When to plant rhizomes?

Interested in growing your own hop rhizomes at home?

We have hop rhizomes for sale for those homebrewing fans who not only prefer to brew their own beer, but who like the idea of literally “building their beer from the ground up” by harvesting their own hops. Hop rhizomes can be grown in just about any climate, producing hops the very first year, with more to follow each year after. Choose from multiple different rhizome varietals, each which has its own unique characteristics. For example, the Columbus Rhizomes grow best in hot, dry climates. The pleasant, citrus-like Cascade hop rhizomes is suitable for all climates. And the Golding hops rhizome is best suited for mild, moist climates and is a great hop for English ales.

Hop rhizomes are only available for sale in the beginning of the year. We offer them for pre-order starting in January, and generally receive and ship them in April each year.

Please note that we’re unable to ship rhizomes to addresses that are in the counties of Bonner and Kootenai in Idaho, and APO/FPO addresses. Other restrictions may apply, so please check your local agricultural laws and restrictions prior to placing your order.

How to Grow Hops At Home

After you learn how to grow hops, check out Part 2: How to Harvest, Prepare and Store Hops.

As homebrewers, self-sufficiency has created a unique culture. Now it’s time to take the next step and grow your own hops! You don’t need a green thumb, you’ll save a little money and it’s one more ingredient you’ll have complete control over in your beer.

The Hop

The hop is a dioecious plant, which means they have separate male and female plants. The female plant produces the flowers that are used for brewing, while the male plant pollinates. The female hop (Humulus lupulus) is a hardy, perennial plant that gives beer some of its signature characteristics (bitterness, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, flavor stabilizer).

Hops also act as an anti-microbial agent, which helps preserve beer and aids with foam retention. Homebrewers can either use rhizomes (small roots cut from the main stem of a female plant) or a crown (an entire hop plant) when growing hops.

Courtesy of For the Love of Hops (Hieronymus, 2012)

A Little Cone With a Big History

Early European settlers began brewing their beers with wild hops from New England. In 1628, rhizomes were brought over from Europe and interbreeding soon created the wild tasting American Cluster variety.

As settlers moved westward, they brought their rhizomes. Wisconsin and Michigan saw brief periods of production, but the western states of California, Oregon and Washington soon dominated the market.

Today, Washington’s Yakima Valley leads the way in hop production, followed by Oregon and Idaho. However, homebrewers grow hops in all states. With careful planning, you could supply your whole hop bill for the year!

Where to Start?

With more than 120 varieties of hops currently available, you’ll need to decide which variety to plant. Ask yourself these questions: What varieties do I like to brew with? What varieties will grow best in my location? Where do I get rhizomes? What sort of yield do I want?

Some quick research (he USDA provides great info) will help you narrow down which varieties will work best for you.

Once you’ve chosen your desired varieties, many breweries, homebrew shops and nurseries have rhizomes to purchase. Try to source them locally if possible in order to have a better understanding on the plant’s history, performance and known diseases. Store slightly moistened rhizomes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you are ready to plant.

Location. Location. Location.

Location is key. Hops grow best between the 35th and 55th parallels. Locations outside of this range don’t receive as much daylight for the growing stages—but don’t be discouraged if you fall outside of this range. You can still grow hops in the outlying regions of the United States.

Certain hop varieties perform well at particular climates. Chinook, for instance, grows well in dry, hot climates while Golding hops grow well in mild, moist climates. Do a background check on the varieties you choose to grow. The USDA is a good place to start.

If You Build It, They Will Grow

Since hop plants can live 25-50 years, planning their grow space is crucial. They’ll need plenty of climbing space in a sunny location (south facing is ideal), with well-draining soil.

To prevent scorching, try to find a place that provides some shade during the hotter hours of the afternoon. Hops climb clockwise up a support system by using tiny hairs. To support the hop bines, you’ll need to use string (e.g. hemp, wire, fencing and netting) that will allow the hop to shoot upwards. Many homebrewers run string down from the roof of their house, build a homemade trellis or build a metal or wood framework for the hops to climb on.

