Chapter X. American Hop Culture

American hop culture has a great future, in spite of the fact that it is confined to but a few states, as hops will not grow profitably everywhere. The climate forbids the profitable growth of hops in all sections of the United States south of the latitude of New York City, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. In the Southern climate the hops run too much to vine, and the fruit fails of its full development. The hop is a Northern plant, and as far north as Manitoba grows wild and in great profusion. On the other hand, not every soil will produce the hop in perfection.

The rich prairie lands of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota are not favorable to hops, although the climate is propitious. These soils lack something that is essential to the full development of the lupulin. The sections where both soil and climate favor the cultivation of hops are the central and northern counties of New York; here we have a cool climate and a rich soil, full of all the elements that go to make fine hops; Washington and Oregon, with a cool climate, and soil so deep and rich and virginal that the yield of hops is exceptionally good, both in quantity and quality; and lastly, California, where the hops are raised mostly in the valleys of the Sacramento and Russian rivers.

Forty years ago Wisconsin raised a crop of about 10,000 bales of hops, but the hop louse suddenly cut off the crop, and now not more than 2,000 bales are raised annually in that state. A few hops are raised each year in the New England states, where the soil is generally too poor to make the yield profitable, and a few in Michigan.

A hop yard is planted by means of cuttings or "sets" taken from the roots of old vines, and set in the ground about seven feet apart each way, so that there are about 750 hills of hops to an acre. In New York state the vines from these "sets" produce nothing in the first year of growth, being allowed to spread on the ground; about half a crop in the second year, and a full crop in the third year. In California, Oregon, and Washington the "sets" are furnished with poles the first year, and produce that year about half a crop, and a full crop the second year. In New York a fair average crop is about one pound of cured hops to the hill, or 750 pounds to the acre; while on the Pacific coast two or three, and not infrequently, four times that weight is harvested. The hop yards are generally equipped with poles about fifteen feet high, upon which the vines grow spirally upward; sometimes, however, the hop vines are trained upon wires, stretched horizontally between stout posts over the rows of hills, with smaller wires or strings leading up to the horizontal wires from each hill.

Some hop yards are furnished with a single pole to a hill, the poles being from twelve to eighteen feet high, with strings running obliquely upward from the middle of one pole to the top of the neighbor. The prettiest hop yard---that is the one most beautiful at the time of harvest---is the "tent yard" where a straight pole, twenty feet high, is set in the center of six or seven hills, into which stakes about five feet high, are placed, and provided with strings leading to the top of the tall central pole, thus forming a regular tent. These tent yards closely resemble a military camp, a fact which gave rise to the designation, "Camps of King Gambrinus."

In California, in former years, the hops were largely picked by Chinamen, but since the labor movement, which culminated in the exclusion of Chinese immigration, has brought the employment of such labor into disfavor, the majority of planters hire other help, and Chinamen are now but rarely seen in the hop yards.

In Washington, and to some extent also in Oregon, the hops are mostly picked by Indians from British Columbia. They cross the Puget Sound in their canoes, bringing all their women and children and all their household goods along, and go into camp on the borders of the hop yards, about the first of September of every year. They board and lodge themselves, and always work "by the piece," that is to say, they get a fixed compensation for every box of hops picked by them. All the Indians have to do, is to pick the hops from the vine, and they "pick for all they are worth," most literally; for every cent they earn, for the whole year in most cases, is earned in the three or four weeks of the hop harvest. Every squaw and papoose picks, from early morning until night, into baskets or shawls, which are emptied into the box and help to swell the family's income for the year. Before the introduction of hops into Washington, about twenty-five years ago, these Indians did not earn a dollar in money in a year, but now, at the close of the hop harvest, a single Indian family composed of man, wife, and usually several children, will carry home with them one hundred dollars in cash. The difference to that poor family, in comfort and civilization, can easily be understood.

