Buy your brewing supplies here

We now have a range of base and specialty malts for sale. A catalog and new website is coming soon. Let us know what you need and we will sell it to you or special order it for you. Please bear with us during this initial stage and we will have the full service shop available in no time.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Decisions, Buildings and Beer

We have met with a contractor for the purposes of an addition to our house and the building of an new outbuilding that will house the farm operations and a store front for the brew shop.  We have not idea whether we can sell enough hops to pay for it, but hey, it is a capital expense that should pay off in the long run, right?  I want to have a shop that will enable a local brewer to come it and dial up their grain bill for their next batch and crush it fresh on site if they wish.  We will also be set up to help with recipes and offer our advice where requested.

The site of the building will be where the old barn collapsed a number of years ago.  I hope that we can still salvage a bunch of the lumber, as it is mostly white oak and some nice cypress.  If anyone knows a good salvage company that would help us get at the usable lumber let us know.

Lastly, I will mention that we had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner that was a coursed meal with beer pairings.  Much of the meal featured Windy Hill Farm products.  A forthcoming post will detail the food and beer pairings of this small, but wonderful event.

Also, we received a nice mention in an article in The Dailey Egyptian, SIUC's newspaper.  The article detailed the expanding interest in craft beers.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Familiar Foreigners in my Backyard

There have always been a few Amish and Mennonite families scattered around southern Illinois.  In recent years several families have taken up residence in the older farms just to the south of us.   I don't know if it is nostalgia or just curiosity but I find myself fascinated by this sub-culture of seemingly kind souls living amongst us.  As some of you know I have a background and interest in sustainable technology that goes back to the late 80's.  This is probably the root of my fascination.  The fact that they are of a "fundamentalist" christian religion that is rooted in pacifism is also a key factor, particularly since it contrasts to the dominant Southern baptist and Methodist philosophies of the southern Appalachians where I was raised, or reared as they say.

I drive my daughter to school on a small winding back-road each morning in my red mini cooper.  There is a Mennonite (I presume) family that moved into one of the farms on the way.  Each morning we pass the children driving themselves in a horse drawn cart on their way to school (I again presume).  I am always overly cautious about passing them to be as polite as possible.  We have started turning off the radio and rolling the windows down so we can hear the clunk, clunk, clunk sound of the horse trotting.  It really is a mesmerizing sound.  The road is a lot of up and down hills, so we often have to ride behind them for a couple minutes to have a safe place to pass.  We always wave at each other as we pass and I think they have come to recognize us.  My daughter is currently fascinated by "Little House on the Prairie" and similarities are kind of cool.

The other morning we experienced an interesting case of irony.   As we passed them (very slowly) one of the boys said "Weeeee" as we passed and waived.  I thought it interesting and funny that while we thought it would be cool to ride the horse cart to school, they likely were thinking the same about our red sports car.  One of these days I am going to stop by their farm and introduce myself and welcome them to the neighborhood.  They really only live about 2 miles away, as the crow flies.  They are always quite friendly as we pass by.  Truth be told, their culture has faithfully maintained some of the knowledge and traditions that many of us now seek, such as growing your own food and materials and practicing sustainable agricultural practices that protect the land.  In many ways, they are moving forward while we are reaching back. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Big Muddy Brew Fest Success

The Bid Muddy Brew Festival was a great success.  We were really glad to be a part of it.  They were hoping for and planning for 500 and ended up letting over 600 in.  I think everyone had a great time and we especially enjoyed being vendors at this event.  Most of the event was, well beer of course, but there was one tent where a few of our friends had a homebrewing demonstration going on, the tent next to us was a brew shop from MO and a local cheese maker was at the end.  When the homebrew demonstration hit the boil and put in some hops I could smell it two tents down.  It was wonderful.  I think they made some good progress on getting a brewing club going.

We were set up next to a small brewshop located across the river in Jackson, MO. He started selling on a small scale a couple years ago and he had some helpful advice about us starting the brew shop.  A nice fellow and very helpful.

The interest in our hops and future shop was simply overwhelming.  Homebrewing and interest in good beer is alive and well in southern Illinois.  People can't seem to wait until we have supplies to offer.  We sold out of our hops fairly quickly and we also sold a number of T-shirts.  It was a good showing for us and we just made enough money to cover the cost of the tent we bought that morning.

