Over a Century of Hops

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The Lines Family flow with the Winds of Change

The Lines family have lived on land at Wai-iti for 170 years.  Thomas and his second wife Anne arrived on the Thomas Harrison in 1842 with five children. Eldest son John extended their original block by purchasing land from neighbours but it was left to his 8th child, Henry James (Jim) to consolidate the landholdings and plant the first few acres of hops, training them up poles as was the custom back in England. 

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Peter Lines with hopdog. Image supplied by author

An essential item of equipment to harvest hops cultivated in this way was the “hop dog” (see photo) still held on the farm today.  This enabled the poles to be prised out of the ground after the bines had been cut at ground level. Assuming the first hops were planted soon after the death of Jim’s father in 1883, this “hop dog” is probably 128 years old. Its sister, the “hop cat”, is a sickle lashed to a long pole used to cut the string from the overhead wires which criss-crossed the whole garden.  This method of supporting the growing plants was introduced in the 1890’s and is probably of American origin.

Hops have been grown on some part of the farm since then and the acreage has steadily increased to 30. In 1982 six and a half acres of Albany Surprise grapes were planted- now extended to 10acres and juice is sold from the farm and in supermarkets.

The latest venture, a small boutique brewery,Totora Brewing company, was set up in 2010.  Drovers Draught, Totara Gold and Ninkasi Green are produced from hops grown on the property.

There are now only 17 hop farms in New Zealand – all of them in the Nelson area. The Lines garden is managed by Peter Lines, a fifth generation descendant of Thomas. His is the only farm brewery in the country.  As varieties of hops have improved in quality and potency so the amount required for beer production has decreased.  Once the hops grown in Nelson could supply all New Zealand’s beer requirements.  Now it still does but over 95% of the total production is also exported.

Hops were picked by hand until 1964 when the first picking machine was bought.  Before this event, 36-38 pickers were needed to harvest 8 acres of hops, now just 8 workers are needed for the same acreage.

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Lines Brewery. Image supplied by author

The method of producing heat to dry the hops has interestingly come full circle.  The first kiln on the farm, built in 1929, used coke and charcoal.   Then, in the 60’s diesel burners provided the necessary heat and now coal is burnt to heat radiators through which fans blow the hot air to the hops spread out on the drying floor.

In a world where everything changes it is heartening to know that some things stay the same. By canny management, diversification and awareness of current trends the Lines

family is, somewhat miraculously, still making a living from growing hops 128 years after the first plantings were made.  Long may they continue.

This story was first published in "Windows on Wakefield" a community newsletter for the town of Wakefield, Nelson. Also published in the Waimea South Historical Society book "The way we were".

Roger Batt 2015

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