Hop Picking in New York

We now come to the hop harvest in the state of New York, and here it is in its glory. The great counties of Otsego, Schoharie, Montgomery, Herkimer, Oneida, Madison, Onondaga, and Ontario lie along, and mostly a little south of the Erie Canal and the New York Central Railroad, between Albany and Rochester, a belt two hundred miles long and fifty miles wide. Franklin and Lewis counties, along the Canadian frontier of New York, have also a considerable hop interest, but for our present purpose we shall confine ourselves to the region situated in the belt we have mentioned, bounded by Albany on the East and Rochester on the West, and dotted, along its whole length of two hundred miles, with the cities of Albany, Schenectady, Amsterdam, Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Auburn, and Rochester. Towns and villages of from one to two and three thousand inhabitants, many of them manufacturing towns, and all of them full of women and children willing to work and eager to rusticate for a time, are scattered all over the hop belt; and from this long line of populous cities, and these thickly settled towns and villages, come the pickers for the hop harvest. On or about the first day of September, they come with a rush, and usually find a demand equal to the supply. For weeks the hop grower's good wife has been preparing for them; beds, rough but comfortable and clean, are set up in every building on the farm---in the house for the women and children, and in the out buildings (sometimes put up for the purpose), for the men and boys. Bread is baked by the barrel; "doughnuts" are fried by the bushel. The farmer has already engaged his pickers in the neighboring cities or villages, and, on the appointed day, in they come, some by wagons, sent out the day before to the city, often twenty miles away, some by special railroad trains, chartered for the purpose, and some on foot. Whole families are in the crowd, father, mother, and all the children, from the active boy or girl of fifteen years, who can pick two or three boxes, and earn a dollar a day, down to the baby whom the mother takes out into the field and watches while she picks her box, and earns its clothing for the coming winter.

These families are frequently those of hard-working mechanics in the cities, who are glad to give their wives and children an outing in the fresh air for three or four weeks, and find them all the richer and happier by reason of the escape from the stony and dirty streets of their urban home. It is a picnic for the children, and their pranks, when they first arrive, are a sore trial to the steady farmer and his wife. But after the first day's work (from six in the morning until twelve at noon, and from 12:30 pm until six at night) is over, they are well sobered down for bed, and their surplus energies are thereafter turned into the channel that leads to the hop box in the morning and to bed at night. Many a poor factory girl finds in the hop fields the only fresh country air she breathes in the whole year; and while she is laying in the year's stock of health, her nimble fingers are bringing to her more money than the work in the stifling mill.

To the hop grower, the harvest, by reason of high prices for hops, is sometimes very profitable. Sometimes, by reason of low prices, it is very unsatisfactory. But to the poor families in the surrounding towns and villages it is always a blessing; for no matter whether the price of hops be high or low, the compensation for picking is always the same. Let us see how it foots up. The hop crop of the United States amounts to about 200,000 bales, of 180 pounds each. It takes fifteen boxes for a bale at fifty cents each makes $7.50; hence, for 200,000 bales the pickers receive about fifteen hundred thousand dollars.

We have taken a round number which does not accurately represent the actual production for the year 1908, for in that year the American hop growers produced about 216,660 bales or 39,000,000 pounds of hops---a comparatively very small quantity; in fact, 11,000,000 pounds less than in the preceding year and 21,000,000 pounds less than in the year 1906.

There are two reasons for this decrease, viz: 1. because between 1901 and 1907 the production of beer increased at an unusual rate and the growers extended their operations accordingly, running perhaps a trifle ahead of prospective demand; 2. because as a result of the panic the production of beer has decreased.

Up to 1899 New York produced the largest quantity of hops; thereafter Oregon took and maintained first place and from 1902 to the present time California wrested even second place from New York, so that in point of production this state now holds the third place among the four hop producing states of our country, the fourth being Washington. Less than one percent of the total quantity of hops raised in the United States is produced outside of these four states in each of which hop culture is confined to a few counties. This peculiar localization obtains in all countries, Germany excepted.

The United States, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, and New Zealand are the only countries which produce more hops than they consume. The quantity exported from Germany is largest, almost equal to the exportation from the United States and Austro-Hungary combined.

For the years 1895 to 1899 the average annual exportation from the United States amounted to 15,827,630 pounds; and from 1900 to 1904 to 11,863,626 pounds; the average annual imports during the same periods amounted to 2,414,966 and 3,704,411 pounds, respectively. In 1906 and 1907 the exportation amounted to 17,701,436 and 16,099,950 pounds, respectively.

The available but unused area of soil suitable for the cultivation of hops, the fertility of such soil (in the Pacific states), and the favorable climate secure to American brewing an abundance of material for all future time, no matter how rapidly and extensively the industry may develop hereafter. In all likelihood the insignificant importation of Bohemian and German hops, noted for their superior quality, will cease entirely within a few years when the laudable efforts of the United States Agriculture Department to improve and perfect the quality of the American product shall have accomplished its purpose.

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