How do hops grow?

For purposes of this discussion, I am putting hops into 3 main growing groups – American types (A), British types(B), and Continental Europe type (C). This is a gross over-simplification, but this generalization is necessary to keep your attention!
American type hops (A type) tend to be large robust, high yielding hops with rather long sidearms; some approaching 48 inches in length. They have vigorous root systems that match their bine size and are quite tolerant of different soil types, pH ranges and growing conditions. “A”-types would include Galena, Willamette, Chinook, Brewers Gold, Columbus, & Zeus. These large hop varieties require space and are usually planted in 14 foot row spacing with 42 inches minimum between plants. Cascade and Centennial are also often planted at this 14 foot row spacing because of their finer plant habit and susceptibility to pests and diseases if crowded too closely. Both of these varieties have shorter side arms so they are normally planted at 36 inch spacing in the rows.
“B” & “C” types-(British & Continental Europe types) differ genetically from American types. In general, they are smaller plants with matching smaller, finer root systems. The finer root systems are not as tolerant of different soils, pH levels, and excessive moisture levels. Yields and cone size tend to be lower and smaller per plant; with shorter side arms. Although the yield per hop plant is lower, they can be grow at much higher densities per acre; resulting in about the same yield per acre as the more widely spaced American types.
What is the difference between “B” & “C” types?
“B” types originate from Britain, where they have been grown for centuries in a more alkaline chalky soil (think cliffs of Dover) that is high in calcium phosphates. These hops are adapted to a well -drained soil that has relatively higher pH range – 6.5 or higher. Some B types include: Fuggle, Challenger, Viking, and all the Golding types. They will tolerate heavier fine soils if grown in raised rows.
“C” types originate from Continental Europe and come from countries like Germany, France, and Belgium. Some of these varieties would include Magnum, Perle, Hallertauer types, and Glacier. These hops have been grown for centuries in well drained soils that have a low pH 5.5 to 6.2. This soil type is a more forest-type soil rich in humic acids derived from decomposed leaves or peat moss. Pretty much the opposite of type B hops and even type A hops.
(These differences and adaptations between types- A, B, and C’s is what perpetuates the notion that some hops can’t be grown here successfully. (Great Lakes Hops currently has over 75 different hop varieties growing successfully in Michigan trials.) Usually the source of this information comes from growers who have attempted to plant a hop yard that contains all these types together and yet try to treat them all the same – a huge mistake!)
B & C types should be planted in trellis configurations with narrower row spacing – 12 foot or even 10 foot or less between rows in some cases. It is critical to form that “forest effect” described earlier. Spacing between hop plants in the rows is again determined by the variety’s sidearm length – the shorter the sidearms; the closer they can be spaced. Many of these varieties can be planted with in-row spacing ranging from 24 inches to 36 inches between plants. These plant spacings are considered high density hop yards here in America, and some special techniques are used to grow them. Hops are grown raised or hilled a minimum of 6 to 12 inches. Lower foliage is removed from the bottom 3 feet of bines to ensure good air movement. Rows less than 10 feet wide are clean-tilled; not inter-planted with a cover crop like clovers. (Row covers elevate the incidence of mildews by 30% or more.) Weeds and mites are often not as troublesome because the higher plant density creates a cooler, shaded mid-canopy and understory that is unfavorable for them. Also, predator and beneficial insects move from plant-to-plant more effectively. The majority of hop varieties are B & C types -all the Noble type hops, and most aroma types fall into this category. Hop growers can really limit their opportunities with craft brewers when they lock into a typical 14 foot row space trellis design.

How To Grow Hops

Humulus lupulus

Hops, or hop cones, are the female flowers of the perennial herbaceous hop species Humulus lupulus, and are used first and foremost in beer brewing for their antibacterial effect that promotes the activity of brewer’s yeast. In addition, hops help to balance the natural sweetness of malt with bitterness and add stability to beer, but they are also used for other types of beverages as well as herbal medicines. The young, tender leaves and shoots can also be cooked.

Medicinally, hops have been used as a sleeping aid, for tension relief, and to improve digestion. Some varieties are used for ornamental purposes in the garden and for use in dried floral arrangements and garlands. Surprisingly, Humulus lupulus is closely related to the cannabis, or hemp plant, and has both.

Growing the Hop Bine

Humulus, or hop, is frequently referred to as a hop vine. This is technically incorrect as the species H. lupulus of Humulus is technically a “bine”. Bines have significant stems with stiff hairs that aid in their ability to climb while vines use suckers or tendrils to attach themselves to surfaces. Hop bines grow from rhizomes, which are also known as rootstocks or creeping rootstocks. A rhizome is essentially a stem of a plant that most commonly grows underground, along which roots and stems sprout along its length. When a rhizome is cut into individual pieces, each of those pieces, properly cared for, should grow into a new plant in a process called vegetative reproduction.

Hop rhizomes are only available during a short period of time each year, most usually during March and April, which is when hop farms dig up the rhizomes, package them, and ship them to retailers. There are a multitude of varieties, and you are often encouraged to pre-order them due to fluctuating availability and demand. Keep hop rhizomes refrigerated and well ventilated, but not frozen, until you are ready to plant them outside.