We look forward to next years' festival with a larger number of brewers and a larger number of guests.  We will have more hops to sell next year!!!!!  Thanks to all of you that stopped by our table.  It was interesting to have so many people stop by and mention they had read our blog.  Thanks.

!!!!!By the way, those of you that missed getting one of our T-shirts at the festival can now order one on our blog.  Those of you that missed the festival entirely should order one as well and have a nice brew wearing it.  Next best thing to being there.  The google checkout and order system is at the end of the blog!!!!!!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Big Muddy Monster Brew Fest....TODAY!!!

We are making our final preparations for the brew festival.  It is sure to be a great event.  Over 50 craft beers to taste, good music, and we will be there selling our remaining hops (not much left for this season) and t-shirts.  Jen has outdone herself with a new block she has carved for the t-shirts.  They are organic, hand printed and full of cool.  We have several colors available and a couple of different designs.

1:00-4:00, Riverside Park, Murphysboro IL.

If you don't have plans today, come on out taste some unique craft brews and buy a t-shirt or some hops.  If you have other plans, change them!  Seriously, this should be a nice time for all and there is even a raffle being conducted.  One of the prizes is a Windy Hill Hops shirt.  

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nuts, Beer, and Eating Local

We are excited to report that our black walnut tree has outdone itself this year.  Last couple of years it produced a few dozen nuts, but this year it was literally bent with fruit.  Our friend Marika used some of them in a local foods dinner party last weekend in and on a wonderful freshly made ravioli.  From what we hear it wasn't trivial getting the flesh of the nut out.  That should get a little better as they age.

But let me step back and talk about the bigger picture and further explain the dinner that Marika put together.  We were invited and asked to provide local components and homebrew for a dinner she was planning.  She scoped out the ingredients that came available to her along with the homebrews several of us had ready to serve, and created a set of courses for a meal taking the beer and ingredients in consideration to make a positive matching.  From our garden/farm we provided basil, okra, garlic, walnuts, sun dried tomatoes and from the home brewery we provided an extra bitter pale ale (September Morn Pale Ale) and the wet hopped brew we made at our harvest party (Second Coming Fresh Hopped Ale).  I can't even begin to do justice to how wonderful it all was, especially the success of the pairings.  Sixteen if us sat down to enjoy 5 or 6 courses (I lost track), each served with a homebrew made by one of us.  It was a magical time and a great example of what can be done with local foods.  (photo courtesy of Dan Reedy)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Fete at the Fort

We had our first official public event today at The Fete at the Fort, in Prairie du Rocher.  It was a beer tasting with many craft brewers represented and there were a number of groups of reinactors dressed in 18th century period garb.  The were even firing the cannons.  We are very thankful for the invitation to attend and for the opportunity to meet so many potential customers.  We were able to sell a few hops and a few t-shirts and built up our mailing list.  The best part was letting people take a few hops in the hands, crush them and discover for the first time the wonderful aroma of hops.  The location was really impressive, as it is a fort built in 1720.

Friday, October 8, 2010

HomeBrew Store!!!

We have decided to augment our hops operations with a small store front that will sell brewing supplies.  We will focus on all-grain brewing supplies and equipment.  To our knowledge the closest "full service" brew shop is in St. Louis, 123 miles from Carbondale.  According to experience and reconnaissance, most brewers in the area order from internet supplies.  I too have done this for most of my needs in the past.  However, there is real benefit (and fun) in being able to think up a recipe Friday night (over a homebrew), pop in the brew shop Saturday morning and brew it that afternoon.  Wouldn't it even be nice to be able to grab that specialty yeast strain you need as well, rather than settling for Muntons dried packs?  Wouldn't it also be nice to smell and taste different malts prior to committing to a 50 lbs sack via the internet?  If you get a batch of hops that just don't look or smell right, wouldn't it be nice to swing by the shop and say, " Hey, does this smell right to you?"?  

We will have limited hours, but our aim is to supply southern Illinois with what is needed for home brewing in the area to grow.  Plus, we think it will just be way cool to drive by the hopyard on the way to the brew shop to pick up a mix of local and sourced supplies to make the most local beer possible.  We hope to have an area to host seminars and courses on brewing, tastings, and maybe a focal point to foster home brew clubs.

