Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Growing Hops: For Beer & Pleasure

Hops, ready to be picked

Hops

Growing hops (humulus lupulus) is very easy, whether you want them for home brewing, crafts, or just as an ornamental. The requirements are: somewhat fertile soil, plenty of sun and water and something rugged for them to climb on (they can grow up to 30’, although ours have never gotten that tall).

Each winter they die back and start over again in the spring. They are such prolific growers that you can almost watch them grow.

We started out with two types, Cascade and Perle, but they have been dug up and moved so many times that we are no longer sure what we have. Hops are very easy to move and to share with other people. Once your hop plants become established you will want to thin them out every few years (great for a plant swap).

We grow some of ours up concrete reinforcement wire that we attached to our woodshed with hooks. At harvest time we unhook the wire, lower it for easy hop picking and re-hang the wire for the next year. In the spring we remove all the dead vines.Hops growing up side of woodshed

Some of our hops grow up wrought iron posts on the corner of our deck and become entwined with an apple tree. No harm done.

The best way to obtain hop rhizomes is from someone who already has hops growing. If that is not possible, there are a lot of places that sell rhizomes.  Keep in mind to choose a variety best suited to your growing area and season length.

Be sure to keep weeds cleaned out the first few years, especially grass. After they are well established (3-4 years), they seem better able to deal with weeds, but it is still a good idea to try and keep the hop bed weed free.

A great guide for growing hops and brewing herbs is The Homebrewer's Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher.

We have never had a pest problem on our hops and we attribute that to healthy soil and no chemicals. We put some compost in the soil when we first plant, and top dress with more each year, mid season. Compost tea is also good to spray on the vines as they grow. The best time to spray is in the morning or evening (just like watering, it’s best not to do it in the middle of a sunny day)

HARVESTING

The time to harvest your hop cones is when you see a yellow, powdery substance clinging to the cone. There should be a strong hop aroma when you break the cone open, and a resin that sticks to your hand when you pick the cones.
We dry/store our hops in paper bags. Put only enough hops in the bag so when you fold the top over and lay it on its side the hops are not piled on top of each other; you want breathing space. Every so often shake the bag to aerate them a bit. If you have too many hops in one bag they are apt to mold or not dry well. We place our bags in a spare room (sometimes all over the bed) and leave them for a few months. They don’t need to be completely dry to use in beer, in fact fresh hops are tastier, but if you are going to use them for a craft project, you will want them completely dry.

USES FOR HOPS

Besides the obvious beer making, hops have many other uses.

Hop tea is said to help insomnia, diarrhea and intestinal cramps--note: very bitter, add honey.

In early spring the young side shoots can be steamed and eaten like asparagus (we have never had enough to try this, maybe next year!)

The leaves can be used to make a brown dye.

Spent hops make great mulch, or can be added to the compost pile.

Hop pillows are said to help people sleep.

Cut a few branches with hops attached and dry for flower arrangements.

Fill a tea ball with hops and add to bath water for a relaxing bath. Add some chamomile and valerian for a nice treat.

Dried hops can be added to potpourri.

Place a few hops in a piece of cloth (cotton), warm just a little in the oven and apply to a tooth ache; it will help reduce the pain.

THE BEST PART

The best part about hops is you don’t have to make anything. They are a beautiful plant in their own right and are a lovely addition to any home garden. Toads hide in them, birds fly in and out looking for bugs, and they can make a great privacy screen. With a little care they will reward you for years to come.
Hops

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Rhubarb

rhubarb
Rhubarb is one of the first spring edible plants we have, and we are always excited to see it sprouting up. It means winter is over. Finally.

It doesn’t take long for rhubarb to be useable, and the first thing we always make is a rhubarb pie.

Growing rhubarb is very easy. We have ours in a raised bed, but almost any spot will do, as long as it’s sunny (it will grow in part shade, but not as well). Remember, though, that rhubarb can get quite large, so plan accordingly. Also, plants can live for many, many years. Be sure you pick a place that suites their habits.

For the best growth and largest stocks, mulch your rhubarb plants with compost every fall. Also, pick off the seed heads as they develop to extend the harvest.

Rhubarb freezes well. Early spring pickings are the best to freeze. Remove leaves (they are poisonous, even to some livestock) and discard any tough ends. Cut into 1” slices, place in a zip lock bag and freeze. We like to freeze rhubarb 2 cups to a bag because that is what most recipes we use call for. To use, simply thaw and you are ready to cook.

We make a rhubarb sauce just like applesauce with honey and cinnamon. Very tasty.

RHUBARB RECIPES

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

1 quart strawberries, hulled
1 ½ pounds rhubarb, cut into ½” pieces
3 cups honey
1 orange, juiced

Combine strawberries, rhubarb and orange juice in a large kettle. Heat to almost a boil (stirring frequently) and stir in honey. Mix well. Lower heat and boil, stirring constantly until jell stage is reached. Remove from heat, skim of foam and pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal.

Rhubarb Pie

2 9” pie crusts, unbaked
2 cups chopped rhubarb (more if desired)
¾ cup honey
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 425° Grease pie plate and put in bottom crust. Combine rhubarb, honey and flour. Mix well. Place in pie crust, dot with butter. Put top crust on, crimp edges and cut in some vent holes.
Bake about 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350° and bake about 30-40 minutes more.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.



Hints:

Try replacing rhubarb for half of the blueberries in your favorite blueberry pie recipe.

Combine equal parts of chopped rhubarb and water to make a tea. Boil together for about 20 minutes, strain rhubarb and add honey to taste. Good hot or chilled.

Rhubarb can replace apple in a lot of recipes, you may need to add a little more sweetener.

We add some chopped rhubarb to a stir fry for a zippy taste.

Make a rhubarb sauce just like applesauce with honey and cinnamon.

Even the Death of a Chicken is Sad

Rocky and Baby
Last night one of our bantam hens died. Little Rocky (she was a barred-rock bantam). We are not sure what caused her death, our rooster had been bothering her one day (he is a lot bigger) and he may have hurt her.

She was acting funny for a couple of days, tail feathers down and a sad look about her. We tried the burnt toast trick (charcoal is supposed to help bring out any toxins in their systems) but had no luck. So, last night she we buried her in the compost pile where she will become part of the earth.

Rocky was a sweet little hen, we got her as a day old chick. When she was a baby she was great friends with one of our guinea hens. As they grew older, they grew apart and each one hung out with their own kind. We had wondered if that would happen.

Two years ago Rocky hatched out 4 eggs. She had wanted to sit on eggs for awhile, but we kept taking them away. Finally she found a spot under a tree (it took us almost a week to find her). We decided to let her sit and put up a fence around her to help protect her at night.

We were having our morning tea on the deck one day and suddenly heard peeping. We looked at each other at the same time said “That’s baby chicks!” Sure enough, there was Rocky and her entourage.

We have had many chicks, but this was the first time we had them here at home from one of our hens. We put a little house out so Rocky could move the babies inside if she wanted to, which she did. She was a very good mommy and the chicks thrived. We were concerned about our cat, Jasper, but he never bothered them.

So while we no longer have Rocky around we do still have one of her babies, Gwen (3 of them were roosters that we gave to friends). While Gwen is not as special to us as Rocky was (Gwen never lived in our house as a baby like Rocky did), she is a nice little bird and maybe there is part of Rocky’s spirit living on in her.

Rocky is not the first bird we have lost, nor will she be the last. As my husband always tells me, it’s part of farm life. But each animal has its own personality, and when you get a special one, it makes the loss a little harder.

Good-bye Rocky, we will miss you.