Hop bines are best planted with a southern exposure, but an east or west facing area will do as well in a pinch, except that your hop cones will probably not grow as large. A light, well draining soil is best with a soil pH in the 6.0 to 8.0 range will work best. Hop bines like organic nutrients including composted manures or blends of slow release nutrients including cottonseed meal, bone meal, rock phosphate, greenhsand, etc. mixed into the planting hole when planting.

If you are growing a mix of varieties, plant them at least 5 feet apart from each other to prevent them from getting tangled up with each other. Alternatively, if you are growing a single variety, you can plant them closer to 3 feet apart. It is also important to factor how you will support your vines when choosing a planting site.

Since hops prefer to climb, you should plant your hop bines close to a fence or wall, or rig posts, along the tops of which you can run line, which will enable you to support multiple vines (see image below).

The rhizome can be planted in the ground in either a vertical or horizontal configuration. If the rhizome has already begun to bud, be sure to plant it so that the buds are pointing skyward. Cover the rhizome with approximately one inch of soil when planting.

Consistent watering is imperative for the first season of your hop bines as the root system has not fully developed in the first year. However, you do want the soil to dry out as continual overwatering can result in the rhizome rotting. The best way to water is to soak them thoroughly, allow the ground to go completely dry, then soaking the area again, repeating this cycle during the first full growing season. Minor additions of organic nutrients throughout the season will ensure the healthy growth of your bines.

Hop cones will be ready for harvesting in late August or September. As you get closer to this time, you should be regularly testing your cones for readiness. If the cone seems damp, extremely green and stays compressed after you squeeze one in your fingers, they are not ready for harvesting yet. As they ripen, they will begin to lose their moisture. When compressed they should expand back pretty much to their original shape. You will also probably observe more lupulin, which is the yellow powder of the hop cone. If you end up with sticky fingers after handling your cones, that is a good indicator that harvest time is near. You will also clearly notice a more pronounced aroma from the cones as well.

To harvest, cut down your bines and lay them on the ground. As the bine dries, sap will travel back into the rootstock for sustenance over the winter months. Pick the cones and prepare them for drying, which is best done using a food dehydrator over a period of several hours. Alternatively, you can dry them slowly in an oven set to a very low temperature or dry them outdoors in the sun while laying on a screen for adequate aeration around the cones. After drying, store your hops in an airtight container in the freezer or refrigerator.

Growing Cultures

Most commonly grown in “hop yards”, but can easily be grown in backyards and containers as well.

Plant Height

Hop bines can typically grow to heights of 25 feet (7.6 meters) or more, although some shorter vining cultivars are available.

Plant Spacing

Space hop bines 24 to 36 inches (60-90 cm) apart in rows that are spaced every 10 to 15 feet.

Preferred pH Range

Hop bines will grow in a pH range between 6.0 (mildly acidic) and 8.0 (mildly alkaline) with a preferred range between 6.5 and 7.5.

Propagation

Hop bines are most commonly propagated by rhizomes or softwood cuttings. Established plants can be divided after 3 years time. They are less commonly grown from their crowns.

Seed Germination Period

N/A

Number of Seeds per Gram

N/A

Soil Requirements

Hop bines grow well in virtually all types of well draining soils, but prefer soils with a lighter structure.

Alternative Growing Media

Soilless potting mixes (Pro-Mix, Sunshine Mix, etc.), coco peat.

Sun & Lighting Requirements

Hop bines should be planted outdoors in an area that receives southern exposure for optimum cone formation. An eastern or western exposure is acceptable, however, hop crown development won’t be as robust.

USDA Hardiness

Hardy in Zones 3-9, depending on variety.

Water Requirements

Hop bines have a very small root system during their beginning year, which factors into watering patterns during that time. Due to the minimal root system, you don’t want the soil to remain dry for extended periods, but you don’t want the soil constantly wet, either, lest the rhizome rot. Best to soak the ground where planted, then allow soil to go bone dry, followed by an immediate soaking… and repeating this pattern as necessary. As the plant gets more established over the years, watering attention is less critical. Mulching helps retain water especially during the first years growth.

Potential Plant Pests and Diseases

Hop varieties vary widely in their susceptibility to major pests and diseases, which may include spider mites, leafhoppers, powdery and downy mildews, beetles, and others. Cultural practices encouraging adequate air circulation in the hop yard is critical to managing many potential pests.

Companion Planting

Since hops tend to crowd out most other plants growing nearby, there are no recommended companion plants.

Special Notes

Do not over dry hops. You do not want them to dry to the point where they turn brown or are extremely fragile. Overdrying results in a loss of Alpha Acid content. In subsequent growing years, earliest shoots should be pruned away as the subsequent shoots to appear will be more sturdy in their growth habit. Pick the 3 or 4 best bines from the secondary growth and prune back any vines that appear later.

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8 Questions & Answers All About Hops

Discover hops: a versatile, vigorous bine (not vine)! Famous for flavoring beer, find answers to 8 common questions all about hops.

