Local Hops

I remind myself to focus on driving as I crane my neck to get a better view of the incredible urban farm that popped up in Pocatello this spring. After clearing about 3/4 of an acre of grass with a sod cutter, scraping the pre-cut sod with a front loader, and tilling, the farmers began the backbreaking work of further prepping the soil by hand. A few hoop houses appeared and an astoundingly diverse array of crops were transplanted into the farm apparently overnight.

This was more than enough to make me an unsafe driver, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on in one corner of the farm: what was the purpose of those 18 foot high poles? Too high for a deer fence and oddly spaced… what could possibly need a trellis that high?

I figured I needed a closer look, so I strategically planned a run on the nearby greenway trail. And I was in luck! One of the farmers was out working and kindly took the time to talk to this deranged gardening fanatic. I pulled my jogging stroller off the road and peppered him with questions.

Originally from Nebraska, Shawn Fredstrom “grew up doing various farm projects, taking care of cows, growing corn and alfalfa.” He has a wealth of experience, having worked for “pear farmers, corn farmers, mushroom growers, home gardeners, and grass farmers with free-range ranchers.” He is currently a chemistry graduate student at Idaho State University.

One of three farmers participating in this new urban farm and its established sister operation on South Fifth street, Shawn says, “After working around farmers and working in an agriculture testing lab, you start to realize organic farming is a better alternative to agribusiness fertilizer farming. There are many practices that I like to use from agriculture such as no-till, and using manure as a fertilizer.”

And those mysterious 18 foot posts? They are trellises for Shawn’s specialty: hops.

“My hop field uses the old-fashioned trellis system, where you have 18 foot poles tensioned with steel cable. The hop vines are trained on jute [rope], where the jute is attached to the ground and the steel cable up in the air.”

Shawn is growing 16 varieties of hops on about 1/10th of an acre. As the only commercial hop grower in the area, he’ll likely have home beer-brewers lining up to buy fresh hops. He plans to expand his hop field soon, although “it’s just pretty time consuming and costly to set up the trellis correctly.”

Shawn’s advice for the gardener hoping to grow hops? Do it. “They are a beautiful plant. When the plants start producing their flowers they have a pretty distinct smell from the lupulin found in the flowers. Hops are in the cannabis family to give you an idea of what smell you can expect.

“[Hops] are a perennial. I suggest growing them on the sunny side next to the house. Tie a piece of jute from your roof down to where you planted your hop plant. Make your trellis system before the hops go in the ground. First year growth, do not prune anything, just train your vines on the trellis.”

This year, Shawn doesn’t expect to grow enough hops to sell, but next year they’ll be available at the Pocatello Farmer’s Market, a “treat for the home-brewer who is used to using pelleted hops”. So local home-brewers, get ready.

As for the rest of the farm? Watered via drip irrigation, it’s “basically an over-sized garden. Matt [Bowman] utilizes the french-intensive method for creating raised beds for growing produce. I utilized this technique also in my hop field. You basically unconsolidate the top soil to create a mound above the soil surface.” It’s certainly visually stunning: the vegetables are thriving in long beds slightly higher than the walkways in between.

Shawn’s parting words to home gardeners: “Try your best and fail often so you figure out what you are doing.”

You can buy produce from Bowman Farm at the Pocatello Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm or at the farm’s produce stand on the corner of South Valley Road and Bannock Highway on Wednesdays from 5 to 7 pm.

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