For the horizontal approach, run the bine up eight to 10 feet then take it horizontally along another twine or support for eight to 10 more feet. You can use this hop canopy as a shade-producing element for a beer garden—a nice place to enjoy a homebrew and view your hops! Make sure to carefully monitor the bines from reaching over to other plants.

Planting months vary from region to region. Do a little research as to what time is best for where you live (e.g. February in California, April in Colorado).

Hops and Soil

Prior to planting, you’ll need to prepare your soil. Hops thrive in a loamy, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. The pH level directly affects the nutrients that are available to a plant. If the pH isn’t right, it can lock up the soil and inhibit growth. You can add sand to the soil to improve drainage and try deep irrigation to reduce saltiness. Try to aim for a slightly acidic soil (6.7-6.9 pH).

You can purchase a pH testing kit from your local gardening store. If your soil pH is low, use a form of lime or wood ashes to reduce acidity. Likewise, if your soil pH is high, you can use aluminum sulfate and sulfur (found at your local gardening store or nursery) to reduce alkalinity. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when manipulating pH to ensure the appropriate amounts and methods are used.

Dig a one-foot deep hole and add a shovelful of compost, which makes the soil nutrients more available to the roots, then add two to three handfuls of mycorrhizal inoculum, a symbiosis of fungi and plant roots that aids in nutrient uptake and root growth of the plant.

Plant three to six rhizomes two inches below the soil surface so the shoots point upward. When putting the rhizomes in the soil, make sure each area of rhizome varieties is three to five feet apart to avoid root mixing. After putting the rhizomes in the ground with your remaining dirt, put another inch of compost over top and then two inches of mulch, which will prevent weed growth and protect young plants from any late frost.

Hops will absorb additional nutrients of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen through the air. Other helpful nutrients you can purchase are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (generally referred to as N-P-K). A common rate is five pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet (one handful per plant).

Fertilizer schedules vary, but in general you should fertilize on the first sprout, then three weeks later, then once in mid-summer and once at the beginning stages of flowering.

Review the stages of growth and other pertinent information found in Stan Hieronymus’ book “For The Love of Hops” before planting: dormancy, spring regrowth, vegetative growth, reproductive growth, formation of cones and preparation for dormancy. Properly identifying these stages will help you better understand the plant and determine what needs to be done to ensure ideal yield come harvest time.

Sleep. Creep. Leap.

As the saying goes, first they sleep, then they creep and last they leap. The first year’s growth likely will not yield many cones and is mostly devoted to establishing the crown and root system. As the years progresses, your hop plants will mature into mean, green cone-growing machines.

Mature plants over three years old require root pruning in early spring. Without it, rhizomes will spread throughout the year, hoarding nutrients and water from the crown needed by the shoots. In the first year of growth, let the plant grow without any pruning. In the following years, as the bines begin to grow, you can prune the first spring shoots to encourage more robust secondary shoot growth. Once these shoots are one to two feet tall, pick two or three shoots to train clockwise from the top. It’s tempting to keep all bines on your plant, but choosing a few will give you a more robust plant and better yield.

Once you’ve picked your two or three shoots, begin training them to climb. Don’t disturb them on a cloudy or cool day because they are brittle and may snap. If it does snap, don’t panic, the next node down will grow. As the season continues, continuing training your hops by trimming back the untrained shoots to ground level and mulching to keep the weeds down.

After the hop burrs (the beginning stage of flowering that shows white feelers budding off the tips of the plant) have appeared, you can cut away the lowest four feet of foliage and lateral branches to aid in air circulation and reduce disease development. The removal of the lower leaves must be done carefully to avoid breaking or kinking the main stem. In late summer, allow bottom growth to promote hardiness of the crown and the plant vigor for the following year.