You read that right: the long stems of the common hop are considered bines, not vines. What’s the difference? Unlike vines that use tendrils and other means to climb, bines climb with the help of short, stiff hairs along the stems. Hops cones, which vary in shades of green and yellow, are used in herbal remedies – like teas that help you sleep – and as a main ingredient in beers for desirable flavor, aroma, and bittering qualities. Many homebrewers are also interested in growing hops, so let’s take a look at some of the common questions all about hops.

Hops: The common name for both the flowers that develop (called cones) and the bine itself, Humulus lupulus.

1. How do hop plants grow?

Hop bines are vigorous and sun-loving, and prefer to grow vertically – sometimes over 20 feet in a year! Before planting hops, it is recommended that you plan for where it will climb. If you have a balcony, existing arbor, or something similar, then you can train your hops to climb these structures. You can even grow hops along a sturdy fence. Full sun (at least 6-8 hours daily) is required for plant health and cone production. Start training new hop growth to the trellis when it’s about 1-2 feet long.

Here are two examples of vertical hops trellises for the back yard:

  • Hops Planting Location and Trellis Design
  • Hops Trellis: Projects

Sometimes vertical space isn’t available, so here are examples of “horizontal” hops trellises:

  • A Cascade of Hops
  • Hop Expansion Project

2. Where do hops grow?

Hops can be grown all over the country, and they thrive in most moderate climates (zones 5-8 on average). Well-drained, nutrient-rich soil is a must, since the roots are key to the production and longevity of a hops plant. Mulch to protect the root systems from cold damage and you’re in good shape!

3. When is the best time to plant hops?

Spring. As long as your soil is thawed and workable, and the threat of frost has passed, you can prepare your garden for planting hops. Keep in mind, spring and summer are when hops really grow – even in their first year! First-year hops spend most of their energy getting their roots established so, while you may see a few cones, production really kicks in by the second year and beyond.

Bare-root hops are available as rootlike rhizomes in sawdust. After planting, these will send out roots and shoots as they grow, which will then develop into new hop bines. Plant these rhizomes a few inches deep (about 4-6) and be sure to cover with a couple inches of mulch after planting to keep weeds down, protect the root zone, and retain moisture so you don’t have to water as often. You can plant vertically, with buds pointed upward, or horizontally if you aren’t sure which direction the buds are pointing.

Potted hops are also available and these can be planted like other potted plants. Just carefully remove the pot, spread the roots, and set the plant in a pre-dug planting hole with enough room for the roots to grow. Backfill with soil, gently tamp with your hands to remove air pockets, and water thoroughly.

4. How often do hops need to be watered?

Since hop bines are vegetative and leafy, they do require regular watering — but do not plant in areas that are poorly drained or prone to standing water. Many hops growers prefer drip irrigation or soaker hoses to evenly distribute water to their hop bines without worrying about over- or under-watering. Specific amounts of water vary by location, weather, and soil type, so watch every day and see how quickly the soil dries so you can gauge how often to water your hop bines.

5. Do hops need to be fertilized?

Hop bines prefer nutrient-rich soil, so mulch and compost are great ways to keep the nutrient level up in your planting site. If needed, use a water-soluble fertilizer higher in Nitrogen and Potassium, as hop bines tend to use these nutrients the most.

6. How are hops harvested?

Depending on the variety, cones are usually ready for harvest in August or September. They tend to ripen at slightly different times, so you may want to harvest the ripe ones by hand, if you can safely reach them. A ripe cone is one that looks somewhat “puffed out” and has a soft, light feel. It will spring back to size when gently squeezed. Ripe cones are more dry and fragrant than unripe cones. Unripe cones are compact and greener, as cones of most hop varieties become yellower when they ripen.

If cones are difficult to reach safely, you can also harvest by cutting back the vines (leaving about 3-4 feet at the bottom to support the roots after harvest) when a majority of the cones are ripe. Collect the ripe cones from the harvested vines and prepare them for drying.

Drying

Lay the harvested cones in a cool, dry place, out of direct light for about 3-5 days. Cones are well dried when the middle stem within the cone becomes brittle.

Storing

You can then store your dried hops in dated, vacuum-sealed freezer bags either in the refrigerator or longer term in the freezer until you are ready to use.

7. Do hop bines need to be pruned?

Hops only need pruning at/after harvest time and to prepare the plants for overwintering. You can also prune out weaker growth to leave room for stronger bines to flourish. Hops bines will die back in response to frost later in the season. Protect any remaining growth by pruning it back to about 3-4 feet and burying it under 4-6 inches of mulch or underground by digging a trench. Uncover in spring after threat of frost has passed, and prune to healthy buds to stimulate growth for the growing season.

8. How are hops/cones used?

When making your own home brews, you’ll likely come across different recipes that recommend how much to use, but, generally speaking, cones are boiled (often in stages) to extract the bitterness, aroma, and flavor qualities from the cones.

If you’re a hops grower or home brewer, share your experiences growing your own hops with others in the comments!

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Grow Hops in Your Backyard

01/13/2016

By Stephanie Montell

From Planting to Harvest and the Hazards in Between

Growing hops at home is easy if you know the tricks of the trade. But you better hurry – as spring turns to summer the prime time for establishing new starts is quickly passing.

Driving along Highway 99 in Oregon’s Willamette Valley you can see towering poles with climbing green vines reaching for the sky. To the uninitiate, the plants may look strange and unfamiliar, but they produce the favorite flower in a beer brewer’s yard.

