I remember vividly my future wife laughing at me when we were in college, and I told her that someday I would like to own a milk cow. Fast forward three years, and I was quitting my job so that I could become an organic farmer. For three years I had sat behind my teacher’s desk in the high school where I taught, scheming about how I could make a go at farming.
Finally, I just took a leap of faith, moved in with family, and started a CSA off of land I was given to use by my father-in-law. I admit that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I thought I would learn as I went. Did I ever learn! And mostly in the school of hard knocks.
I’m pretty sure that I am the example of how one should not get started farming. Well, sure, I have made a living for the last several years by growing vegetables and marketing them through a CSA. However, I would have saved a lot of heartache had I just done a bit more homework or had someone to say, “Do it this way, not that way.”
I’m now quite comfortable with my farming skills. When hail or drought doesn’t destroy our gardens here in Southern Kansas, they grow pretty good crops. I think though that I can now offer quite a bit of advice to young (or old) aspiring farmers and gardeners as they seek to make a go of it as a farmer. Here are a few recommendations to smooth the transition.
5 Tips for Beginning Farmers
1. Choose an Endeavor. When I quit my job as a teacher, I had no doubt that I would grow several acres of vegetables to get started. The books written by Eliot Coleman had convinced me that this was the least expensive way to get started farming, and that it required the least amount of land. Since I lacked both capital and land, this was the logical first step. However, if I had it to do over again, I would immediately diversify by adding small livestock as well. One other important factor is to do something that you love. I really enjoy growing vegetables, but some farmers would much rather work with livestock. What you do will be dictated by the circumstances in which you find yourself.
2. Read, Learn, and Do. Take every opportunity to learn as much as you can about your farming choice. Read everything you can, visit other farms, and eat the scraps that come from the tables of the true farming masters. You cannot learn too much. I make it a habit to always be reading something that will increase my farming knowledge. I can’t explain how helpful it would have been if I had read up more on plant diseases. One year I lost almost an entire harvest of winter squash to Gummy Stem Blight. We don’t usually get that disease in our arid climate, so it was something I learned about the hard way. You will never have too much information!
3. Get Some Land. Even if you are in the city, you can get started small. Ask your neighbor to grow a garden and then split some of the produce with them as payment. I visited Foundation Farm in Eureka Springs, Ark., where Patrice Gros farms only 1 acre and makes a fine living. You don’t need as much land as you think. Often rural roads have wide ditches that could fit a couple of chicken tractors. Think outside the box. However, make sure it’s legal, too!
4. Learn to Market Your Produce. You must learn to sell your goods. Too many good farmers are not good salesmen. If you are close to a city you may be able to have an on farm store. Check out farmer’s markets and see if you can find a niche. What are vendors selling or not selling. CSA’s can be wonderful ways to sell goods, but can also be very dangerous for inexperienced farmers. We have switched to a buyer’s club model so that there is still some assured income, but the risk for members is minimized. It won’t matter if you have the best heirloom tomatoes and peppers if you don’t know how to sell them.
5. Don’t Give Up. You are guaranteed to experience more difficulties that you could ever imagine. Just keep going. Our first two years of farming consisted in the two hottest driest summers in Kansas since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930’s. Our third year consisted of a devastating hail storm coupled with a plague of grasshoppers. Yet, I will always be the first one to tell you that I love farming. If you want to do it bad enough then you will find a way. Do not be afraid!
Photo by Fotolia/bonniemarie
Where we began: before permaculture.
This is how the side garden looked 3 years ago. If you look at the wall you can see there is quite a slope on the garden. It also slopes from right to left, the left side being lower. Over the last 3 years during heavy storms we have seen the rainwater run down the garden diagonally so it floods the left hand corner of the garden.
One of the things that we decided to do here (before the days of our permaculture journey) was to build terracing. We had lots of rocks available to us, from having the swimming pool built, and it just made sense to use these rocks.
We do everything by hand…so it is a slow process. First the rocks have to be dug out of the pool mound. Then they have to be sorted into size and moved into the garden. Next the wall is built and then the top soil has to be burrowed into the terrace.
