Thursday, November 8, 2012

2012 Post-Season Hops Grower Meeting-Notes
November 2, 2012
1:00 PM to 5:30 PM
Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, Mills River, NC
1.       Welcome from Jeff Chandler, Director of the facility
2.       Introductions
3.       Brief explanation of our 2012 research
4.       Open discussion to share 2012 experiences
5.       Explanation of new grant and grower input
6.       Request for grower cooperators

The meeting was led by Jeanine Davis and Kelly Gaskill. There were 33 people in attendance, 12 of them via conference call.  Most were western North Carolina hop growers along with some potential NC hop growers, an out of state grower, extension agents and specialists, and a chemist.  A few people sent in information ahead of time to share.
Here are my notes from the meeting.  I know I didn’t capture everything, so if you were there and have things to add, send them to me and I will add them to the blog posts.  Since I will be sending these out to everyone on our email list and posting this on several blogs, I am not using names (in most cases), but those of you who were there will know who I am talking about.  Jeanine Davis
Update on the NCSU research hop yard in Mills River:
·       Whereas in 2011 this was the perfect hop yard, this year (2012) we were greatly challenged with downy mildew, Japanese beetles, and spider mites.
·        This is a quarter acre hop yard on a 20 foot tall trellis with a top wire that can be raised and lowered to facilitate management and harvest. There is drip-irrigation installed; tubing with emitters attached to the bottom wire. There is silt-fencing (black, polypropylene fabric) stapled to the ground on either side of the rhizomes for weed control. There are ten varieties planted in four replications in a randomized complete block design.
·       The NC Hops Project consisted of Jeanine Davis, in Horticultural Science, located in the mountains and Scott King and Rob Austin, Soil Science, located in Raleigh. They worked together for three years on this hops project with funding from the GoldenLeaf Foundation and a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant through the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Rob and Scott maintained a short trellis research hop yard in Raleigh with ten varieties. This was its third year. Jeanine has the high trellis yard in the mountains. This was its second year. Scott has taken a new job and Rob is doing other things, so we are going to let the Raleigh hop yard go. We have two more years of (minimal) funding for the mountain research yard. We need input from this group about what is the best way to make use of this yard to serve the industry.
Discussion about cutting off the shoots in the spring. This is routinely done in the Pacific Northwest but we were all uncertain about this practice considering how far south we are located.  Comments from people at the meeting:
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: Did spring cut back for the first time this year and will definitely do it from now on! They compared a cut-back row to a non-cut-back row and the difference was impressive. They plan to cut the shoots back in the spring until mid-April or so. They will use a weed-whacker to save labor.
·       Small established WNC hop yard: Did some experimental spring pruning but saw no difference. Don’t plan to do it; too labor intensive.
·       Large established WNC hop yard: In the past, have never cut the plants back below six inches above the ground. This year did not have time to cut back at all and saw no problems.  They used no insecticides at all this year. They do want to do some sub-soiling in the future because they have found the soil is getting very compacted around the rhizomes.
·       Medium sized established WNC hop yard: They do cut off the shoots every spring, but they question the timing. When should we start to let them grow? They are growing Chinook and Cascade.
·       This is definitely a topic for research! Most of the growers thought we needed to cut the shoots off until late April or May, but is that the best? Don’t have enough experience yet. Also, what is the best way to do this? Several people talked about using a weed whacker or a lawn mower, but won’t this spread disease?

Discussion about plant spacing:
·       Large established WNC hop yard: set their new planting of Cascades at 2 foot spacing in the row.
·       Medium sized established WNC hop yard: They originally set their rhizomes at 2 to 2.5 feet apart in the row. They might change that in the future.
·       General consensus seemed to be that 3 foot spacing in row is right for this area.

Discussion about crown maintenance:
·       One acre established hop yard in WNC: They mow the tops of the crowns off in early spring. But is that enough? Should we be doing some subsoiling, too?
·       Medium sized established KY hop yard: They use 5 mil black plastic mulch and drip irrigation (to fertigate with, too). This prevents late frost damage and gives good crown control.
·       In the Pacific Northwest, they have a machine that lightly rototills the top of the crown, just under the soil surface, and edges the plants.  Can we get something like that here?
·       Some of the growers have cut all around the crowns by hand with shovels. Lots of work. Don’t want to do it ever again. Question raised by several was, do we even need to do that here.  Some growers just mow between the rows and that seems to handle it.
·       This is a needed area for research and we should gather information from our Northeastern friends. What do they do?

