What is a hop? No, I'm not referring to something the rabbits are doing, I'm talking about a plant. I think most people are familiar with hops, although they might not even know it! Combined with water, malted barley, and yeast, they are one of the basic ingredients used in making beer as they add flavor, and can also act as a preservative. Hops are also considered an herb, one useful in making potpourri, as an all-natural brown dye, and in tea as a digestive aid or appetite stimulant. Placing the cones in a small satchel under your pillow is supposed to promote dreaming. The flowers can be added to a bath as a relaxing infusion or in dried flower arrangements. The young leaves and shoots are even edible. (I love perusing my herb books...it never ceases to amaze me how many uses can be found for the plants we grow!) Unfortunately, despite our best efforts at watering them, the summer was just too dry and we didn't get much of a harvest of hop cones for me to play around with.
Hops are a neat plant in that they are a perennial vine which grows to a length of up to 30 feet. But although the roots overwinter, and can be propagated by division much like bulbs such as iris or daffodil, the vine dies back to the ground each year. That means they grow 30 feet every year! This makes them a popular plant for a leafy screen or other floral focal point when grown on a trellis. Our vines climb the side of the small house and face the garden & road. As they can grow up to a foot a day in the spring, it really is possible to note a difference in the plants between morning and evening, which never ceases to amaze me. But, at the end of the year, after a killing frost, (we have had several at this point) the vines die. It's best to remove them to give the young shoots a fresh start in the spring. You can wait until the vines are dry and brittle, but if you cut them down just as the leaves start to die, the vines are still yellow and pliable. At this stage it is possible to use the vines for weaving into baskets or wreaths. The wreaths look much like a traditional grapevine wreath. I'm still learning to identify the perfect balance between cutting late enough that the roots won't be affected and waiting until the vines are too brittle. But I was able to make a few wreaths from our vines this year, and I'm offering the nicest ones up for sale. I love artsy stuff, I actually got a minor in studio arts in college and I think it's fun to find ways to be creative around the farm. Weaving the vines into a wreath was a new thing for me, and as I practiced I started to get a feel for what worked and what didn't. To me, though, the best part is that, once again, I'm finding a use for something that otherwise would have been wasted (well, not completely, they could be composted, but this is cooler!). And for our customers, they can pick up something that is 100% organic and sustainable. Part of me can't wait for next fall so I can try my hand at them again, but that is one of the best parts about being on the farm- each season brings its own distinct and different tasks and activities.
The finished product, on display at the stand.