Columns

Gardener's Grapevine 2016.03.09

By JO ERBSKORN

“Life Began in a Garden,” by an unknown author. Isn’t that so true? 

Gardens are like communities that grow and change at will. A garden refuses to sit still and wait while we attend to other things. It sets its own course if left to its own accord. Well, this morning I realized spring is around the corner again when I looked out the picture window and saw the pussy willow in bloom—just beginning, but blooming all the same—and making me smile like a fool.

I just can’t wait to play in the dirt. Pussy willows are great fun to watch go from tight soft little buds to opening up into fuzzy little puff balls. Some people bring them inside, which is not a good idea unless you like fuzzy little things all over the place. They will continue to open up while indoors, sometimes faster because of the warmth.

My son is officially in the gardening business now, too, but in a way I’ve never seen. He accepted a job at Empire Hops in Empire, Mich., up by Traverse City. It is a huge business and getting bigger. In the state of Michigan micro brewing is going gangbusters and he loves the science behind it.

As a recent graduate of Michigan Sate University he was really having a time of it finding a job in the field he earned his degree in, so when this came up he was over the moon excited. A lot of new grads get the same answer when applying for jobs: “We want experience.” Well, it’s a little tough when you have to go to college first to even be qualified. It used to be that most businesses would take on new grads so they could train them the way they wanted, but not anymore. So for Nicholas it is a huge relief to finally be able to use what he learned. A big plus is he will be working in horticulture which he loves.

Hops farming is a big business that is extremely profitable. Hops is a long viney plant that does not die during the winter. It does require a lot of tending as it has to be trellised and trained to grow up and down the trellis. There are many varieties of hops, and depending on the recipe or preference of the brewer the supplier must be prepared. It takes quite a bit of hops to keep even the smallest micro brewery in business. The unopened bud of the hop is what they collect and then it must be dried.

I know a small amount about this as last year we were graced with the question, “Mom and dad, can you babysit my hop plants?” All we had to do was let him plant them. He mulched them and we wound them around the string trellis and kept them watered. It was pretty easy gardening in my book, but as usual I got curious about the end product and said something like, “Son, what’s next?” 

When he asked that type of question as a child, we would get him a book to read on the topic. Nicholas was my “why and how” child. I think every parent most likely has one. So in answer to my question, we were soon the proud new owners of a book on how to grow and harvest your own hops.

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball you never thought would even be a thought let alone a part of your life. Since I rarely drink beer and could really care less about what is in it, my curiosity was with the plant. When the book came I said something like, “Art, here’s your book on hops.” I still haven’t read it, but the plants are interesting and so was the harvest. 

From three plants there wasn’t even enough to make one batch of beer. I assume it is still in my son’s freezer until another season’s harvest is ready. I’m not so sure he will care much about these plants when he’s tending 200 acres of them, but who knows. I wonder what will happen this spring though. Will they be like other plants and forge their own way when we are tending to other plants? I hope not. I don’t want hops growing among my roses. I guess time will tell.