After years of keeping a small garden in his backyard, Sean Drummond decided to try an unusual crop for this region.
Drummond, who is a craft beer enthusiast, bought three rhizomes of hops plants, the flowers of which are used in brewing beer. They are used for flavor, giving beer its bitter taste, as well as aroma.
The plant is known to be difficult to grow in southern areas, and in the U.S. is grown commercially mostly in the moist temperate climates of Oregon and Washington, but Drummond found that his plants did well. He bought the three rhizomes, plant stems with shoots and roots growing from them, two years ago, and two of them took to his garden in the Carrington Woods subdivision.
They didn’t produce many hops the first season, but they came back this season without much effort, and they are doing well enough that he is offering hops for sale on Craigslist. He put up an ad offering 2 ounces for $1.75.
“The ones that I picked, the Mount Hood,” he said of the variety he grows, “I picked because they tend to do well in this climate, with less than optimal water and a lot of heat and humidity.”
He’s hoping mostly to reach home brewers and hasn’t reached out to any of the local craft brewing businesses yet. “At this point, I’m just kind of seeing how the harvest goes this year,” he said.
Drummond said the Mount Hood variety works well in wheat beer, which is his favorite style, as well as pilsners and distinctly German styles, but could also be used in India pale ales.
He hopes that he can attract some home brewers who want to use locally grown ingredients. Many home brewers use dried pellets that look kind of like rabbit food, so he is offering a fresh alternative.
“They took to the area,” Drummond said. “They came up pretty well and then they came again this year and they’re even expanding.”
He has had no problems with disease, and few with pests. The biggest issue has been Japanese beetles, which eat the leaves. “You just sort of have to be on it and pick them off,” he said.
The plant tends to grow vertically in “bines,” similar to a vine. Drummond has them growing along twine lines that connect to a pole. Every couple days he has to check on them and keep the bines twisting along the twine.
“Most of the time they sort of do it on their own once they get trained,” he said.
He also has to prune the shoots so the plants will concentrate on growing the flowers rather than spreading more bines.
Drummond has never brewed his own beer – he doesn’t have the space with three children in his house – but he has an interest in craft beer and served as a host for grocery store tastings through Durham-based “All About Beer” magazine.
He has been gardening since he moved to Knightdale from the Washington, D.C., area eight years ago.
“I just decided, I’d always liked gardening, and sort of marrying the two interests,” he said.
Drummond is considering a job offer in Pennsylvania, and said that not only would he continue growing hops there if he moves but that “I’m going to dig these up and take them with me if we go.”
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826