We are in the process of planning the store, building and inventory.  Brewers: If there are particular types of ingredients or equipment you would like to see stocked please let us know by posting comments here or by sending us an email (  We will even take pre-orders for those interested.  If you send us suggestions for items to stock we will give a 20% discount on your first purchases.  We will post details of progress and opening dates here.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Harvest Party and general update

It has been a while since the last post.  With the academic year starting life has been pretty hectic, but we have made some exciting steps forward on the farm.  An article about our farm recently appeared in the Fall issue of Life & Style magazine, a regional magazine that is put out quarterly in southern Illinois.  The article turned out really well and has already led to a sale.   Thanks go to Shawn Connolly for  putting such a nice article together.

Along other "news", we had a nice "second" harvest party.  Because we hand picked and left the vines intact, we had a spurt of secondary growth and cones that made it to maturity.  We put together a last minute that, while not perfectly planned and executed, seemed to provide a nice time for all.  Not to boast, but it was an event of cosmic alignment.  Seriously though, just 2 days prior to the actual party was the equinox, the harvest moon, one of our birthdays AND a harvest.  We clipped several of the bines and while I was mashing a brew our guests picked about 20 oz of wet hops that we used in a fresh hop harvest ale.  Unfortunately, Jen and I were quite busy with cooking and brewing (yes, it might have been a dumb idea to try to do both at the same time) and we didn't even take any photo's of the festivities. We didn't take a count, but recollection of guest we know attended hits a number >50.  Next year we will have it more organized and hopefully have some live music.  We are hoping to attract The New Vernacular, one of the hottest new Americana bands out of Knoxville, TN!!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Buy your hops here!

It is official.  You can buy your hops right here on the blog.  We have set up a google checkout store, which promises to make all of this easy.  If you have any trouble placing orders, let me know and we will take care of it.  We will soon have other merchandise with our logo (as soon as we finish it).  Our supply is short this first season, so get your orders in quick before we run out.  We have them packaged in 1 oz and 2 oz packages perfect for home brewing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Harvest Time!

After much contemplation and soul searching (not really) we decided it was time to harvest.  Knowing that harvesting early reduces your quantity of essential oils and waiting to long can lead to oxidation and bad taste, we decided to err on the early side.  It apparently can be pretty complicated to hit the harvest just right.  There is a method where you look at the moisture content over time and the cones apparently increase, then decrease and then increase again.  It is the second increase that indicates ripeness.  Next year we will try that method and see if it makes it easier.

We made a family affair out of picking the first row.  This row matured more quickly, probably because it was the first in the ground, the first to be trellised, the first to get irrigation, etc.  Every one did a good job picking and it went fairly quickly.
I rediscovered that 15 feet is pretty high up when you are standing on a ladder.  I couldn't quite reach the top several feet from the ladder, so I used the front end loader on the tractor. Now, I know what you are thinking, that that is dangerous and shouldn't be done.  Before you condemn me let me state for the record that I didn't actually lift anyone with the tractor, I simply stood in the bucket (with the hydraulics locked and the tractor off) using a ladder to get to the bucket.  Here is a photo of the view from the top.

The picking went fairly quickly and soon we had nearly a bucket full of beautiful hops from the first half of the first row.  True to common knowledge and Glen Fullers (rhizome supplier) prediction we only got  fraction of a pound from each plant.  By next year we should be up to a pound or more per plant. 

Since we had a small harvest this year we decided to take a simple approach at drying.  Genoa and I assembled a couple of screens for drying the hops.  We set up an area in the air conditioned house for drying them.  We had a fan to force air through the hops and relied on the lower humidity in the house (~25%at the time) to drive the moisture out of the hops.  They dried beautifully and most of them held together quite well.  While they dried just fine, I can already see that we will need something significantly more significant next year.  I have some fancy plans in my head to turn our old brick silo into a solar oaster with gas backup for cloudy days.
The last few photos are of the dried hops.  Once they were dry we weighed out 1 and 2 ounce packets, vacuum sealed them and stuck them in the freezer.  It is a little depressing when you take the beautiful cone and pack it in the little bag, as it doesn't look quite so pretty then.  The processing went pretty well.  The kids really like helping with the vacuum bag machine, with the 3 year old showing particular prowess at pushing the control buttons.
  The next photo shows where I swipped my hand across the table where we had been processing the hops.  That is pure lupulin, which are little tiny sacs of oils.  With any pressure the sacks open up and you can smell the oils.  I brushed all the extra lupulin in a little bowl and through it in with the double IPA I brewed the next day.  I wonder if the big hop yards do anything with all the lupulin dust that must accumulate on the floors an equipment.  
  The last image I will leave you with is that of my recent home brewing being dry-hopped with some of our recently dried harvest.  As I mentioned above, it is an imperial, or double IPA.  I used a somewhat random assortment of bittering hops I had laying around that I needed to use.  None of them were fresh enough to really trust for aroma hops, but the alpha acids for bittering should be roughly in tact.  They smelled ok (not too oxidized) so I gambled it.

