by: COURTESY OF DONNA GRAMSE - Workers - including multiple members of the family - at Riley Richey Hop Farm pose with the hops they harvested in this 1890s photo.It’s harvest time again, and I have been sharing in the crops from my neighbor’s garden. She has been taking any of the extra that we can’t use to the food bank. I urge any of you that do have extra tomatoes, squash or the like to take it down there. They are open most mornings, and the produce gets taken for use before noon most days.

by: COURTESY OF DONNA GRAMSE - Linda, Maureen and Brenda Crosby work on the hop arm picker around 1935, cleaning the hops before drying at their Crosby Road hop farm.The crop that I’m going to talk about is one of the oldest in Woodburn, but it wasn’t grown to eat, it was grown for making drinks. Many people who settled this area were Germans, and they brought with them their liking for beer, and the knowledge of how to make it. They could grow the barley, and they quickly learned that they could grow the hops.

According to the experts, hops grow best in the area around the 40th to 50th parallels. So, in 1892, Marion County was producing 10,000 bales of hops. Each bale is 200 pounds, and the average price was 19 cents a pound. The average hop yard here in the valley could produce 2,000 pounds to the acre. The hop yard at the time was mostly a family affair, and you will note by the picture I have included that the hops were grown on poles. The poles were only as high as a man could reach by standing on a wagon to cut them down.

At harvest, the extended family was called upon to come and help, during the two weeks or so that the hops are ripe, and trying to beat the rains. Many of the older boys set to removing the hops from the vines and putting them into hop baskets and then into the large burlap bags that were taken to the COURTESY OF DONNA GRAMSE - Local workers stand outside a hop dryer in this undated photo.

As the area grew, breweries moved in, and the demand for fresh hops increased. The yards grew, and wires or cord were strung on where the vines grew. In 1935, there were eight hop yards listed in Woodburn, and one of the names has lived on as Crosby Road.

The hop dryer was a large two-story building. The top floor was where the burlap containing the hops was laid out, and the hops were raked into even layers so that they could dry well. The bottom floor was where the heat was produced for the drying. This was done originally with wood stoves and later with a forced-air process, with special holes in the upper floor to let the heat in evenly. The hops are then cooled to room temperature and compressed into 200 pound bales for the storage warehouse. The hop dryer was also used often as a dance hall during the other seasons of the year.

From Portland, Vancouver and other places in Oregon and Washington, families used to come for the harvest. They camped in tents on the “back of the yard.” Because the season was so short, they thought of it as a summer-end vacation when they could meet old friends and make some good back-to-school money. They would come back to the same hop yards year after year and renew old friendships.

It wasn’t until after World War II that the mechanical picking machine was invented. It strips the vines, screens out unwanted leaves and stems and provides clean hops to be spread to dry.

Once in the hands of the dealers, the hops can be extracted, made into pellets or left in bales for brew masters to select. It used to be that the hop extract had to be made fresh every year, but the Germans came up with a process where they could keep it over from year to year, so there isn’t as much call for the crop from the big breweries as there used to be.

However, the hops grown in the Willamette Valley have a very special flavor, and different varieties have different qualities and characteristics. Brewers will prefer one type over another, and with the proliferation of the microbreweries which have sprung up, there is much call for our hops again. Breweries are now having brew tastings, following the example of the wineries to promote their product.

Watch for the cutting of the hops in the next week, and open your window as you go by to see if you can smell the crop.

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