Hops Are Thirsty

Hops require a lot of water, especially in their first year. The older the plant, the less frequent the watering. In areas where irrigation is necessary, never apply overhead water such as a sprinkler system. This will create a moist environment that is disease prone. A drip irrigation system is the most water-efficient method.

Consider building this cheap drip irrigation system to keep your hops thirst quenched.

It’s A Picking Party

You’ve planned, pruned, monitored and cared for your hops all summer and now those little cones have arrived! Be patient. A common mistake is picking the cones too early. You want to pick over-ripe hops rather than under-ripe hops.

Depending on your location, harvest occurs mid-August through September with aromatic varieties maturing first. As resins and oils develop, the cone will send water and nutrients from the bracts into the lupulin glands, leaving the cone slightly dull and papery. Look for the tips to become a little dry on the cone before picking and wear a long sleeve shirt!

There are a few methods to check ripeness of your hops.

  1. Give the cones a light squeeze occasionally and when they feel light and dry, and spring back after a squeeze, they’re ready.
  2. Pick a cone, roll it in your hands and smell it. If it has a pungent smell between cut grass and onion, it’s time to harvest.
  3. Roll the hop next to your ear. If it makes a cricket sound, this also means they’re ready to harvest. If the lupulin turns orange and smells rancid, you’ve overshot your window.

For first year bines, try to pick the cones and not cut down the bine until it dies off. This will lend necessary nutrients back to the roots for the winter. For following years, cut the bine down and be careful not to damage or dirty those precious lupulin glands. You should expect one to two pounds of dried hops per mature plant. Now, invite some friends over to help you pick the hops while enjoying some homebrew!

Drying

Wait! You’re not finished yet. Freshly-picked hops can either go directly into the kettle for a fresh hop brew or onto a drying process. There are three factors you’ll want to remember when drying hops: time, heat and moisture.

To prevent oxidation and isomerization, drying shouldn’t last more than three days. You can speed up drying by putting them in the oven, watching closely by checking on them every 20 minutes. The heat you use should never exceed 140° F.

You can also use a drying screen to dry your hops. Place landscape fabric over the top to keep them in the dark and occasionally fluff the hops so moist inner cones are brought to the outside of the pile. Use a fan to expedite the process.

The hops need a moisture content of eight to 10 percent by weight to prevent molding. A quick method to see if they’re dry enough is if the central stem of the cone is almost brittle enough to snap in half. Once the hops are dried, vacuum seal a bag and properly store them in the freezer.

Bitterness Calculation

The old standard to estimate alpha-acid percentage is to make an educated guess and then modify the guess after you brew a few times. Homegrown hops are fresher than those you’d buy in a store, and can have an estimated 50 percent higher alpha acid percentage than the average commercial hop.

One method you can use, described by Patrick D’Luzansky in his article “In the Back Yard” from the 1997 Special Issue Zymurgy, is to compare a same-cultivar hop of known alpha content with your unknown alpha hop. You compare the ratio of quantities of sugar needed to overcome the bitterness and infer that this ratio will equal the ratio of alphas.

For example, if it takes five teaspoons of sugar to offset the bitterness of homegrown hops and three teaspoons of sugar to offset commercial hops, then the homegrown hops are five-thirds as strong, and our alpha-acid content is five-thirds the commercial alpha. So a commercial alpha of three percent would make the homegrown alpha five-thirds times three, or five percent.

You can also use your AHA membership and take advantage of the Alpha Analytics AHA Member Deal for a full analysis on your hops!

