this tune featured in the Ball scene. So, today I have been playing it on the fiddle and my daughter has been singing it non-stop. We have two Lavenders (ok, so they are French Lavenders) growing in the garden, part of the natural anti-flying menace barricade. But, it is so much more than just a plant. It is a tangible link to our family’s English heritage, a song and a shared musical experience. All in a plant!

The sweet peas growing in the background are from seeds I took from our garden last year when we lived in Tonbridge, UK. The parent plants were a fantastic feature of our small garden and provide memories of that significant and treasured experience. They will soon provide colour and important nitrogen for future plants next year. Again, far from just a plant!

potatoes.JPG

The potatoes I planted with my youngest son and daughter are now coming up and look very healthy. They too are not simply plants, they represent a whole experience for the children. Something small that you plant, see grow and eventually harvest and eat. It is the same plot that recently had some Japanese badger footprints (also the culprit of the mysterious case of ‘the disappearing cabbage leaves’, no doubt!). You can see peas in the background which like the sweet peas will be good for the soil and give the children a rich experience of eating produce direct from the garden.

The sunflowers I planted with my son are also just coming up and now need supports. I love sunflowers, not just for there bright, massive, gaudy flowers, but also because standing tall they also remind me of growing children. There are tiny Marigold seedlings in the foreground that I planted at the same time. As you can probably guess these are indeed part of the fortress experiment.

Chrysanthemums April.JPG

The Chrysanthemums have really gone crazy since I cut them back. They are also a part of the anti-mosquito curtain, which may yet prove as effective as the Maginot line, but they also are more. As it happens they are the national flower of the country we now call home and provides a great deal of colour when they get going, to boot.

Would any of this even occurred to me a few years ago? I can’t say. Is my ability to even think about a garden like this related to my adoption of Mindfulness and stepping back from pre-occupations and just letting life and consciousness flow, who knows?

Just a garden? Think again.

Anti-Mosquito Garden update

At last the Cherry Blossoms are out and they are providing lots of pale pink colour. Personally, I really like the contrasts they provide with the vibrant green of the new leaves of the Acers, seen above in the cover photo. Next year, I will hopefully be able to enjoy my own brews under the blossoms in the viewing parties that abound at this time of year. Today’s blog is about my throwing down of the gauntlet to the ‘Challenge of enjoying a brew outside unharassed by the airborne menace that is the mosquito’. However, that is where this blog’s link to ale ends.

Last night the Green Man was bitten by the first mosquito of the year! Hence, my return to this topic of ‘The Anti-Mosquito Garden’. Last year I blogged about the challenge of keeping these flying nuisances at bay by planting almost exclusively plants that mosquitoes are reported to dislike in my garden. As stated above, my long term aim is to enjoy my carefully and lovingly crafted ales outside without being eaten alive. Whether it will be a success or not, who can say, but the project is progressing. Today’s blog is to show where the Green Man is with this.

To re-cap, I planted several plants around the garden designed to ward off the tiny, buzzing menace. I planted Camomile under the wood decking with the idea that it being trodden on will release a fragrance that will be unpleasant to the target insect. I have planted mints in pots and also into a hemmed-in area of soil by the front door (I may live to regret putting a mint into soil, but we shall see…).

I also planted two rose-scented geraniums, of which one succumbed to a typhoon last September, RIP. There are also two French, feathery lavenders. One of these took a real bashing in the aforementioned typhoon, but has hung-on, tres bon! There is one Lemon Grass which was planted by the wood decking surrounded by a stone mulch. I have high hopes that this will thrive this year and be an attractive, as well as fragrant, feature.

I also planted five Chrysanthemums, which were a bit spindly last Autumn, but were cut back and are bushing out nicely. There is also a Thyme. I also planted Marigold seeds about 3 weeks ago which are just coming up now.

I would like to add Fever-few to this Anti-Mosquito Brigade and may have to replace my German Camomile with Roman at some point…

Anyway, the Green Man’s Anti-Mosquito Garden is maturing nicely. When the plants are even more established I will put ribbons attached to small stakes around these plants that will flap in the breeze, strike the foliage and release the frangrances / essential oils. The garden should then be something to behold (or, perhaps we will just ‘behold-ing’ our noses!).

I will blog again when the plants are more established and I have my ribbons in place. I can’t to see (and smell) the effects!

The kindness of others

As you will know, I moved back to Japan from my home, the UK last summer. It was a wrench and painful for all involved. I had no job and just an urge/ vague plan to overcome the odds to brew my own beer in my adopted homeland. Well, this was always going to be difficult. And this blog was away of cataloguing this adventure and the all the difficulties and challenges along the way.

