There’s been a plague on our fields. Not one of Biblical proportions, but one to be wary of nonetheless.
The dreaded downy mildew struck. According to a fabulous New York hops history, the booming hops industry in New York State came to a halt in the early 20th Century thanks to downy mildew in 1909 and aphid attacks in 1914. Add an increasingly mobile population and Prohibition in 1920, and much of America’s hops moved to the Pacific Northwest, the region which continues to dominate in the nation’s bines to this day.
We’ve worked to keep our hop yard organic. Thanks to Heather Darby at University of Vermont and Steve Miller with Cornell Cooperative Extension, we continue still. Their expertise has been invaluable to address our mildew problem early on, and we couldn’t be more grateful to the extension system for investing in hops research in the northeast. Thanks to the resources of the University of Vermont and their detailed reporting of their own downy mildew problems, we were able to find an organic solution and set a spraying schedule.
Though carbon hydroxide, or Champ WG, is an organic alternative to synthetic fungicides, it’s equally as dangerous as its chemical counterparts. Of course, the directions for handling and application were tucked into the contents of the bag so when my blessed and selfless parents went to prepare for the first application, they risked exposing themselves to the blue dust. As you can see, they quickly realized that they would need some mightier protection.
2001: A Space Odyssey or Storm Trooper?
The mildew has created a bit more work. And sure we all wish for sunshine and blue skies with just the right amount of rain, but when you take a leap of faith, you get floods and droughts and pests (or cool, wet, mildew-feeding weather), too. There is little in life that does not have a level of risk involved. The negative results of taking any risk – big or small – can be manageable, as is the case with downy mildew. We’ve nipped it in the bud (or should it be cone?) for now, though we’ll have to start the spring by crowning the hops and keeping a close eye on any signs of the dreaded mildew. Though my parents might disagree, I welcome these challenges and subsequent problem solving. Risk keeps us on our toes and far away from complacency, because we all know the opposite of complacent is awesome. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather lean more towards awesome.
For more on downy mildew and its management in the northeast, check out this paper from the University of Vermont.