Backyard Beer Garden

Ben Sammis, April 17, 2014

Ah, spring. The birds are chirping, coyotes are howling in coital embraces in the ravine behind my house, and the first tentative shoots of actual live vegetation are peeking up from the ground after a truly preposterous winter. All of which means it is at long last time to prepare my garden, starting with that portion of it dedicated to growing beer. Or at least hops, because I'd need one hell of a large yard to grow a meaningful amount of barley.

So, it turns out that growing hops is incredibly easy. You basically need dirt, rhizomes to place in the dirt, and something for them to climb up once they start growing. The something to climb up can be as simple or as complicated as you like, and there are plenty of places you can look for pointers in that regard.  

Once the hops are established, after two or three years, the maintenance work begins. The Lovecraftian horror in the header image is a Cascade plant that I dug up in order to trim all of those tentacles off. Underneath the dirt and small shoots is a horizontal root that's gotten to be about four inches in diameter. I don't even want to think about how long it is, but there was no way it was coming any further out of the ground. These need to be trimmed every spring or you'll end up with hops sprouting up everywhere. Last year I found shoots popping out of the ground as far as 20 feet from the hills they were originally planted in. It was like playing Whack-A-Mole. Which now that I think about it is something else I had to do a lot of last year. Moles are annoying and ugly and yet it's still not fun to kill them.

However, there is an upside to all of this digging and cutting and killing your middle-aged knees like Jake Taylor. Each of those little cuttings can be planted and lovingly coaxed into growing more hops. Or just tossed into the woods where at least a few of them will survive. I've got a grocery bag each of Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus rhizomes sitting in my garage right now if anyone wants some.  

In any ordinary year, this trimming should be done around mid-March, once the truly wintry weather has passed. The aforementioned preposterousness of this winter has delayed everything, though. The day I did all that trimming and took the above photograph it was 70 degrees. The next day it snowed for almost six hours. It looked like this.

Glad I got the work done, just in time.