Establishing new plants where old plants were:
·       Large established hop yard in WNC: They dug up the old plants with a track-hoe. 
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: They dug up the plants with a tiller, removed what they could by hand, covered the area with plastic to solarize, then planted sweet potatoes there this year. Worked great, but keep in mind, they were really weak plants they were getting rid of.
·       Some growers dig what they can and then use RoundUp on any shoots that arise.
·       How much of a disease carryover risk is there?

Discussion about trellis types and height. Is shorter better than taller? Which is better for the Southeast region?  There was some discussion about the use of winches to raise and lower the top wire. The small established hop yard and the Mills River research hop yard both use winches and really like them. They use them to attach their strings in the spring and to lower to ease harvesting. They have weathered well so far. Someone asked if they could help with spraying the top of the bines. The general consensus was that was not a good idea because you would have trouble determining how much product was applied.
·       Medium sized established WNC hop yard: They are considering lowering their trellis. Will still use the high-trellis posts, but drop the top wire down a few feet.
·       Very small established home brewer WNC hop yard: She uses a pole and cattle panel structure that is working real well. She might make it taller in the future.
·       Medium sized established KY hop yard: Has nine foot and 18 foot tall trellises. The nine foot trellis does not give the yield the 18 foot one does. They are in their third year of production.
·       One acre established WNC hop yard: She has a 18 foot tall trellis with a fixed top wire. The yard is on a slope. Climbing up and down a ladder to manage the yard is difficult. There has to be a better way.
·       We had a great deal of discussion about how much hops produce when they start growing horizontally, as when they reach the top of a short trellis. There was no agreement here. Some growers said the plants put out more lateral growth then and produced more cones whereas others said cone growth was reduced when that happened. 

Daylength Concerns:  There was some discussion about the fact that we are really far south and our days are not optimum for hops production. Could we manipulate the plants by using strobe lights to interrupt the dark? What about day neutral varieties? None of us have found much information on this.

Discussion about irrigation:
·       Medium sized established WNC hop yard: They don’t have drip-irrigation and think that is a problem. They want to add it.
·       General consensus was that we need irrigation in this region and if you don’t have it, you should install it for next season. The research hop yard probably could have benefited from more water then they gave it this past year.  Hops need lots of water when they are actively growing. A drip irrigation system also allows the grower to run fertilizer through the drip-system.

Fertilization:  The work done by Scott King, Rob Austin, and Bill Yarborough resulted in fertility recommendations for hops in NC. The growers who have followed those recommendations say they work. Hops are heavy feeders. So, take a soil sample this fall, send it into NCDA&CS. There is a hops code (119) on the soil test form. They will send specific recommendations for hops based on your soil test. Those soil tests are still free in NC for NC growers. Growers from out of state can use the service but have to pay a fee.

Discussion about stripping the foliage off the bottom of the plants for disease control:
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: did not strip off as much foliage as in the past. This allowed for more lateral growth. They got lateral production all the way down the bines and subsequently more cone production.
·       Large established WNC hop yard: They use an organic contact herbicide to strip the foliage off the lower part of the bines.
·       One acre established WNC hop yard: Goats do a pretty good job of keeping the lower part of the bines stripped.