Common Diseases & Pests

  • Downy Mildew: first spotted in Japan in 1905 and soon followed in America and Europe. It’s caused by the fungus Pseudoperonospora humuli. It will first appear in the spring as infected shoots emerge. Infected shoots will look stunted, brittle and lighter in color and are unable to climb. Flowers often become infected when blooming occurs during wet weather and young cones stop growing and turn brown. Roots and crowns may be completely rotted and destroyed. Remedy: Remove and burn infected tissues, sulfur-based fungicides.
  • Powdery Mildew: caused by the fungus Podosphaera macularis and is a major problem in the Pacific Northwest. First appears as powdery white colonies on leaves, buds, stems and cones. Infected cones become reddish-brown as tissues die. Under cloudy, humid conditions the fungus can complete its life cycle in as little as five days. Remedy: Remove and burn infected tissues, sulfur-based fungicides.
  • Verticillium Wilt: caused by two related fungi, and the nonlethal strain is more common in the Pacific Northwest. The lethal strains cause rapid death of leaves, side arms and the plant itself. Symptoms on the nonlethal variety include yellow veining of the leaves and wilting of leaves and vines. Remedy: Remove and burn infected tissues, sulfur-based fungicides.
  • Hop Stunt Viroid: sub-viral pathogen does just what its name imples: stunts the growth of the plants and can reduce alpha acid yield by as much as 60 to 80 percent per acre. Symptoms of infection may not appear for three to five growing seasons, which increase the danger of the propagation and distribution of infected plants. It is viewed as an increasing threat.
  • Hop Aphid (Phorodon Humuli): the hop aphid causes the most damage by feeding on developing cones, which turn brown. It secretes large amounts of sugary honeydew that causes a sooty mold fungi on leaves and cones, reducing productivity. It may also transmit plant viruses. Remedy: Lady bugs or insecticidal soaps.
  • Spider Mites (Tetranychus Urticae): spider mites also suck plant juices from cells. A minor infestation causes bronze leaves, while a severe one results in defoliation and white webs. Spider mites are most dangerous during warm, dry weather and no usually a problem for well watered plants. Remedy: Phytoseiulus persimilis (predatory mite) or insecticidal soaps.

Preventative measures and constant monitoring will help prevent any devastating outbreak. The idea is to be proactive by creating an environment that doesn’t favor disease or pests. If things become out of hand, consult your local nursery for more drastic measures.

Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew

After all your hard work, you can finally sit back and relax with a fresh, homegrown-hopped homebrew. Throughout the fall and into the winter, the bines will send nutrients down into the root system. All that’s left to do is to cut back the bines, cover with compost and mulch, and start planning for next year’s crop.

John Moorhead is Director of the National Homebrew Competition and AHA Special Projects Coordinator.

Sources: “In the Back Yard” by Patrick D’Luzansky (1997 Special Issue Zymurgy); Matt Gouwens, Brewmaster/Chief Executive Hopster, Hop Farm Brewing Company; “Give Your Homebrew Terroir: Grow Your Own Hops” by Ali Hamm (2009 March/April Zymurgy); Geoff Hess, Farmer and Chain Sales Manager, Oskar Blues Brewery; For The Love Of Hops by Stan Hieronymus; Patrick Weakland, Co-owner, High Hops Brewery

Homebrewers Association Homebrewers Association

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Farm Fresh Hops For Six Generations

LIFE OF A HOP

LEARN ABOUT A HOP’S FASCINATING JOURNEY FROM OUR FARMS TO YOUR BEER


  • Agronomy

    Experimental hop seedlings emerge in our greenhouses in preparation of planting baby hop yards this season.


  • Breeding

    Hopsteiner’s breeding program has released exciting, new hop varieties, including Lemondrop and Eureka.


  • Preparation

    Hopsteiner farms and farm managers set the industry standard for agricultural practices and sustainability.


  • Propagation

    Farmers plant hop rhizomes, the heart of the root system which stores and transfers food for the bine.


  • Baby Hops

    New hop growth emerges from the ground in the spring, and bines begin to reach towards the sun.


  • Growing

    Hop bines climb the coir twine in a clockwise-spiral, upwards until they reach the top of the 18’ tall trellis.


  • Flowering

    As the hop bines begin to reach the trellis tops, they generate lateral shoots that produce the hop flowers.