I have had to be very patient indeed. We were in no position to invest any money and besides all the equipment I needed was in the UK still (I had bought it, but not yet used it, last summer). 6 months on, I now have the equipment and am ready to brew my first nano-batch (5 litres, I can’t even call it ‘micro’).

Part of my cunning plan has been not only to brew beer, but to grow the raw materials as well. That means barley and hops. Both are not supposed to grow well at my latitude, it is just too warm and too far south. However, a little research on the internet has revealed that hops, at least, grow fairly well as far south as Florida. I can’t do everything at once, so my plans for barley will have to wait.

Next challenge, getting the hop plants. If you’ve read earlier blogs you will know that brewing beer is not as fashionable, nor as commonplace here as it is in the west. You can’t easily buy the plants (or rhizomes, sections of root). Again a little research has revealed one supplier. A relief. However, a little more searching revealed a person who is going to give rhizomes away for nothing! Amazing! Who would of thought it! So, now I can get my grubby mitts on potentially six different types of hops! I

This in itself brings a new challenge, space. As it happens a relative is looking for someone to do something with a large garden in a town not far from where I work. I might even be able to develop this into something of a tourist attraction, if I plan well. The town is itself something of a touristy place and I know they are interested in something like that anyway.

So, thanks to the help of others and a little bit of tenacity from myself, I am in a position to start my fledgling brewery and the means to grow a variety of hops. Of course, I am nowhere near where I want to be with it, but, hey it’s not a bad start! I just need to maintain my course, direction and perhaps have a few more strokes of luck. The end result and viability of any of this is just a big unknown, but without effort I will never know.

It’s almost brewing time, at last!

It has been a long wait and a time in which I have not posted. I have been working my wotsits off and am now in a position to do what I set out to do in September, start my fledgling nano-brewery. Any spare time I’ve had has been spent playing my fiddle which has come on a lot. However, my skills on it are not yet performance-worthy.

I went back to the UK in February to get my dog, who my very kind ex-neighbours had been looking after. At the same time, I got my shiny new brewing kit that I’d bought in August last year, but couldn’t bring with me due to weight and space restrictions.

I am very excited and feeling a little proud of myself for not getting side tracked and pretty much giving up on my idea. I am still a long way from where I want to be, but a significant step has been made, the move from drawing board to action. OK, I will still need my reserves of persistence (some might call it bloody minded-ness…) and patience to make further steps forward, but hey, I’m still on the path!

I have decided to start off with a SMASH Pale Ale. I’d never heard of it until the other day, but it fits my newbie needs very well. SMASH stands for Single Malt and Single Hop (clever eh!?!). Anyway, it looks pretty simple and that is important for my first few attempts. I think I might call it TPA.

With only the one type of Malt and Hop the flavour of these is supposed to shine through. I’ve gone for the legendary Cascade as my hop and the base Pale Ale Malt is my Malt. So, I’m picturing an American-esque citrusy Pale Ale. I like Malty ales, but I imagine this is going to be lighter and more refreshing, but who knows…

I’ve got three attempts worth of ingredients and supplies for this particular recipe (the original recipe stated Challenger Hops, but I couldn’t get any and think Cascade might be nicer anyway). If you’ve read my other blogs you’ll know that I’m only brewing 5 litre batches, which is tiny for a homebrewer. I’m hoping to get the method pretty much down by the third attempt and then move onto to more interesting recipes, but even then nothing too flashy just yet. I’ve got a good idea of the method from my reading and research. I’ll post that up as soon as I’ve put it down in writing. I’m really interested to see if there will be a difference in flavour as I become a more fluid brewer.

Another development is that I’ve got my eye on a hop plant supplier. They will soon sell Fuggles, Challenger and Golden Hops (very much like Saaz, apparently). Somebody else is also looking to give away Cascade and Centennial rhizomes so, I am hopeful of getting some of those too.

So it’s all coming together and the dream is still alive! Persistence and patience has paid off…well, I’ve a feeling I’m going to need more of those to get through my first nano-sized batches and attempts at growing hops in a climate zone that doesn’t suit them!

If anyone has any advice or warnings, please get in touch. For example, is my straight swap of Challenger for Cascade a good idea? Does it have any knock-on effects that I don’t know about?

Status Report

Well, it has been a while since I wrote a post on here. The long job is still on-going and long. No surprises there. But, the project is on track and progress is being made. It has dawned on me how multi-faceted this journey has become. It started as a blog on ale, and ale does remain the central theme, however it has become something much more.

Income is slowly starting to roll in. I am busy with a good variety of jobs, some of which I hope to continue in the very long term. One is a bit random, but that is fine. The journey is full of twists and turns and I am embracing them all. I continue to be grateful of the kindness of others and mindful of what I am doing and the experiences that they bring. My life is very much still in technicolour, though I am occasionally plagued by moments of grey, I am aware of these and mindful to not let them de-rail my journey. I let them pass into my awareness, examine them, be kind to myself and let them go.

