There’s hope for hops at Hope Ave. Hops
By KRISS NELSON
ODEBOLDT – In an effort to help diversify their row crop farming operation, and along with a combination of the love for the outdoors, Justin and Lacy Mason, of Odeboldt, decided to look for an alternative crop to raise.
In 2014, they began raising a half of an acre of hops.
“I did it more for something to do,” said Lacy Mason. “I also like being outdoors and garden.”
Mason said she began researching the possibility of raising hops when she realized there was a craft beer boom and a hops shortage.
To get started, Mason said she went straight to Google, where fortunately those web searches helped her find some mentors.
“I started out by Googling hops, found a business in Wisconsin and attended a growers workshop up there,” she said. “I also found a business in Nebraska and help through that state’s hops association. I did it on a wing and a prayer and Google searches for help.”
Since the Masons began growing hops over three years ago, the industry appears to have taken off in the state of Iowa, she said.
“It’s insane how it’s grown just since 2014,” she said.
Mason added hops are typically raised on the west and east coasts and not so much in the Midwest, but definitely seems to be growing in popularity.
Mason raises five different varieties of hops: Nugget, Cascade, Chinook and Triple Perle.
“I wanted to plant things that are grown in the Midwest,” she said. “These are very basic. Most beers have a Cascade hop in it. Nugget is also popular with IPAs.”
Growing hops is no easy task, according to Mason. She said it includes a lot of manual labor and the trellis system for the hops’ vines is tremendous.
“The hops grow best at at least 18 feet up to 22 feet in the air,” she said. “These are heavy plants, weighing at about 35 to 40 pounds on average with their foliage, so an intense trellis system needs to be constructed to hold the vines.”
The Masons have constructed an irrigation system that can also help apply any fungicides or insecticides that may be needed throughout the growing season. They also apply chemicals through a back-pack sprayer as needed as well.
Once the summer solstice hits, Mason said the vines stop growing and will then start producing hops.
Come mid-August through the middle of September, it is time for the harvest.
The Masons welcome anyone that wants to come help harvest and gain the experience. They also get help from family and friends. The 20-hour days can get long, but Mason said they like to make it a fun time for all of those that attend.
Harvest is done with the harvest machine, which although Mason said helps them from having to pick the hops from the vine themselves, it is still a labor intensive process.
“It’s about half mechanical and half labor” she said. “We have to sort the leaves away from the hops. I want to deliver a clean product.”
After the hops are harvested, Mason said they need to keep cool and they do so with a cooling unit they purchased. The cooling unit will keep the hops at 40 to 44 degrees before they are delivered within 36 hours of harvest.
Mason said she was fortunate to find a place to market her hops.
She has contracted her hops to be delivered to Buck Creek Hops in Solon.
“It’s nice to have a place for my hops to go and they are definitely a quality-driven business,” she said.
Once her hops are delivered, Mason said Buck Creek Hops will pelletize her crop and does so to meet some very high USDA restrictions and standards.
“I deliver my hops wet and I do have some very high standards to meet,” she said. “I don’t have that worry of the pelletization process.”
Mason said there is a USA Hops Grower’s organization and there is one that is being developed for the state of Iowa.
The national organization, according to Mason, is a great place to turn to for advice and tips for a current producer or someone looking in to starting a hops farm.
“The national organization has a lot of information, design plans and financial information to assist in starting a hops farm,” she said.
She added Diana Cochran, assistant professor for the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University, has been focusing research on hops.
“She’s been a great resource,” said Mason. “So if people want to get into raising hops, there are resources out there for sure.”
Anyone who would like to visit the Mason’s hops farm, and possibly attend a harvesting event, is asked to look them up on Facebook at Hope Ave. Hops,
or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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