The summer of 2015 is one for the record books. As we wrapped up the hop harvest at Rogue Farms in Independence, Ore., the National Weather Service informed us that this was the hottest summer at the farm since record keeping began in the 1800s.
It wasn’t just the heat that kept us on our toes. Huge wildfires raced across Eastern Oregon, one of which came unnervingly close to our 200 acres of malting barley. For most Oregonians the fires seemed a distant distraction until one weekend when smoke from the wildfires filled the Willamette Valley. Our hopyard resembled a scene from an apocalyptic movie — minus the horsemen. Like we always do at Rogue Farms, we soldiered on, picking our pumpkins, reaping our barley, wheat and rye and harvesting our hops. But Mother Nature sure kept it interesting.
The harvest of Rogue Farms Freedom hops kicked off under a blazing sun. The hot summer was on everyone’s mind, long before we knew it was record breaking. TV news crews came down from Portland to visit the hopyard, wondering if the heat was hurting the hops. That’s the kind of thing people worry about in Beervana. We assured folks that despite some sunburned bines, the crop was actually in pretty good shape. The USDA Hop Report issued August 1st forecasted Oregon hops production will rise 41 percent this year, thanks to a big increases in acreage and yields.
However, the heat threw off our harvest schedule. The Risk malting barley was late, but our Dare barley, Dream rye, McKercher wheat and seven varieties of hops were early. Wigrich corn is drying about a month ahead of schedule. In the pepper patch, one-third of our jalapeños are already red and ripe. The biggest surprise was our Dream Pumpkins. We picked them in early August, five weeks ahead of normal.
Within hours the fresh picked pumpkins were trucked 77 miles over the Coast Range to the Rogue Brewery in Newport. Our fellow Rogues took over from there, cleaning, chunking and roasting the pumpkins in a pizza oven to caramelize that sweet pumpkin flavor. Finally, Brewmaster John Maier pitched them in the kettle to begin brewing this year’s batch of Pumpkin Patch Ale. By the time you read this, Pumpkin Patch Ale will be on store shelves and in bars, pubs and restaurants across the Rogue Nation. This is the earliest we’ve been able to ship Pumpkin Patch, and we have Mother Nature to thank for that.
There must be some kind of law that says barley is supposed to be harvested during the worst time of summer. By July and August, the stalks and kernels are bone dry, making them great fuel for a fire. Lightning from a storm, or a spark from a passing vehicle could set off of a blaze that would burn up all 200 acres of malting barley in just a matter of hours.
To complicate matters, Oregon is in the fourth year of a drought that shows no signs of ending. We lost about 40 percent of our allotment of irrigation water at the farm. Everything was drier than usual. The day we started reaping, threshing and winnowing our Risk malting barley, the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Wildfire Warning, telling us that a combination of high winds and low humidity were creating prime conditions for wildfires to spread out of control. There would be more such warnings over the next few weeks.
The harvest was well underway when a huge wildfire sprang up south of here on the Warm Springs Reservation. The County Line 2 fire scorched more than 67,000 acres, creating so much heat and smoke that it closed one of the major highways between Portland and Eastern Oregon. Several subdivisions were evacuated but amazingly, only four homes were destroyed and no one was hurt.
Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of firefighters, the County Line 2 wildfire was stopped before it became a threat to our farm. The worst of it for us was a heavy pall of smoke that laid over the farm for several days. We were lucky, and our thoughts go out to our neighbors and fellow farmers who lost their homes and property in this fire. The Dare barley wrapped about a week earlier than usual and when it was all over, we breathed a huge, smoky sigh of relief.
Click “Next” if you’d like to see Rogue Brewmaster John Maier get intimate with some homegrown hops.