Sunday, March 28, 2010

Planting Hops For Homegrown Beer

So here's what I wanted to post about my hops:

Hops are not the main ingredient in beer. They're a spice that gives beer the high sharp
bitterness that is a feature of styles like India Pale Ale. Hops don't go as far back in brewing history as water, malt, and yeast do. In fact other spices were used earlier, and still are used by homebrewers and breweries. Hops do have a preservative effect, which is why India Pale Ale, which had to last through a long slow ship ride from England to India, is so much more heavily hopped than most other styles.

This is a hop rhizome of the fuggles variety. Fuggles seemed like a good place to start as it is most common in English Ales and is featured in my annual Great Pumpkin Ale. As you can see, I do everything by the book.

Chris did the heavy work of pounding 5 ft stakes into the ground to support the trellis. Here he's mounting the trellis to the stakes.

I made a hill in front of the trellis and dug a 6" trench down the middle of it (like the book illustration shows), but then I departed from any instructions I've read to add the secret ingredient we add for any new plant, be it plant, root, or seed. We have 3 rabbits working night and day to make this ideal fertilizer. Unlike other manures, it can be added directly to the garden without composting first, so I gathered some up and mixed it into the bottom of the trench.

The root in the trench, new growth pointing more or less up.

The hill covered up again. Grow little hops, grow! Hop vines can get 30 feet long by harvest time, so I'm sure I'll be running twine from the top of our beautiful trellis up to the chimney by July or August, and then doing some of my harvesting from the porch roof.

My Friend Lisa Does Everything First*

A week and a half ago I went to my local homebrew store and ordered a hop rhizome. Then I went to the garden store and bought a trellis. My plan was to spend this weekend installing the trellis and then plant the rhizome as soon as I got it, taking lots of pictures so I could have a record of the first days of this large perennial vine for my sake, and so that I could blog about it.

I got a call on Friday that the rhizome was in, so I could pick it up, put up the trellis, and plant the hops on Saturday, just in time for today's predicted rain.

I woke up before Chris on Saturday morning, so I pulled the laptop into bed with me and went to the blog I always read first, to find that Lisa and Robb just planted their hop vine, and blogged about it on Friday.

Lisa and Robb also bought their house a few months before we did, and put their garden in starting in December, and are about to raise honey bees, which I'd love to do but can't because of a seriously allergic family member. She also started brewing beer a few years before I did.

Man, it's a good thing I like her so much!

*For this rant to work, please ignore the fact that Lisa is older than I am, so is not necessarily doing these things at an earlier stage of her life, and also ignore the fact that Oakland California's growing season starts just a bit earlier than Buffalo New York's. Do go look at her blog, it's great!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Happy Family Rainbow Array

Last month, we had a great time at Raveloe celebrating Chinese new year with the annual Happy Family party. We had great Chinese food which I ate too fast to photograph.

As in other years, we layered fiber, rolled it up like a jelly roll, and cut/ripped it into sections for each of us to take home.

This year we began with the fibers we brought, and then layered Linda's offerings in rainbow order.

I love the way the striation shows at the edges:

This year Linda offered the use of her shop's wildcarder to run the results through in order to make a slightly smoother preparation than previous years. She has challenged us to spin and knit socks with this year's fiber, so a smoother preparations will be great for a less "novel" yarn appropriate for socks.

I made a lumpy singles last time, this year I may ply the yarn either with itself or with a solid like black. Most likely I won't know until I spin and knit some samples.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Signs of Spring

The snow has only just receded, and already we see this:

Every year it is the emerging snow drops that re-assure me that I have truly gotten through another winter without killing myself. Yes, there is a future, and life will return, as will sun and outdoor parties and grilling and homegrown vegetables. The date of Christmas was chosen to supplant a pagan holiday, but how wonderful that the resurrection really did occur in spring. I'm not sure if this is particularly relevant in the holy land (now that I have a passport maybe I can go find out) but man is it significant here!

The receding snow has also uncovered our compost pile in all it's glory.

Given that it has probably spent most of the winter frozen, this is as big as it's been. I keep reading up on compost, but was never convinced that mine was creating the heat I had read about. Well, turning it in 40 degree weather released steam! I am totally in love with my compost pile. In it I see the future. Future rich soil and better healthier veggies from our garden. I think a lot of other people see a giant pile of rabbit turds. I don't mind though, in addition to kitchen scraps and garden waste we've had 3 rabbits working hard all winter to improve our crappy clay soil. And apparently the wild rabbits have been reading gardening books, as they've left quite a lot of their own fertilizer around our loan cultivated rose bush.

Monday, March 01, 2010


This is the most romantic poem ever written by author Tim Pratt. I wish I had written it, especially the verse about time dilation. I think I would replace the verse about Zombies with one about Chris's promise to me that if I'm ever turned into a vampire he will stake me, thus saving my soul. Just ask him, it's up there with whether or not I would want a feeding tube.

Speaking of Chris, he lost an interesting wager last night over the gold medal hockey game. He is now obligated to take a Canadian friend to dinner here in the US, but must do so wearing a team Canada jersey.