Harvesting and yields:
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: Even after five years, still only getting about a half pound wet per plant. They think the low yield is related to their short trellis.
·       Small established WNC hop yard: He planted 12 varieties in a raised bed type planter in front of a local brewery this spring. They harvested 57 pounds of wet hops off of those 12 plants! Three of the plants produced seven pounds each.
·       Medium size established WNC hop yard: He wants to get a half pound dried per plant or about 1.5 pounds wet. He also questions whether it is cost effective to do multiple hand pickings of these hops as most of the growers in the room do.
·       Mills River research hop yard: We would love to do a study and compare the quality of hops that are hand harvested multiple times at their peak of maturity versus once over harvests when most of the cones are mature but some are under mature and others are over mature. Is the quality better with the multiple harvests? And if yes, will buyers pay a premium for them?
·       Large established WNC hop yard: They do a once over harvest and bring the harvested bines into a building where they hand pick off the cones. Have it down to an assembly line style and it is pretty efficient. They ordered a picker for that process but it didn’t arrive in time and when it did arrive it was damaged. Hopefully they will get to test it out next year.
·       General consensus was that we need to get at least one pound of wet hops per plant and would like to see more like four!

Varieties and buying plants:
·       Medium sized established KY hop yard: Zeus does great; in the third year of production.
·       Large young mid-state NC hop yard: When they order rhizomes, they have to have the over-night shipped or they start to break down.
·       We would like to look at some day-neutral varieties.
·       The Mills River research hop yard is trying to purchase tissue culture propagated material for 2013.
·       Medium sized established KY hop yard: Has not had a significant problem with Japanese beetles.
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: They did one spray this year for Japanese beetles only. They are now convinced that the less you can spray the better off you will be. They think excessive spraying kills off lots of beneficial insects.  They released predatory mites in 2011.
·       One acre established WNC hop yard: Chickens allowed to roam through the hop yard do a great job of controlling Japanese beetles and other insects.
·       The Mills River research hop yard is establishing farmscaping to help maintain habitat for beneficial insects and predatory mites.
Downy Mildew:
·       Small established WNC organic hop yard: They have never had Downy Mildew. Their yard is located on a steep slope at high elevation and there is a continuous breeze (wind) blowing through the yard. During the first four years of production, they used preventative sprays and now they wonder if that was a good idea or not. The entomologists have told them that fungicides can flare mite populations and in the past they have had lots of mites. So this year they did not spray for Downy Mildew and they didn’t get Downy Mildew and they didn’t have a spider mite problem.  They reminded everyone that spraying hops is difficult and expensive.
·       Large established WNC hop yard: They remove all plants that are heavily infected with Downy Mildew. They have done some spraying with phosphoric acid but they have to be very careful about what time of day they spray because it can severely burn the foliage. They have also used Regalia and Sonata.
·       The Mills River research hop yard: Could not get on top of the Downy Mildew this year no matter what they did or sprayed.
Collaborative Efforts:
·       Large established WNC hop yard: They have a grinder, pelletizer, picker, and will have a lab before next season. They would like to work with other growers to help process their cones.
·       Large established WNC hop yard: We can work together on ordering plants. Especially from tissue culture operations who want large orders.
·       Large young mid-state NC hop yard: There are efforts underway in their region to put in a cooperative pelletizer. This is with the Chamber of Commerce and Yadkin Valley Community College.
Marketing: Can we form a hop cooperative and work together to sell our hops?
·       Small established WNC hop yard: He got a call from a Brooklyn brewery that wants to buy NC hops.  Call Matthew Kaye at 310-995-6973.
·       Large young mid-state NC hop yard: They had a decent season production wise but they are having some trouble working with local breweries. They need to find out how much browning of the cones is acceptable. They think they culled too much out this year.
·       Hops ‘n Blueberry Farm has buyers for fresh hops.
·       One idea was to start making our own selections.
·       How many bines should be trained per string?  In the Yakima Valley they do four, hoping 2-3 will take. Within our group, it ranged from 3 to 7. Some people noticed lower yields when 5-7 bines were used.
·       There are ten varieties in the Mills River research yard. Remove the four poor producers and add some new varieties. The variety research has been very useful.  Varieties that should be tested include the day neutral varieties from South Africa and the dwarf variety, Summit.
Looking for Cooperators; coir twine may be part of the deal:
·       We, Jeanine and Kelly, are looking for some new on-farm cooperators to share their experiences, yields, soil tests, etc. so we can continue to build a database of information for this industry.  This will allow us to refine fertility recommendations and enterprise budgets and write a production guide based on real world experiences for the Southeast.  We don’t have grant funding to pay farmers to be cooperators, but we have a bale of coir twine and perhaps we can work a mutually beneficial arrangement involving some of that.  Contact us if you are interested.
Recorded by Jeanine Davis, NCSU

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

NC Hops Growers Meeting-Nov.2!

