Hops Loving the Heat

I have been busy as a beaver with work in this heat, so my little urban farm has been suffering without me. What little time I’ve had each day, I’ve taken to watering the plants and making sure the girls stay cool. My replanted turnips were growing until something came through and wiped them out. I suspect it was an alley cat using my recently worked soil for his litter box since Luke took a sudden interest in what was buried there. Everything has been suffering in this heat and drought.

The only thing not suffering have been my hops. They appear to be thriving in this oppressive heat. I’ve been watering them daily with a slow drip from the hose since we haven’t had measurable rain for 10 days.The Cascade hops rapidly ran up the strings, but then stopped once they went over the top of the deck onto the horizontal lines. The Willamette grew more slowly, but in the last week during the hottest weather, it’s vines took off. They have grow 4 feet in the last 7 days. They haven’t topped the deck yet, but are very close.

I am now noticing hop cones forming from the flowers on the vines. Harvest can be anywhere from mid-August to mid-September depending on the variety and growing conditions. I plan on monitoring the growing cones by squeezing them and smelling them. They say as they get close to harvest, the hop smell intensifies and the cones feel lighter and drier. I don’t expect a big harvest this first year, but that should improve in coming years.

Either way, I am looking forward to making that first batch of homemade brew with my own homegrown hops!

Hops Are Growing

hopsThis picture is of the Cascade hops with just 3 vines on the twines. My hops are growing well in spite of the crazy weather. On the hot days, the vines can grow up to 6 inches in one day. I have to admit I’ve not been diligent on watering them, but they seem to be doing well in spite of the neglect. Will be interesting to see how far they grow.

Hops Update

hopsBack on April 10th I planted my hops. The weather since then had been cool and rainy. Until these past two days that is. Seems a heat wave has hit Iowa. We went from freeze warnings last week to record setting heat in the 90’s (100’s if you count the heat index) for today. It’s like going from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds!

Everything in my yard is feeling the heat – the trees, the perennials just emerging, and the yard chickens. It is a good day just to sit back and take it easy in the shade. The only thing thriving in all this sunshine, heat, and humidity are the hops I planted.

hopsThe Cascade was the first to emerge 9 days ago with the Willamette showing growth just 6 days ago. But my golly what a bit of water and sunshine will do! The Cascade has a number of shoots with the tallest at 3 inches. The Willamette has about 5 shoots with the tallest at 5 inches. The plan is to wait until the shoots are 12 inches long, then choose the strongest 2-3 to grow per string. I’m keeping the variety strings far enough apart so they don’t become inter-tangled. I hope to run the vines up vertically then run horizontally over my deck shade structure as needed. I guess when running horizontally, you have to manually train the vines to the string. Plus you have to make sure to wrap the vines clockwise on the string (it’s the whole sun path northern hemisphere thing happening there I guess).

So in spite of the oppressing heat today, I’m looking forward to seeing what these hops do in the coming weeks!

Homemade Soaps

This is a blog post I wrote for Twin Girls Garden, a small farm CSA of which I am a part of. You can visit us at www.twingirlsgarden.com.

homemade soap

To celebrate spring, we’re having our first garden party, Twin Girls Garden Saturday, on Saturday, April 30th, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Over the next few blog posts, I hope to post a little about the products and crafts we expect to have available that day. Among what is available that day will be some of my homemade natural soaps.

The soap pictured to the left is my newest batch made with lard, coconut oil, olive oil, and our own goat’s milk. I’ve added crushed rosemary, grown naturally in my own garden, for it’s herbal healing effects on the skin. It is expected to be a very soothing, refreshing soap with moderate lather.

My interest in homemade natural soap and salves started with my own dog, Luke, who is severely allergic and has skin issues. His skin is so sensitive that most essential oils will irritate his skin, even in soaps. Many pet cleaning products, including many homemade soaps advertised for dogs, are too harsh on their skin and coat, often not taking into account that a dog’s skin pH is different than ours. And many add essential oils to “repel” fleas and other insect pests. They fail to mention that such herbal repellant activity is very short lived, oftentimes not lasting more than 15-30 minutes after application. That in order to maintain repellency it would need to be re-applied daily which would only dry out the coat and irritate the dog’s skin more. And I don’t know about you, but I would prefer my Luke not smell like a pine tree or Vick’s jar, especially since he sleeps in bed with me.

dogBeing a veterinarian, I see many animals with skin issues ranging from allergies to skin infections. I am taking my years of experience and putting it into developing a line of dog soaps and salves that are soothing and healing for the skin, as well as being natural and free of fragrances and chemicals. Using locally produced natural products will also be important. I hope to develop products that use herbs and herbal infusions to provide skin calming and soothing properties that will be helpful for many different skin conditions. And no essential oils to repel fleas will be added because, quite frankly, they don’t work not to mention some are toxic to cats. I will be also offering a variety of farm soaps for people including one to help with exposure to poison ivy.