  • Healthy Hops

    During the summer months, hop yards start to top out when all of the laterals fill-in with full growth.

  • Cone Maturation

    A mature female hop cone is ready to harvest when the flower begins to feel dry and papery.

  • Oils and Acids

    Inside the hop cones, your can see yellow lupulin glands packed with the essential hop oils and acids.

  • Harvesting

    Mobile harvesters called “combines” line the hop fields ready to start the annual hop harvest.

  • Sorting

    Hop cones are then separated from leaf and bine in cleaning stations – leaving only raw leaf hop cones.

  • Hop cones are laid out on massive-sized hop kilns where they are gently heated until thoroughly dried.
  • Cooling

    Dry hop cones are then piled high on cooling floors which help maintain their color and essential oils.

  • Baling

    The dried and cooled hops are then compressed in 200-pound canvas bales, sealed with a hand-stitch.

  • Hop Selection

    Hop bails are quickly transported to Hopsteiner’s cold storage facilities where they await processing.

  • Shipping/Cold Storage

    Hop bails are quickly shipped to our cold storage facilities to protects their soft alpha and beta resins.

  • Pelletizing

    Hop leaf is ground into powder and forced through a die under extreme pressure to form dense hop pellets.

  • Extract & Downstream

    Hopsteiner provides traditional hop products, as well as the most advanced hop downstream products.

  • Quality Packaging

    Hop pellets are fresh-packed in nitrogen-flushed mylar pouches and heavy-duty crates with data label.

  • Logistics

    Orders are processed to ensure shipments arrive on schedule. We offer storage and delivery programs.

  • Research & Development

    Hopsteiner’s hop research facilities focus on constant improvement, and new product development.

  • Customer Support

    Hopsteiner’s technical staff provides a wide range of client services, including on-site brewery support.

  • The Proof is in the Pour

    For over 170 years, Hopsteiner has built a reputation of providing top quality hops at the best possible price.

Connect With Us!

PHOTO: Paul Miller/Flickrby Lori Rice February 16, 2016

Started as a commercial crop on the East Coast as early as the 1600s, hops soon expanded to the sprawling acreage, vast water supply and ideal growing conditions of the Pacific Northwest. While the majority of the United States’ commercial hop production is now in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, the craft brewery boom has spawned an interest in small-scale production across the country. Hobby farmers, small commercial breweries and homebrewers are now successfully producing small-batch hops from New Jersey to Kentucky to Colorado.

Hop Yard Basics

If you can farm or garden, you can grow hops. With the increasing number of craft breweries and homebrewers, and rising interests in locally sourced ingredients, those hops can supply a consumer demand beyond your own homebrewing hobby.

Mark Maikkula is the general manager of Boyd’s Bottom Hops & Wildlife in Lexington, Ky., and vice president of the Kentucky Hop Growers Alliance. “Do your homework and know your costs,” he says. “Hops are a hearty plant, but require a lot of care and attention.”

Maikkula stresses that site selection is crucial. Jan-Erik Paino, founder of Ruhstaller Brewery in Sacramento, Calif., and Ruhstaller Farm & Yard, a hop yard located in nearby Dixon, Calif., considers a fair estimate on investment to be $15,000 for a full acre of hops.

When selecting your site, keep in mind that hop bines—not a typo: Hops are technically bines, not vines, which grow around a support structure in a helix, while vines climb using tendrils or suckers—can grow to 15 to 20 feet, but research conducted at Rutgers University found that a 10-foot trellis can be sufficient while also allowing for easier hand harvesting. Much of the initial costs will go to building the trellises necessary for the bines. In addition to these support systems, hops need direct sunlight and well-drained soil in an area that is protected from wind.

Planting And Training Hops

Hops are a perennial and produce bines annually. There are separate male and female plants, but only the female plants produce the flowers known as hop cones. These cones contain lupulin, the aromatic oils and resins that give beer its characteristic flavors.