Over 30 people responded to our Doodle poll for a hops grower meeting and we have selected the date that most people are available.


The Hops Grower Meeting will be Friday, November 2 at 1:00 PM.  We will meet at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River.  Here are directions: 

If you are unable to attend this meeting in person, you can call in.  I have set up a conference call with  That means the long-distance charges will be yours.  Dial 1-218-936-4141 and enter participant access code: 9627077.  You will be able to enter and exit as you please during the meeting.

If you can’t come in person or call in but would like to participate, please try to send someone else from your operation. If that doesn’t work either and you want to have input, please send me your comments and suggestions.

The purpose of this meeting is to share our 2012 experiences (good and bad), plan how we can work together in the coming year, get input on the varieties to be included in our next two year research project, and outline our needs for future research and outreach.  The goal is to help grow a healthy North Carolina hops industry!  If you are not yet a grower but interested in becoming one, you might also find this interesting.  This will be an informal, facilitated sharing meeting. There will not be any formal presentations like at a conference. I will have a laptop and projector set up, so if you want to show any pictures from your hop yard, please bring them on a flashdrive.  The meeting will run as long as the momentum is there.  I expect that to be around 4:00 or 4:30.

FYI, I did just receive an entire bale of coir twine, 2600 strings, 21 feet, 100# weight.  That’s enough to last me about 13 years at the rate I use it, so we might want to have a discussion about how to make the best use of it.

Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. This meeting is for you!

Also, please help spread the word about this meeting. I don’t have the email addresses for everyone who answered the Doodle poll!

(Once again I apologize for any multiple notices because I will send this out via several lists and platforms)


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We are nearing the end of one of our hops research grants and we would like to get some feedback about whether we are making a meaningful contribution to the knowledge base about growing hops in the Southeast. We have a hops website ( ), post about hops on our blog ( ), post some of our Powerpoints (, and give presentations at numerous conferences and workshops in the Southeast. If you are growing hops or interested in growing hops, we’d like to know if the information we are providing is helpful to you. We will also be producing a hops production leaflet this winter.

We know you are busy, so if you could just answer these three questions with “yes” or “no”, we would very much appreciate it. If you have just discovered us, please review the information we've provided before answering.

Please respond in the comment section below, or if you would like your name added to our hops email list, please send your responses in an email to

1. Do you know more about growing hops now then you did two years ago?

2. Are you more knowledgeable about hop varieties now then you were two years ago?

3. Is there more information available to you about growing hops then there was two years ago?

(PS, we apologize if you are getting this multiple times via email, FB, etc.)

Thank you, Jeanine Davis and Kelly Gaskill

Let's Have a Hops Grower Meeting!

Within the next month we would like to have a hops grower meeting so we can all share our 2012 experiences (good and bad), plan how we can work together in the coming year, get input on the varieties to be included in our next two year research project, and outline our needs for future research and outreach.  The goal is to help grow a healthy North Carolina hops industry!  If you are not yet a grower but interested in becoming one, you might also find this interesting.

I have provided a link to a Doodle poll so we can select the date that most of us can make a meeting in Mills River (my building, right next to the Asheville airport and the Sierra Nevada brewery under construction!).  We can probably link some folks in by conference call, too.  So if you can’t make it in person, write in the comments section on the Doodle poll that you would like to call in (I’ll see what I can arrange-you will incur the long-distance phone charges).  If neither of those work for you, you can send in your comments to me in an email ( about the past season and what you would like to see done in the future. We will share those during the meeting and then send a transcript of the meeting to everyone on this list who wants it.

Also, I will be giving a presentation on organic hops production at the Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Greenville, SC on Sunday, October 28. I would love to have some of you in the audience!  Here is info about registration:

Here is the link to the Doodle poll to indicate what dates you are available, or not, for the hops grower meeting

(PS, we apologize if you are getting this multiple times by email, FB, blogs, etc.)