Come and see all the products and crafts at the Twin Girls Garden Saturday. Hopefully, it will be a beautiful sunny April day!


Growing Hops

After my foray into the world of homebrewing beer last year, I was looking for a new venture for this year. I enjoy challenging myself and trying new things. I thought I would marry my two worlds of brewing and agriculture together by growing my own hops. I could experience growing them on my own little “city farm” and then harvest, dry, and use them in my homebrewing. Not only would it be the experience of following something through from start to finish, but I could grow as organically as possible. An added benefit in my book. And home grown hops are fresher, imparting a better quality and a better flavor than purchased hops.

growing hopsSo as with any new adventure, I started off with research. My homebrew go-to book, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing” by Charlie Papazian, has a chapter in it about growing hops. I also discovered good information at freshops.com, a hops grower in Oregon. Armed with my head full of information, I ordered my hop rhizomes online from freshops, and they arrived a week later.


I chose to grow hops that I would use in my own brewing. For many of my stouts and imperials, I’ve used the Fuggle and Cascade hops. Both are an aromatic hop, though I have used the Cascade as a finishing hop in some recipes. The Cascade hop is known to be a hearty variety and seems to grow well in many different conditions. The Fuggle hop is a bit fussier to grow with small flowers and low yields. The Willamette hop was developed in Oregon as a Fuggle-like hop that has larger flowers and a moderate yield. So I ordered a rhizome of each – the Cascade and the Willamette. It is important when planting two different varieties that you have at least a 5 foot spacing between them to avoid any intermixing of the vines.

Hops can be grown pretty much anywhere in the United States. They are a perennial and require a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily. Since they are a rapidly growing vine, growing up to 1 to 2 feet in one day, they require a strong trellis support system to grow their 20-35 foot vines. They prefer a rich, loamy, organic soil with good drainage. The first year the hops put most of their growth into their root system, with the second year then going to the flowers. The green conelike flowers are harvested around August to September, before they turn brown.

growing hopsFirst, I had to figure out where to plant the hops on my small 50 foot by 100 foot “city farm.” Not only did I need to consider a place with the most daily sun exposure, but also some type of trellis support. And that they grow in the same place every year, preferably away from outsiders picking them. I settled on the border around my deck, which is located on the south side of my house. This one area gets sunlight all day, an ideal location. I already have Purple Coneflower and Black Eyed Susans in the border, so I will have to keep them pruned back from the hop vines to avoid trouble. I have an overhead arbor frame supporting a canvas retractable shade for my deck, so I will use that for a trellis support. I’m excited to see if these growing vines will provide a bit of green privacy throughout the summer.

The soil on my “city farm” is all clay and doesn’t drain well at all. The border soil I had amended some years ago with organic material and sand, but when I started digging holes for the rhizomes, it was wet and sticky. So I dug out a foot wide and 1.5 feet deep hole. I then took garden soil, added lots of organic material, peat moss, and some organic fertilizer and dumped it back into the holes. I placed a rhizome in each and covered with 5 inches of the amended soil mixture. Mulch over top, a little watering, and I was set.

growing hopsOnce the vines start growing, I will need to choose the strongest 3-5 vines and prune the rest back. As they reach 2 to 3 feet in length, I can train them to climb a strong twine I’ll have strung up for a trellis. All the sources say to make sure you wind the vines clockwise around the twine for proper growth (related to the sun’s path across the sky). In the Southern hemisphere they train them counterclockwise. It’s important during rapid growth to keep them watered well, but not soaked.

I am looking forward to what the summer brings. I will continue to share the adventure, with all it’s warts and beauty marks, as times goes on. And if you were here, I’d share a homebrew with ya!