I then used 1 oz of freshly dried Windy Hill Cascades for an aroma hops for the last 15 minutes of the boil and another 1 oz for dry hopping when I racked to a secondary a week latter.  I will report on how it turned out in a week or so.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lupulin, Oh How You Smell!

We are thinking it might actually be that know harvest time.  The photo on the right is showing one of our hop bines.  You can see that the color is a little bit lighter green than before.  After squeezing a cone a little it gives of that distinct aroma.  The lovely little oil sacks of lupulin are clearly visible on the base of each leaf.  Is it time?

I picked a cone this morning to give it a good test.  I cut it open to really get a good smell of it and to see how much lupulin is actually there.  You can see in the photo bellow the glans with all the lupulin stacked in the cone.  I think we are close.  The real questions are when we do it, do we have enough for the test batch with Schlafly, do we have our drying equipment ready, do we have our vacuum bagging system and balances on hand, is the marketing ready to go, do we have business cards and a logo prepared?

These are the questions.  And can we make some little bit of money to offset some of the expenses for the year?  These are the current ponderables.  While we are working on answers, I will through a few other photos of the current state of the hop yard for your viewing pleasure (I finally took the good camera to the yard).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I can happily report that we have many cones and they are filling up with nice orange/yellow lupulin.  I don't think it will be a huge harvest, but we should have enough to make a few sales and get things moving in the right direction.  The rows that didn't get trellised will probably not do much this year, but hopefully have established some roots and saved some energy for next year.

We are encouraged that the pest didn't wipe us out and that we have learned how to deal with most of them for next year (famous last words, right?).  The real question is going to be if and how we expand next year.  We now know from experience that we should be building the trellis system in the fall for next spring.  That is, however, a big expense before we even make any money on this years harvest, which will be small.  Things to ponder.
We are also encouraged by a nice mention we received in the local press.  This is an article by Shawn Connolly, who is a local beer writer.  It is exciting to watch and be a part of the craft beer renaissance that is happening as we speak.
On the non-hop farm front, we can report that organic tomatoes abound on Windy Hill.  I can also report that we have had very minimal damage from pests on the tomatoes (not so for the kale).  I can get pretty serious about eating tomatoes.  I made a pasta sauce last night that was probably 90% (by weight) Windy Hill Farms product.  Now we just need to figure out how to grow olives and capers to hit 100%.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Slowly but surely (we hope)

It is turning out to take forever to get the trellis system in the ground.  We have now completed 3 rows (60 hop plants) which is half way.  We have been able to use the locust trees harvested on our property, but we are mostly out of them now...we will need to source at least 7-8 more to complete the yard.  We are, however, getting pretty good and quick at putting in the trellis system.  It takes me about 15 minutes to hand auger a hole  and about 15-20 minutes to rig and set a pole and each time I get a little faster.  Some of our poles aren't the straightest and it takes an odd skill to align a pole to take positive advantage to the twisty ones.  I bought a couple of wire cams that tighten onto the cables in order to pull them tight.  I have one on each end of a come-along that allows me to pull the cables really tight before I clamp them.

I can tell you that I am already looking forward to not having to build the trellis system again next year.  The idea of only having to string and train the hops is appealing, though we will probably be dumb enough to expand and do the same thing over again.

We now have three rows that look good.  I have installed a drip irrigation system that is making a difference.  We have also mulched a couple of the rows with straw.  We are holding off a bit to finish because the price of straw is really high right now, and will drop in a week or two when people start harvesting around here.

It is interesting how different some of the plants are in terms of their growth.  I can't tell, though, if it is from slight differences in the soil, quicker stringing and mulching, or plant genetics.  Some are really taking off and several have hit the top wire on the trellis.  We decided to go with a 15' foot trellis instead of 18', based on the advice of other growers.  Seems to be ok.  When I am on a ladder rigging the last pole of a row I am certainly glad for being 3 feet closer to the ground.

