HARVESTING HOPS A FRIENDS AND FAMILY AFFAIR – Last Wednesday Byron Betts (center) was joined by family and friends, including Amy Moe’s parents, Carali and Dave Moe, and Ron Extract and Amber Watts, Garden Path Fermentation owners, to strip hops from Betts and Moe’s bines. This crop is headed for a Garden Path fresh hop brew.   – Photo by Nancy Crowell
HARVESTING HOPS A FRIENDS AND FAMILY AFFAIR – Last Wednesday Byron Betts (center) was joined by family and friends, including Amy Moe’s parents, Carali and Dave Moe, and Ron Extract and Amber Watts, Garden Path Fermentation owners, to strip hops from Betts and Moe’s bines. This crop is headed for a Garden Path fresh hop brew.   – Photo by Nancy Crowell

By Nancy Crowell
Amy Moe and Byron Betts are bringing an old crop back to new life in the Skagit Valley. They are the first hop growers to surface in the valley in years. While most people think of eastern Washington as the hops capital of the state, Moe says hops were actually grown quite widely in Skagit Valley – before Prohibition. Fir Island was once filled with hops. No longer. But now, thanks to Moe and Betts, there’s Hop Skagit. 

Moe is a fourth-generation farmer using the land where she grew up. Once a dairy farm, and still owned by her parents David and Carali Moe, Amy and her husband Byron started a pilot plot of hops a couple of years ago on their Jungquist Road property. It’s clear from her enthusiasm, Moe has farming in her blood, but their hops farm is in addition to their day jobs. Moe is a physical therapist and director of operations at Balance Point Physical Therapy. Betts manages wholesale accounts for a coffee roasting company based in Seattle.
Unlike the farmers in eastern Washington, they opted to grow their hops organically. That meant they have almost no local resources from which to draw knowledge, and are on the forefront of organic hops growing in the state. “We went to WSU,” Moe explained, “but they told us there’s very little research on organic hops. So we’re learning as we go.” And there’s a lot to be learned about growing hops organically, and this summer has offered a particularly challenging learning opportunity, thanks to a major aphid infestation. Moe initially talked to commercial hops growers in eastern Washington, but the comparison wasn’t quite on point. “They told me if you have 4-5 aphids per leaf, you’re probably okay. When you get above that, it’s time to spray. We were using a natural essential oil spray, which kills the aphids when they ingest it, but instead of waiting till the infestation grew, we needed to have started when they first showed up.”
In addition to the oil spray, their methods include flowers that attract beneficial insects, mulching with a specific mulch that attracts the right kinds of beneficial insects and an emergency purchase of some 18,000 lady beetles. The beetles did the trick this year.
Comparing options, Moe noticed that the bines (what hop ‘vines’ are called) that had the fewest aphids were also the ones where they allowed weeds to grow in-between plantings. The mulch was difficult to source and hard to haul in. The flowers worked, but probably weren’t planted as close or as abundantly as they might need. All noted for their next crop.
While most people in the region grow the common Cascade hops, which do well in here, Moe and Betts have been trying different varieties for two reasons. One, to discover which plants are hardiest, and, two, to find varieties that are suitable for their current customer – Garden Path Fermentation, located at the Port of Skagit.
Garden Path Fermentation is sourcing everything locally to create their beers, and, as Betts explains: “Their style of beer and fermentation call for hops that are not overbearing, but an integral element that melds well with their other Skagit-grown ingredients.” Hop Skagit is also growing varieties that are great for more mainstream styles of beer, but Garden Path is their number one customer.
Last week, hidden from view, the hops were harvested. Some were dried for future use, while others went directly to The Garden Path to use in a wet-hop brew this fall.
Friends and family gathered around make-shift tables behind the barn as Betts cut down the bines and Moe clipped sections for the workers to harvest the hops. No doubt this is the start of something bigger. They have already rented an additional three acres.
“Our original intent was to plant in 2020, but we have decided to spend a little more time with the pilot yard to determine which varieties tend to do best in our climate and soil. We are working with nine varieties now, with the plan of bringing that number down to five or six for the main hop yard. We also are working on building the soil structure in the three-acre expansion, and we determined that it would be best to give the soil another year before planting those hops. It is currently planted with a perennial rye and clover cover crop,” says Betts.
In the meantime, their current crop will be put to use by Garden Path Fermentation, where locals will be able to taste beer that is completely locally sourced, from the grain grown by local farmers to the malt created by Skagit Valley Malting, to the hops grown by Hop Skagit. Quite literally – the taste of the Skagit Valley.
To learn more, visit hopskagit.com.