The vine from which the housewife, a generation ago, picked the hops and dried them for use in making a yeast, is still grown in many a backyard, but the compressed yeast and the dry cakes have taken place of the good old-fashioned jug yeast on which the daily bread of the family depended. The hop vine is ornamental now, trailing its long fingers over the lattice that screens from view the neighbors' barns and any unsightly objects in the landscape. One good feature of the hop vine is the twenty feet or more of growth it makes in a single season. While slower vines are coming on it covers its trellis and reaches for more, climbing onto the roof or up telegraph poles, with apparent joy in its freedom.
Hop leaves are cleft like those of the grape and the hard maples. The inconspicuous flowers are followed by clusters of pale green catkins or cones, called "hops," that contrast beautifully with the dark foliage. Only the fertile (female) plants bear fruit in hops, the flower cluster of the sterile (male) plants merely pollenating the fertile ones, then fading, leaving the vine barren.
Hops are a valuable crop to raise, since the "burs" are used in the brewing of malt liquors. Two pounds of dry hops are needed for each barrel of beer. They give a pleasant bitter flavor to all malt beverages, and keep them from turning sour.
Young hop plantations are set with cuttings from the root crowns of old plants. Various systems of trellises are used to carry the vines up where they get the sun to the best advantage, and can be best let down for the picking of the crop. The climbing goes on without help in fine weather, the tendrils helped by the hooked hairs that roughen the leaves. But gray weather dis courages the climbing, the shoots must be tied up or they fall. They refuse to climb any slope of
less than 45 per cent., unless helped by being tied at intervals.
Four sterile plants to the acre are sufficient for fertilization of the fruiting vines. When the burs feel papery and September is at hand, women and children from the cities go out to the hop harvest in England and the United States. New York has a large hop-growing section near Syracuse. The average picker gets forty to sixty bushels picked in a day. The boxes are carried to the dry house, where the hops are spread on a cloth that lies on a slatted floor above a room heated by a furnace. Sulphur, burned at first, bleaches color out of the hops, which come out a pale straw color twelve hours after they enter the dry, hot atmosphere. They are cooled and sweated, then pressed into solid cakes by hand presses. These bricks of hops, in cloth cases, weigh nearly 200 pounds, and are five feet long and twenty inches square at the ends. In this condition they keep indefinitely.
The cultivated hop is merely the wild species, native to Europe and America, member of the Nettle Family, brought into domestication. No where does it grow in greater luxuriance than along river banks, where it finds rich, moist soil, and plenty of support in climbing.
The price of hops is peculiarly liable to change. Not many years ago it flopped from 12 cents to $1.20 the pound, without any noticeable reason for the astonishing difference. Ordinarily the price runs between 1z and 4o cents. The crop pays well, unless it is an off year, when weather and insect enemies are against success.