Monday, March 01, 2010

Gorst Valley Hops Workshop

Things are still very busy here.  We finally have two days where Dad doesn't have to go to this or that doctor for something.  It's been difficult trying to get everything done, but I did want to tell you about the Gorst Valley Hops workshop I went to on Saturday down in Madison.

Some of you may remember that about three years ago I planted a couple of hops rhizomes.  My primary purpose was to use the hops in herbal mixtures and in crafts.  Nothing big.  Well, after I bought the rhizomes I figured I'd better find out all I could about them, and that was when I discovered there was a huge hops shortage.  I joined an Internet Yahoo group called Grow-Hops and read most of their files about hops.  My good Bohemian uncle's eyes gleamed when he found out I was growing them, and so, when I saw a news article a couple of weeks ago about Gorst Valley hosting a workshop called "An Introduction to Small Scale Commercial Hops Production", I decided to go ahead and attend it. 

It was a long day.  I had to leave the house at 2:30 a.m. to get down to Madison by 8:30 a.m.  Then I got turned around in Madison because the driving directions took me to the Monona Terrace location on the wrong side of the street and I got messed up trying to turn around.  I had to stop at a gas station to get more directions.  But I did get to the workshop with some time to spare so I wasn't too stressed out.

The workshop itself was bare bones, no frills.  A lot of information was presented and it was all useful.  One hundred sixty-three (163) people attended.  I would recommend going to their workshop if you think you would like to grow hops commercially.  Only a few of us there were already growing hops.

The people at Gorst Valley are interested in the new regional business paradigm where local growers network with regional processors to provide premium quality product to area companies.  The key word here is quality -- it's quality over quantity, and that's flat.   It is the hope of the Gorst Valley people that their business model can translate to other types of crops, too.  Very interesting.  I noticed that many of the younger (under 40) people attending that I spoke with enthusiastically grasped the ideas behind this model.

While taking Dad to the doctor this morning, I told him all about the workshop.  He was really interested and thought that growing an acre of hops would be worth the effort.  (There's a LOT more work to growing hops than you might think.)  He said he would plow up an acre for me by the farm house to plant the hops in because of all the thieves I have where I normally grow.  The only problem with that is water.  Where I'm growing now I at least am close to the creek, and if I actually put in a well there in the field, I am confident the well depth is going to be less than 100'.  Getting water to an acre of hops near the farm would be a real challenge, and I already know that to put in a well there would be close to 200' or deeper.  You wouldn't believe how much water it takes to grow premium hops!  Anyway, the long and short of it is that I am going to go ahead and start increasing my hops yard to an acre.  Since I don't have the money to buy everything I would need at once, I will increase the hop plants through division and slowly build the yard over the next couple of years.  I currently have three Cascade and Williamette plants that can be divided this year, and I went ahead and ordered three rhizomes each of Zeus and Brewers Gold to plant this year.  The Nugget hops I planted last year are too small yet to divide.  For me the biggest expense will be the well and irrigation.  I am fortunate to have great hop soil and the wood for trellising.  I have to admit I have one of those weird "falling into place" feelings about this.  I think growing hops at Swamp Creek Farm is meant to be.


  1. What an interesting venture. I am looking forward to hearing more about this as you expand your hops operation.

  2. I have grown my own small scale hops here on our farm for personal use for a few years. I think that if you can get adequate nutrients and sunlight and have room for the trellises this might prove a good fit. Best of luck and keep us posted on how it all works out. Also I have successfully rooted some of the bines that I pruned off the mound by placing them in wet soil in the shade. So you may be able to grow your field faster than you think.