I actually have an idea I am going to try on the next row.  When it is time to harvest we have a choice of getting the pickers close to the hops (ladders, lifts, etc) or getting the hops close to the pickers.  Commercial yards do this by cutting the bines and twine along the top and they load up the full length of the bine for picking in the mechanical picker.  An advantage to picking without cutting the bine at harvest time is that the plant spends more time storing energy for the next season.  I have also read that you can phase your harvest to get a greater yield at prime "ripeness" because all of the cones are not at their peak at the same time.  It is also possible to get a second, smaller harvest before season is gone.  My idea is to attach the top cable via a pulley system that will allow me to drop the whole top cable to pick a row, then hoist it back up.  The down side is that pulley that can handle the cable strength (~800 lb) are about $8 each, so it adds $24 per 100' row.  I will try one and see how it does.

I have photos for another post that will come very soon, but I am off to buy more cable to rig row #4.  I will give a preview of the next post by mentioning that we have discovered the pests we will face as hop growers in our region.  The first invasion was in the form of japanese beetles.  There really are not many options for them.  There are the pheramone based traps, but a study by USDA concluded that they likely attract as many as they catch.  The only real method we see as effective is developing a good population of milky spore in your soil, which kills them in the larvae stage.  However, to derive benefit from it all of your neighbors must do it as well and it takes a few years to really be effective.  In the mean time, we are using the pluck and dunk method.  The photo above shows our current system, the four legged, 20 fingered beetle plucker.  It currently cost us $0.10 per beetle to operate.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Up She Goes!!!

Two items to briefly mention.  The first is that the hops are growing like mad.  The second is that I am having a heck of a time getting the rest of the trellis system in and it looks like that will be the main activity of the coming holiday weekend.  The photo here shows the leader of the pack, which is about 6' tall now.  The other plants without trellises are growing along the ground, waiting for me to catch up.

Friday, May 14, 2010

117 is the Number

of hops we have thriving at the moment.  We planted 120 rhizomes, so that gives us a preliminary success rate of 97.5%!  I'd say that is pretty darn good.  I would like to think it is the excellent preparation and skill in planting, but I truly think it is the excellent stock that I received from Glen Fuller at Colorado Organic Hops.  Thanks Glen!  I did note that 2 plants had some mostly nibbled off leaves.   We will have to keep an eye on rabbits like hop leaves?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trellis Progress: No mechanical hole diggers harmed in the making of this hop yard

It is going to be slow going with the Trellis system, but we made some progress.  We have found it difficult to source suitable poles, especially non-treated poles necessary for organic certification.  Therefore, we went forward with our plans to harvest and use a small stand of black locust that has been growing on our property.  An interesting note is that these trees have grown from nothing in the almost 10 years we have lived here.  They came up in a flower bed in an area of the yard we don't really use.  Through our neglect they became significant saplings after a couple of years, a point at which I felt some hesitation to cut them.  I must admit a fondness for the black locust.  It grows like a trash tree, yet grows straight, is one of the most dense hardwoods on earth and is extremely rot resistant.  I grew up seeing these harvested for fence post in the mountains of NC.  In any case, the photo on the right shows the area we harvested. They were not perfectly straight, but pretty darn good.  I cleaned up the branches and nubs with the chainsaw and they look pretty good. 
 This is photo of one of the poles going in the ground.  As the running title of this entry suggests, we dug the holes by hand.  I did buy a hand auger for ~$60 which, in combination with my trusty old posthole digger, did a reasonably quick job.  Probably took about 20 minutes per hole. 

 I was lucky enough to have my friend Mike provide some volunteer labor, which proved to be nice in the case of the hole digging, and necessary in the case of putting the poles in the holes.  According to the Log Weight Calculator I found on the web (, these logs average about 200 lbs each.  The process we used turned out to be very similar to stepping a mast on a sailboat, something that Mike and I have done together many times (though the masts are not nearly as heavy).  We wanted to cant the end pole out a bit to even the stress on the pole.  This led to a bit of red neck calculus and pontification (OK, no jokes about how long it takes an engineer and a PhD to put a pole in the ground).  An indication of the heavy cogitation that occurred is clearly visible in photo on the left.
In the end, despite our best efforts to do things right, it turned out really well.  We decided to spread the poles at 50' intervals, which meant two end poles and one center pole.  I chose to use 3/16" galvanized cable with a working load of ~880 lbs.  Some hop yards use significantly bigger, but I think this will be sufficient if we keep the overall run to no more than a couple hundred feet.  Until we expand in the future it is a 100' run.  I am making a real effort to keep the upfront cost in check, so we are trying to maximize the efficiency of efforts without compromising the long-term effort. 

