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Stanislaus County’s First Hop Grower Takes Root In Oakdale
Susan and Tim Dyke stand among the hops of Hopyard Hounds, their personal hop farm and Oakdale business. Photo By Teresa Hammond

Retirement is proving to look at bit different than one might imagine for Tim and Susan Dyke.

Tim, retired from the City of Manteca and Susan, retired from the Oakdale Joint Unified School District, are not spending their retirement aboard cruise ships or taking elaborate vacations.

The husband-and-wife team is the brains, the muscle and the passion behind Hopyard Hounds, a small hop farm located in rural Oakdale.

What began with four plants has blossomed into the couple’s farm, hosting 840 hop bines on their five-acre property. They sell their hops to brewers, breweries, as well as home brewers through their website, and their social media pages.

“We knew that if we were going to have a little place in the country with a little bit of land, we wanted to grow something that would tie us to the community,” Susan said of their post-retirement endeavor. “I thought I wanted to grow flowers, but Tim’s not into that so I knew that would be all me.”

As the couple chuckled at the original idea, Tim added, “Hops are technically a flower.”

Both sharing a love of beer, they wanted to find a project they could work on together.

Intrigued by the idea of growing hops, the couple started digging into what that might look like. In Sonoma County they found resources which helped them with starting their own. Hop Alliance offered classes as well that they were able to attend.

“The more they talked, the more we realized we could make a go of it here,” Susan said of what they learned in the classes.

“The whole craft brew environment is just friendly. Everybody’s out to help one another,” Tim added.

Toward the end of 2019 they started the hops infrastructure and planted in February of 2020. They grew a lot the first year, they said, a growth which looked like hops but didn’t taste like hops. The couple counts 2021 as their first year of growth and production.

“We got all our ideas from watching other hop growers on line. We went to visit some farms,” Tim said.

They also benefited from the classes.

“We just really enjoyed it. We liked the smell,” Tim said of attending a hops school. “It’s not a fulltime thing. They start poking their heads out of the ground around March or so and then around the end of August, beginning of September, you’re done. You cut everything down.”

What may sound simple is anything but. As the two primary employees, with some occasional help from their grown children, the retired couple have been known to work from sun up to sun down on their hop farm.

“So every three days we’re busy. We’ll be busy for two of those three days and then one day we’ll have off,” Susan said of the days which can start as early as 6 a.m. and run to 9 p.m. as they address all the tasks.

“Usually if one of us is not feeling it, the other one does just enough to get the other one to just go with it anyways. That’s retirement,” Susan said with a giggle.

Similar to a vineyard, hops (also known as rhizomes when planted) are a bine which grows up in a trellis fashion. However, being that it’s a bine versus a “vine” it must be trained.

Once they begin to grow the hops are trained to grow go up coir (a rope made from coconut); all the ropes are run from the bines to the top of each row.

“They’ve all got to be trained onto the ropes too,” Tim said. “They’re a bine with a “b” rather than a vine with a “v”. Vines have tendrils that help themselves train on things, bines don’t so we have to start ‘em and guide ‘em.”

“It was such a big job to put those poles in that we couldn’t put in that many in one day,” Susan shared of the initial work to prepare for the growth of the hops. “So once I retired, he and I were hitting it almost every day.”

The process from planting to harvesting is not dissimilar of a wine grower, each step necessary to produce a proper bud. While the labor is intensive and long, the reward comes in the plant’s production for 15 to 20 years.

As for the name “Hopyard Hounds” as well as the artwork, those were inspired by the couple’s rescue greyhounds, Scout and Lilly, whom they lost last year.

“We love dogs,” Tim shared.

“That breed of dog has so much joy when they’re running. They run and they run around in the open field. You get a good feeling when you watch them,” Susan added.

As for the hops, the couple has hopes of partnering in the not-so-distant future with Oakdale’s local breweries for a special 95361 exclusive brew. While the farm is not accessible to the public, they have hosted tours for the local brew masters as well as members of their teams.

“The most rewarding time period is when they’re all tall, they’re not quite mature enough to pick, but it’s just this beautiful hedge row with hop cones on it,” Susan shared, “because then you know you did everything right.”

“My favorite part, is I pretty much agree with Susan,” Tim added. “It’s when you’ve got this wall of green and you can just go out and walk around. Or I have this drone and I’ll go out and take videos.”

Dried hops ready for packing and shipment to brewers. Photo By Teresa Hammond
A total of 840 bines of hops fill one acre of the Hopyard Hounds farm. Photo By Teresa Hammond