Thanks!  Jeanine Davis and Kelly Gaskill

Monday, August 27, 2012

Looking for Co-presenter on Organic Hops Production

2012 harvest at the Research Station in Mills River

I will be giving a presentation on organic hops production at the Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Greenville, SC on Sunday, October 28th. Last year, Scott King and I covered the basics of organic hops production. This year I will focus on what is working for growers and what the big challenges are. I am hoping a number of organic hop growers are planning to be at the conference already and will attend and share their experiences during this session. You are welcome to send me photos ahead of time that I can incorporate into a Powerpoint presentation. 

I ALSO HAVE AN OFFER TO MAKE; IF THERE IS AN EXPERIENCED ORGANIC HOPS GROWER THAT WOULD LIKE TO BE A CO-PRESENTER WITH ME, I CAN OFFER A FREE CONFERENCE REGISTRATION IN RETURN FOR HELPING ME DEVELOP AND GIVE THIS PRESENTATION. You would have to cover your own lodging (not particularly cheap in Greenville) and travel. Check out conference details on the website. I can only offer this to one person, so tell me about your interest in doing this and about your organic hops growing experience!

Here is the link to the Conference Information (PS, this is one of my most favorite conferences to attend every year!).  Please email me at if you are interested.

Post by Jeanine Davis, Associate Professor & Extension Specialist, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University, 455 Research Drive, Mills River, NC 28759. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Monster Vines Planted By Hop'n Blueberry Farm Produce Record Crop

Cascade bines at Highland Brewery
Highland Brewery in Asheville ask me if I would plant and manage some hops in front of the brewery this year.  I agreed to do so and got to work organizing the planting beds for their landscaper.  They got it all prepared by March and I ordered up some cascades and some zues rhizomes. 

The plants struggled early in the season, part of the problem was that we received a bad batch of rhizomes that were shipped out.  I pulled most of them out and replaced them with rhizomes with my Hop'n Blueberry rhizomes.  I spent several days watching the growth and adding some secret ingredients that I have learned over the years.

Then the spurt began, after the last prune in May.  It was non-stop growth.  Almost unnatural.  The soil and additives seemed to all kick in at once. 
Zues vines are monsters
After looking these monsters over, I decided it was time for harvest.  I didn't know how many hops I was looking at on their vines.  I knew for sure it was over two pounds, and thought it could be more.  Highlands wanted to make a "wet hop" beer, but are not completely set up for it, so they decided on an end of boil aroma saturation.

We decided to add hops form the Hop'n Blueberry for the bulk and and then to add the rest of the amount from Highlands hop vines, at least I thought.  Cascades were the only variety picked.  Tasting Room Manager, Grant DaSantos, and master brewer John Lyda, came over to the farm Wednesday afternoon to help me harvest.
Grant DaSantos shows off 5 lbs of HnB's hops including a 3 incher
We harvested five pounds from my ancient four-year old cascades in the grueling hot afternoon sun and celebrated with a few of Highlands famous bottles of brew. That ended Wednesday's work. 

The following day, Grant and a small crew proceeded to harvest cascade cones from 3 vines.  That's when the phone call came in from Grant.  I had requested that Grant weigh the hops from each vine separately.  "You won't believe this", he started off.
"We got seven pounds off of the first vine!" 

Yep, I have never heard of this kind of output from any bine planted in WNC.  In fact, our standards have only been around 12 oz. per bine.  Wow, I am still wondering if the scales are right, but, even the smallest looking bines were still producing two pounds apiece, and they also looked spectacular.

More to come!!

Friday, July 20, 2012

NCSU Hops Field Day Drew a Big Crowd

On Saturday, July 14th we held the first Hops Research Field Day at the NC State University Lake Wheeler Facility. When Scott King, Rob Austin, and I first started planning this, we didn't know how many people to expect to show up. The crowd exceeded our wildest expectations. It was standing room only and people came from all over including Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky!

Natalie Hampton wrote a great article on the event complete with pictures. Check it out here!

Posted by Jeanine Davis, NC State University

Saturday, June 30, 2012

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mills River Research Hop Yard "Open House"

We are holding a Research Hop Yard “Open House” on July 5, 2012 from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station, 74 Research Drive, Mills River, NC 28759.