I can fortunately report that the pole erection process got faster with each pole and I think we can finish the yard in not too many weekends, IF WE CAN FIND ENOUGH POLES.  That is our big problem right now.  We got one row completed and I have enough locust for 1-2 more rows, but that leaves us 12 poles short.  I will be scrounging for locust trees.  If anyone has locust trees they want removed, let me know!

In closing, I find I can state that while the trellis system is THE major expense and technical challenge of  establishing a hop yard, it is doable.  I can also state that the cost of establishing a hop yard can probably vary by a few thousand quid  per acre depending on the way in which construction of the trellis is approached.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shoot'n for the Sun

Hops are vigorous little buggers!  Here is one that, in only 3 weeks has started climbing the flag I used to mark the plant.  Guess it is time to get moving on the trellis. (I know there are some weeds in there....I will smother those out soon)  

It is a critical and busy time on Windy Hill.  This is the time that weeds really take off and can bury our efforts if not careful.  That is the story of many previous gardening attempts.  We often travel in late May to early June and return to a virtual coup by the weeds.  This year we will be armed with a combination of deep mulching and a tractor to cultivate.  In the hop yard we will combat with a cover crop, though we seem to have a hard time deciding what to use and how to make sure we don't do anything that might jeopardize gaining organic certification.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

64 and Counting...

We have had a lot of rain recently, which is probably good at this stage for the hops since I haven't put the irrigation system in yet.  I can report that the soil in the hop yard seems to be draining well, wich bodes well for the plowing and subsoiling that was done.  I don't have much more to report, but I did take a walk through the hop yard yesterday evening to take a count of what is coming up.  We currently have 64 bines that are clearly identifiable.  I believe that there will be more to I think this is pretty good at this stage.  A few looked ready to climb something, so I best be getting busy on the trellis system!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Hop-in (Part 2)

With some help from the family, the weekend was spent making sure the rest of the hops got in the ground.  It was a little easier to get excited about doing this because, as can be seen in the photo, the hops in the first few rows have started growing.  However, I now feel like the race is on to get the trellis system in place.  These vines are going to need something to climb pretty soon.  Some of them have grown 4-5" just in the week since I planted them!

By Sunday afternoon I had successfully put 100 cascade and 20 chinook rhizomes in the ground.  By the end I had a pretty good system that was at least twice as fast as the first row.  I guess it is a learning experience.  It is funny, after all the planning with plant density and row spacing, I ended up with 4 unused rows.  I think I was thinking of commercial spacing when I calculated my density, but I ended up with doubled density on the plant-plant spacing (no need to machine cultivate between plants) and a 6' instead of 7' spacing between rows due to the smaller size of my compact tractor.  I think this will be good.  From what  have read I will not be limited in terms of growth and light, but will clearly max out what I will get from my 1/5 acres test plot.  We have 5 rows of cascade and 1 row of chinook.  It worked out perfectly with the number of rhizomes we ordered.

One of us also came up with the cool idea of a hops adoption program.  We are working on the details, but it would allow a remote interested party to adopt a plant.  We could call it the remote Hop Ownership Program (rHOP).  This also got me thinking about pre-orders for home-brewers that would like to adopt a hop and receive the hop cones from their plant at harvest time for that special batch (or two of beer.  This could be a cool value added product.  If anyone is interested in this opportunity please let us know.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Hop-in (Part One)

That day finally arrived last weekend where we starting putting the hops in the ground.  I had 100 cascade and 20 Chinook rhizomes in the beer fridge for the week until we could get ready.  My "real" profession kept taking my time and attention.  In any case, it was time to plant!

I received a text message on Friday afternoon from my sister asking what we were doing on the weekend.  I replied "Planting hops, drinking hoppy beer and playing in the mud.  Wanna play?", to which the reply stated "we are on our way".  I haven't been so excited in a while.  My sister and her family live ~6 hours away so we don't get enough time together.  Also, I was beginning to realize the significance of hand planting 120 rhizomes and was really looking forward to the volunteer labor.