This is the first terrace we built. It took 10 tonnes of top soil to fill it. The top soil was clay based and was lacking organic matter and as you can see looks very bare.
When we started researching permaculture we were surprised to realize we had actually done something they talk about. Apparently, building terracing on slopes helps to slow the water movement down the land. The only thing that we missed out was adding organic matter that would hold even more water. We still have some way to go with the terracing…another 3 at least to build, so these new terraces will be filled with logs and branches before the top soil goes on.
All the way through researching permaculture, everyone talks about food forests. My idea 4 years ago was to make a fruit forest. I had always wanted fruit trees and now we had the land to do it.
We bought fruit trees, plum, apple, cherry, pear, peach, nectarine, apricot and a walnut tree too. We planted then up at the bottom of the garden, hoping that they would grow and produce much needed shade in the Summer.
This is basically how it looks today (January 2013) We tried to grow grass from seed but because the rains didn’t come it didn’t grow. As we are not on mains water, we couldn’t spare the water needed to get it to germinate.
We intend to build swales and mounds around the garden, on a small scale to see if we can increase our yields and improve the amount of organic matter in the soil. We want to plant around the trees to begin the formation of a real forest. Fruit bushes, fast growing legumes and ground cover too. We will set up drip irrigation systems that will water the mounds for starters and see how it goes.
We are hoping, if everything goes to plan, to develop areas of our land that are barren other than the olive and almond trees that have been there years. We want to be able to create spaces for our animals that enable them to source their own food with a little supplement from us. At the minute we are having to give them more food as there is nothing growing on the land because of the missed rains.
Interest in tomato grafting is high among gardeners these days. Grafted plants can be expensive and sources of supply are few. Learning how to do it yourself not only saves money but gives you unlimited options for what varieties you choose to graft. With a little practice, you can become skilled at this worthwhile technique. The benefits of learning include a more productive and disease-resistant tomato crop.
This blog post covers the steps that go into the process commonly called “head grafting,” also known as Japanese grafting, because this is where the technique was first developed. This method allows you to graft your chosen tomato variety (the scion) with rootstock. Rootstock does not produce fruit or foliage but is vigorous and resistant to diseases.
Materials for Grafting Tomatoes
1) Silicone grafting clips (the most popular sizes are 1.5 and 2.0mm);
2) A new, straight edged razor blade;
3) A spray bottle filled with water;
4) Rootstock seeds (we offer a certified organic variety called Estamino that is vigorous and produces well-balanced plants);
5) Scion seeds (heirlooms are popular for grafting because their production can be uneven and they have no disease resistance)
6) A clear plastic bin with lid to hold a tray of grafted plugs.
Plant Your Scion and Rootstock
Your rootstock and scion plugs may grow at varying rates. The first time around, estimate it will take 21 days from seed-planting to stems on each plant that is large enough to graft. Through trial and error, you will find the ideal timing so that the diameter of the scion stem matches the diameter of the rootstock. Your grafts will not all be successful. It is recommended that you plant 2-3 times as many scion and rootstock plants as you think you will actually need.
The scion is ready when it has 2 or 3 true leaves. When you are ready to begin, prepare a clean working surface with all your materials at hand. Make a mental note of your placement of the scion tray and the rootstock tray and make it a habit to put them in the same spot (one left, one right) whenever you graft — you don’t want to confuse them when you begin cutting. Finally, wash your hands. You don’t want to inadvertently introduce harmful organisms to the cut surfaces.
Remove one rootstock plug from the tray. Look it over carefully and decide where to cut. The cut should always be just below the cotyledons (the small set of leaves first from the bottom) and at least 1/2" above the soil line. Use your razor blade to remove the cotyledons. Then cut just below them at an angle between 30 and 45 degrees. After cutting, slide a silicone tube over the cut end of the rootstock. The tube should fit firmly for the best results.
Next, examine your scion plugs and select one with a stem diameter that matches your rootstock. Remove all but the top leaves to reduce transpiration while the graft is healing. Cut at an angle matching the angle of the rootstock, either about 1/3" above or below the cotyledons. You want an exact fit between the scion and the rootstock.
