Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Forward, back, and forward again

The weather continues to cooperate, and the barley continues to grow...

Unfortunately, the local wildlife has discovered it.  The prime suspects: deer, rabbits, groundhogs.  I'm leaning towards the rabbits--I didn't see any deer sign, and the groundhogs would probably have left tracks, as well; the rabbits, on the other hand, are wee little beasties, probably light enough to leave no sign.  Whatever it was, they nibbled nearly all of the Halcyon down close to the ground, and got most of the Maris Otter as well...

So, last weekend saw me cutting some chickenwire and improvising some stakes.  The shoots are reasonably well-protected, now; the deer might still get at them, but there's enough easier fare elsewhere that I think they'll pass.

My thinking on whether the barley will survive: there was still a little green showing on each of the sprouts, which was promising.  Also, barley is a grass--and I mow the yard on a regular basis, taking it back by more than the barley was clipped; that surely says something for its hardiness.  Sure enough, when I went to check on it yesterday, it had rebounded nicely--probably helped by already having developed something of a root system.  I have to think that the gradually cooling weather is helping somewhat, as well...

In all, I'm actually pleased--I had worried that I may have planted too early, and that I'd get stooling (the actual seeding stalk) before the *really* cold part of the year hits.  (This may still happen--four years ago or so, we had "warm" weather into the 50's-60's through December.)  One recommended solution is to "trim" the barley before it gets to that point--that seems to have been taken care of for me.

A bigger challenge, though, is going to be renovating my "new" brewing area.  It has no electricity or water.  The roof needs to be patched, if not totally replaced.  The doors all need replacing, and I'll be getting to the windows at some point, as well.  There's a decrepit chimney that I'd like to demolish and replace with a wood-burning stove.  All of this is over and above doing the interior walls, floor, and ceiling--which will have to happen before I add anything like a bar...  I'm looking at thousands of dollars worth of "repairs," and wondering how I'm going to go about it.  I've toyed with the idea of micro-funding--doing a Kickstarter project, or something similar.  They seem focused more on business ventures, though, and that's at best 15 years down the line, probably closer to 20, if at all.  Does anyone have suggestions for good ways to legally raise money for something like this?  I'm all ears...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Barley has begun!

Well, after significantly more toil and trouble than should really be necessary, I've got some barley in the ground.

It's not much, really--two very small plots (about 2'x3' each).  And I've absolutely no idea whether things will turn out.  But, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  The plots are my two winter barleys; specifically Maris Otter and Halcyon.  The planting was auspicious: the day after the Autumnal Equinox, and it was "witnessed" by both the Sun and the Moon.  So long as the winter isn't absolutely insane, I'm at least moderately optimistic for them.

The rest of my barley (Bere, Hana, and Conlon) will wait for springtime, being spring barleys.  Which means I've got a little time yet to get the field prepped for them.  I've got to finish mowing (get everything down to 1/2"), then figure a way to disk or till a pretty large area of dirt.  I may end up renting a tiller from Home Depot, when all is said and done--although I may be able to talk a neighbor into disking the area with their tractor...

Work on the Brewery/Pub is still in the early planning stages--I may do a little interior clean-up this weekend, but I'm likely to have my hands full working on the house (ah, the joys of an old farmhouse--always something to fix...).  A full clean-up may have to wait for spring, as I'm liable to want a dumpster to haul stuff away--there's junk both inside *and* outside that needs to go.  Then a new roof...  Eventually, there will be (as mentioned) a bar, as well as a dedicated brewing space; I hope to have a rainwater catchment system in place to provide about 2500 gallons or so of water; there will be a lagering/cold-storage area, and a bathroom.  Throw in a poker table, and you've got the start to an evening!  One wall is perfect to be the screen of a digital projection system (can you say twenty-two foot diagonal screen?); in decent weather, I may even be able to set up outside--depending on where exactly my hops end up.  All told, I think the space is going to work out nicely...

Speaking of my hops, I hope to move them to the new area by this weekend.  They didn't produce, this year--they got too dry during the heat wave; I was amazed they came back as well as they did--so I'll probably cut them back, and actually plant them in the spring.

And so, the latest round of adventures are under way!  Look for more updates as things progress.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Slowly ramping back...

Many apologies for not having posted anything in months...  As I warned, life has taken a few interesting changes--I retired from my Real World (tm) job, and acquired new employment; my family and I also purchased a new house, and have moved.  It's a "fixer-upper," so the house is taking most of my spare time, but there are a few nice points to it.