Hop rhizomes can be purchased online or at brewing-­supply stores, and they are usually available from March to May. Rhizomes can be planted as soon as the soil is ­workable, but it’s best to plant after the final frost. Hops should be planted in rows of hills about 8 feet apart with two rhizomes per hill and hills set about 2 to 3 feet apart.

“Hops are difficult to grow on a small scale,” Paino advises. “They need a lot of attention, especially in late June and early July.”

That period of early summer he’s referring to is when you’ll need to train the hops. Once the shoots reach 1 to 2 feet, they are ready to train. Taught, strong baling twine can be used to create your trellis. Stretch the twine 10 to 15 feet over the row. Then run a piece of twine down to each plant and secure with a stake in the ground at the base of the plant. Next, you’ll need to select the strongest bines to string up the trellis.

“What we have learned is that more is not better,” Paino says. They started by selecting about six bines, but they have found that selecting only two produces more vegetative growth and a better balance of hops to leaves. He adds that the ideal ratio is about 80 percent hop cones to 20 ­percent leaves.

Once you’ve selected trellising candidates, wrap them clockwise around the twine. Prune remaining bines to prevent tangling and continue to prune throughout the growing season. The lower 2 to 3 feet of foliage can be removed once bines climb the trellis and produce side branches to allow more airflow, reducing disease risks.

Hops need plenty of water. A drip irrigation system is ideal to reduce diseases that can result from wet foliage. The Ruhstaller Farm & Yard grows about 7½ acres of hops, and Paino says that the farm uses drip irrigation at a rate of 1 gallon per hour. During April and May, they run one 12-hour cycle per week. During June, it increases to two cycles a week, and in July and August, three cycles per week. In regards to smaller scale production, according to Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, established plants need about 1½ inches of water per week and a soil pH between 6 and 7.

Hop Varieties

The most popular hop varieties in the United States have evolved into a mix of alpha hops that provide the important bittering component, alpha acid, and aroma hops that result in distinct flavors and aromas. According to the Hop Growers of America, a few varieties that are especially popular among U.S. craft brewers include Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Crystal, CTZ, Triple Pearl, Cashmere, Willamette, Tahoma and Yakima Gold.

Harvesting Hops

The first year, few cones will produce as the crown and root system get established.

“It takes three years to get to full production,” Paino says.

Generally, the first year you will have 10 percent production; the second, 50 percent; and then, ideally, 100 percent in the third year. After two to three seasons, established bines can produce 1 to 2 pounds of wet hops each. (Wet hops are often an ingredient in brewing, but need to be used the same day of harvest. Dry hops weigh about four times less than the wet hops at harvest.) Harvest time varies by area, but most often takes place between mid-August and mid-September before the first frost.

Hop cones are ready for harvest when they are dry and delicate. The cone will be fragrant when you squeeze it and will spring back to its original shape. Harvesting a small crop of hops can be done by cutting the bines when the majority of the cones are ready, or by hand-picking the cones.

Drying and Storing Hops

Harvested hop cones need to be dried before storing to prevent spoilage. Air-drying is preferable and can be done by spreading the cones in a single layer on a window screen. Keep the hop cones out of direct sunlight and turn every day until dry. Alternatively, a food dehydrator or oven can be used, but temperatures should be kept below 140 degrees F. You’ll know the hop is dry when the inner stem becomes brittle. The lupulin will also be visible as a yellow powder and will easily separate from the cone.

Moisture, air and heat can rob your hops of quality and freshness, so it’s important to protect against each of these factors when storing. An ideal place for storage is in the refrigerator or freezer in a sealable plastic bag with all air removed, preferably using a vacuum sealer. Paino suggests that hops stored in this way could last up to two years. Larger crops with mechanical harvesting systems will require a kiln for drying the hops. The dried hops are then baled and can be stored for a year or more.

