In this news piece Jez Smith, Site Interpreter, discusses the process of growing Hops and Flax at the Museum and its use for interpretation at the Museum.
Hops are grown in several of the historic gardens at the museum, but the principle location is in the area below Tindalls Cottage. We grow Goldings hops because they are the oldest variety known in England to be cultivated for use in brewing beer. It is a versatile hop and can be used for both its bittering and preserving qualities as well as its more delicate aromatic elements.
The flower heads from the female plant are used in brewing, so this accounts for the majority of our plants. Our small crop of 12 plants has one male, which is essential for pollination. The flowers develop in the spring and are normally harvested in August. The flower heads need to be picked at just the right time, when the hop flowers feel light, dry, paper-like and springy to touch.
Once harvested the crop is dried gently in the bakehouse bread oven to help preserve them, otherwise they are prone to rapid decay. The plants are then cut back and fertilised over the winter period. We use the hops when we brew beer in Winkhurst kitchen as part of the interpretation at the museum.
The yard behind Tindall Cottage is used to grow flax for use in our textiles demonstrations at the museum. Tindalls had a cloth workshop in the field behind the house in its original location so our textiles demonstrations associated with the building are in keeping with this tradition. The seeds we use are a heritage variety known as Maryland which produces the long stems needed for linen production. The seeds are planted in spring once the frosts have finished. The flax is harvested approximately 100 days later once the flowers stop forming each day, this is when the stems are at their strongest. The crop is gently pulled out of the ground as the roots are very close to the surface. The flax is then tied up into bundles known as stooks to allow the chlorophyll to die off and the stems turn yellow. The dried stooks are then soaked with water until the inner plith starts to loosen against the outside stem fibres. The crop is then dried once more and then it is ready to be used and processed into linen.