Interest brewing in production east of Cascade Mountains
By MITCH LIES
TUMALO, Ore. -- Nestled at the base of the Cascade Mountains is new hops country, according to the website for Tumalo Hops.
That may be presumptuous, given that there are probably less than an acre of hops growing in Central Oregon. But given some time, it might prove true.
"Hops are definitely a big interest for folks here," said Amy Jo Detweiler, an Oregon State University horticulture extension agent based in Central Oregon.
Detweiler plans to form an interest group in coming weeks with the idea of helping hop growers help themselves.
"I'm trying to form an interest group to help them help each other," Detweiler said, "which is similar to what we did with winegrapes."
The Central Oregon hop movement -- if it can be called that -- was started by two married couples.
Neighbors Gary and Susan Wyatt and Roger and Mary Janson three years ago each planted about 300 hop plants.
The plants this year produced about 20 pounds of hops.
That's well below what the owners of Tumalo Hops expect to produce two years from now when the plants reach peak production, but well above last year's production of about 40 ounces.
The production started as a hobby for Susan Wyatt, who lost her job as an administrative assistant a little over two years ago and has been living since on unemployment benefits and savings.
"I'm a 99er," she said, referring to those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits.
Wyatt, who has lived on her hobby farm just west of Tumalo for 30 years, turned to hops after talking to hop producers in the Willamette Valley who told her they believed the crop could be produced in Central Oregon.
Wyatt chose to plant the Cascade variety in part because it can handle some frost and be produced in a shortened growing season of 120 days.
Typically, hops require a 140- to 160-day growing season, she said.
Wyatt purchased about $2,500 worth of 16-foot poles, wire, twine to train the hops and hop plant starts.
She is producing the hops under an organic regime, but hasn't been certified organic.
Her biggest production problems, other than the weather, she said, are spider mites. She uses a soap-and-water spray mix to control them.
She's also had minor problems with gophers pushing hop plant rhizomes out of the ground.
She's hoping the addition of some cats will alleviate that problem.
Wyatt employs gravity-fed drip irrigation to water her plants.
She cuts plants almost down to the ground in the fall and covers them with compost and straw to protect them from frost.
Wyatt started Tumalo Hops with the idea of selling hops to home brewers. But she has sparked interest from Central Oregon microbreweries and hopes to sell to them in the future.
"It's just a hobby for me, but hopefully it will make us some money," she said.
And start a movement at the same time.