I promised myself last fall that this year I would try something new and wild in the garden. Some crop never before dreamed of.
Then I looked over my finished seed orders last week and…nothing. I had some unusual colors, true. But nothing too risky, all told. So I started a roll call of things I don’t usually plant. Leeks, done that. Peanuts, done that. Cotton, failed. Tomatillos, done that. Kohlrabi, nobody likes it. Jicama, meh.
Then it hit me. Why not hops?
We’ve seen hops fields–usually on trips to other parts of the country. They’re especially prevalent on the temperate West Coast. But will they grow in the Midwest?
We’d answered that question on a trip to St. Louis for our daughter’s soccer tournament last year. As it happened, we had a lot of down time between games–enough time to get on our bikes and ride the Katy Trail over to St. Charles, Mo. There, in the back of one of the historic sites at the former state capital, was a garden. And in a corner, trained up on a trellis, were the instantly recognizable light green pinecone-like hops.
Perfect, I thought. Mike could use them in his home brew. So far, he’s mostly a kit man, but maybe a cheap supply would inspire him to branch out. And hops are quite a pretty and interesting looking vine.
Also, worldwide hops cultivation has been hurt by the climate changes attributed to global warming. In 2007, there was a hops shortage and people in Europe still talk about a general decline in quality.
But here’s the biggest reason driving my interest in hops.
This is the new view looking north from our garden. A large church recently bought our neighbor’s house, razed it, wrenched out all the trees and put in this auxiliary building, which as you see has large windows looking down on us.
To be sure, the drawings did not look like this when we went to the meeting about it. There were full-grown, leafy trees shielding us from the terrible truth. Problem: None of these trees is anywhere near full-grown yet. And in the meantime, we’ve lost one of our tall pines to the nematodes that were killing them in this area last year.
A few hops vines, which can grow 25 feet, might just give us back some of the privacy we lost. All I’d need is for Mike to build some kind of trellis. Hmmm.
Then I started researching…and, oh, boy. What a can of worms! First, none of my usual seed catalogs carried hops, for some reason. Then I started looking online, and finally found a place that offered a packet of 50 seeds for $3.62, which seems quite reasonable. Even better, it listed them as appropriate for zones 4-8. (We’re on the south side of 5.)
But wait. Another site, called (yikes!) Growing the Hallucinogens, gave a detailed description of just what you have to do to get those seeds to germinate. It involves damp peat moss and a plastic bag in your refrigerator for 5-6 weeks, then room temperature peat moss checking every day for dampness and sprouting for another 10-21 days. At that rate, maybe we’d have hops in December.
Much better–but clearly more expensive–would be to buy the more common rhizomes, which run around $4 each.
More bad news. Some other sites and comments told me something I didn’t want to hear. Hops are apparently poisonous to dogs. If ingested, they cause an uncontrollably high fever, which can result in death if not treated early.
This is almost a deal breaker. Einstein, now 11 months old, loves to dig and play along the fence line where the hops would grow. I looked everywhere on-line, but most of the cases of dog poisoning involved them eating composted hops that had been mixed with the sweet wort that makes the fabulous home brew. Some commenters said that dogs appeared disinterested in hops on the vine, and other sites recommended stripping the first three feet of vine anyway, to prevent downy mildew.
So what to do? If we plant them, could they be fenced in some way to keep Einstein out? Or is this simply too much construction to ask Mike to do?
I guess I’ll have to think about this a little longer.
Posted by: Roxie