Align the scion with the rootstock and slide the scion into the tube so the two cut surfaces meet cleanly. The grafting tube should hold the scion and rootstock together firmly.
Move the grafted plant to a clean cell tray. Spray the grafted surface with a fine mist after completing each graft to prevent it from drying out. Keep them in the shade and away from strong wind currents while you proceed with additional grafts.
Healing Grafted Plants
Next comes healing, a critical part of the process. If all goes well, your grafted plants will heal in 4 to 7 days. Ideal conditions for healing are high humidity — upwards of 100% — and steady warmth, with temperatures between 82 and 84 degrees. For the first 24-48 hours, keep the plants in total darkness to prevent transpiration from the scion. Thereafter, they need moderate light roughly equivalent to the intensity of two side-by-side fluorescent tubes.
If you have a greenhouse, these conditions can be met by placing a table beneath a bench and covering it with plastic to retain humidity. Or you can put your grafted plugs in a propagation chamber for the first 48 hours and then beneath a shaded bench and misters for the duration. Home gardeners need a similar arrangement. The easiest solution is a clear plastic storage bin with a lid, the type found at many hardware centers. Choose one large enough to hold your plug tray with grafted seedlings.
While your plants are healing, too much water applied to the soil can create a thin layer of water on the grafted surface. This moisture can create a barrier which interferes with the union between the scion and rootstock. The best way to water during the healing period is to mist the graft union at regular intervals. If you are using a clear storage bin, fill the bottom with about 1/2" of water before you put your grafted plants inside. This should provide enough moisture and create a high level of humidity inside the container. Make sure the lid on your container has a good seal. If in doubt, tape over any openings. Approximately one week after making your grafts, you should begin to expose your plants to more light and increased airflow by gradually opening the lid. The entire process will take about two weeks.
The grafting tubes will fall away from the graft as your tomato plants grow. To prevent the introduction of disease, do not reuse your grafting tubes.
One final note: When you transplant your grafted plants into your garden, keep the graft line at least 1/2" above the soil surface to prevent the introduction of disease.
We wish you success!
Ah, spring is coming soon! Now is the time to test your soil, get your garden beds ready for planting, and plan your spring garden.
Spring Soil Preparation and Soil Testing
You can take a soil sample to your local county co-op extension office to have it tested or buy a do it yourself kit at any big box store or local nursery.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of testing, a sure way to enrich your soil is to use a balanced organic fertilizer and compost. I add organic material every spring, building the soil’s fertility and ability to hold water.
A local CSA and organic gardener told me a couple of years ago that it is important to not let your fertilizer just lay on top of the ground as many of the nutrients will be lost.
This spring, we will put down an organic fertilizer Re-Vita Pro 5-4-4, a layer of mushroom compost and top with mulch.
What I'm Planting this March in My Zone 6 Garden
Green Oakleaf Lettuce - ready to harvest in 45 days
Wild Garden Kales - ready to harvest in 30 days
Mesclun Valentine Lettuce mix (red tinted lettuce and greens) - ready to harvest in 30-55 days
Marvel of Four Seasons Butterhead Lettuce (I love the sweet taste of butterheads) - ready to harvest in 55 days
Short Top Icicle Radish (a white, mild radish that looks like a white carrot) - ready to harvest in 28 days
Space Hybrid Spinach - ready to harvest in 38 days
Gourmet Blend Lettuce (Prizeleaf, Royal Oak Leaf, Salad Bowl, Ashley) - ready to harvest in 45 days
Sugar snap peas - ready to harvest in 70 days
Broccoli raab - ready to harvest in 50 days (leaves are great in salads)
Carrots Short ‘n Sweet - ready to harvest in 68 days.
These can be companion planted with cabbage, beets, chives, garlic, and onions. Since they are shallow rooted, they grow well with root crops.
When I plant in pots, I water in with fish emulsion. Germination should take anywhere from 4-15 days. I am sure I will be out there looking for little green shoots daily.
Important tip - if planting seeds in a mulched bed, be sure to cover the seed with only soil; seedlings are too weak to push through mulch.