Firstly, it's a farm, with some land attached.  I've already got my wife's go-ahead to use one of the fields for growing various things; I hope to eventually have a half-acre or so dedicated to an assortment of barley varieties.  A chunk of the field has been rough-mowed, but the grass and weeds need to be taken down another few steps, then turned over somehow (by hand? ewww...); I'd like to get a bit more of the field reclaimed from the brush, as well.  (It's been fallow for probably three or four years, and has a variety of weeds and grasses up to my eyebrows...)

As for what varieties, I've got a handful.  In keeping with my SCA/historical bent, I've done a little reading and found an interesting barley varietal called "Bere" (pronounced "bear").  It comes from Scotland, specifically the Orkneys, and is thought to have been brought to the British Isles by the Norwegians/Vikings sometime in the late 900's or so.  Scientists consider it to be Britain's oldest cereal grain in continuous commercial cultivation.

I've also got some Maris Otter, simply because I like it so much, and some Halcyon, which is reputed to have better yields.  On the other side of the English Channel, there's Hana barley, from Moravia, in the Czech Republic.  It's not necessarily as old as Bere, but has the distinction of being the barley varietal from which the first Pilsners were made.  Where did I get all of these?  Well, it turns out that the USDA maintains a seed database, and will send 5-gram seed samples on request.  Now, 5 grams isn't a lot of seed--at typical barley planting rates, it should cover about 5.5 square feet, more or less.  But they suggest growing the plants and harvesting the resulting seeds for re-use, until you have enough for your purposes.  My purposes are about 1/16 of an acre per variety, depending on how well they do...

I believe that it'll take me two years or so to build up sufficient seed-stock to plant for my production purposes; in the meantime, I also picked up some (commercially available) Conlon variety.  It's a pretty basic US spring 2-row malting barley, nothing particularly special about it.  (The varieties I chose are all 2-row; the Maris Otter and Halcyon are winter barleys, the others are spring barleys.)  I'll set up a "main" plot of that, with small side-plots of the others; that way, I can use the Conlon for "practice," until I get sufficient seed for my "artisanal" varieties to take over.

Yes, there will be room for me to plant my hops, as well--I hope to have multiple bines started next year, with the first "good" harvest coming in 2014.  In addition to my current Cascades, I'd like to get something a bit stronger--Magnum maybe, or Columbus--and try out Fuggles and Mt. Hood.  If I could just get someone over to Sweden, to smuggle some rhizomes from their "historic" hops...

Additionally, one of the farm's outbuildings has been ceded to me, to allow construction of a dedicated brewery/pub!  Woohoo!  It was originally a slaughterhouse, and is at present in atrocious shape, but it has potential.  I'll begin constructive work on it probably in the early part of next year--among the first things to be done will be a roof replacement (!) and running electricity to it--but I'll post pictures as I go.

Meanwhile, I'm going to try to begin posting regularly again--probably not weekly, but every two-to-three weeks, or monthly at the least.  It's good to be back, and I hope you'll join me...

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's been a year...

And far too long, really, since I did anything with this blog.  It's high time I started updating it again, I think.  Life has kind of been tossed into the air of late, and shows no indication of landing before Midsummer, so my updates may be rather spotty, but I'll do what I can to keep things moving.

Without further ado, here's what I've been up to lately:

I'm busy doing a translation of a late-period (~1575) German book on beer.  I've got a rough version of one chapter down, and hope to do at least two more of the five total.  (The first chapter looks like a long-winded intro; the last chapter seems to rehash the first.  I'll do quick down-and-dirty runs through those, to double check, and revise my goals as needed.)  Among other things, there is a discussion of the ingredients of beer (water, barley and/or wheat, and hops--yeast is mentioned as an aside in one paragraph, not as an "ingredient"), as well as the characteristics that define good and bad beers, and what I've been terming a "beer tour of northern Germany," listing over 100 towns/villages and the types of beer that are brewed there.

I've also been playing with other things that I'll be detailing here.  Even if they aren't exactly beer-related, I feel they fit with the overall theme of the blog (hand-crafted, artisanal-type things).  I'm moving into cured meats, and will be posting about them from time to time; I've done a reasonable (and simple!) duck-breast prosciutto, and am currently sourcing pork bellies to make bacon.

All this, and I've done a little brewing, too.  Given the above-mentioned "up-in-the-air" factor, not nearly as much as I'd like, but there's been a little.  As soon as things settle somewhat, I hope to get firmly back into the swing of brewing at least monthly.  I also hope to be able to expand things somewhat on that front; I'll fill in info on that in a future post.

Thanks for sticking with me, and it's great to be back!

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