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Hops farming takes root
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Hops farming takes root
Wilson family taps into growing popularity of microbrewing, homebrewing






The increasing interest in craft beer in North Carolina has taken off and inspired Guilford and Pam Leggett to grow their own hops in Wilson County.

The idea came from their son, Justin, a homebrewer, and resulted in the Leggetts planting their first crop in April on a patch of land off Packhouse Road where they eventually plan to build a house. What they didn’t expect was to have a bumper crop at their first harvest, Aug. 2, and plans are already in the works for a second harvest in September.

"We had no idea we would have 50 pounds of hops with our first harvest,” said Pam Leggett. "We were told we would have no hops this year.”

Hops are used in the brewing process as an ingredient that creates the well-balanced flavor of beer. Even though they have a bitter taste, the bitterness counters the sweetness from the malt. Hops also act as a preservative.

"This is an experimental hop yard just to see what will work in Wilson County,” Guilford Leggett said. "We have four different varieties we’re experimenting with and we may add more next year.”

The Leggetts thought it would take two to three years to see healthy hop flowers, which grow on the plant Humulus lupulus, a member of the hemp family. Homebrewers and beer makers adjust the bitterness of beer by the type of hops they use in the brewing process. Four types of hops — cascade, centennial, Columbus and nugget — were planted at Cardinal Pine Farm in Wilson County and were chosen based on the success of the plants in other areas of the state, said Braxton Davis, one of the Leggett’s sons.

"We had some of the tallest bines we saw in the western part of the state,” which extended 15 to 19 feet in height before they were harvested, Davis said.

After they are planted, hops bines are wrapped around a string trellis that extends 20 feet. The Leggett’s hop yard, built by Guilford Leggett, includes two rows of hops plants that are attached to a string and pulley system that incorporates telephone poles and extends 150 feet in length. Next year, the Leggetts plan to add four more rows.

In North Carolina, few growers exist and the Wilson County farm will provide hops for the region, if not further.

"Certainly, in eastern North Carolina there’s a growth of microbreweries coming about,” Guilford Leggett said. "You have all this growth in the microbrewing industry but not many in production.”

Cardinal Pine Farm is the only location in Wilson County where hops are grown, said Walter Earle, Wilson County Cooperative Extension director. The Leggetts didn’t expect much growth this year because they were told the climate would be a challenge. Earle said that hops have difficulty growing in hot temperatures and humid climates.

The ability to see promising growth during the first harvest has the Leggetts anticipating success in future years. Out of the 50 pounds harvested, they were able to sell 20 pounds to the Fullsteam Brewery in Durham. The brewery posted a photo of the Leggetts on their Facebook site and said they were able to support the Southern beer economy by buying fresh hops from a guy who walked into their bar.

Margo Metzger, N.C. Craft Brewers Guild executive director, said that the owners of Fullsteam Brewery are selective when they buy products, which speaks well of the production in Wilson County.

"I believe they are producing a quality product,” Metzger said. "It’s good to see them making a go of it. There aren’t enough growers in North Carolina to supply our need.”

Metzger is only aware of a few hops farms in the state and Guilford Leggett says his farm is one in eight in North Carolina. Cardinal Pine Farm is a member of the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild.

During the recent harvest, about 12 volunteers helped carry the bines under a shelter where the hops were handpicked from the bine. Many were given to volunteers, including members of the Wilson Homebrewing Club, some were sold and others given away for promotional purposes. Hops are sold for $15 a pound, Davis said.

The Leggetts, who are sharing the business with their children, hope that it succeeds in supplying breweries across the state with hops.

"All of our children and spouses are involved in this project and that’s important to us,” Pam Leggett said. "We’d love to support the local brewery. It would be good for a Wilson brew club to use Wilson hops. We want to concentrate first on our Wilson homebrewers and establish partnerships with them.”

The Cardinal Pine Farm could be the supplier for Wilson’s future downtown microbrewery planned in the future, she said. There is also a growing interest in craft beers in the Wilson area.

"When it’s a hobby and you’re doing it for fun, it’s not work,” said Will Newton, founder of the Wilson Homebrewing Club, who took part in the recent harvest. "It’s just something you don’t do very often. It was a lot of fun.”

The Leggetts may expand their farm and include the drying process for hops, which need to be delivered within 48 hours. Without drying, they won’t last. Drying hops can give them a shelf life of one year, Guilford Leggett said.

The Wilson Homebrewing Club used the hops when they made a five-gallon batch of beer on Sunday. The beer will ferment and be ready for tasting in about a month, Newton said.

"None of us have been able to use fresh hops before or been a part of a harvest,” Newton said. "It’s amazing that something like this is happening in Wilson. It’s really cool.”

For Wilson to have a hops farm and a future microbrewery in downtown will offer craft beer lovers local homegrown flavor, Newton said.

"It’s flat-out amazing for Wilson to be able to say one day every ingredient you have is from Wilson County,” he said.

Cardinal Pine Farm has a website, at www.cardinalpinefarm.com, and a Facebook page. The Wilson Homebrewing Club also has a Facebook page and is increasing in membership from its start of six people to 66. A vineyard was also planted this year at the Cardinal Pine Farm.

rochelle@wilsontimes.com | 265-7818

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View Comments:Show/Hide(7 comments)
Barla said...

I don't give a hop.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 11:48 AM
ann said...

well thanks for the info on bines. learn something everyday

Sunday, August 10, 2014 at 9:16 AM
To Jella Ree said...

And we care what you think why?

Sunday, August 10, 2014 at 9:02 PM
To Ann said...

No. A bine is a climbing plant that climbs by its shoots rather than by tendrils or suckers like vines. Hops grow on bines, not vines.

Saturday, August 09, 2014 at 8:59 PM
Ann said...

aren't they
Aren.t they VINES and not BINES?


Saturday, August 09, 2014 at 9:30 AM
Cool! said...

This is cool!

Saturday, August 09, 2014 at 9:01 AM Jella Ree said...

I detest amateur beer.

Saturday, August 09, 2014 at 8:54 AM
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