When early pioneers settled in Southern Oregon they missed their beer. They needed hops for the brew, so they planted them.
The first hops in Josephine County were set out in 1875 just west of Grants Pass. And hops were raised there for more than 70 years.
Growing hops took a lot of hard work. Farmers pruned the vines in January and strung wires across 10-foot high posts. Irrigated heavily, the vines climbed to the wires. In the heat of late summer, wiremen maneuvered through the jungle of vines, lowering the wires for the pickers to separate the hops from the scratchy vines. The fruit is very light so that workers paid by the pound had to pick long hours to make any money. During the Depression of the 1930s a picker in the hop yards, working dawn to dusk, might make a dollar a day.
Big bags of hops went to the drying sheds for exposure to sulfurous gas designed to destroy mold and bugs. The final step was compression into large bales ready for the brewers.
Today hops are again being planted in Southern Oregon, but they are grown on low wires and picked by machine.
Source: Oaks, Michael, “Hops: A One-Time Thriving Industry in Josephine County.” Guardino, Harriet Smith, “Of Hops and Men”, Josephine County Historical Society, June 2002.
— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.