After returning from my Lost Coast hiking trip, I was delighted to find a number of plants ready to harvest. To begin, many of the Amaranth plants have passed their prime; I've collected the grain for future plantings and used the fibrous stocks to start another compost pile. In their place, I plan to plant onions for the fall and additional root crops. Speaking of which, I harvested the seeds of an heirloom Albino Beet (originally grown in Holland). I collected the seeds from the largest, most vigorous plant from my sowing last winter (November 2010). I was flabbergasted at the sheer number of seeds produced by a single beet plant; from this single plant I easily have several thousand seeds. This beet has done quite well the past several seasons in my Northern California climate. If you'd like some of the seeds, just message me; I have far more than I am likely to sow myself. They're a wonderfully sweet beet that was once used to produce beet sugar. In addition, I also harvested a number of Walla Walla onions and a peculiar heirloom green called Strawberry Spinach. Strawberry Spinach (Chenopodium capitatum) is an edible annual plant that was once found throughout most of North America. Before flowering, I harvest the leaves and eat them as you would normal spinach. As it flowers, it produces peculiar red, juicy flowers that looks very similar to strawberries. The Native Americans evidently used the berries as a red dye. I can't say they taste anything like strawberries, but they are quite interesting. My housemates describes them as earthy, nicknaming them "dirt berries."
All of these harvests paled in comparison to collecting the first batch of hops from my 2nd season of growing Willamette and Galena varieties. Hops are incredible vines that can grow up to a foot a day to heights of 40 feet! I got these two varieties from a guy off Craigslist for $20 a pop. The yield was far too low last year to do anything with; it's said that the first year is devoted to extensive root development with higher yields thereafter. This year, the Willamette plant is producing a tremendous number of flowers with the Galena producing a more modest yield. I had to curb my desire to pick all of the hops; only a portion of them appeared to be ready for harvest. I judged their ripeness by their texture, moisture content, springiness, aroma and lupulin glands (www.homebrewjunkie.com has great resources available for home grown, home brew tips). As the hops season comes to a close by mid-September, I expect I should have enough flowers for several home brews of beer. I haven't brewed before. My intention is to collaborate with my friends around the Bay Area who have more experience in the brewing process. As I learn more about brewing myself, I'd like to put together a super hoppy beer and name it "Hella Hoppy" as a tribute to its Oakland roots. If you're a seasoned brewer and would like to collaborate, send me a message. I would love to taste these delightfully fragrant flowers in as many beers as possible. I anticipate the harvest and drying process should be finished by the beginning of September. I'll keep you posted on the progress.