Hops research project sprouts near Snohomish

You’re tooling down bucolic South Machias Road or maybe jogging the nearby Centennial Trail.

All of a sudden, you see it.

A field of poles. Rows and rows of 18-foot poles.

What’s up with that?

Hops.

As in beer.

Hops — fancy name “humulus lupulus” — are the flowering cone that beer brewers covet. It puts the bitter in beer.

Later this summer, things should start hopping on this pole farm east of Lake Stevens.

Well, maybe. We’ll see.

The hops farm is a research project of sorts. Hops are an oddity on the west side of the state but common on the east side. According to www.usahops.org, Yakima Valley is hop heaven, growing about 75 percent of the U.S. hop crop.

It wasn’t always so. Back in the 1880s, hops was the major source of Kent’s economy, especially after an aphid invasion that affected hops crops in Europe. The town of Kent, which was called Titusville at the time, harvested 1 million pounds of hops in 1888, and was renamed for Kent County, the top hops producing region in England. But then Western Washington got its own invasion of those darn aphids in 1891, effectively ending its hops reign.

Now hops are making a west side comeback on the 10-acre farm that’s sandwiched between a stretch of busy byway and the popular Centennial Trail.

You can drive by and look, but don’t touch. It’s a family’s yard, not a public beer garden.

Homeowner Mike Palacios leases the land to the hops grower, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I was approached by someone who was looking for a place to grow hops. He did some soil sampling and determined it would work out pretty well,” Palacios said.

“Prior to entering in an agreement with this gentleman I went online to get some sense of what it’s all about. It’s pretty fascinating. It will be interesting to see how they harvest them.”

He bought the place 10 years ago. “The primary reason was driven by my wife for the old farmhouse,” he said.

He leased the land to hay growers in the past. “I always thought it would make sense to have something a little bit more substantial than just hay out there,” Palacios said. “I’m a microbrew kind of guy.”

Hops gets more attention than hay, that’s for sure. “People say, What’s going on out there?’”

That’s what his son Tanner, 11, gets asked by friends.

“I say, ‘We’re growing hops,’” Tanner said. “They say, ‘What are hops?’”

Last year the hops got a late start and grew only a few feet high. This year the grower is stringing cables through the pole tops.

“It might look like a forest,” Palacios said.

Who knows, maybe this region will become another Kent.

Send What’s Up With That? suggestions to Andrea Brown at 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown. Read more What’s Up With That? at www.heraldnet.com/whatsup.

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