On Friday evening I was a little paranoid about whether I had done adequate soil prep.  Our soil is a clay loam, which is pretty good in the grand scheme of things.  It does hold the water a bit and I really don't know whether there is significant hard-pan that might impede drainage and root growth.  Rural King had a single point sub-soiler (aka ripper) that was only $150.  I had been thinking about it earlier an have really been trying to keep the cost down, but considering that the hops will be there for a decade or two, the $150 started to seem minor in comparison to the investment in time and other materials.  Thus, on the way home from work I picked up the sub-soiler in my mini cooper!  That was fun, especially since their policy required an employee to help me load it.  I asked the fellow if he had loaded many 3-point implements into mini coopers and he said something like, "well, no...not really, but you just never know what you might see".  

In the evening I sub-soiled half the garden and it was really amazing.  A sub-soiler doesn't really turn over or disturb the soil, but it runs about 2 full feet deep and lifts the surrounding soil slightly and leaves a 1-2 inch slice through the soil.  I think it was a cost effective choice.  Now, I should have done that prior to plowing, but I think it had the same effect.
To the right is a photo of the whole crew after a day a planting.  It was, quite honestly, hard labor.  We worked out a system where, after the rows were laid out, one of us would first dig the hole and make sure the soil was loose, a second would work in a shovel or two of composted manure and a third would come in behind and plant the rhizome.  We managed to get 55 rhizomes in the ground on Saturday, and had fun doing so!  The photos below shows part of our assembly line, include the rear guard, and the first plant being planted.  It was a great time and we are so thankful to our volunteer crew that helped us get started.  We tried to provide for the crew by purchasing the highest quality, hoppiest beer I could find and by cooking some excellent pizza with dough that had been rising for a full day and a half.  We even ended part of the evening with some banjo/guitar/bass music on the front porch.  The time was too short, but we had a great weekend.  There are more photos to share and some reviews of the beers we drank while putting in the hop yard, but that will come later. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Big Motions on Windy Hill

I am able to report that after much debate, internal consternation, weighing of pros and cons, we decided to site the hop yard in the western end of the northwest plot.  This is on a high spot of our property and I thought the drainage should be decent there.  That area has proven itself very effective at growing thick turf and grass.  It also has full sun and is somewhat blocked by other buildings from the prevalent winds.  Long story made short:  we made a decision and broke ground.  Using my GPS and a 100' tape measure I laid out an area that is 56'x100', mowed it as short as possible and prepared the plow.

Now, I have read that plowing with a moldboard plow is something of a dying art and an activity requiring a degree of skill not required with the more commonly used tillage methods in "modern" farming.  Fortunately, I used our garden area for practice last week and learned how to set the plow properly.  There is something kind of ironic about going to the internet or my iPhone to get info about plowing...but it worked.  I was able to set it up and by the last half of the garden I had nice furrows that were being turned over properly.  I should mention that it wasn't simple I am not sure how I would have figured it out without the internet.  Here is a photo of my fist furrow.  Luckily,  I think the farming neighbors were off doing easterly things and weren't around to watch me; that would have been a bit of pressure.  Nonetheless I made a pretty straight row and it turned over nicely.

About half way through I actually started feeling some pride and satisfaction in how the furrows were laying down.  When they are done correctly, the flip over relatively flat and it give a bit of an undulating surface.  In any case, it is done and I only have to wait a little while for the grass to dye and to run over it all with the secondary cultivator to break up the big pieces and then we will be ready for the hops plants, which came in on Sunday.  My next blog entry will have some photos of the hops that are currently in the fridge and an interesting story of how I am utilizing a disc harrow that I found on our property.  It was half buried in the mud with a tree growing through it.  Until then, remember to stops and smell the hops.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Plowing and Planning

I plowed the garden the other night for practice before I hit the hop yard.  Took a little bit of fine tuning, but by the end I knew how to set up the plow properly.  I will have to go over it with a disc, but at least this first stage is done.  Now we have to decide where to put the hops.  We are having a hard time making that decision.  It seems a little permanent.  In any case, I am hope for good enough weather to get the ground ready this the rhizomes are coming any day.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Plow

Well, we have the new plow and I was able to plow a few rows this morning to test it out.  Plowing can get a little controversial, especially when your talking about organic farming.  I found a lot of information during my research and finally settled on a traditional method, the moldboard plow.  This is the traditional plow that turns over the soil, inverting th top 6 -8" of the soil.  It has fallen by the wayside in contemporary farming because of potential problems with soil erosion.  The main benefit, however, is that it offers a way to build the soil and minimize weed problems if used in combination with cover crops.  If you plan to use roundup ready GMO seeds and pesticides then this benefit is lost and you are better off using a non-inverting tillage or even no tillage system.  If you are going organic, it remains a viable option.  We plan to use it in the initial hop yard prep and then seasonally to turn green manure crops (i.e. nitrogen fixing legumes cover crops) between the rows to cut down on the weeds while building and replenishing the soil.  The photo on the right is me following our friend Mike hauling a trailer with the new plow.  Our car is still in the shop for warranty work (a long story) and my Mini Cooper cant really haul a trailer, so we solicited Mike's kind help to pick up the plow at our local Rural King. 

