In 2010 Daniel Sabourin started NationHops, a small hop farm of 120 vines on his property in the small village of St-Bernardin, Ontario. Within the last three years he’s quickly expanded from just starting off selling to homebrewers on Kijiji to now to selling to local & Quebec breweries.
Daniel focuses his time tending to his crops as well as recently spending a majority of his time building a mobile hop harvester to help increase harvesting time. On top of all that he is also the Director for the Ontario Hop Growers Association.
When I was invited out to NationHops I was super stoked to see what Daniel had going on with not only all the different strands of hops he has growing but the one of a kind harvester that he recently showcased at the OHGA 2013 Summer Hop Yard Tour on Sat, July 27, 2013 at Tribal Hops, Iroquois, ON.
First off the bat Daniel gave me a little bit of a history lesson about the area. Originally the area was strong producer of hops up until the 1950’s, then production moved west to a drier climate. Mainly the area was known for Fuggle.
NationHops currently is growing eight strands off hops; Zeus, Cascade, Halletauer, Mount Hood, Willamette, Perle, Fuggle, & Nugget. With the expansion later this year an additional three strands will be added Chinook, Centennial, & Kent, Golding. In total there is 680 plants and when the expansion takes place it will take it up to 1500.
Daniel explained he wanted to test the growing conditions of the different varieties of hops. Since the turn over is three years, it needed to be done at the very beginning. “Although it’s a lot of varieties it’s still enough to handle. Once the harvester gets going it will make things a little easier.” Weather conditions are a big thing, and even with the ‘off’ weather this season most vines have managed to get to the top of the post at 20ft and hang about another 2ft. By the end of the season some of the vines will hang about half way down. Although he is not organic, there is no pesticides used and all the fertilizer is local manure. When it comes to dealing with instincts he uses his own chemical free remedies to get the job done.
I really don’t know much about the agricultural side of the hops, just of some of the things you can do with them. So Daniel gave me the low down on some of the basics, growing up on a cash crop farm I know the generally basics of farming, but these points were more particular to hops.
– Most of the hops need 120days of sunlight in total to grow properly.
– The specific strands he has growing needs a minimum of 8L of water per week and a max of 15 or else it will stunt the growth.
– Hop Loopers (the caterpillar stage of a Noctuid moth) are a hop growers worst enemy. Damaging the plant by feeding on the leaves and cones.
Mobile Hop Harvester
NationHops is a one man show, and like Daniel said it takes a lot of time to pick hops by hand. With a machining background from La Cité Collégiale and the University of Guelph – Alfred Campus he decided it was time to do something to fix the issue.
The machine is based off the original prototype by the University of Vermont, but has one slight difference. “Instead of having the pick up from side to side (Daniel points to his model) theirs was front to back making it a longer section of stripping but I didn’t see the advantage of having it that long. Only the front half was being used not the back.
So, I took it off and put it sideways.” Daniel explained.
So how does it work?
You put the bottom of the hop vine in between the wheels, which turn slowly and pull the vines inside. The leaves and cones get stripped and air is then used to blow everything to one side. On the dribble belt the leaves stick and go up on the belt while the cones go down and fall into a container at the back.
The leaves and side branches sometimes still have cones on them. Throwing them away is costly so in instead of five belts Daniel only put three and then built this additional unit. The unit is designed to take off the cones once again without having to physically handle them. The unit is a drum situated horizontally and turns while a set of knives underneath cut the leaves. With the drum continuously turning the cones will roll out into the same container with the rest.
The University of Vermont’s prototype does about 85 vines per hour, Daniel figures his will do about 60 vines per hour.
Daniel plans to eventually start building a second harvester, one for working in Eastern Ontario and another in Southern Ontario. For now his one of a kind harvester will be used locally, to make sure all the kinks are figured out.
With everything full steam ahead NationHops definitely has a bright & big future. Thank you Daniel for the tour once again, extremely educational. If you’re interested in purchasing hops or learning more about them the contact information is available below.
129 rue de l’Eglise Box 54
St-Bernardin Ontario Canada K0B-1N0
– The Beer Gypsy