I spent ten bucks on what looked like three dead twigs, but I knew that in good time those sticks would produce for me some sweet, sweet hops. After going to my first homebrewing class, we were invited over to the shop to purchase any materials that we would be needing to further our endeavors to become master brewers. One of the items offered in a small, upright cooler were the raw materials to make your own hops, and they looked like non-descript brown sticks. Since hops do not grow from seed, they instead proliferate from cuttings known as rhizomes. These rhizomes are offered in all of the well known public domain varieties of hops; Cascade, Golding, Willamette, Fuggle, Saaz and more. Since I was also getting into gardening at the same time, I whole-heartedly welcomed the idea of my own hand cultivated hops.
Enter the intersection of Dwight Avenue and 38th East. This formerly vacant lot in Minneapolis is home to the cities, and possibly the countries, first hop community garden. A project started by lead member of the state’s Beer Activists, a group more used to filling out paperwork to amend beer laws, is now putting shovel to soil and in the process re-purposing a vacant space in the city while bringing together a community known for its passion.
Andrew Schmitt, Executive Director of the Minnesota Beer Activists. has been mulling over this idea for over two years. Now, with a little effort, they are getting underway on the necessary infrastructure, planting the cuttings, and building resting places for the weary gardeners. Just like a regular garden cooperative, members split tasks required for upkeep, and then get to reap the rewards at harvest time. Hops usually mature in late summer/early fall, which can then be used for various homemade brews. Whether rounding out a malty brown ale, or cranking up the IBU’s on an IPA, hops are a vital element to any and all beer. And as someone who has harvested his own, whole hop cones are a far more elegant addition than pressed hop pellets.
Community hop gardens are a fantastic idea. Hops bines are a lot like urban dwellings. Their footprint is small but they make up for that in sheer height, growing as tall as 15 ft. Attach some bolts to a blank brick facade and with a little sun you have an environment suited for growth. And with the other buildings knocking back the wind, you don’t to worry about your trellises being blown over by a freak gust of wind. A little elbow grease and you could get some yields out of several different varieties enough to please everyone, maybe even to sell in order to recoup the costs of materials and rent.
Several years after purchasing those rhizomes, I still enjoy having home grown hops, but my alpha acid aspirations have somewhat softened. For one, hops tend to take a while to get a good hold on their environment before they produce in anything close to useful yields. The one variety, Cascade, produced that same year, and is by far the best producing plant out of the three I purchased. The other two, Golding and Willamette, still struggle in my somewhat underwhelming garden. They can also require a lot of upkeep and hard work in order to harvest them. One man without much time does not a hop Eden create. But a community hop garden in virtually my own back-yard would be a beautiful compromise.