Monday, February 11, 2008

Hops, shoots & leaves

While you wouldn't know it from the weather out there, it's still early February - way, way, way too early for the green shoots and buds of spring to be pushing their way out of the darkness. But that's exactly what's happening, and in hops gardening, that can only mean one thing: It's Ausputzen time!

As tempting as it may be to carefully nourish and foster that first tender, young growth of the year as some sort of persephonic talisman to ward off any chance of winter's unruly return (like when it comes back in March, charged with freezing rain and wicked winds, saying "oops, sorry, I forgot my car keys"), one will find themselves being well rewarded in the flower department if those early shoots (and then subsequently, all but two of the healthiest late spring bines) are pruned away. (And if there's a year when we homebrewers can use all the hops we can grow ourselves, this is the one.)

If you're the "use the whole bison" type, you might feel a little guilty chopping the heads off your cute little sproutlets just to toss them in the compost pile, so you'll be happy to know that the little guys are considered a bit of a delicacy in some parts, even being celebrated at festivals in hop-growing regions (be sure to pay your tribute to the King next time you're in Poperinge!) with all manner of raw, fried, sauteed, steamed, and pickled hop shoots for your perusal.

And, if the weather holds and the industrial farms look as promising as our backyards, maybe we won't all be looking at brewing Catsfoot ales next year... but it's not looking good.

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