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Grower Interview – Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson, with Carolinian Hop Yard, near Walsh, Ontario, is one of the few organic hop growers in Ontario and has some interesting challenges and solutions.

Tim Wilson in his hopyard

OHGA:  When did you start growing?
Tim Wilson: The first hopyard was built and planted in 2010.  We have expanded (and contracted) over the years, and hope to expand in a new location just north of the brewery.
OHGA:  What varieties do you have, and how many acres?
Tim Wilson: We started with 200 plants in the first yard and then expanded the yard to 4 acres over the next few years.  We eventually ended up with 10 varieties: Nugget, Sterling, Cascade, Willamette, Chinook, Crystal, Magnum, Galena, Columbus and Centennial.   We removed 2 acres because of systemic downy in 2012, but plan to grow again soon in a new yard.  I have been told that you are not really a grower until you actually take out a portion of your yard!
OHGA:  Why did you get into the hops industry?
Tim Wilson: That’s a really good question.  We didn’t have the money to start a vineyard, so that was a factor.  We were fortunate to buy part of the family farm and started from there.  Melanie and I always loved craft beer from our extensive travels, so we decided to give it a go.  We were also fortunate to be one of the pioneers in the Ontario hop industry, catching the front edge of craft beer industry growth in Ontario.  I was also attracted to growing things organically.  While it’s not easy, hops are hardy enough to survive a lot of challenges.  I also liked that fact that it was permaculture, as opposed to corn or soybeans.  Finally, I believe hops represent an opportunity for the individual to make a difference.  Just as hops take on the terroir of the land, the grower can impart their terroir on the hops they grow.
OHGA:  How did you come up with your hopyard name?
Tim Wilson: We live by the north shore of Lake Erie, in the Carolinian forest region.  The hop yard is surrounded on 2 sides by a beautiful Carolinian forest.
OHGA: What is your favourite piece of equipment?
Tim Wilson: My weed badger!  It is the most destructive piece of equipment that we own.  It leaves a destructive trail behind it but gets a ton of work done.
OHGA:  What is the most challenging part of your hop business, and how are you dealing with it?
Tim Wilson: Weeds and pressures from nature itself.  Being organic, we don’t have the same tool kit as conventional farmers so often we have to roll with it.   As well, we keep a close eye on the economics.  We have a cost ceiling that we manage to on the yard. 
OHGA:  Which pest/weed gives you the biggest headache, and how do you deal with it?
Tim Wilson: Interestingly, it has changed over the years.  Spider mites were a problem initially, then it was Japanese beetles.  They went away and then it was web worms.  Downy mildew has been a big pressure the last few years.  That pressure caused us to pull out 2 acres, as we felt those plants were systemic.  And the weeds are non-stop – pig weed, golden rod, stinging nettle; we get them all!
OHGA:  What has been a big lesson learned?
Tim Wilson: Make your rows wide enough to get your equipment through; adding 2 ft to the 2nd yard was heaven sent.  As well, putting irrigation in the second year saved us a ton of labour, as we watered by hand the first year.
OHGA: What’s the one issue that you would live advice from other growers on?
Tim Wilson: I would love to hear from other organic growers, especially their challenges and solutions.  You can reach me at carolinianhopyard@gmail.com

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