Zone 6 Spring Garden Road Map
Planting your seedlings outdoors:
March 31st - cabbage, leeks, lettuce, okra, onions
April 7th - lettuce, lemon balm, parsley
April 14th - broccoli, cauliflower, thyme
April 21st - sage
May 5th - basil, chives, cucumbers, tomatoes
May 12th - cantaloupe, eggplant, marigolds, pepper
Starting your seeds indoors for summer planting
March 3rd - chives, eggplant, leeks, lemon balm, marigolds, onions, parsley, peppers, sage, thyme, tomatoes
March 17th - basil, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, okra
March 31st - cantaloupe, cucumber, lettuce
These dates are just guidelines. You can start your seedlings later and plant your transplants later as well. Be sure to read the seed packet for what you are starting. They make all kinds of varieties that are cold hardy that can be planted sooner.
What Made It Through the Winter and Is Sprouting in Early March?
Overwintered spinach, parsley, garlic, salad burnet, French sorrel, kale, oregano, Italian dandelions, strawberries, cilantro, onions, chives, wild leeks, sage and thyme.
In the greenhouse, lettuce, spinach, kale, celery and blood veined sorrel are still alive.
For more gardening tips, see my blog at www.VictoryGardenOnTheGolfCourse.com.
Part One: 14 degrees Fahrenheit
Vates kale overwintered in our garden. I’ve long been interested in how cold-tolerant various vegetables are. We had two nights at 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10C) and several others in the teens in December. What survived? We have Tyee spinach under rowcover, and Vates kale. The senposai was still alive, but some of the midribs had brown streaks. Sadly we don’t have any leeks this winter, as we lacked enough workers to tend them in late summer. We had a nice bed of Deadon cabbage, and some small heads of Melissa savoy that missed the bulk harvest were also alive. The Gunma cabbage stumps had some leaves and tiny heads still alive, but the Tendersweet were history.
Our chard had all the leaves cut off in November, and seemed to be dead. Some winters it hangs on later, if we leave some foliage to help it regenerate.
The oats cover crop we sowed in August and early September were pretty much dead. All the broccoli looked dead. That’s as expected for the temperatures. Often we don’t get nights this cold till January – the cold came early this winter.
Our hardneck garlic tops looked to be in good shape. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and look like they suffered. They will grow back if they have died. Some of our Chandler strawberry plants look dead. Either that or they are extremely dormant! The deer were killing them off by eating the leaves. Too many deer!
The hoophouse was still bursting with great food. Plenty of salad greens: lettuce; various kinds of mizuna and ferny mustards like Ruby Streaks and Golden Frills and Bulls Blood beet leaves. And for salads or cooking we have spinach, chard, tatsoi, radishes, scallions, baby Hakurei turnips and their tasty greens, Red and White Russion kales, and more senposai. In January we start on the heading Asian greens: pak choy, Chinese cabbage, Tokyo bekana and Yukina Savoy. The first sowing of tatsoi (9/7) was starting to bolt, so we cleared that. The first round of baby lettuce mix (10/24) was ready for its second cut. I love working in the hoophouse on sunny winter days.
Part Two: Two Nights at 4 Degrees Fahrenheit
We had the Polar Vortex, which in our part of central Virginia, meant two nights at 4 degrees, Monday 1/6 and Tuesday 1/7 nights. How did it go?
Before the Prelude to the Big Chill, when we got 9F, I harvested the odds and ends of small cabbages left in our main patch. Quite worthwhile, I got two 5-gallon buckets. Between the 9F and the 4F nights, I decided to gather the Deadon cabbage, which we grew with January harvests in mind. There was some freeze damage, so in future I’ll say that Deadon is good down to 10F, but not lower. I got two full net bags and two more buckets of small ones. I left one smaller and one larger cabbage as sacrificial victims in the cause of better information for next year. When we got 4F, the smaller one died and the larger survived.
Senposai outdoors in November. One of the other gardeners harvested the last of the outdoor senposai. Another couple of buckets of tasty food.
I took another walk round the frozen garden after the Polar Vortex, to see what was still alive. The Tyee spinach under rowcover, and the Vates and Beedy’s Camden kale without rowcover were all still alive! There was some freeze damage in spots on the spinach leaves, but plenty of good meals still to come!
