Rural Life

Hop farming and other sketchy activities


Let your guard down for a minute — one minute — and they’re up to no good.

I’m not talking about the kids.

I’m referring to Martin and Mike.

Seriously, I tune them out for a few days (okay, a few weeks) and the next thing I know: A cottage industry has sprouted in the sheep field.



“Mike and I have an idea….”


That’s how Martin & Mike roll. They’re constantly scheming, plotting, conjuring up business concepts to launch. They come up with a ton of ideas; some leave the starting gate, but they don’t always cross the finish line.

Like what?

Let’s see, they started a pest control business to knock out stinkbugs… which lasted about 15 minutes. For a couple weeks, they hosted a podcast from the farm on Sunday nights. (“It’s on hiatus,” Mike claims, but all the broadcasting equipment mysteriously disappeared.) They announced plans to start a parenting magazine for fathers. And for quite some time, they planned to sell Hell Insurance, or more specifically, an insurance policy to use if you land in Hell. (Don’t ask.)

No matter what the plan (“We’re going to buy a cargo ship and cruise around the world…”) I’ve learned to say, “Ok, sounds good.”

And that was my stock answer when Martin announced, “Mike wants to grow hops here. You cool with that?”

“Sure, sounds good.”

I paid no mind to the bulk plant bags in the fridge, and I didn’t ask when Mike and Martin tilled long rows in the old orchard. But last weekend I noticed the industrial-sized auger they rented, and the pallet of tall poles and bags of concrete. Lots of activity. Early Sunday morning I found Martin finishing out the deep holes along the rows.



I surveyed the entire scene before sputtering, “What the hell is going on here?”

“What? We’re planting hops,” Martin replied.

“How many hops are you planting?”

“I think we have 400.”

Four hundred hop plants?”

“Yea and I read that each plant yields two to three pounds.”

I did a quick calculation. “You’re growing a thousand pounds of hops? What in God’s name are you gonna do with a 1,000 lbs of hops?”

“I don’t know. Ask Mike.”

I did. “Sell it,” Mike said. “And make beer!”

Apparently hop farming is very labor intensive, so we’ll see if this scheme succeeds.

Or goes the way of hell’s insurance policy.


Tired and muddy on Sunday night


Maisie, just plain muddy…


Not So Plain Rain


It is Wednesday, noon, and I’m moving through the rooms of the house, holding my breath to listen for leaks.

We’re getting thumped by another rainy weather system. Though calling it “rain” sounds pedestrian or prosaic; it’s more like a never-ending wall of water.

It’s not a notable storm — there’s no sexy name like Derecho or Hurricane Sandy — it’s just another weather event that’s become all too common in recent years.

When does this one wrap up? Five inches of rain by 10 tonight or midnight? Just a few hours in and already we’ve reached the point of saturation. The rain dives from the sky, plunges into the earth and then… resurfaces again: percolating up through the stall floors in the barn and pooling in pond-fashion. In the house it’s burbling up through the cellar floor — though it doesn’t sound burbling. It sounds more like peeing as rivulets of water follow the sloped floor and trickle into the sump pump.

Fortunately, no leaks from the usual suspects — the rotted window frames or the porous clapboard on the stormy side of the house. Nothing yet, but I’m staying vigil. 

Meanwhile in the dog’s world, it’s an unremarkable day, no different than yesterday or tomorrow. I noticed Maisie’s absence but couldn’t believe that she’d bolt in this deluge. Then, an email from our neighbor Chet confirmed my suspicion:

No deer, foxes, people, or even birds can be seen anywhere [in this downpour]. There is, however, one very happy black-and-white dog, who just raced through the hayfield with pure joy, headed to the river.

Martin, if you’re reading this: Dig out your Wellies and your rain slicker. It’s gonna be a wet slog to get the dog.





Update at 4 pm: When the kids announce that they’re going to float boats in the cellar, assume that the sump pump isn’t working.



Mud Missive


Right now I’m swamped with work: a couple writing assignments with lurking deadlines, and the usual kid-farm-animal variety of chores.

So a new episode of Funny Farm? Coming soon to a screen near you.

In the meantime, here are a few photos of the Monocacy, a river in close proximity to our abode. (note: nearby, but not close enough to submerge us). Though the river has hovered near flood stage without measuring any record high, its swirling murkiness is mesmerizing nonetheless.



This evening before the kids went to bed, I spotted The Boy languishing in the bath, periodically draining the tub only to refill it once again.

“Turn that tap off,” I barked. “You’re wasting water!”

“Really?” he asked. “After all this rain, can’t we waste a bit now?”