Growing Hops For Home Beer Brewing
Growing your own hops will take your home beer brewing to a whole new level. With so many different varieties to choose from brings an opportunity for a wide range of flavor profiles and the added depth of flavors that can only come from using fresh hops.
Hop plants propagate themselves underground through their root system or “Rhizomes”.
Cuttings are taken from mature hop plants’ Rhizomes (roots) and are used to propagate new hop plants.
Hops are a perennial plant, which means they will grow back year after year producing cones for harvest in the late summer.
Rhizomes are typically planted in the Spring as soon as the soil is workable.
Pre-Planting Rhizome Care
Rhizomes are a living hop root.
It is recommended that rhizomes are misted occasionally to maintain proper moister levels.
If the ground is not workable when the hop rhizome is received, it is recommended rhizomes be kept in a cool, dark, and moist space.
Planting Hop Rhizomes
Hop rhizomes can be planted as soon as the soil is workable and the last threat of a hard freeze has passed.
While rhizomes are hardy and can survive a light frost, if the ground freezes solid shortly after being planted it will decrease the likelihood of survival.
We prefer to first pot the rhizomes for a few weeks, and then transfer to the ground after solid growth in the pot has occurred and a few vines are starting to emerge.
It is recommended that hops are planted in places with close to full sun exposure.
In warmer areas like south Texas, Arizona or southern California, partial shade or dappled sunlight is preferred as the leaves can get sunburnt.
Rhizomes can be planted 3-5 inches below the surface, laying flat with growth heads pointing toward the sky.
Hop plants should be planted at least three feet apart, with a wider gap between different varieties to help prevent tangling.
While the plants are in their first year their root systems are underdeveloped, so keeping them regularly watered will help with their growth. But don’t allow them to become over-saturated.
Potting the rhizome will help the plant to get started, and increase the first year growing cycle.
Hop plants enjoy well-fertilized, nitrogen-rich soil that has a pH range between 6.0-8.0.
Composted manure and worm castings are a great way to start. If possible, mix your amendments into the soil in the fall prior to spring planting.
Soil should be well-drained, to prevent water from sitting on the hop plant’s roots and causing rot. Consider mixing in a little sand or leaf mould for added drainage in heavy soils.
Creating A Hop Trellis
Hop trellises can take many different shapes and sizes.
While first-year hop plants very rarely grow to full height and typically do not yield many cones, it is still critical to give the plant a string, trellis, or even a chainlink fence to grow on.
Strong vertical growth encourages the plant to develop strong roots underground as well, which are important for winter survival and larger yields in year 2.
Hop plants will grow up to 20 feet tall and will benefit from a structure that can support this growth. Mature hop plants can weigh over 20lbs per plant, so making a strong structure will help keep your hops off the ground.
I have potted hops in a 40gal container and strung the vines up large cedar trees.
Training Your Plants
Hop plants typically emerge with the first spring plants.
It is best practice to select the 3-5 shoots per plant and train them onto your string in a clockwise fashion.
Pruning back all other shoots will encourage the plants’ energy to be focused on those 3-5 shoots you have selected. Rest assured the vines you selected to train will soon explode with new growth.
Watering Your Hops
Regular watering will encourage vibrant growth, especially during their first year in the ground.
This means keeping the soil moist, but not saturated.
It is important to let the soil drain between watering cycles.
Hop Pests and Disease
Keep an eye on your hops throughout the year, as they are susceptible to pests and disease like any other plant.
Aphids, spider mites, and leaf hoppers are common pests you may find in hops.
Hops are also susceptible to Powdery Mildew and other fungi in some areas so it’s best to water at the base of your plants and try not to get the leaves wet.
Harvesting Hop Cones
Harvesting is the process of removing the hop cones from the rest of the plant.
It is often easiest to cut the entire plant down and remove it from the trellis before harvesting.
Because first-year hops are focused on building their root system, very few cones should be expected from the plant. In subsequent years, plants will produce hundreds or even thousands of cones when properly taken care of.
There are many ways to determine the right time for harvesting your hops.
The easiest way is to use your sense of touch and smell. when the hop cones feel dry and papery and smell vibrant and aromatic then it is likely time to pull them from the plant.
Once the cones have been harvested many home brewers will put them right into a beer, while others will dry them first.
Dried hops can be stored in gallon freezer bags in the freezer for future brewing as well.
After harvest, cut your plants about an inch above the soil and cover with a layer of compost or composted manure to add back vital nutrients and keep your rhizomes protected through the winter, and in spring they will sprout anew for many years to come.
Be sure to check out our other tips, guides, and information on gardening, farming, and homesteading Here