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Summer Produce Gardening Tips

Honey Bee on Red Echinacea

Honey Bee on Red Echinacea

It has been quiet at TogetherFarm’s blog but we’ve been busy bees on our end and in our gardens and have some great summer produce gardening tips.

So far, it’s only mid-June and all of our gardens here have exploded ahead of schedule by at least one month.  This also pertains to our animal and insect life as well as our water levels.  Will fall come early?  Will summer linger on beyond its welcome?  Will we have another snow year like we did in 2008?

Only time will tell.

One thing you can count on are great gardening tips from TogetherFarm gathered up from around the web.

Mixed Salad Greens and Peas

Mixed Salad Greens and Peas

Think it’s too late to start a produce garden?  Think again.  Portland Nursery says there are plenty of things to put in the ground in June, including salad greens, such as, “a few lettuce varieties that resist bolting include: Jericho, Lollo Rosso, Merlot, Oakleaf types, and Red Sails. Plus Arugula ‘Sylvetta’.”  Greens in our garden have (above) have done extremely well and my wife and I are eating delicious hand picked greens nearly every night and still have to give it away to friends, neighbors and just about anyone we can corner.

They also say that with  there’s still time to plant basil, green beans, corn, cucumbers, and summer squash from seeds or starts.

Being a big tomato fan, I was excited to see that others can get a head start on these delicious fruits as well as peppers and eggplants that are in one-gallon pots that are less than 65 days to maturity.  These guys will start yielding wonderful produce in September if you get a move on and plant by the end of June.   Finally, mark your calendars:  the last week of June is also your last chance to get starts of melons, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and winter squash in the ground.

Cascade, Galena and Centennial hops

Cascade, Galena and Centennial hops

I’ve also been by my local home-brew store and have noticed you can still pick up mature starts of hops in half-gallon buckets if you want to try these guys out with minimal risk.  Mine have taken off (planted back in late March) and are already scaling the twine I’ve run from the wine barrels to the rain gutters.  As mentioned in our earlier article on growing hops in your garden, it’s relatively easy to do and the plants will provide immediate shade and beautiful flower cones you can either use or pass along to that home brewer you know.

Sugar Peas

Sugar Peas

Oh, and remember that article we posted on using recycled materials in the garden?  It’s not to late to get started.  We did when we planted our peas back in early April and now they are yielding a bumper crop.  These guys certainly live up to their name and have a nice snap when shelling (if you are not eating them whole off the vine like we do) and the peas are tender and delicious.  When looking at the garden structure, the original greenhouse materials used to create the cage are no longer visible.

Peas and Salad Greens

Peas and Salad Greens

Well, enough writing for now, time for a fresh organic dinner prepared from our yard.  What have been your garden success/failure stories so far this year?  Please leave some in our comments area along with any photos you’d like to share.  Happy gardening!

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Growing Hops in Your Garden

Growing hops in your garden is very easy to do.  Last October I posted an article titled, “Grow Your Own Beer” where I considered all the ingredients that go into a pint of beer and then looked at the practicality of growing each ingredient.  Hops won out for a number of reasons.

Hops Flower

Hops Flower

Around February, I grew antsy and began looking through catalogs containing hops rhizomes.  If you don’t know what a rhizome is, Wikipedia sums it up nicely as, “a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes.”  Think of how grasses send runners as they spread across your yard.  That underground root-like runner?  That’s a rhizome.

Cascade Hops

My New Cascade Hops

In mid-March planted them in a few key spots around our house and to my surprise, they are doing very well.  No special skill was required on my part.  You simply dig a hole, stick them in there with the nodes pointing up and cover them with about an inch of dirt.  Given that we’re in Portland, Oregon, I didn’t water because of our spring days that alternate between wet rainy and warm sunny (the weather make weeding fun, too). If you live in a drier climate, consider giving your new hops regular drinks.  About 2 weeks later, signs of life appeared and 3 weeks later, I now have a 4 inch vine poking up (see above).

If you are considering planting hops, here are a few tips on planing your cascade hops rhizomes from my earlier article:

  1. Find some space!  Although not quite as much space is needed as with barley, these vines grow vertically so you’ll need some sort of a pole/twine system.  One site even showed an old swing set re-purposed for – and engulfed by – hops.
  2. Pick a spot.  Direct sunlight and well drained soil is key.
  3. Plant them.  If you are reading this article now in October, you will need to wait (with me) until the spring before May.  However, you can begin conditioning your soil now with lime and other key ingredients.
  4. Prune the runners.  Only the strong should survive.

Out of the numerous varieties, I selected Cascades because they are easy, grow relatively quickly and are very versatile in brewing.   They are commonly used in both bittering and flavoring a wort or beer and act as a natural preservative.  John Palmer, in his landmark book (a.k.a. bible), “How to Brew” describes their flavor profile as having a “strong spicy, floral, citrus (i.e., grapefruit) aroma.”  The desirable characteristics come from the lupulin glands (range from yellow, orange or gold in color) found at the base of the flower petals.

Anatomy of a Hops Flower (Courtesy Wikipedia)

When they really get growing, you’ll need to train them using some structure or bailing twine.  We are using them to line the top of our front porch as they grow.  You can even grown them in halved wine barrels or large buckets if you are concerned they will run.

If you aren’t into brewing, you can still join in the fun of planting these fast growing vines.  As the vine grows, the flower cones hang from the vine and put off an amazing aroma.  However, don’t expect too much from them in their first year – it is a critical time where they are establishing their root systems and they may not produce flowers.

