Hops-not just for beer!
When we first started building the project now known as The Farm it was just a grass seed field with some trees and an old shack at one end. We have come a long way since then. We started by building a pump house for the well and to store tools. Then we built a garage, a house, a barn and last year, a shop. We have fenced and crossed fenced, planted lawns, built gardens, planted trees, dug a pond and maintained it all to the high standards of my loving wife. This place takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of time and sometimes I think we should move to a small house with a small yard. But the truth is, I love this place and I plan on living here until the day I die.
Over the last few years we have made an effort to make The Farm less work by reducing the size of the lawn that needs to be mowed, reducing the number of animals we keep and even hiring help with yard work. Even with the goal of making The Farm less work, I sometimes get a wild hair and we take one step backwards.
One of the first things we did when we were building this place was to make a fire pit out in the field by the pond. Over the years the fire pit has become a place to burn all the branches that get trimmed off the fifty some trees we have planted around the yard. A couple of years ago my wife mentioned that it might be nice to have a fire pit closer to the house so we wouldn’t have to haul the marshmallows so far to roast them.
I’m sure she envisioned a small ring of stones with a couple of benches around it when she mentioned it to me. However, my brain doesn’t work that way and the simple idea of a fire pit grew into “The Hops Garden/Fire Pit.”
Once we agreed on where the new fire pit would be built the creative side of me was awakened and I went to work. I had a vague idea of what I wanted the end product to look like, and since it wasn’t brain surgery, I decided to let the creative juices flow and see what happened.
The location of the pit was near one corner of the yard, exposed on two sides to the open field. I wanted the pit to be a little more private so if I decide to dance naked around a fire, the neighbors wouldn’t complain. I also wanted it to be shaded so that in the late afternoon we wouldn’t be sitting around a fire in the hot sun. So here is what happened.
The place we agreed to put the pit was on a long hump of ground that covered out septic field. My first task was to level the area by hauling in dirt with my tractor. It took several loads and a lot of shoveling and raking, but I got the area level.
After the area was level I built a metal sculpture or column that would serve as the centerpiece of the hops garden/fire pit. Like most projects, I work on a very small budget, so the column was made from three 20’ pieces of rebar that my son Marcus helped me braid together. I cut out a half dozen large leaves from sheet metal and welded it all together. Eventually the hops got too heavy and I added a ¾” length of black iron pipe to keep the the plants from bending the column to the ground. The base of the column is planted in a foot of concrete and weighted with rock.
I wanted an arbor like entrance to the pit area, so I welded together an arbor. It too was made from rebar. To give it a good stable base I used concrete to set it in place.
My idea was to plant hops around the perimeter of a large circle, 36’ across, and train them to climb strands of wire up to the top of the column that was in the center of the circle. To accomplish this, I drove a dozen 7’ T-post around the perimeter of the circle and ran three strands of heavy, 10 gauge, galvanized wire around the circle of T-posts, one at the top, one midway up and one a few inches from the ground. I then started stringing lighter weight wire from the bottom wire up to the middle and top wires and then to the 5’ metal circle at the top of the column. I spaced the wires about 12” apart so there would be plenty of wires for the hops to climb.
There was a sprinkler head near the outer edge of the new garden that would be blocked from view by hops once the hops started to grow. I dug a trench from the sprinkler to the center column and then laid black poly pipe in the trench, added a 90 degree elbow and ran more black poly pipe to the top of the column. I removed the sprinkler, attached the poly pipe to the system and put the sprinkler head on the top of the pipe at the top of the column. I adjusted the sprinkler so that when the sprinkler system came on the sprinkler would water out to the perimeter of the garden.
Next I removed a 12’ circle of grass around the center column and filled it with pea grave and bordered the circle with concrete edging to contain the gravel.
The Willamette Valley is known for the production of hops, so finding hop starts was easy. I purchased three varieties of hops to add a contrast of green to the garden. The first year hops will generally grow about 6-8’, but once they are established they will grow 20-25’ long and they will grow about a foot a day. To add color to the garden I planted purple morning glories.
We had purchased several years ago, a large concrete bowl that we used as a water feature in a garden near the back deck. One year during a very cold winter it cracked and would hold water any more. My wife wanted me to get rid of it, but it occurred to me that it would be the perfect fire pit, so I moved it to the garden.
We have enjoyed the new hops garden/fire pit for two years now. When the hops and morning glory have climbed to the top column the garden becomes a very large green, shady tent where we can enjoy a fire closer to the house and where we don’t have to carry the marshmallows so far.