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Benefits of Side-Disking Hop Rows

By Rob Sirrine
There are multiple cultural practices that can be employed in hop agroecosystems to improve production and yields. One such practice is side-disking. Hop growers use an offset disc to till 2-3 feet in the alleys along each side of the hop rows. Side disking serves multiple purposes. First, it cuts any bines thereby concentrating production in the 3-4 ft. hop rows where the hop plants receive fertilizer and water.  This also prevents the hops from growing into or across the alley, and any potential for mixing cultivars. Second, it can help reduce competition from weeds. One method of side-disking, referred to as “earthing-up” (Rybáček, 1991), involves the movement of soil from the alleys into the hop rows. Any young hop shoots that are covered with soil will change to roots, increasing the number of small roots and root hairs and nutrient uptake.
Most growers side-disk 2-3 times per season. The timing of side disking or “earthing-up” will depend upon local soil and hydrological conditions and degree of weed growth. In general the first side disking occurs right after training (late May-early June in Michigan). Growers could disk a second time in late June, but should avoid disking during reproductive growth (burr stage- harvest) since disking can destroy surface root hairs necessary to maximize yield. Some growers will also disk post-harvest in October as well.
May 29, 2019. Cedar Hop Farm, Cedar, MI. | Photo by Rob Sirrine
June 20, 2019. Cedar Hop Farm, Cedar, MI
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