The plow in its' crated form is shown on the left.  It was imported from India.  While I like to buy American made products when possible, I kind of like the idea of the potential karma building that went into the plow, assuming appropriate dharma was observed.  Seems appropriate for our vegetarian organic hops production.  In any case, the thing is heavy and I had to use the tractor to move it out of the driveway.  I will report further on the breaking of ground in a day or two.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Buying a Plow!

I am planning to buy a plow today.  This is exciting business.  The hop plants were to ship today, so I have to get the ground ready.  Still not exactly sure where to situate the hop yard, but I guess that will be determined soon.  Hope the neighbors don't mind looking at hops and a trellis system.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Promising Development

I know I promised a review of the Sierra Nevada Estate Grown beer and that will come, but I have to immediately share the news that successful and positive correspondence with Schlafly brewery has occurred.  For those not in our region, Schlafly's is the bottle name for the Saint Louis Brewery, a regional brewery (located not too far from that big big brewery that starts with a "B" and ends with an "R").
They started as a microbrewery in 1991 and they produce about 30,000 barrels a year.  They are what I would call a medium sized brewery that made a nice transition from micro- to regional brewery.  They are meeting local market demand while continuing to produce a broad range of high quality beers.  Last fall I purchased a pub keg of a Belgian ale they unceremoniously called Farm House Ale.  I won't reveal too many details here short of saying it was a batch that must be experienced and not described.  By chance I happen to have a photo of a half drunk glass; even a pessimist would describe this glass as half full if they had the first half.

But back to the news.  I made contact with the brewers that be at Schlafly's and they are willing to do a test batch with our hops and see how it goes.  This would be a fresh dry hopped brew.  I am not sure what they are thinking, but I would presume something similar to what Sierra Nevada produces as a Harvest Ale, once in the Fall with the North American harvest and once in the Spring with New Zealand hops.  It is, of course, only a tentative agreement and only a test batch but it is a cool possibility.  Now I have to make sure we get enough in the ground to produce the 10-15 pounds necessary for that test batch!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


There is definitely a movement that's been stirring (use pun as appropriate), resulting in the appearance of craft beers that recognize peoples desire for some combination of locally sourced, organic, and high quality.  On the term locally sourced, it may be more appropriate to say conspicuously sourced.  In other words, I might not care that it was necessary grown local to me, but that I know where it came from.  More importantly, a brewer crafted it with input from the ground up (another appropriate pun).  In any case, I have taken this as an excuse to sample some of these brews and I will here share my impressions.  I apologize upfront for the photos not being true professional quality....they were snapped with my iphone.  Here is the first in a series to come.

Rogue Brewery's "Chatoe Rogue" Series Dirtoir Black Lager

This is part of the GYO series or beers that Rouge has started.  GYO is Grow Your Own and they indicate the series as being dedicated to farmers and fermenters.  I have long loved Rogue Brewery and their antics, but this is a movement after my heart.  I wish they weren't 2-3K miles away.

Back to the beer.  As you can see in my photo, it is indeed a black lager.  It should in no way be confused with a stout, as the character is true to style (Schwarzbier).  It is a very drinkable beer with a noticeable but not strong hop pallet and it lacks the stronger toasted malt flavors of a stout.  Also notable in the photo is the beautiful head.  I don't know if it was the extra loving care the barley received during growth, malting and production, but this beer had one of the nicest heads I've had stick to my upper lip....and it was well retained through the beer.  Over all, not my most favorite of beers (I am a hop head) but very good.  Recommended for sure.

You may wonder to what I referred when I said "extra loving care" for the malt.  That brings me to the main point of the post and that is that Rogue has started their own farm.  They produced the barley and hops used in this brew.  Very cool indeed.  Even more cool is that the side of the bottle states the latitude-longitude coordinated for where these two ingredients were produced.  I know it is hard to see in the photo, but trust me it's there.

Next to come:  Review of Sierra Nevada's Estate Ale