The Hop Picking Year

Winter Preparation

The New Year sees the start of the Hop Picking Year.   Last year's harvest has been picked, dried and delivered to the brewery.  The hops are dormant for the winter.

The winter months are time to prepare for the next hop picking year.  One of the first jobs is to cultivate the hop gardens when the weather permits.  The first photo shows Bob Jones ploughing.  The second, someone (can you identify their back?) cultivating.  As you can see from the pictures, there is only a narrow aisle to negotiate and care needs to be taken to avoid the hop plants.  The plough is a set width and throws the earth inwards and away from the hop hills.  If you look carefully to the left of the plough you can see a hill peg and to the right, the remnants of last years bines.

Once the Hop garden has been ploughed, the hop plants need to be prepared for the coming year.  The first job is tp expose the hop plant by removing the earth around it with a hoe or similar implement.  This photo shows Johnny Hook hoeing the earth away from a hop plant.

Once the plant has been exposed the any old growth that could cause disease to the hop plant is cut away.  This was known in Bodiam as "hop dressing".  Various instruments were used for this job depending on the dressers preference, knives of all shapes and sizes and even piano wire was known to be used.  This photo shows a hop plant being dressed with a knife.

Other winter jobs involve maintaining the wire work which supports the hops.  The hopstrings are attached to hooks on the wire work.  Over the years these hooks become weak and during hop picking, some of them get pulled off the wire work as the hop bines are pulled down.  Before stringing can take place, these hooks need to be replaced.  The following photos show first, John Ades holding the hooking pole and Nell Godden putting the hooks onto the pole.  The second photo shows Nell putting the "s" shaped hooks on the pole.  One end of the "s" was clamped onto the wire work leaving the other end as a hook for the hop string to be looped round.  The hooks are visible on the wire work in the first picture. 

This photo shows John Ades reaching up to put a hook on the wirework.

An alternative way of putting new hooks on the wire work was to use stilts to reach.  The photo below shows Charles Simmons using stilts.

Charles Simmons on stilts

The photo below also shows the use of stilts for hop garden maintenence.  John Ades is on the right.

Manure spreading

Manure spreading by hand 15 to 20 tons per acre


String wound into balls from the compressed skeins it arrives in

[This was work for the female employees during the winter months,  The string arrived in skeins and needed to be wound into balls that could be kept in a pouch on the stringers waist.  A wound ball would unravell easily to aid the stringing process.  I can remember going to work with my mother during the school holidays when she (and other women) would be winding stringing balls in both the Ockham oasts.}

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