Our hardneck garlic tops suffered some damage but didn’t get killed back to the mulch level. The Polish White softneck tops are considerably smaller and they too were still alive.
We had the remains of a lettuce nursery bed, still holding surplus transplants from September sowings that we didn’t need for our greenhouse or hoophouse. A good chance to see which ones are hardiest! Here’s the scoop: Still alive in the centers – Winter Marvel, North Pole, Tango, Green Forest. No longer alive – Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, Winter Wonder, Red Tinged Winter, Merlot, Red Sails, Outredgeous, Roman Emperor, Revolution.
At nearby Acorn Community, the home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, they had some young but mature heads of cabbage outdoors. The Late Flat Dutch, Early Flat Dutch and Chieftain Savoy all survived one night at 6F. (It’s usually two degrees warmer there than at Twin Oaks on winter nights).
Meanwhile I’m tracking the Blue Ridge kale grown by Clif Slade in his 43560 Project at Randolph Farm, VSU. The Blue Ridge survived. It got down to 9F there. Not as cold as Louisa County! Blue Ridge is taller than the Vates we grow, and I’d like to try it here, if it can survive our winters. Otherwise not!
Our winter hoophouse with Yukina Savoy and Pak Cho. In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover on Monday afternoon, and didn’t roll it up till Thursday, after the warmer weather returned. There was a tiny bit of freeze injury on some turnip greens that poked out the side of the rowcover, and some on some stems of Tokyo Bekana. I think the rowcover saved the crops! Also, a bad thing happened. it was very windy Monday night and the west window blew open. Argh! Of all the nights to have an open window. Memo: fix the latch to make it stronger.
I didn’t enjoy the really cold weather. I was anxious about the crops and the plumbing! But I can see two silver linings: I now have more information about cold-hardiness of various crops, and hopefully some pests will have died. Now we’re getting ready for another two cold nights, tomorrow and Wednesday.
Part Three : Two Nights Below 0 degrees Fahrenheit
It got even colder.We got the big-round 0 degrees 1/22-1/23, then a few nights at 5 degrees or 6 degrees, and then the big insult: -4 degrees on the night of 1/29-30. What’s still standing?
The Tyee spinach under thick rowcover has sustained big damage, showing as patches of beige dead cells. It will recover. Meanwhile we can eat from the more-protected spinach in the coldframes and the hoophouse.
The Vates kale without rowcover is still alive, but badly damaged. The big leaves are crunchy and brown round the edges, and some of the inner leaves are dead. I hope it will grow back, but we won’t be able to pick that for a while. The Beedy’s Camden kale looks worse – the big leaves have died and flopped over. Not sure if it will recover.
Our hardneck garlic and Polish White softneck tops are killed back to about one inch up from the mulch. Equally hardy, it seems.
In the lettuce nursery bed, still holding surplus transplants from September sowings that we didn’t need for our greenhouse or hoophouse, only the Winter Marvel shows any signs of life. So that variety gets the prize for cold-tolerance here!
In the hoophouse, we covered all the beds with thick rowcover every night it looked like dropping below 10F inside. Almost everything survived – we only got some minor stem freezing on some turnips and Asian greens. We have been eating Pak Choy, Tokyo Bekana, Yukina Savoy, various turnips and their greens (Hakurei, White Egg, Oasis, Red Round), also plenty of lettuce leaves, radishes, scallions, and some spinach. We have small amounts of mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Bright Lights chard, Bulls Blood beets to add to salad mixes, and Red Russian and White Russian kale growing slowly.
We are not the only people tracking the effects of the unusually cold weather. The February Growing for Market magazine opens with an article by Ben Hartman “Testing the Limits of Cold Tolerance”. He farms in Goshen, Indiana, using two double-layer plastic greenhouses heated to 30F (yes. I said heated!) and two unheated.
Read more from Pam Dawling on her blog.
Waiting for a plot in our community garden, we were rich in time and poor in land. Now that my family received a plot in our community garden at the end of January, we’re short on time and rich in garden dreams, especially with twin babies at home!