The female flower of the hop vine Humulus lupulus provides beer its characteristic bitterness, flavor, and aroma. Brewers have also exploited its natural preservative qualities for years. If you choose to grow hops at home they can deliver a great deal of satisfaction as well, bringing you one step closer to a truly unique hand-crafted beer.

The hop is a hardy, perennial plant that is easily grown at home, provided sufficient sun and climbing space are available. The hop produces annual vines from a permanent root stock known as the crown. Vines can grow 25 ft high in a single season but will die to the crown each fall. The crown also produces the underground stem or rhizome. The root-like rhizomes sprout numerous buds, which are the key to propagation.

GROWING HOPS

Basic Requirements: Plenty of space. Since healthy hop plants can grow up to 1 ft in a day, space is definitely an element to consider before planting a hop yard.

Site selection. The ideal hop yard must have direct sunlight, easy access to water, and plenty of room for vertical growth. Space along fences, garages, or property lines hold potential as hop yards. Hop vines also need a strong support system to grow successfully; tall poles and strong twine are commonly used to support the growing vines. Growers should avoid sites with electrical wires nearby because of potential problems caused by sprawling vines.

Soil. The soil must be loamy and well drained with a pH of 6.5-8.0. Because hops use large quantities of water and nutrients, the soil needs fertilizers rich in potassium, phosphates, and nitrogen. Home growers can use manure compost and commercial fertilizer for this purpose.

Climate. Wherever the hops are planted, a minimum of 120 frost-free days are needed for hop vines to produce flowers. When the stems break soil, you must support vines off the ground to prevent disease and ensure proper growth. The vines keep growing until mid-July, when most hops are either in full bloom or past bloom, depending on the variety and location. Healthy vines can produce 1-21/2 pounds of dried flowers per plant.

Planting: Once the site has been established and the soil fertilized, planting can begin. In Northern latitudes, hops can be affected by freezing temperatures. To avoid loss of rhizomes to rot, plant after the threat of frost has passed. Vines will break the soil when temperatures have risen to the point at which most spring flowers start to appear. The actual onset of growth will vary from grower to grower depending on local spring temperatures. Growers need not worry if vines in Central California break before those in Montana: emergence varies with climate.

Planting begins with rhizomes. If your planting preparations are delayed, the rhizomes must be refrigerated in a plastic bag to prevent them from drying. Ideally, you should plant rhizomes in early spring, but no later than May; late planting limits the plant’s growth potential. In colder climates, you can start rhizomes in pots and transplant them into the ground by June. When you are ready, plant the rhizomes vertically with the buds pointing upward or horizontally about 2 in. below the soil surface. Spacing between rhizomes varies. You can plant mixed varieties, but plant them at least 5 ft apart; identical varieties can be planted as close as 3 ft apart.

Care and Feeding: Like any young plant, too much water may cause more harm than good. During their first year, young hops have a minimal root system and require frequent short waterings. Mulching the soil surface with organic matter is a great method for conserving moisture and helps control weeds. After the first season the plant is established, and less-frequent deep watering such as drip irrigation works well. Don’t expect much growth or many flowers during the first year because the plant is establishing its root system. Instead, look forward to the second year when hops are full grown and produce healthy crops of fragrant flowers.

When the hop vines are about 1 ft long, select two or three strong vines and wrap them clockwise around a support system. The support system can be a trellis, tall pole, or strong twine. Hops mainly grow vertically, but lateral sidearms extend off the main vine. The main concern is to support the vines and prevent the sidearms from tangling. Tangled vines become an especially great concern when mixed varieties are planted in the same yard.

In newly planted hop yards, the growth that appears is a cause for celebration. Growers have a tendency of letting every shoot grow and climb. Although this is understandable, leave only selected shoots and trim the weaker ones at ground level. This may be painful for the first-time gardener, but it forces the strength of the root into the hardier shoots. The selected shoots will take care of themselves once they’ve been trained, or wrapped.

The early growth of a hop yard is amazing to watch; if you are not attentive, however, a jungle of vines is sure to develop. Severe trimming, like two to three shoots per vine, is an essential task that must be done every few weeks. Neglected trimming sessions can cause you to have a difficult harvest if you are struggling with tangled vines.

DISEASES AND PESTS

Growing hops at home is a rewarding project; however, a few hazards merit concern. Hops have unseen enemies that can cause much frustration. With a close eye, however, you can spot these diseases and pests before your hop vines wither or become unmanageable.

Downy mildew (Pseudoperonospora humuli) is the main culprit of unhealthy hops. The mildew appears in the spring when the new shoots begin to grow. While some shoots are healthy, others will look brittle or spiky. Once the shoot develops into a spike, it will no longer grow. Other characteristics to look for are curled underleaves with a silvery upper surface and black underside. Infected leaves must be removed because they are a source of infection for the rest of the vine.