The anti-mosquito garden plants are still establishing themselves and there has only been one casualty, a Rose-scented Geranium. It basically got a heavy beating in a typhoon. RIP. The mosquito menace has sub-sided, but I can’t start jumping up and down with glee and claim it is all down to my cunning use of plants just yet. The weather has got colder and this could account for the recent absence of this airborne menace. All the same, the winged irritants were not in evidence last night and this brings me onto my second area of progress. The brick built BBQ!

Here we have had real progress. The BBQ got it’s first test-run last night, un-assisted by firelighters, fluids and other chemical-based nasties. It did take a while to get going, but golly did it cook! Ouch! Fingers were sizzled and meat was cremated. Only a slice of tin foil was discarded and even most of the charcoal will be used again.

The use of the BBQ was also spiritually significant since it is the end of Samhain (the end of summer/harvest festival which pre-dates All-Hallows Eve). The fire, feasting and consumption of beer was a basically a good-bye to the sunny days of summer and a welcome to the colder and darker days to come. I had already made my beer-sacrifice a few days earlier at the start of the festival. I should also note that I am currently exploring a twist in my spiritual journey and re-examining my Christian roots. Could I actually be a Christian, perhaps a Celtic Christian? The jury is out and my exploration is on-going. Anyway, the BBQ has been tested and with spiritual significance. Perfect.

The vegetable plot is up and running. It is producing it’s bounty of Japanese rocket leaves, Komatsuna and spring onions. Spinach, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, mooli, peas, beans and more spring onions are also taking shape. I am in the process of erecting a wall of coffee grounds around the cabbages to prevent the inevitable onslaught of our slimy ever-present enemy, the slug. Again, this barricade is an experiment. I will up-date the results of this in time.

My favoured weapon of audial assault, the fiddle, is still making strange noises at the behest of my digits. These sounds are gradually resembling the jigs, reels and hornpipes that I enjoyed playing on the banjo and mandolin. I would say that they are almost half-recognisable. Not bad going. Still some way to go, but that is ok, we are in this for the long run.

So, “what about actually brewing beer?” I hear you ask. Actually, there is news there too. I will be going back the motherland in February (to get my beloved hound, another story) and will be able to pick-up the kit then. I should also be able to fund a couple of brews by then too. Hopefully, this will by then be an on-going thing, with two brews a month, so that I can keep myself a steady supply of increasingly tasty ale (we live in hope, and as you probably know by now, I am one of life’s optimists). I reckon I should be able to start tasting the fruit of my brewing-labours in March.

As you can see, I am further into the journey and enjoying it. It is heartening to see the progress since September and I am still confident that I will soon be brewing my own ale. Actually brewing ale will present a long-awaited bend in the road of this long journey. I look forward to travelling further down this road and tasting the experiences that it brings.

The anti-mosquito garden

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was trying to create a garden where mosquitoes would not plague us while we were enjoying our fine brews and barbeques. Well, one idea I want to test is to grow almost exclusively plants that mosquitoes are reported to dislike. So, I have gone out and either bought seed or young plants and planted them around the garden. The results are below:

kimg0045.jpgAlong the path, from left to right, we have: Penny Royal Mint, Peppermint, Rose-Scented Geranium, Lavender and another Rose-Scented Geranium.

kimg0046.jpg

To the right of the Olive Tree we have Lavender in the foreground and two Chrysanthemums in the background. There is a Lemon Scented Thyme to the left of the Olive Tree.

kimg0050.jpg

Here we have three Chrysanthemums.

kimg0049.jpg

Under the wood decking we have seedlings of German Chamomile.

kimg0048.jpg

Next to the wood decking we have Lemon Grass (or Citronella).

There are also cuttings of Rosemary and another two Penny Royal plants dotted about. I still want to add Fever Few to this garden, but have not found plants, nor seeds yet.

I have read that the mere presence of the plants will not be enough to deter the pesky biting insects. However, I have also heard of a very nice trick employed in herb gardens where ribbons are tied to sticks near the aromatic plants. As the ribbons blow in the breeze they knock into the plants and they release some of their aroma. I will try this once the plants have matured and they have recovered from the bashing from Typhoon 16 (See An unexpected challenge). The German Chamomile plants should release their aroma, as being under the edge of the decking, they are in a high traffic area.

Again, time will tell if this is an effective strategy. I have also put out-of-date Olive Oil in our water butt, but sadly it overflowed and the oil has been washed away. I need to investigate this, as it should not happen.

If anyone has any comments or results from similar experiments, please let me know.