So what’s the fastest, most economical way to get started gardening while treating the Earth with respect? Thanks to what may have been the warmest, driest January ever recorded in California, our soil is dry enough to get started right away. (We can determine if the soil is dry enough to work with the classic test: When I squeeze a ball of dirt in my fist, I ask “does it crumble or form a muddy ball?” If it crumbles, you’re good to go. If it forms a ball, you risk creating soil clods and causing soil compaction.)
Once we’re sure the soil is dry enough to work, next comes the much harder question of just how to work it. For getting started in sod, Steve Solomon’s technique from Gardening When it Counts will get you harvesting faster than any other method I’ve come across. Solomon tells us to forget the row crops: Garden like the Native Americans by digging up 18-inch-diameter hills on four foot centers. Get your crops started, then worry about working the areas in between the hills.
Prepare Garden Soil With Broadfork and Eye Hoe
Our community garden is blessed with a shared toolshed. Our options for working the soil are the spade or shovel, the broadfork, or the eye hoe (or peasant hoe). Using the spade or shovel to turn the soil, either one layer deep or two layers deep, is the classic John Jeavons' biointensive method. For those most comfortable using a shovel, this will be the method of choice.
The broadfork is the better option for soil that doesn’t really need to be turned, just loosened. Harvey Ussery makes a powerful case for ditching the shovel and using a broad fork instead. However, this tool can be quite expensive to buy new and too rare to borrow. When I lived in eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains, we found a local welder who made us a broad fork by welding spines to a length of old railroad tie.
My preferred tool is the eye hoe, also called the peasant hoe or grubbing hoe. Red Pig Tools has a fabulous description of how to use this tool to work the soil “by swinging the tool downward to bury the blade in the earth.” They claim to have “seen pictures of hordes of Chinese laborers excavating canals with only eye hoes.” The eye hoe makes gravity your ally: You lift the hoe, and gravity provides the force.
We’re attacking our plot in pieces, preparing a whole bed for sowing (4 ft. wide by 8 ft. long) before moving on to the next. And we’re skipping the amendments until our soil test results come back (we’re sending our samples to The UMass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory). We sowed our first bed with peas, beets, mustard greens, and cilantro, transplanted swiss chard, collards, and green onion roots. Germinating seeds and young seedlings don’t need a lot of nutrients to grow, so we can sow with confidence, knowing that we can add nutrients by topdressing the soil in a few weeks.
Please come back to follow our ground-breaking adventures. This week’s rains have flooded our low-lying community garden, so I’ll be sharing our research on garden design for flood-prone areas!
My interest in growing hops started back in 1984 when we were in the midst of remodeling our restaurant in Alsea, Ore. The grounds around the building were suffering from complete neglect. After we got rid of all the broken appliances covered with blackberries and created a kitchen garden on one side of the building, we removed overgrown yew bushes and sod to expand our herb collection on the opposite side. We constructed raised beds in an octagonal shape and built a gazebo in the middle as a center piece. To provide shade and aesthetics, we planted hops all the way around it.
Hops are perennial, which means they provide plenty of shade in the summer and then disappear in winter to allow light back in and expose the supporting architecture, thereby creating an ever-changing visual. After we sold our restaurant in 1989, we began growing hops organically at our new business, The Thyme Garden Herb Company, strictly for rhizomes to sell to our customers to start their own hops. We now offer 18-20 varieties of rhizomes on our website and in our catalog.
A Short History of Hops
Cultivation of hops in the Hallertau region of Germany in 736 may be the first known use of hops for brewing. Hop cones replaced the use of gruit, a mixture of medieval bittering herbs and flowers, including costmary or alecost, chamomile, yarrow, dandelion, mugwort and horehound (horehound is German for "mountain hops"). Some of these herbs have been proven to be good preservatives. Only the female hop flowers, cones or strobiles are used in brewing. They are added to the batch at different stages to add flavor, aroma and bittering imparted by the acids in the cones.