Are there non-brewing uses for hops?  You bet.  Apparently they can be used as an herbal remedy for as a treatment for anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.  Wikipedia goes on to state:

“A pillow filled with hops is a popular folk remedy for sleeplessness, and animal research has shown a sedative effect. The relaxing effect of hops may be due, in part, to the specific chemical component dimethylvinyl carbinol. “

Be careful, though.  The oils in the lupulin glands can go rancid quickly and what was once a fresh smelling pillow will begin to have a cheese scent.  Not exactly what you want to smell while falling asleep.  Hops can be preserved in a cold, dark place for short periods of time.  Long term storage requires drying the flowers and then storing them in an oxygen barrier bag.

There are many, many varieties, each with their own particular characteristics and fragrances.  Pick some up today to add great accents and greenery to your garden soon – planting season ends in May!

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Grow Your Own Beer

Hops purchased at PDX Brew Exchange

Recently, I received a home brewing kit for my birthday from a dear friend in California.  I tried it out and I am now officially hooked on making fresh, full-flavored beer from simple ingredients that I can share with my family and friends.  (Warning:  I never knew I had so many friends until I finished this first 5 gallon batch.)

Like most hobbies, home brewing has a cult-like following of passionate people, each attempting to out brew (and out nerd) the other.  Brewing is relatively easy.  There are a good number of web sites and blogs out there that have plenty of information on brewing so we won’t replicate that information here.

However, as I was putting together my first batch I couldn’t help but wonder how hard it would be to grow (or gather) some of the ingredients myself.  What follows is a brief synopsis of what I found.

If you are going to try this, you will be in for a few challenges and new experiences, to say the least.  I think Mark Twain’s famous quote applies here: “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

What’s in a bottle?

First off, beer has four ingredients; water, yeast, malt and hops.  Yes, you can add all sorts of ingredients to the wort (the disgusting looking stew that eventually yields beer) but this is beer in its more pure and basic form.   So let’s start with the two first ingredients.



A river runs through it

It may sound silly but if you want to go to the home brew extreme, you can collect rainwater or gather water from a local stream or lake and purify it for brewing.  Since the internet often has a short supply of common sense, we’ll call out just a few of the normal cautions go with this:  Don’t brew without purifying your water first to kill microbes; don’t collect rainwater from your roof; understand your local watersheds and contaminants within; don’t brew with long standing water; and so on.  If you’re really into this, check some of the other sites for your ultra-local experience.


Brewer’s yeast

Yes, you heard right.  You can grow your own yeast from what’s in the air all around us.  As frightening as that might seem, some beers have unique flavors that are tied directly to the strain’s hometown.  Since I do not have the “professional microbiological training” to go into detail, I will simply refer you to this site in the event you want to learn more at the appropriately named site, morebeer.com:


Now we’ll move into the next two ingredients that are less problematic: barley and hops.


Barley field

Barley’s tough!  It is a main ingredient because of the rich sugar it contains:  a feast for yeast to eat up and ferment the beer.  You need lots of the stuff, and that means you’ll need space.  Over at Homebrewtalk.com, a thread indicated you would need a 1 yard wide row by 16 yards long to yield 16 lbs. of malted barley (dry weight).  Given that I used in my first batch about 12 lbs. of malted barley, you’d get about 5 gallons of beer form that crop.  To me, a small suburban backyard gardener with precious little space, I think I’ll continue purchasing it locally for now.  More info on growing and malting barley can be found at these two links:

Growing:  http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f36/growing-barley-wheat-home-115557/

Malting:  http://beersmith.com/blog/2009/12/05/malting-barley-grain-at-home/


Sweet smelling hops

Finally!  Here is a crop I think I can actually grow and will begin working on this month.  Fortunately, the Pacific Northwest has ideal conditions for growing this key and flavorful and fragrant ingredient.  I have talked with some gardeners who say these vines grow like weeds, growing as much as a foot a day during growth spurts.  A quick check at www.usahops.com yields this information:

Hop growing in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States is a proud tradition dating back to the late 19th century. The majority of the American hop industry has been and continues to be family owned and operated farms. Ideal growing conditions and highly skilled producers make the Pacific Northwest region of the United States home to some of the finest hops in the world.

Hops on a support structure

To grow hops, I’ll briefly summarize the process.  For a more detailed description refer again to Morebeer.com here:


  1. Find some space!  Although not quite as much space is needed as with barley, these vines grow vertically so you’ll need some sort of a pole/twine system.  One site even showed an old swing set being re-purposed for – and engulfed by – hops.
  2. Pick a spot.  Direct sunlight and well drained soil is key.
  3. Plant them.  If you are reading this article now in October, you will need to wait (with me) until the spring before May.  However, you can begin conditioning your soil now with lime and other key ingredients.
  4. Prune the runners.  Only the strong should survive.

If all goes well you’ll have a successful crop … in year two.  During the first year, the plant is establishing its root system.  But fret not!  Once established and if all goes well the site states, “Healthy vines can produce 1-21/2 pounds of dried flowers per plant.”  That is a lot of hops, considering the average batch requires two 4oz bags that cost anywhere between $5.00 and $8.00.  The harvested flowers can be placed in a seal-a-meal bag and frozen until needed for brewing.

Let us know in the comments if you have any experience or tips collecting or growing any of the ingredients.



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