Marketing And Selling Hops

Homebrewers interested in experimenting with hop varieties and small breweries looking for ­locally sourced ingredients can be a target population for small-scale hop sales in your area. Due to increased demand, hop prices have spiked in recent years. Depending on the variety, hops can sell for anywhere from $8 to $20 per pound.

The average farmers market consumer isn’t on the lookout for hops, so simply adding your harvest to your product table likely won’t get you the sales necessary to recover your costs. You’ll need to identify yourself as a hop grower in your community and reach out to your potential buyers. Take some time to visit with local breweries and brewing-supply shops. Contact the homebrewer’s association in your area. Not only will this advertise that you have hops available, but it opens up the lines of communication so that you can identify local needs and adjust your variety of hop crops as necessary to meet them.

While the majority of hops are used for brewing beer, Jan-Erik Paino, founder of Ruhstaller Brewery in Sacramento, Calif., shares that hops are also a natural sedative. Historically, the leaves were used in hot baths or put into sachets to set by the bed pillow to promote sleep.

Hops are a challenging but rewarding crop that may allow you to fulfill a need in your area. While the development of a local market can be a hurdle, Maikkula enjoys networking and meeting new people in the industry, as well as consumers.

“There is satisfaction in taking something that didn’t exist and supplying a quality product to local beer lovers,” he says.

  • Hop Pellets
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      • 2oz
      • 8oz
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      • 2018 Variety Packs
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      • Experimental Varieties
      • 2oz
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      • 2019 Variety Packs
    • Import Pellets (2018)
      • 2oz
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  • Advanced Hop Products
  • Brewing Ingredients
    • Dried Malt Extracts (DME)
      • 1 Pound
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      • Briess DME
      • Coopers DME
      • Muntons DME
    • Flavorings, Honeys, and Sugars
      • Belgian Candi Sugar
      • Fruit Concentrates / Extracts
      • Honey
      • Priming Sugars
    • Grains
      • Base Malts
      • Carmel 10L – 120L
      • Flakes and Adjuncts
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    • Herbs, Spices, and Oaks
      • Citrus Peels
      • Dried Flowers + Dried Leaves
      • Oak Chips / Cubes
      • Roots + Seeds
    • Salts and Finings
    • Yeast
      • Danstar
      • Fermentis
      • Mangrove Jack
      • Distilling Yeast
      • Liquor Quik
      • Red Star
      • Yeast Nutrients
  • Equipment
    • Bottle Caps
    • Fermentation
    • Hop + Grain Bags
    • Tubing
    • Hardware
  • Sanitization
    • Craft Meister & National Chemical
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    • Five Star Chemicals
  • Merch / Accessories
    • AHA Membership
    • BRÜLOSOPHY
    • GIFT CERTIFICATE
    • LITERATURE
    • YVH MERCH
      • FLANNELS
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      • HOODIES
      • STICKERS
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Growing hops can be an incredibly fulfilling undertaking on a number of levels. The most obvious benefit to growing hops is that you can make your own beer with them! However, there are myriad other uses for the hop plant. Hop shoots make an excellent addition to salads or light stir-fries, hop bines make for beautiful ornamental displays, and certain hop compounds are considered a sedative when consumed. If you find that you’re inclined to throw some rhizomes in the ground, then there are a few things you need to know first.

What’s a rhizome?

Every year that we offer hop rhizomes for sale, we inevitably get the question: “What is a rhizome?” The easiest way to answer this question is to compare typical plant growth and rhizomatic plant growth in simplified terms.

What we would consider a typical plant in this comparison has two sections: the root mass and the vegetative mass. The root mass serves to anchor the plant and act as an uptake for nutrients and water, and the vegetative mass is responsible for photosynthesis. The two are clearly defined and separated by the soil line.

In rhizomatic plant growth, there is a third piece to the puzzle. A rhizome is essentially a stem that exists underground and acts as an energy reserve for the bulk of the vegetative mass (Homegrown Hops, p. 31). Think of it like a tree branch growing underground and sending up branches through the soil.

