Drink Your Garden

Home brewing of beer, wine and hard cider are a big deal these days. What most gardeners in Wyoming don’t realize is that you can grow most of what you need for brewing right in your backyard!

Let’s start with grapes. Of course we can’t grow grapes from the south of France, but there are at least twenty or so grape varieties that will grow here and tolerate our cold dry conditions.

Some of my favorite purple/blue grapes include the Valiant, La Crosse, and Saint Theresa. Although I don’t know their wine making capabilities, these grapes will produce fruit perfect for eating out of hand, for juices and jellies.

Then there are red, pink and white grapes, my favorites include Swenson Red, Swenson White and Flambeau. These grapes too are perfect choices for eating out of hand, for juices and jellies.

If you study the grape growing regions of the world, most regions are very dry with low organic matter content clay soils – sounds like Wyoming in the summer, doesn’t it? All grapes are self-fertile meaning you don’t need another grape to produce fruit. Give grapes at least eight hours of full sun. Grapes can be grown on fences, arbors, and trellises.

Hops are a flavoring agent in making beer. A hop plant is a vine that can tolerate full sun to part shade. It dies back to the ground every winter but it will grow twenty or more feet in a year – think Jack and the bean stalk sort of plant. It’s the pungent flowers that are used in the making of beer and I suspect all a home brewer would need is just one plant.

There are many hop cultivars on the market but I like these for their horticultural value as well as their spicy pungency: consider Magnum, Zeus, and Brewer’s Gold.

Growing barley for beer in Wyoming is easy, well at least if you aren’t a farmer with hundreds of acres to tend to. Major beer producers such as Budweiser, Coors and Miller all have contracts with Wyoming farmers to grow barley.

Barley is a grass. It loves cool to cold conditions when planted in the spring just as soon as the ground can be worked – like right now. Most feed and seed stores have on-hand barley seed this time of year. Barley ripens between mid-July and the first part of August.

Hard cider was a popular drink among the early settlers of this country, then its popularity declined when beer production increased. Now the pendulum has swung again.

As you might guess hard cider is made from apples. Apple trees are very hardy and very adaptable to Wyoming conditions. In fact they have been known to grow and produce fruit in Wyoming up to 8,000 ft in elevation.

There are dozens of varieties to choose from but I like Honeycrisp, Haralson, and Sweet Sixteen. Apples are not self-fertile, so you’ll need two different cultivars of apples to get fruit production.

So if you love to drink beer, wine or hard ciders why not grow the plants you like to drink?

Originally published in the Casper Star-Tribune, March 15, 2015