Alpha and Beta Acids in Hops Brewing
There are two main types of acids in the hop cone, alpha and beta. Alpha acids add the bittering to beer and have a mild antibiotic and antibacterial effect against certain bacteria. Beta acids add aroma and are added at the end of brewing to preserve the volatile oils. Bittering hops have high alpha, aroma hops have low alpha and high beta. Noble hops used to brew pilsners have an equal amount of alpha and beta acids. Examples of nobles would be Hallertauer, Saaz, Tettnanger and Spalt. Saaz can be hard to find so I recommend Sterling, a cross between Saaz and Mt.Hood as a sub with an alpha/beta ratio that is close to equal.
Another group of hops that has distinguished the American craft beer and its Pale Ale’s and IPA’s are the “Three C’s”: Cascade, Centennial and Columbus (also known as Tomahawk or Zeus.) They are combined in varying amounts to add citrusy, fruity and earthy flavors with a balance of bitterness.
Get Started Growing Your Own Hops
As I mentioned, only the female plant is grown for brewing. You are insured, yet not 100% guaranteed, to get a female plant by taking cuttings from the underground runners a female plant produces and start with those. I was told by a professor of genetic research at the Oregon State Hop research facility here in Oregon that occasionally the female will produce a male rhizome or sometimes the whole female plant will actually become a male. Bummer! Thank goodness that’s pretty rare.
To get started growing your own hops you’ll want to purchase some hop rhizomes. Typically they will be about a 6-inch cutting from a runner with two rings of growth buds that will produce the vines, or bines, as they are called. If you have the end of a runner, it might only have one ring but more buds. Neither has roots but is all you need to start a plant. They should be at least twice the size of a pencil in diameter. Generally, that’s all that is sold by other retailers.
When available, we offer extra large rhizomes that are 1 inch or larger in diameter and 25 buds or more. To cut down the years it will take to harvest cones, we also offer rooted rhizomes. These are the regular rhizomes planted in our hop nursery and grown for an extra year so they produce a root system and a crown loaded with buds. And if you want an even faster start, we sometimes have extra-large rooted, which are the rooted ones allowed to grow a second year, making it a 3-year-old rhizome. These things are almost scary! Watch for those on Ebay.
Storing and Planting Hops Rhizomes
When you get your rhizomes in the mail you can store them in the refrigerator for period of time until you are ready to plant. They should be planted by early May, if possible. Keep in mind the longer they sit in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, the more their vitality depreciates. Hops grow best above the 54th parallel. Below that will be experimental. They need the cold winter dormancy to stay happy. We’ve had customer’s in Arizona at higher elevations where it gets cold in winter have success. We have more first-hand growing experiences from customers around the country on our website that is helpful, informative and sometimes funny. Hops prefer full sun and good drainage with sandy soil, if possible, and a soil pH of 6 to 7.5.
Spacing when planting varies. We use rows 7 feet apart and hops 3 ½ feet apart in rows, because we are growing them for rhizomes. For cone production, I would go 7 feet apart in the rows.
Prep your soil by digging a hole about 1 foot deep and 1 ½ feet wide — bigger if you feel energetic. Mix aged compost into the soil you removed and some in the hole. Replace the soil. You can either plant them horizontally or vertically. I prefer vertical. Because they come with two growth rings, the advantage of planting them vertically is so that if the top buds get destroyed, the bottom ones can take over. Either way, plant them with the buds about 1 ½ inches under the surface. (A little less if you are going to top dress with mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.) Keep them watered the first year so they can produce a good root system.
Hops in Their Second Year
The following year, your hops won’t require much watering because they will have gone deep with their roots. The plants will need to grow up something. Happy hops will grow 20-25 feet tall. The most common approach is to use twine for them to wind around (keep in mind they naturally twirl clockwise!) Then, in fall, when they turn yellow and die back, you can cut it all down and discard it. We have them growing on the fence that lines our driveway along our herb garden. The fence is only six feet high, so it takes a little effort to train them to grow horizontally and it’s also a bit of a pain to get the dead vines off the fence. I say a bit of a pain, because I don’t do it — Bethany does.
You’ll know when it’s time to harvest the cones when they are a light lime green, have a papery texture and when broken open are full of yellow pollen that smells soooo good! Let’s have a brew!