The rhizome, for all intents and purposes, could be thought of as a part of the root structures, since roots do extend from the rhizome. However, it is technically considered to be an underground stem and conceptualizing it this way is paramount to the successful growth and care of your hop plant.

How to plant your hop rhizome

Hops, as a rule of thumb, aren’t very difficult to plant or maintain. However, there are a number of variables that you will need to be aware of that impact into how successful your hop planting will be and how much your plants will thrive. The first thing you will need to do is pick where you will be planting your hop rhizome, and the two biggest factors to take into account here are sunlight and drainage.

Your hop plant is going to want full sun exposure in order to thrive and grow to tis full potential. A hop plant has the potential to grow 20-30 feet in a season (Homegrown Hops, p. 13) and will need at least 6-8 hours of full sun a day to achieve this. You will also want to select an area that is naturally mounded, naturally sloped, or has been altered such that it drains more readily than its surroundings. The rhizome will want soil that remains moist, but drains well. They will also prefer to be in soil that has a pH of between 6 and 8. Properly mulching your hop bed will also help promote moisture retention and drainage with good balance.

Another factor to consider when planting your rhizome is where you will be training the bines. I’ve already mentioned that you can expect 20-30 feet of growth in a season, and you’ll want to have a plan for where that growth is going to go. There are a number of trellis systems that work well, or they can be trained to grow along a fence or up the side of a house. Also, keep in mind that they’ll need to be easily accessible if you plan on harvesting the cones. If you aren’t planning on harvesting your hops then you can simply plant them by a fence or other structure that they can climb naturally. They will grow very quickly and do very well at creating living barriers.

Fig. 3

How to separate your rhizomes

We’ve already established that hops can grow a lot in a single season and it stands to reason that their rootstock will spread a fair amount as well. Turns out it does! So, if you want to keep your hop crown happy and healthy or ever want to add more hop plants, you’ll need to split it up every three years or so. The process of digging and splitting your hop crown seems much more daunting than it actually is. That being said, we decided to photograph a little step by step in order to take out some of the guesswork.

First things first, you’ll need to dig up your hop crown and check it out. The best time of year to do this is usually early to mid-March for the mid-Atlantic region. A good rule of thumb is to dig and split the plant before your first set of shoots is able to reach six inches in height (Homebrewer’s Garden, pg. 36). When you dig your rhizome be wary of the fact that it has probably spread a good bit in all directions. It helps to dig a few tentative holes and then establish which directions your main shoots are running so that you can be sure not to chop through them with a shovel.

Once you have your hop crown out of the ground it will look like a mass of roots with a thick central section. (Fig. 3) You will want to select a workspace that is large enough to contain the entire crown and doesn’t force you to hunch the entire time. A table or workbench usually serves the purpose well. Now that you have your hop crown spread out, you’ll want to begin identifying the harvestable sections of rhizome. We’ve found that it is usually easiest to separate large sections of rhizome from the main crown and break them down one at a time. (Fig. 4) If you look closely at Figure 4 then you will see that there are sections every 4-6 inches that are showing a bud or shoot. Those are the best candidates for a new rhizome (Fig. 5) and you can simply cut them with a pair of clean shears just past each shoot. Once you’ve broken down your crown, you will end up with a bunch of smaller sections of rhizome that look like chunks of root with buds coming off them (Fig 6). Not all viable rhizomes will be showing shoots so don’t be discouraged if some of your sections don’t have fresh growth showing. So long as the rhizome feels firm, doesn’t show any damage, and remains moist then you should be good to go!

Whether you’re planning on growing hops for brewing/culinary purposes, as a decorative addition to your property, or to help you chill out every now and then, you’ll want to have the foundation necessary to grow them well. If you follow the simple guidelines that we’ve set forth here, you’ll be primed for success. The only next step is getting some rhizomes, so stop by the nearest Fifth Season Gardening Co. before supplies run out!

Fig. 4Fig. 5Fig. 6

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