Downy mildew needs moisture to germinate, making sprinkle irrigation a bad idea when your vines show mildew infection. Drip irrigation is a better source of watering because the foliage remains dry and the water goes right to the roots where it is needed. The chances of downy mildew infecting your plants will be less if you strip the bottom 3 ft of the vines; these bottom leaves produce no cones, so your harvest will be unaffected. Keeping the vines clear of weeds and leaves will prevent moisture from becoming trapped against the plants. Some hop varieties such as Willamette and Cascade are more susceptible to mildew than others; Nugget and Perle are quite hardy. Basically, mildew is sometimes an inevitable result of rainy weather – something only Mother Nature can control. Humans are not without resources, though. Downy mildew can be controlled by spraying a fungicide containing copper hydroxide. Systemic fungicides such as Ridomal (Geigy Corp., Ardsley, New York; metal axyl, active ingredient) and Aliette (Chem Service Inc., West Chester, Pennsylvania; aluminum tris, active ingredient) provide longer protection but may not be readily accessible to home growers.

Wilt (Verticillum wilt) is another disease that damages hops. Characteristics to watch for are leaves with a dull green tissue alternating with yellow bands. Again, you remove the infected leaves to prevent wilt from spreading. The fungicides used against downy mildew can also be used to fight wilt.

Various bugs and worms inhabit hop yards. Some are beneficial, others can cause great distress. The translucent pale-green bug known as the hop aphid (Phorodon humuli) is the most common and dangerous pest because it can destroy a whole hop yard. Fortunately, aphids are easily seen on leaves’ undersides; they reproduce so quickly, they’d be hard to miss. They appear in cool weather and, once hatched, will spread to all parts of the vine. Although aphids are easy to kill, tall vines and abundant leaves are difficult to spray effectively.

Organic insecticides such as insecticidal soap work well against aphids. Also, commercial sprays like Diazinon and malathion are available. The use of Diazinon, however, carries a 14-day waiting period between spraying and harvest, a limitation that must be considered before using it.

An alternative to spraying is to invest in the aphids’ natural predator – the ladybug. Although ladybugs are environmentally safe and an easy solution, they are no panacea. One concern is the availability of a large number of ladybugs; however, sufficient quantities can be obtained at many nurseries and gardening shops. Another challenge is keeping the orange flying bugs on the infected plant. Simple behavior modification provides an effective solution. If ladybugs are placed in a refrigerator, they will be forced to use their energy to keep warm. After a day, release the hungry ladybugs on the vine and they will happily cure any aphid problem.

Although hops love the sun, the warm weather can also bring spider mites (Tetranychus urticae). Spider mites are barely visible to the naked eye, but their arrival is easily detected. Fine white webs under leaves and small freckle-like spots on the upper leaf surface are sure signs of spider mites, as are defoliation and red, rust-colored cones. Because the mites like the sunlight, they tend to infect the top of a vine and work their way down. If you suspect mites to be the problem, inspect the parts of the vine closest to the sun. Many of the sprays used on aphids are effective against spider mites, too.

The western spotted cucumber beetle is another insect to look for. Although similar to ladybugs in size and shape, the beetles vary in color. Cucumber beetles are yellow-green with black dots, and they move much like aphids through hop vines. If the tips of hop vines and cones are damaged, the cucumber beetle is usually the culprit. Diazinon works well against this pest, too.

It is important to note that the diseases and pests with the Latin name of humuli are specific to hops and do not infect other plants. For further cures to these diseases and pests, consult someone knowledgeable in gardening or agriculture.

HARVEST

If nature has been kind, harvest time is a period of great satisfaction. All the patience and care comes in the form of fragrant green cones that are so essential to good beer. The harvest date varies with variety and location. In the Pacific Northwest, harvesting usually begins in the middle of August and continues until the middle of September. Hallertauer, Tettnanger, Fuggle, and Saaz varieties ripen faster than Cascade, Willamette, Nugget, Bullion, and Spalt. Cones at the tops of vines are likely to mature faster because they have been exposed to the sun longer. Because cones mature at different rates, expect to engage in several harvesting sessions.

But how do you know when it is time to pick your hops and reap the rewards? It is best to determine the readiness for picking by feel and smell. If the cone is too green, it feels slightly damp to the touch and has a softness to its scales. If you squeeze the cone, it will stay compressed in your hand. A ready cone will feel papery and light. It will feel drier than a green cone, and some varieties take a lighter tone as they mature. If your hands quickly take up the smell and are slightly sticky due to the yellow powdery lupulin, that cone is ready for harvest.

Once the cones have been harvested, your job is not over. The cones must be properly dried to optimize their qualities during storage. Although hops can be used fresh, the results will be unpredictable. Hops are 70% moisture when ripe, but only 10% when dried to the equivalent of commercial hops. Drying hops enables you to accurately predict and control their use in recipe formulations. This can be done in a food dehydrator, homemade hop dryer, or well-vented oven.

If you choose to construct a dryer, good airflow is crucial, and the temperature must not exceed 140 °F. Drying hops in cooler temperatures takes longer, but a better quality hop is obtained. For drying the low-tech way, you can use a window screen. After cleaning the screen, spread the hops around evenly. It is best to place the screen off the ground and in an enclosed area to keep wind and bugs from creating problems. You need to fluff the cones daily to bring the inner cones to the outside of the pile. If cones are not properly dried, they become moldy, wilted, or even rancid and cannot be used for brewing. They are ready for storage when springy to the touch and the lupulin powder easily falls out. Another indicator is when the central stem breaks rather than bends. The stem takes much longer to dry than the petals, so you will know when the cones are ready for storage. This should take approximately three days.

