Thursday, January 17, 2008

Growing Hops, my experience

A guy on the Chicago Beer Society mailing list asked:

I am considering growing a couple of hop vines this year on the back deck of
my condo using a couple of planters and some wood lattice up the brick
wall. I've got the fiancee in on it for the "look", but I want a good crop
come August/September as well.
Has anyone tried to grow their own, particularly in a more confined space
like a patio with planters?
I'm hoping to hear pros and cons of such an undertaking, and I would
appreciate any input.

So I decided to write up a quick summary of my hops growing experience to date.

Max and I each attempted to grow hops in the city during the Summer of 05. He put his in a small pot on a 2nd floor balcony facing north. He neglected to water, and he got....not much. A few sprouts and a foot or two of vine and then nada. He probably could have done a bit better if he watered some more, but even then the lack of full sun made it a non-event.

I had better success. I grew a couple of shoots out of a single rhizome in a 5 gallon sized pot on the South side of a house on the 1500 block of Walton St. The location got 6-8 hours of full sun a day, and when the plant grew above the railing it got even more. I watered almost daily for the early and mid summer and fertilized a few times as well. At the peak of growth I got 3.5' of vertical growth in a week and about 18' of total vertical growth. In the end though, I only
yielded about 1oz of final product, and the cones I did get were on the small side. Taste was difficult to discern because we had to mix them with other hops in the brew, though I could clearly smell the lupulin.

I chronicled the experience here. There are some good pictures of the final results and you can get an idea of the height.

I have done some reading on growing hops and just about everyone says you don't get much the first year because the root system needs to develop. I was surprised that I got what I did, but if you compare what I got to an established plant, you can see multiple years of root
growth is what is needed to produce decent results, like this guy's.

After the season ended, I moved my pot to a 13th floor condo balcony. I got a lot better sprouting at the start of the 2006 season and I thought I was off to a good start. It started with probably 10-12 shoots and I think i pruned back all but the best 4. However I had nothing for the plants to really grow up vertically. I used a bit of cotton line from the pot to the railing and then I decided to try to grow them back and forth across the balcony railing. This did not
work. Though I got much the same the vertical (er horizontal) growth I got the previous year, I had MAJOR trouble with the wind. And I got virtually zero hops cones. Zero. Nothing for a whole summer of daily watering and coaxing and monitoring. I was pissed. I had to move in
September of that summer, but it wouldn't have mattered because I wasn't going to get anything anyway.

So I moved the pot again. This time my balcony was on the 9th floor facing east. Well, something must have happened while the pot sat there from Sept 06 to March/April of 07 because nothing came up. Not a single shoot. The roots must have frozen too much or rotted or who knows what, but there were no hops in the summer of 07. I doubt if anything will come up this summer, but I guess I can hope.

I think I am done trying to grow hops in planters on balconys. My limited experience has shown me that hops need:

1) lots and lots of sun
2) lots and lots of water
3) lots and lots of verticle room to grow.

If you don't have these, you will probably be disappointed with the results. I don't really want to talk you out of trying something, but just be warned and don't get too frustrated if you see poor results.

Steve and my brother in law both have plants growing in yards out in the suburbs. This summer it will be the 2nd and 3rd seasons for those plants, and hopefully we will see some real results.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mitt Romney you are dumb

Mitt Romney was recently at the Detroit Auto show where he gave some comments regarding the state of the auto industry in the US. While he was more or less correct in one aspect, that the auto industry in Michigan is an economic indicator for industry in the rest of the country, he was WAY off in another of his comments.

Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Romney also blasted a new energy bill that raised the fuel efficiency standards for cars to 35 miles per gallon, saying it was an "anvil" that will weigh down the domestic auto industry.

"All of the vehicles that you're making now are outmoded. You're going to have to build new engines, new transmissions, new axles. All of these things have to be changed at the cost of tens of billions of dollars. Good luck. Now, it's a benefit to the entire nation paid for by one industry that's already in trouble," Romney said.

A mandate on higher fuel economy does the following things:
-reduces, however little, our independence on foreign oil
-reduces our impact on the environment
-requires all automakers selling cars in America to follow these standards, thus negating any unfair cost to one country's industry
-enables the American auto industry to compete at a higher level in places where these higher standards already exist.
-forces the American auto industry to innovate, one of the main factors that has caused the industry to lose money as consumers shift toward foreign cars that are more innovative, get better mileage, are better built etc...

Lets take each line of his comment and dissect it a bit more:

"All of the vehicles that you're making now are outmoded."
:Well not exactly, some may be outmoded, but the standard applies to the entire fleet. Meaning you either have to produce one really fuel efficient car or raise the efficiency on the worst car. Either involves innovation which the industry is lacking anyway. And the auto makers should want to continually be making newer and better cars and abandoning their old ways. It is the only way to compete in any market.

"You're going to have to build new engines, new transmissions, new axles. All of these things have to be changed at the cost of tens of billions of dollars. Good luck.""
Sure, goes along with the implications of the first statement, sans the axles part....axles? really? And the industry is going to be spending that much anyway on R&D in the next several years. So are you just stating the obvious for political gain? (answer=yes).

"Now, it's a benefit to the entire nation paid for by one industry that's already in trouble..."
Sure is. In fact when any industry or market is regulated in a manner intended to improve the good of society, that industry has to pay for it. The point is to encourage innovation, lessen reliance on oil, and force the industry to complete better in the world market. Unless their are subsidies, which in this case would only harm the nation and the auto industry in the long run.

Romney seems to be making a mountain out of a molehill and to his own benefit. You may be able to persuade some blue collar workers that they will get their jobs back if they vote for you, but the only way they can get those jobs back is if they industry makes cars that consumers want to buy more than the foreign makers. And there is nothing Romney can do to make that happen. And the fuel efficiency law only helps the industry to make cars people want.

Nobody wants SUVs anymore Romney! You drive a 2005 Ford Mustang convertible, and go figure, you are against raising fuel standards, but offer nothing in return.

Vote Obama!