Howard on HOPS

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An excerpt from Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, Howard, 1945  £9.00 from SuAgLon.

My next post was more promising – that of Botanist to the South East of England Agricultural College at  Wye in Kent. Where in addition to teaching I was placed in charge of the experiments on the growing and drying of hops which had been started by the principal Mr. A.D. (later Sir) Daniel Hall. These experiments brought me in touch with a number of the leading hop growers…all of whom spared no pains in helping me to understand this most interesting crop. I began to raise crops by hybridization and at once made a significant practical discovery – the almost magical effect of pollination by speeding up the growth and increasing the resistance of the developing female flowers (the hops of commerce) to green-fly and mildew (a fungous disease) which often did considerable damage. The significant thing was about this work I was meeting the practical men on their own ground. Actually their practise of eliminating all the male flowers from the hop gardens was a wide departure from natural law. My suggestion amounted to a demand that Nature be no longer defied. It was for this reason highly successful. By restoring pollination the health, the rate of growth and finally the yield of the hops was improved. Soon the hop growers all over the hop growing areas of England saw to it that their gardens were provided with male hops which liberated ample pollen just as it was needed.

This, my first piece of really successful work was done in the summer of 1904 – five years later I began research. It was obtained by happy chance and gave me a glimpse of the way Nature regulates Her kingdom: it also did much to strengthen my conviction that the most promising method of dealing with plant disease lay in prevention – by tuning up agricultural practise…..

By 1910 I had learnt how to grow healthy crops, practically free from disease, without the slightest help from mycologists, entomologists, bacteriologists, agricultural chemists, statistitions, clearing houses of information,, artificial manures, insecticides,, fungicides, germicides, and all of the expensive paraphernalia of the modern experiment station…

…The next attempt to discredit humus occurred in connection with a project to compost the old hop bines and string on a large garden in Sussex, which had been placed at my disposal by the directorate on condition that I could secure the interest of the manager. But the moment this project became known in south east England it was opposed by the specialists concerned with disease who argued that my project would mean the destruction of the fine property to which so many years of work had been devoted. To counteract these influences a meeting had to be arranged at East Malling with the specialists of the county and the representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture for a discussion on disease: in all about fifty people were, almost all hostile to my views took part… To give my opponents every chance I prepared a short synopsis of my views and asked the secretary to distribute copies before the meeting. The discussion lasted all day and it was obvious the my opponents, with the exception of one or two, were laboratory hermits who had never mastered the art of agriculture, had never grown a crop and had never taken their own advise about remedies before writing about them. Further their experience of disease was limited to a single island in the North Sea, Great Britain…I had no difficulty in pulverising the objections these specialists advanced to my theories that insects and fungi are not the real cause of disease and that pests must be carefully treasured, because they are Natures censors and our real professors of agriculture. The results of this meeting soon became known. The local opposition to my proposals to convert hop bine and hop string into humus melted away and the project soon became a great success. Just before the second world war about 10,000 tons of finished humus was made on this hop garden from the following raw materials – pulverised town waste that had to be railed from Southwark to Bodium, all the wastes of the hop including the hop bine and string and other vegetable and animal waste that could be collected locally. What was interesting was the all in cost of preparing and distributing the compost was that it was less than would have been spent on the equivalent dressing of artificials. What was more important than the saving of money was the beneficial result of the compost on the texture and free working of the heavy soil and of the yield and quality of the hops.


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