Cones are best stored in a zipper-type plastic bag or other sealable plastic bag. It is important to make sure the cones are sufficiently dry because any moisture trapped inside the bag will cause the hops to spoil. Fill the bag until the cones are well compressed. Once the bags have been sealed and properly labeled, store them in a freezer. It is unwise to thaw and refreeze stored hops because their quality and freshness can be lost.

HERE’S TO HOMEGROWN BREW

Growers should not let these potential hazards stop them anymore than the potential of brewing a bad batch of beer. With a little homebrew and plenty of vertical space and sun, growing your own hops is easy and fulfilling. Besides, it’s rumored that a homegrown hop is the best variety because it is flavored full of self-satisfaction.

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Growing Hops in the Garden: How to Grow Beer Hops

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With the ongoing hops shortage, home brewers are turning in record numbers to growing hops for beer at home. Growing hops is an fun way to expand your hop personal hop supply. There is great pride of enjoying a beer brewed with hops you grew at home.

Whether you live in the Northwest, Northeast, Midwest, South or California does not matter – hops can be grown in any moderate climate with proper care. Hops grow from small root-like cuttings about a foot long called rhizomes.

Rhizomes can be purchased from a variety of places online and mailed to your home – just do a quick search for “hop rhizomes” on google.

Location for Growing Hops

Select an area with plenty of sun. Hops need at least 6-8 hours of sun a day, so the South facing side of your home or an exposed site is a good location. Hop vines (called bines) can grow to over 25 feet and weigh over 20 pounds, so vertical space for a trellis is important as well.

Hops prefer well-aerated soil that is rich in nutrients and has good drainage. If you are going to plant several varieties, keep them well separated in your garden. Hop roots will spread quickly and take over the garden unless you separate them and trim the roots each season.

Hop Planting and Care

Hops should be planted in the Spring, late enough to avoid a frost. Fertilize liberally before planting. Plant your hops in a mound and aerate the ground by turning it over several times to aid drainage, enhance growth and prevent disease. Place the rhizomes about 4 inches deep, and make your mound of soil about a foot high to aid drainage. Place the root side of the rhizome down. Cover the mound with some straw or light mulch to inhibit the weeds.

The hop bines grow vertically and require some kind of trellis. Your trellis could some heavy rope or twine going from ground level to your roof, or a few poles securely mounted in the ground. If using rope, select rough twine-like rope so the bines can grab onto it. Keep in mind that the hop bines can be 25+ feet long and weigh 20+ pounds. The trellis should be strong and secure.

Hops also enjoy lots of water and sunlight. In the dry climates or the heat of summer, they may need to be watered daily. Once the hops begins to grow, select the best bines and wrap them around your trellis to train them. You will need to train the hops for a few days, but eventually they will begin growing in a clockwise direction from east to west around your trellis. Train the best shoots and trim the rest off.

Harvesting and Drying your Hops

Your hops will continue to grow throughout the summer, and will be ready to harvest by late summer. The harvest in the first year may not be huge, and in fact it could be very small – hops don’t reach peak yield in the first year.

To determine when to harvest, you need to examine the cones. Mature hop cones will be dry to the touch, springy, have a very strong aromatic hop odor, and leave yellow lupulin powder on your fingers. Check the cones every day or two, and when you think they are ripe, pick one and open it. It should be filled with thick yellow-gold lupulin powder if it is fully ripened.

The hops may not all ripen at once, but you need to harvest each as it ripens. Dry the hops out in a warm dry spot in your house, and keep them away from sunlight. Sunlight can seriously damage picked hops. A paper bag is a good place to store them while drying. The hops should dry out in a week or two. After that, place them in a sealed bag and store the hop cones in your freezer. Remove as much oxygen as possible from the bag to avoid oxidization.

Maintenance of Your Hops

Cut the bines back to 3 feet or so after harvesting. The winter frost will kill off the bines, after which you can cut them back further and cover them until Spring. When Spring comes, take a spade and cut around the rhizome to trim the roots back to about a foot. Trimming the roots will prevent the hops from consuming your entire garden, as they tend to spread rapidly. Add some fertilizer, fresh mulch and a new trellis and you will be ready to grow hops for a fresh new season.

If you want to read more about growing hops, Beer Bits has put together a page of related links.

A properly cared-for hops garden will keep you in fresh hops for years to come.

Note: Hops can be dangerous for dogs to consume so please don’t feed your pets hops.

Thanks again for joining us, and if you have enjoyed this article, please subscribe to our Home Brewing blog or drop a guest vote on BrewPoll using the vote button on the right.

Reference

  • BYO Magazine: “Hop Growing”, March-April 2008, Vol 12, No 2

Related Beer Brewing Articles from BeerSmith:

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  • Using Fresh Wet Hops in Home Brewed Beer
  • Growing Hops with Dave Wills – BeerSmith Podcast #15
  • Keg Line Length Balancing – The Science of Draft Beer
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  • Chilling Your Brew: Building an Immersion Chiller
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Tagged as: Homebrewing, brewing, garden, grow, growing, home, hop, hops, rhizomes

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For years, whenever anyone asked Bryan Butler, a scientist with the University of Maryland’s School of Agriculture and Natural Resources, why the school wasn’t doing work with hops, one of the elemental ingredients for brewing beer, he would give the same short, simple answer: “You can’t grow hops in Maryland.”