Last year we established a high-trellis research hop yard to help the new hop industry developing in western North Carolina.  There are ten popular varieties planted in a replicated trial. The trellis system demonstrates two methods for lowering the top wire so the use of ladders or cherry pickers for stringing, maintenance, and harvest is not necessary.  There is a drip-irrigation system and a landscape fabric mulch weed control system.  This is not a full-fledged field day this year with speakers and a set agenda.  This is a casual “drop-in” event and an opportunity for hop growers and potential hop growers to view the ten varieties before we start harvesting and talk with the researchers, Jeanine Davis and Kelly Gaskill.  The differences between the varieties are pretty dramatic this year. We have experienced Downy Mildew, spider mites, and now Japanese beetles and we will tell you what steps we have taken to control them.  We’d love for you to share your experiences, too.

Directions:  From Interstate 26, take Exit #40 (the Asheville Regional Airport exit). At the top of the exit ramp take NC Hwy 280 South (go towards the airport). Drive past the airport and take the first road on the right, Old Fanning Bridge Road (just after the big curve to the right and marked by a green and white sign for the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center. After about one mile you will cross the French Broad river. The research station is on the right but directly across the street from the entrance to the research station there will be signs directing you left onto Butler Farm Road. Follow the signs out to the hop yard.
This project is funded by a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant administered through the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  The project is in the NC Alternative Crops and Organics Program of Dr. Jeanine Davis, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University, Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, 455 Research Drive, Mills River, NC 28759.  More information on her program and the companion Hops Field Day being held in Raleigh can be found at

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hop'n Blueberry Farm News: Huge Success Of Volunteer's Work

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hop'n Blueberry Farm News: New Storm Damage

Hop'n Blueberry Farm News: New Storm Damage: Another powerful, short lived thunderstorm hit my farm today. 45 MPH winds blew in with such fury that I could not open my eyes, then the ...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hops Guild Meeting this Thursday

Hope everyone interested in growing hops in WNC will attend our first meeting of the season, this Thursday, April 5th at 4:30 at the Highland Brewery Tasting Room. Check here for directions:
Bring your ideas, questions, and thoughts about how we can work together to improve local hops cultivation and marketing. Please help get the word out to folks who you think might be interested--and invite them to join the blog!
See you all Thursday.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Comparing Locally Grown Hops with Commercial Hops

Dr. Brett Taubman from Appalachian State University has organized a class project for his Brewing Science course at Appalachian State University in Boone this semester comparing hops grown in our region (including Cascade and Nugget from Blue Ridge Hops) with the same varieties grown commercially elsewhere (probably from the Pacific NW). The students will analyze the hops for alpha and beta acids prior to brewing. Then they will be assigned to groups and brew beers with the same malt bill, but each group will be assigned a different hop variety. One member of a group will use the locally grown example of the variety and the other will use the commercially available example. They will run the flavor and aroma profiles and IBU's on the finished products and will also have tasting panels for each group's beers to determine any differences perceived by the panels. Can't wait to see the results!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Getting Ready for the 2012 Hop Season

Are you ready for our next growing season? Time to order supplies, take soil samples for testing, and plan any changes you may want to make in your hop yards.
We enjoyed a great workshop last week in Morganton--thank you Appalachian State for sponsoring it, and thanks, Jeanine, for presenting the hop information. It was a great opportunity to hear what others are doing. With that in mind, I hope growers will follow and contribute to this blog. We can all learn by sharing information and experiences.
A question that's been on my mind lately is: what material is best for the lines used for growing the bines. We've used sisal in the past, and while we've not had any problems with breakage, it stretches and shrinks a lot, resulting in a good bit of slack at times. On our windy site, young bines get blown around quite a bit. I know many growers in the Pacific NW use coconut coir. Does it stretch less? Has anyone ever used poly bailing twine? What are your thoughts?
I hope those of you who follow the blog will encourage other growers to do the same, and to join our guild. Good luck -- Here's hoping that the 2012 hop season will be the best yet.
-Rita & John, Blue Ridge Hops