So You Have Decided to Grow Hops
Trust me, even without a green thumb hops are a fun way to expand on your brewing hobby and spend some more time outdoors.
If you were one of our recent pre-order customers, or if you grabbed some shoots from any one of the wild patches growing around the Maritimes we are happy to bring you some great tips for making sure your new hops are healthy and happy.
Keep in mind it is very rare that first year plants will produce cones, so if this is your first go around, be patient. All good things to those who wait.
It's gonna be May.
Now that the warm weather is here (it's here, don't argue with me) its time to get your rhizomes in the ground. First, you may be asking - what's a rhizome?
I'm glad you asked.
In botany and dendrology, a rhizome is a modified subterranean plant stem that sends out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes are also called creeping rootstalks or just rootstalks. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow horizontally. The rhizome also retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards. - Wikipedia
Hops are a type of rhizome, and therefore do not grow from seed. You can think of them like ginger if you need a more common reference. Because hops are this type of plant you need to be considerate of two dimensions, horizontal, AND vertical. If you have mature hop plants they can spread over a not-insignificant area over the years, and mature plants can grow up to 25ft tall. Hops are a type of bine, meaning they wrap around vertical lines or supports to grow ever higher. Mature plants will also have significant greenery on them and will sway in the wind, so whatever you are using to support your plants make sure it is sturdy.
Derek and I both have experience growing a few varieties of hops in the Maritimes - namely Cascade, & Centennial. This year we are also experimenting with Chinook. Local hop farms like Bloomfield & Moose Mountain also grow Sorachi Ace, and various wild varieties as well.
Regardless of the variety you are looking to grow hops require 100-120 days of sunlight to produce full bines of cones, so make sure if you haven't gotten your rhizomes in the ground yet you do it soon.
Where to Plant
Hops require fertile, well drained soil. They like water, but they don't want to sit around in it all day. Full sunlight is also recommended if possible, although I have had success with plants only being in the sun for about 3/4 of the day during the summer months due to shade from my home & a large tree in my yard. Nitrogen is the nutrient your hops are going to need the most of, so if you are looking for a good organic fertilizer or compost make sure you look for this ingredient.
According to James Altweis, Director and Horticulturalist of Gorst Valley Hops in Wisconsin, “The biggest issue for organic production is nitrogen.“ He adds, “Hops require up to 200 lbs./ac. (224 kg/ha) of nitrogen in a very short window [about six weeks].”
When planting new rhizomes take care to be gentle with any new shoots coming from the developing nodes. These should be planted facing upwards so they can continue their growth into bines above ground. A broken shoot will not continue to grow or produce cones so this is the most important factor when planting new rhizomes - be gentle!
They're Growing - What Now?
When your bines reach about 0.5m in height you can start to train them to wrap around the support lines or a trellis you have run. Derek and I both use jute twine as it is cheap and strong, but easy to cut at the end of the growing season. Use as much vertical height as you can to keep the bine trained, but handled as little as possible. I have seen some designs where people run their hops in a zig-zag pattern or back and forth across a fence - but remember, every time you train a bine to wrap around something new or go in a new direction you are handling the head and risk breaking or damaging it.
Stay Tuned for Fall Updates
So now you know the basics. Lots of water with good drainage, nitrogen rich soil, and minimal handling.
I can tell you from our own personal experience growing hops in Saint John, NB that one of their best features is that deer won't eat them!
A special thanks to The Canadian Organic Grower for providing some excellent info to compliment our own growing experience. Check our their article on growing hops here.
Christian & Derek