It’s not so much that one absolutely can’t grow hops in Maryland, or on the East Coast more generally. In the era before Prohibition, Maryland was home to a thriving brewing industry, with over 100 breweries reportedly located in Baltimore alone. Farmers across the mid-Atlantic grew hops for beer—in Maryland, they grew enough to supply 10 percent of the hops used by brewers in the state. Today, there are still a handful of farmers who continue that tradition. But hops—one-third of the brewer’s trinity, along with grain and yeast—are a temperamental crop, better suited to the drier, more stable climate of the West. Today, more than 75 percent of the hops grown in the United States are grown in a small slice of eastern Washington known as the Yakima Valley, and these are the hops that have grown to dominate the commercial—and craft—beer industry.

Hops—the flower of the herbaceous climbing plant Humulus lupulus—have been cultivated for centuries by farmers looking to add flavor to beer; the first recorded use of hops as a flavorant comes from 8th century Benedictine monks in Germany, who grew the plant in their herb gardens. But, as far as crops go, hops are a fickle sort. They require long days and short nights during the growing season, and require a few months of cold temperatures—40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder—for a few months before forming cones, meaning that they realistically only grow particularly well in a small area of the United States, between 40 degrees and 50 degrees latitude. Hops are also prone to pest and disease pressure, especially Hop Powdery Mildew (HPM), a serious fungal disease.

But Butler is an agricultural scientist—so when Flying Dog, a craft brewery based in Frederick, Maryland, came to him with a chance to find out once and for all whether hops can flourish in the variable climate of the mid-Atlantic, where temperature and precipitation can swing wildly from week to week, he approached the project with a mentality that was both open-minded and deeply logical. For centuries, hops had been grown primarily in Europe. But in recent years, the craft beer boom in the United States has encouraged domestic hop growers to push the boundaries of what is possible when it comes to hop production, and Butler wanted to see once and for all if Maryland could be a part of a new, distinctly American kind of brewing tradition.

“If this fails and doesn’t work, that’s okay,” Butler said. “But we’ll prove it one way or another through research-based information.”

Though the East Coast Hop Project—the formal name of the joint endeavor between the brewers at Flying Dog and the University of Maryland’s scientists—officially launched in the summer of 2017, the provenance of the project goes back to 2012, when the Maryland state legislature passed a bill allowing farms that grew ingredients for beer—either grain, hops or some other component like fruit—to brew and sell that beer to customers. The bill was championed by local lawyer-turned-farmer Tom Barse, who had a large plot of hops growing on his farm and wanted to combine his career of farming with his love of beer. And Barse wasn’t alone in that desire—by 2015, ten separate farms had applied for the designation of farm brewery.

As Barse was pushing for farmers and brewers to come together legally, Ben Clark, a brewmaster with Flying Dog, saw business potential in bringing the two professions under one roof. A lot of people drink beer, but few other than brewers know the exact specifications needed to make hops, yeast, grain and water merge into the perfect drink. It is, in a way, the same with farmers—as farms become bigger and more centralized, fewer and fewer people understand the kind of work that goes into to making something grow from the earth. So Clark found a cohort of interested, local hop farmers, including Barse, and brought them together to swap stories at Flying Dog. The result was a kind of hop market, where local farmers would bring their wares to the brewery for local brewers.

Almost immediately, Clark identified a major problem with the local hops: there was no quality control, and farmers would bring freshly harvested, wet hops to the brewery in garbage bags, only to see the hops go bad a few days later. Moreover, normally when hops are added to the beer—either early on during the brewing process to add bitterness or towards the end to add aroma—they are pelletized, meaning they are ground into a powder and pressed into something more closely resembling rabbit food than a conical hop flower. But the Maryland hop farmers were so new to the crop that they had no idea how to pelletize hops, so they would bring in the whole hops, which decay more quickly and can be more inconsistent for brewers than pelletized hops.

Hops are harvested at the University of Maryland farm. (University of Maryland)

Still, Clark was committed to the idea that Maryland brewers have an available supply of local hops, should they want them. The issue, it seemed, was that the crop was too new and any institutional knowledge from the Prohibition-era had long since vanished. What the Maryland farmers needed, Clark realized, was someone to help them identify the best practices for growing, and harvesting, hops in Maryland.

Luckily for Clark, Barse, who graduated from the University of Maryland in 1977, knew someone who might be able to help: his fellow Terrapin, Bryan Butler, who, largely at Barse’s own prodding, had been toying around with the idea of growing hops on the university’s 500-acre facility in Keedysville, just outside of Antietam Battlefield.

So Barse, a little bit hop farmer and a little bit brewer, introduced his friend at Flying Dog to his friend at the University of Maryland. To them, it felt like a meeting of the minds—a partnership that could explore both how to grow hops in Maryland, and how to brew them.

