For Laura Ten Eyck and Dieter Gehring, knowledge is power. Their quest began thirty years ago when they decided to help pioneer efforts to revive hop growing in the North Eastern United States. Their book, The Hop Grower’s Handbook: The Essential Guide for Sustainable, Small-Scale Production for Home and Market, is a welcome and timely addition to the field as the desire for local ingredients increases and farmers look for new crops.
The Hop Grower’s Handbook distills their years of experience, research and conversations with other growers, brewers, agricultural extension agents, and hop researchers into a hefty and helpful tome. Topics range from a history of the hop and its many uses as well as hop growing in the United States to laying out a hop yard and how to best grow, manage, harvest and market this perennial crop. Two brief chapters on brewing beer and beer recipes are also included because, as the authors note at the beginning, good growers must understand how brewers will use their crop.
Ten Eyck and Gehring carefully lay out all of the information that prospective hop growers anywhere will find useful and enlightening throughout the life of their farming venture. They lead readers along step-by-step, always with a long-range plan in mind, for the hop yard is a permanent planting akin to a vineyard or orchard. Everything links to everything else: the size and trellising system of the hop yard depends on the variety which depends on the weather and the particulars of the site. Hops, however, are fussy (not too wet, not too dry; not too crowded, not too far apart), so the grower needs vigilance and patience to monitor for pests, disease, and other signs of dissatisfaction.
Soil management is a running theme throughout the book, from the moment a grower decides on hops throughout the lifetime of the yard. Ten Eyck and Gehring repeatedly point out that the health and vitality of the medium in which these plants grow determines in turn their resistance to disease and pests, level of productivity, and the quality of the lupulin (the compound found in hops that gives beer its distinctive taste and acts as a natural preservative). Detailed information that even experienced growers will find useful abounds. Chapters on pests and diseases are similarly informative because, as the authors note: “To manage it, you must first understand it.” Words to grow by no matter what crop is in question.
The Hop Grower’s Handbook brims with details and information that includes Ten Eyck and Gehring’s own stories of lessons learned and observations made along the way. They are the farmer next door every new grower would hope to have: friendly with a good sense of humor and full of sound advice without being patronizing. For beer lovers or those looking for a perennial crop to diversify their operations, The Hop Grower’s Handbook is the place to begin brewing up ideas.
Joan Bailey writes about food, farming, and farmers markets in Japan when she’s not reading or working in her garden. You can find more of her work at www.japanfarmersmarkets.com