Growing Your Own Hops!
Spring is around the corner and we are happy to announce that we will be offering rhizomes for sale in the shop!!
This time of year hop farming is pretty slow but as the ground thaws out it is time for spring maintenance to get ready for the busy growing season and the fall harvest. This requires thinning out the roots of the hop plants which grow very aggressively. The thinning process allows for cuttings to be taken from the root system which can be replanted and grown into new plants.
For beer production the female hop plant is preferred to produce the cones, which provide the oil, which provides the flavouring and bitter compounds we have become accustomed to in beer. Nearly all hop farms around the world use only female plants, so the cuttings from the root will ensure that the proper sex and variety will be replanted. Hop seeds can not guarantee this so the best way to start growing hops is by getting the cuttings, or rhizomes.
At the Shop, Christian and I have been growing hops for a few years now. Although we only live 15 minutes apart we have different climates and growing conditions but have both had success with growing, allowing us to add fresh hops into our fall beers. Here we will offer some growing tips based on our experience. Keep in mind there is a lot of information out there, and we are not expert gardeners. Even a novice gardener with a passion for beer can grow hops!
The varieties we are offering at the store are ones that we have had success with here in New Brunswick. Hops are excellent ornamental plants, offering shade, privacy and of course the means to make beer. Deer do not enjoy the bitter taste of the plant.
Pick a Location for Your Trellis
This is one of the most important things for the health and success of your plant. Hops grow tall and quickly. You need a location where you can set up a structure for your plant to climb. You will need around 20ft of climbing area. There are several different ways to set up a trellis so do some research before you plant.
Full sun and air flow are also important to maximize your yield and reduce the chance of mold. The plants grow tall and will grab anything on their way up, so make sure anything nearby will not be shaded or in reach. When you are choosing the trellis material look for something that can be gripped by the plant, like a strong twine. The trellis will be in place all growing season, so make sure it is secure. It may also sag when the full weight of the plant bears on it. Pre-soaking materials sometimes also helps.
You can put your rhizome in the ground before your trellis is built, but you should have a plan for where it will grow. Good drainage is beneficial as it will require a good amount of water. Planting in a pot is an option as well. Then you can move the plant to the location of your trellis when it is young, but be cautious of drainage. The roots also grow very quickly and will consume the pot and rot if they do not stretch out.
Rhizomes usually use the first year to really establish their roots so if you want good cone yield potted plants will have to put in the ground the second year anyways. Picking a location and making your rhizome at home is the best method for growing.
Storing and Planting Your Rhizome
Before you plant the rhizome in soil you can keep it in the fridge to keep it dormant. Keep the root laying horizontal and keep it damp, but not soaked. Wrapping the root in paper towel and misting is the best way to keep the root healthy before it gets planted. A small hard plastic sandwich container with some holes poked in the top will do just fine.
The rhizome will begin to develop some shoots from the main root. These shoots will be your future hop plant. Dig your hole about 1ft down and fill with long release nutrient rich soil and make sure the soil is loose to allow drainage. There are two options for planting your rhizome, horizontal or vertical. Either will be fine, the key thing is that the shoots on the rhizome are about 1 to 1.5 inches below the soil. Mark the location of the root for future reference.
Train Your Pet
Once the roots establish and you begin to see some shoots coming up through the soil it is important to keep an eye on things. They will begin to grow quickly. Let the shoots grow to around 2ft before you attach them to your trellis.
BE CAREFUL- There will be a head on each shoot that will continue to climb throughout the growing season. The new shoots are very delicate and brittle, so be careful when you touch them. Breaking off the shooting head will stop growth of the shoot. If you have multiple shoots it is some insurance, but if they are all broken you will not have growth.
Do not try to force the shoot in any direction, they have grippy fibres on the stem that will grab and curl tightly around your trellis.
Once the shooting head starts to wrap the trellis it will begin to start climbing quickly, especially when it gets proper sun. Ensure the soil is not too dry. Daily watering may be necessary in the dry part of the summer. You do not need to trim or train once it takes off. It will continue to grow. The growth is very aggressive in the middle season, then will slow down and the the main stem will begin to grow leafy around the bottom and middle as it reaches height.
As the plant bulks up keep watering. A second boost of nutrients to the soil mid-season is also beneficial to cone production. Once the plant flowers it is usually done growing height and will then focus on producing cones.
In the fall as the weather starts to get cooler the plant will begin to naturally try to reproduce and the flowers will turn into cones. The cones (of course) are what beer makers are interested in. The cones at first are soft to the touch and full of moisture. You want to let the cones get dry and papery, but not too papery. If you are looking at putting hops in beer closely monitor your plants to make sure they are not too wet and that they do not get too dry and break. There may only be 1-2 days where you have a window for harvesting depending on the weather.
The plant will grow back from the established roots next year which makes harvesting a bit easier. You can cut the entire plant from the trellis and harvest the cones. There are several techniques, but you should be ready to harvest when they are ready to optimize the flavouring oils inside the cones.
There is much more information on growing, harvesting, storing and using hops that can be found free online.
One main thing is to do a little research or to reach out to Christian and I to get things started. We’d love to help a fellow home brewer add some terroir to their home brew. With a little work you can have fresh from the bine hops from your backyard!
If you have grown hops before & have some experience, be sure to leave a comment below to share your knowledge with the community!
Happy Gardening! Cheers!