Certified organic hops taking root in Tennessee

Two things I’m very excited about arrived at the farm this week. First is the endomycorrhizal fungi I’ll tell you more about later. The second are the first of our Cascade and Centennial hop rhizomes! They’ll go in our freshly cut beds as soon as the weather permits.

Half Hill Farm is the only farm in Tennessee providing a local source of USDA certified organic hops (certifying April 2013). The Tennessee Department of Agriculture stopped keeping records of Tennessee’s hop production sometime before Prohibition when machine harvesting began concentrating the nation’s hop production in other states. The USDA could find no records of commercial production in Tennessee.

Half Hill Farm is proud to serve the needs of a growing craft beer culture in Tennessee that celebrates an American craft spirit of community, ingenuity, and sustainability. If you are a local craft brewer and want to visit our farm, get in touch, and grow with us!

The lessons of yesteryear are today’s opportunities

This week I helped a friend go through his mother’s attic at their historic Century Farm in nearby Readyville, TN and was reminded of a different time in our nation’s history.

Mary Dee Ready Cates grew up there during the Great Depression and appeared to have kept every scrap rag and glass jar they ever used. I was amazed at all of the American name brands on stuff she kept that simply don’t exist anymore. Steve gave me several of these old two and one quart blue Ball Perfect Mason jars pictured above that we found in the rafters around the chimney as well as an old pressure cooker Mary used to can food. They were some of the only items made by American companies that still exist today.

It’s an era that’s easy to romanticize in hindsight, but for many rural citizens in Tennessee at the time poverty was its own Great Depression. My grandmother told me her family knew there was a Depression going on but already lived so hard it didn’t bother them as much. They made their own clothes, toys and food. Things like oranges and chocolate were luxuries. For her family, the lessons of the time weren’t about being prepared as much as it was about being humble.

During the Great Recession, you would never have known we were a nation at war struggling to pay our bills watching the media’s reflection of a consumer culture in complete denial. If it weren’t for our investments in national infrastructure and social safety nets since the Great Depression, that would be a very different story.

We are fortunate to have so many choices today in how we struggle as a nation. Do we value the lowest price and the easy way out of hard work in exchange for the not so hidden costs to our communities, or do we heed the lesson to value something bigger? Humility, living modestly and sustainably, are values that are as important today as they’ve ever been.

200 years of cover croping with clover in Tennessee

A lot of the required organic practices aren’t new ways of doing things at all. Planting clover as a cover crop is a practice that goes back to our state’s founding.

Using a cover crop does a few things in organic farming. It protects soil from erosion, helps build organic matter, mineralizes key elements and catches leeched nutrients needed by subsequent crops, and prevents weeds and pests. It’s the only choice farmers had 200 years ago and wisdom we are abandoning at great cost.

The use of clover as a cover crop in Tennessee impressed at least one observer whose notes in the 1836 edition of the Tennessee Farmer show a fading appreciation for perfected systems of nature.

ON THE CULTURE OF CLOVER:
Few things have contributed to the modern improvement of husbandry, then the introduction of clover, in connexion with the rotation crops. The plant serves to ameliorate and fertilize the soil, and at the same time it affords an abundance of wholesome food for every description of farm stock. Whether cut for winter stores, for soiling in the yard, or fed off by stock but few crops surpass it in the quantity of cattle food which it affords.

Cannon County’s use of clover in particular was cited by Tennessee’s Bureau of Agriculture report of 1874 as the best in the state.

Great attention is paid to the sowing of clover and no farmer deserving the name fails to have a considerable part of his farm given to clover every year. The consequence is there are no abandoned old fields to be seen. Scarcely an acre of land has been turned out. Gullies are scarce though the land is rolling. In no county in the State do the farmers pay more attention to the preservation of the soil.

The two strips pictured here are sewn with certified organic red clover. We’ll follow this with an overwintering of cereal rye then Spring plant our crops. We may try crimson clover next year.

Learn more about the use of red clover as a cover crop in Tennessee from the University of Tennessee Extension Office.

Growing organic hops for craft brewers in Tennessee

I spent part of the morning in the woods cutting three 20 feet cedar posts for our first bed of organic hops. The “bines” will grow that tall every year starting around the second or third year.

Realizing we will be harvesting by hand, I came up with a design I’m testing on this 40 feet bed of 15 plants that lowers the mature hops rather than climbing ladders. I’ll share the design once I can see it will actually work.

After speaking with a few local craft brewers, I’m slowly narrowing my choices of organic varieties. I’m not sure what to expect this year, but I’m hoping for at least 5-10 pounds. If everything looks good after the first year, the hop yard should have roughly 250 plants in 2014.

In 1860, Tennessee reported producing 1,541 pounds of hops. – Agriculture of the United States by Joseph C. G. Kennedy

That’s a lot of beer, for sure, so the idea of hosting a volunteer hop harvest down the road sounds real appealing, and from what I’ve read that’s the way it used to be.