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Hoping for hops: Shade and cold beer

By on September 28, 2020 in Uncategorized with 3 Comments
Hop flower cones look a lot like miniature artichokes as they spread up the backyard pergola.

Story by Linda Reid 

Photos by Ken Reid

I have always prided myself in being a life-long learner. I push myself to keep trying new things. 

So does my husband, Ken. Quite often we embark on these new challenges together. This is the story of one of those learning experiences we both stepped into eagerly, or maybe I should say “hopped” into. 

After our new lattice-topped pergola was completed over our southern exposure patio a year ago, we began to brainstorm a natural way to use vine-like plants as a shade-producing curtain and cover for those hot Wenatchee summer days. 

We imagined wisteria (too messy), grape vines (too slow growing), morning glory (too invasive), and clematis (no luck with it in the past). 

Backyard pergola is the home of the future hops.

Then we had a light bulb moment: “Let’s grow hops!” Hops grow fast and they could make a curtain and can be trained to grow across the lattice to form a ceiling. 

They are lush and green in the summer and change color in the fall. In addition to all those pluses, they are perennials and you can even make beer out of them. 

Personally, the only beer I can choke down is an ice-cold Harp on tap, on a hot summer day when there is nothing else cold to drink. Ken, however, is a connoisseur of beer and has even brewed a few small batches himself. 

First step: he started researching kinds of hops, where to get them, when to plant them, and all other hoppy things. 

Ken on hop-planting day: But what is the correct way to place the rhizomes in the soil?

In early spring he ordered 12 carefully researched hop rhizomes from Yakima Valley Hops: Cascades, Centennials and Chinooks. 

They were packaged for shipping as if they were Ukrainian Easter eggs. When we opened them, they looked like dead twigs to us. We kept them in the garage, spritzing them often, until the soil outside warmed up enough to plant them. 

Finally, step two, planting day arrived in early April.

As a retired teacher you would think I would be good at directions. I am, when I am giving them, but reading them and following them can have unintended consequences. 

Fast forward three weeks. Still no sign of life. We talked to them, visited their little “graves,” and even went so far as to sprinkle them with some holy water we had from Lourdes. Still no results. 

Third step: research hops on the internet. After an hour of digesting as much information as I could find, I discovered we had planted them standing vertically in their carefully prepared raised bed when they should have gone in horizontally! 

Ken, the beer connoisseur, is brushing up his tasting techniques. Once the harvest is in, the beer brewing process can begin.

Step four: I carefully exhumed them and turned each of them 90 degrees and re-buried them, marking each of the 12 rhizomes with a wooden skewer from my kitchen junk drawer.

We watered, but not too much, and waited. We fertilized and fed them coffee grounds (which they are supposed to love). We strung strings for them to climb, and at last we saw the first tiny little bits of green appear here and there. 

Those that had survived our missteps (about half of them) grew quickly, grabbing onto the green garden string just like they had done it before. 

When the four hop “rock stars” reached the top of the pergola, step five was working with them daily to train them to weave in and out of the lattice. They were very teachable and received much attention and praise as I gently coaxed them to do the slow crawl across the lattice. 

 They returned this positive attention by producing a prolific crop of beautiful little hop flower cones that look like miniature, baby artichokes. 

Doing a little more research, I learned that hops add spiciness to beer. They contribute bittering, flavoring and stability as well as floral, fruity, or citrus flavors and aromas. 

I also discovered how to tell when flower cones are ready to harvest and how many we will need to brew a small batch. It looks promising that we will have enough to meet our needs.

Therefore, our sixth step will be harvesting our crop, probably sometime before the end of September. After that, I am turning over all subsequent steps to my brew master husband and his consultants (our daughter-in-law to be and our neighbor down the block who are both experienced beer makers). 

Other amateur hop growers have since told us that hops can be temperamental and that they take a long time to develop their root systems. 

They can (and often do) disappoint in the first year, but once established there is no stopping them. Our experiment has given us hope and a sneak preview of what we can achieve next year when reinforcement hops are introduced. 

We are encouraged and plan to continue “hoping for hops” by making use of the trials and errors of our first year. If we have learned enough to get it right next year there may just be shade and a cold beer on our patio. 

Ken and Linda moved to East Wenatchee from Seattle four years ago. They enjoy the increased number of sunny days where they can grow a large variety of flowers and vegetables in their garden.

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There Are 3 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Debby Wilson says:

    I always enjoy Linda’s articles. I love their retirement adventures and she shares them with us so well!

  2. MATTHEW Clifford DAUM says:

    Gonna get started next year on our little hobby farm…hopefully we can compare/share notes and we look forward to many hoppy returns!

  3. C. Vincent Peterson says:

    Your delightfully written piece makes me want to be a gardener first , and a landscaper second, and a homemaker third! Thank you! Bottoms up!

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