“We need a quality product at a favorable price, from a market standpoint, that is like what we’re seeing on the West Coast,” Clark said. “And is working from the other side of it, trying to see if that is even possible on the East Coast.”

Hops’ sensitivity to climate—particularly heat and humidity—explains why it thrives mainly in the arid heat of the eastern Pacific Northwest, and why the majority of the most popular hops were bred for the West Coast at the two primary land-grant universities in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon and Washington State University in Pullman, 200 miles east from the Yakima Valley. Many of the varieties of hops most heavily associated with craft beer in general and IPAs take their name from that place of origin, like Cascade, the hop used in the original craft IPA brewed by San Francisco-based Anchor Steam in the 1970s.

But just because a crop or variety of crop is particularly well suited to a specific region doesn’t mean that it can’t grow elsewhere—it just requires a kind of local, agricultural knowledge. To help rebuild that knowledge, Butler dedicated a plot of land at the university’s Western Maryland Research & Education Center to hops, planting 12 varieties in 2016 and another dozen in 2017. The hops were a mix of popular West Coast and New Zealand varieties, as well as a handful of varieties that were already being grown by local farmers. Butler and his team of researchers collected data on fertility, irrigation, disease, pest management, harvest timing, and unique levels of acids and oils in each hop.

A view of the hop bines at the University of Maryland farm (University of Maryland)

Then, with the help of brewers from Flying Dog, they pelletized those hops and sent them—along with the data Butler’s team had collected—to the brewery. From there, it was up to the brewers at Flying Dog to experiment with how the various varieties reacted when added to beer. It wouldn’t suffice to simply find a variety that grew well in the Maryland soil—it also had to taste good. The most famous West Coast hops are often associated with flavors of pine or citrus, and add bitter elements to brews like IPAs. But hops can also add flavors of grass, flowers or spice.

“We had a hop—Canadian Red Vine—that produced the equivalent of 900 dry pounds per acre, on a one year old plant. Fantastic yield, easy to grow, easy to harvest, did great,” Butler explained. But when the brewers sensory tested those hops, creating what’s known as a “hop tea” by steeping the hops in a small batch of light lager (think Miller Light or some equivalent), the brewers noted with some disappointment that the taste was akin to freezer-burned strawberries.

“So here’s this great producer, and it really wasn’t any good,” Butler said. “From a horticultural perspective, I would say ‘grow this.’ But when they really get down to brewing beer, maybe not so much.”

Not all varieties yielded similar disappointing results. Flying Dog’s Clark recalls one variety—a little-used hop known as Vojvodina that typically imparts woodsy notes of cedar and tobacco—that, when added to a hop tea, presented flavors of mint and melon. Another hop, typically grown in the Southern Hemisphere and used largely as a bittering agent, presented big, fruit flavors more like traditional West Coast hops.

Those subtle deviations in taste from what brewers expected led Clark to speculate, as others have more broadly, that the hops acted like wine grapes, where the terroir, the unique climate and soil of its geographic location, affects the flavor profile.

But there are reasons beyond taste that a variety of hop could prove uniquely suited to the East Coast, like finding a variety that might be more pest-resistant or produce better yields in the Maryland climate than out West. For now, Butler plans to find those varieties the old-fashioned way, either by testing an already-known strain at the University’s test farm or by manually crossing different strains of hops to see if he can find a winner—though improvements in gene editing could someday help speed the process along.

Using the hops delivered by Butler, the brewers at Flying Dog pared the group of 24 down to their four favorites, and debuted a beer called “Field Notes” in March at the brewery’s tasting room. It’s the first commercially available beer brewed with hops grown at the University of Maryland farm. The project also released three beers—each brewed with locally grown hops from either Maryland or New York—in mid-April. Clark explained that by using hops from a farm in New York, and not just Maryland, the newly released beers offer a fuller picture of what hop production can mean for the mid-Atlantic as a region.

Bryan Butler speaks at the East Coast Hop Project’s 2017 release party. (Flying Dog Brewery)

Ultimately, the project, which has funding from both Flying Dog and the university to continue for at least the next three years, isn’t about answering the question of if hops can grow along the East Coast, but whether they can grow well enough—or brew well enough—to compete with hop farms out West. For now, Butler and Clark agree that it will ultimately boil down to whether consumers are willing to pay a premium for beer grown with local hops. East Coast hop farmers, they explain, don’t have the economy of scale as out West, and will likely have to pay more for pest control and disease management—something that’s likely to continue unless the project can identify a variety of hop that thrives in the volatile East coast climate.

“When you add all those things together, it really makes it feel like a not very economically viable project,” Butler said. But for all the data he can collect on hop fertility and irrigation needs, there’s one factor for which he can’t account: taste. If Butler and Clark can figure out how to provide customers with a consistent product, they say, it’s possible that buyers will place a premium on locally-grown hops with a strong connection to the region—as has happened in many places across the country with local produce.

“If the market says this is something it wants and if people are willing to pay and we can replicate the process, it might be able to work,” he said. “It’s really going to be price, quality, quantity, and consistency. That’s what we need to achieve, so that we can be like the West Coast.”

The East Coast Hop Project’s 2017 release party (Flying Dog Brewery)

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