Organic Hop Farming in Ashland
Steve and Rebecca Pierce, along with their son, Spencer, are discovering the ins and outs of organic farming even as they resurrect a crop that until last year hadn't been commercially grown in Southern Oregon since the late 1980s....It's a pretty small operation--just a few acres--but enough that Ashland's Standing Stone and Caldera have picked up some hops. And old school, too:
Aphids attacked the first crop, so the Pierces countered with an army of 7,500 ladybugs, which quelled the aphids. Spider mites took their turn this year, sucking chlorophyll from the lower parts of the plants. "You just can't throw pesticides on them," Pierce said. Nonetheless, when chilly weather damaged other types of crops in the spring, the hardy hop variety didn't miss a beat, he said.
Harvesting hops is fairly simple, but labor-intensive. Friends come in handy, and about 25 to 30 showed up, helping cut down the entwined vines, shake the cones loose and sort the flowers, which are dried on a metal screen, bagged in mylar and stored at 40 degrees.I actually expect this to be the norm of the future--small farms that cater exclusively to micros. The guys behind Alpha Beta are homebrewers and so already oriented toward the zymurgical side of the equation. (Most hop farmers are not.) It should also be easier to produce organic hops this way, too--monoculture creates a lot of the problems that pesticides and fertilizers address; with just a few acres, the crops may be hardier and more robust. Alpha Beta planted Cascades, too, which are more disease and pest resistant.