We love the greenery and color spring brings. As brewers, we’re particularly excited to see hops pop out of the ground after hibernating for the winter. We asked our friends Steve and Rebecca Pierce, of Ashland’s own Alpha Beta Hops, about what’s happened since our virtual visit with them last fall.
They’ve been growing organic Cascade hops for several years (now joined by sons, Spencer and Morgan), with plans to expand acreage and varietals to meet growing demand for this essential ingredient in beer. (Photos by Rebecca Pierce)
What’s the winter like at the hop yard?
With the hops cut and put to bed with a covering of straw, the hop yard is pretty quiet in the winter. It’s a great time for marketing our fresh hops to local breweries and home brewers. Winter is also the time we “retired” folks travel. Once we get the pasture grass clumps and weeds eradicated, we plan to plant a clover cover crop over the winter. For now, sheep, chicken and duck grazing supply nitrogen.
What does spring bring your way?
We start reviving the hop yard in February when we stretch wire trellis and repair anchors and irrigation hoses. In March, we put up 5,000-6,000 organic paper strings and anchor them near the budding hop plants. Hop bines wind around these as they reach for the sun. We’ve been very lucky to be helped by WWOOFer (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteers, who work hard in exchange for hands-on experience on an organic farm. By May, the bines grab the strings and turn the fields into leafy green forests of hop bines.
What’s your favorite aspect of spring?
After a cold, windy winter it’s exciting to walk out into the field, which had snow on it a week before, and see our hops starting to push up through the straw (photo on right). We seem to be in a microclimate that’s protected by nearby foothills. So far, the hops seem to be able to survive anything Mother Nature sends our way. Spring in the Rogue Valley is a wonderful time of year, with everything turning lush and green. Although our winters are usually mild, it’s nice to have the rains stop, the mud dry up and hearty sprouts popping up everywhere.
What else do you grow at your farm?
Like so many others, we’re striving to become more self sufficient and make a smaller footprint on this earth. We have a quarter acre organic vegetable garden, egg-producing chickens, turkeys, sheep and two miniature donkeys.
Our son, Morgan, and his fiancé, Jessica, design and coordinate our vegetable and flower garden. Jessica designs the most beautiful beds, incorporating flowers with vegetables, rotating the crops annually, and using marigolds and other natural methods to control any unwanted pests. After each year’s crop, they collect seeds to make their own starts in the greenhouse. This year we harvested our first batch of asparagus, enjoyed fresh organic produce all winter and just finished off the bit of over-wintered broccoli. Jessica and Morgan like to introduce us to many heirloom vegetables so we never know what wonderful treats are in store.
What a hoppening place – we can’t wait for the harvest! (Volunteers welcome and it’s FUN – contact the Pierces.) Until then, we’ll enjoy one our the craft beers we make with their wonderful hops. As Steve and Rebecca would say, “Prosit!”