As we wrapped up the harvest season at Rogue Farms, the last of the crops to come in from the field just happen to be the ones that taught us our most valuable lessons of the year. Lessons such as: Don’t plant your corn before it’s picked, never turn your back on a jalapeño pepper, and you can learn a lot about growing marionberries by growing hops. Sometimes the lessons sting. Sometimes they’re humbling. But either way, they motivate us to try again, try harder and improve.
In this edition of the Rogue Farms Crop Report we’ll show you some of these lessons and what we did to get better. The results were outstanding. A beautiful bounty of corn, peppers and, coming next year, more marionberries. Learning as we grow is what it’s all about. Because as we become better farmers, we also become better maltsters, roasters, smokers, brewers and distillers.
Don’t plant your corn before it’s picked
Turn back the clock to the summer of 2014 and we thought we were corn geniuses. Our first crop of Wigrich Corn was growing fast and strong in the summer sun of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. What could possibly go wrong? What went wrong is that we never found someone to help us harvest it. So rather than let it rot in the field we picked all five acres by hand, shucked it all by hand and then discovered much of it was too moist to malt.
Lesson 1: Don’t plant your corn until you know how you’re going to pick it.
This year, we found our harvester first and then planted. It all paid off in early October as the combine rolled through the rows and reaped, shucked and shelled every ear in under two hours. But that wasn’t the only lesson. We learned from malting last year’s crop that our corn needs to spend more time drying in the field before we bring to it to the Farmstead Malt House in Tygh Valley. Taking that lesson to heart, we planted two months earlier. This year’s mechanical harvest was over in 91 minutes. Last year’s hand picked harvest ran three days.
How’d we do? Our maltsters will let us know in the next few months. Even with the difficulties of last year’s crop we mashed and distilled some mighty fine Rogue Spirits bourbon. As it ages in the ocean air of Yaquina Bay, the next batch of bourbon is winding its way from the dirt to the distillery.
Kiln it with our jalapenos
Very little went wrong with last year’s crop of jalapeños — except for ones we let sit in their packing crates for too long. Our small kiln in Tygh Valley couldn’t keep up with last year’s bounty of peppers. It’s a good thing we had more than we needed for Brewmaster John Maier to craft Chipotle Ale. When we started distilling Chipotle Whiskey, our distillers began clamoring for peppers too. Our challenge for this year was to make sure every pepper was put to work. No more room for errors.
Lesson 2: Don’t turn your back on a pepper. Always pay attention.
We planted our two acre patch of jalapeño starters back in spring. While some of our other crops griped about the record heat we had this summer, the jalapeños absolutely loved it. It must have reminded them of their ancestral homeland in Mexico. Pepper picking is unlike any other harvest here at Rogue Farms. There’s no machine that can separate the red ones from the green ones. We have to pick them by hand. Complicating things, they don’t all ripen at the same time. It can take a couple of weeks from when the first ones turn red, to when the last of the crop is ripe.
This year’s jalapeño harvest began in late September. It took us almost two weeks to pick two acres. Here’s how we handled it. On harvest days we picked only the red peppers and left the green ones behind to continuing ripening. It took us six days over two weeks until the entire crop was done. Most pepper growers don’t go to all this trouble. But we do because we want only fully ripe red peppers. Red jalapeños are what’s best for smoking into chipotles. After all, we brew Chipotle Ale and mash Chipotle Whiskey, so let’s give Brewmaster John Maier what he needs.
Here’s how we handled another problem: How to preserve our peppers before smoking them. Within minutes of coming out of the patch, we hauled our peppers into the hop kiln and slowly dried them for five days. The aroma was unlike anything we’ve smelled before. It tickled our throats and caused our eyes to water. We felt like we were swimming in salsa.
When drying was over, then we trucked the peppers 77 miles to the Brewery and Distillery in Newport where our fellow Rogues slowly smoked them in small batches over fires of alder and cherry. Just like last year, Maier will have plenty of chipotles to brew as much Chipotle Ale and mash as much Chipotle Whiskey as he wants. Our distillers will have all they need to infuse even more chipotle flavor during distillation and to add some in the barrels when we ocean age Chipotle Whiskey.