An unexpected challenge

So, growing hops and barley here is going to face another challenge I hadn’t considered. Weather. Now, I’m not talking about my location being in climate zone 9-10 (by the American standards), which means bloomin’ hot in summer and very mild in winter. I have already taken that into account and think I have a solution (to be revealed later). No, I’m talking about extreme weather events and especially Typhoons.

A few nights back we were battered by Typhoon Number 16 (or, Typhoon Malakas, as it was known to the rest of the world). Whatever its name, it basically roared in and flattened my little veggie patch and frightened the life out of me in the process. If these storms flattened plants only 30cms high, what will they do to hop plants which are 10-20 metres high?

kimg0044.jpg

You can see the plants have been knocked for six and the leaves literally blown off of a few of them.

Luckily, the strongest Typhoons come in September, hopefully after the hop harvest. Typhoons do come earlier though and to mitigate against that I will need to construct some pretty sturdy supports and low too, more akin to grape vines. This is going to be more of a project than I thought, but still achievable.

As for barley, I still need to do some research. Certainly local farmers don’t seem to grow it, preferring rice. There are probably strains that are suited to this climate, but the solution I have in mind may be able to accommodate more strains. You may be thinking, “what solutions does this person have for the weather? Surely he’s a little doolally”. Well, I am probably a little doolally, it is true. However, my solution is to grow these plants at higher altitudes where it will be a few degrees cooler and therefore more suitable for these crops. This may eventually be a better location for brewing too, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Of course, this is all very much on the drawing board. I have only into the earliest stages of my journey and the Green Man Brewery has yet to brew any beer. In all likelihood there will be no beer until next year, when I bring my kit back from the UK. In the meantime, there will be a lot of research, planning and thinking through likely pitfalls and solutions. I am more likely to start growing hops, before I brew my first pint.

Garden Pests

Another slightly tenuous link to brewing beer, but then, as you know, I’m playing the long game. The best garden for hops (and drinking my brews) will be one that doesn’t get fouled up by cats and one in which I can sit without being bitten to pieces by mosquitoes.

These have been two challenges for the last few days. Cats. I think barriers are the only effective remedy and they must be flimsy. Flimsy? I hear you say. Yes, flimsy enough so that they won’t carry a cats weight (and therefore too scary for intrepid felines to climb). I have one such barrier at one end of the veggie patch and need to get one for the other end. But, while shopping for remedies for my other garden challenge I found an intriguing new solution. More of that later.

At the moment cats are not a massive problem. Only one incursion so far and it I remove the mess sharpish, they may not establish their toilet in my veggie patch. So, onto my next challenge. Mosquitoes.

Our garden is a nightmare for mosquitoes. I and my children get bitten mercilessly. I’ve just put olive oil into the water butt to make a barrier against mosquito eggs spawning in there. However, to supplement this I want to experiment with a different idea. Besides, I think that the main spawning grounds are the drains which I can’t cover in oil. I want to create a garden that exclusively contains plants that mosquitoes supposedly detest. So, for now I have bought Lavender, Rose-scented geraniums, Lemon thyme, Peppermint, Chrysanthemums, Chamomile and Penny Royal (another mint). I may also include Lemon Grass (Citronella), Marigolds, Fever Few, Rosemary and Basil. I have read that this will be ineffective, but then if you don’t try you will never know. It will certainly a very aromatic garden at the very least.

My search for the anti-mosquito plants led me to buy a couple of anti-cat plants. Again, let’s see how effective they turn out.

kimg0023.jpg

 

A bit off piste…

Before leaving my house two years ago I re-modelled the garden to make sure it was low maintenance. Now, we are back in it again I am once more re-modelling. We have no spare cash right now so no new materials, just all the stuff we have re-jigged. It’s amazing what you can do with time and copious amounts sweat.

Part of the original re-model was to remove flower beds and put bulbs in easy to get to places and then cover the old beds with stone mulch. I had completely forgotten about the number of small bulbs I had literally dumped in a very small area. But, wow, how I have been reminded. This fantastic section of colour is a real beauty right on the edge of our garden.

kimg0020.jpg

My old veggie patch was covered in stone and bricks to extend our small drive. It pained me to do it, but knew it was the best thing to do. It would just have become a jungle, no seriously, I’m not exaggerating as much as you may think. Anyway, out with the old in with the new. The stone mulch that covered my beds now replace the bricks that were on the drive and we now have a brick barbeque…

kimg0021.jpg

It was put together in an afternoon and this is just a rough outline. It’s not square and the base isn’t flat, hence it is crooked. I’ll put that right once we have other stuff sorted.

What’s this got to do with beer? Good point. Not much, but this is early days and the garden will be an area to savour my brews. So there we have it, a link. A tentative one and a bit of a stretch at that, but then I did say this was going to be a long journey.