- Michigan Fresh: Growing Hops (E3210)
- What Are Hops?
- The Hop Plant
- Growing Conditions
- Choosing a Hop Variety
- Planting & Trellising
- Planning for Fertilizer & Irrigation Needs
- Pruning & Training the Bines
- Managing Diseases & Pests
- Harvest Smart
- Harvesting & Drying the Cones
- References and Resources
- Farming Hops During the Ultra-Hoppy Beer Craze
- Hops are vegetables = Beer is Salad – Picture of Granville Island Brewing, Vancouver
- How to Grow Hops at Home
- Why Grow Hops at Home?
- 1. Do your research.
- 2. Pick the perfect location.
- 3. Establish a place for your future hop plant to climb.
- 4. Ready the soil.
- 5. Choose your rhizomes.
- 6. Get planting!
- 7. Take care of your new hop babies.
- 8. Be patient. Drink some beer.
- A Final Word of Advice
- Related posts:
Michigan Fresh: Growing Hops (E3210)
January 26, 2015 – Author: Rob Sirrine
Purchase item on Shop.msu.edu
What Are Hops?
Hops are the flowers or cones of female hop plants (Humulus lupulus; see fig. 1). Historically, hops have been used as medicine, paper fiber, a salad ingredient, a sleep aid in pillows, and of course, as a preservative and flavoring agent in beer. The first written description of hops being used in beer comes from 12th century Germany (German Beer Institute, 2004–2006). In addition to water, malted barley, and yeast, hops are an essential ingredient in beer production. Hops contain alpha and beta acids and essential oils that contribute to beer’s bitterness and aroma. Brewers can alter the flavor, aroma, and bitterness of beer by adding different hop varieties during different stages of the brewing process.
Figure 1. Hop cones.
The hop plant is most likely native to China, but hops are now grown in many temperate areas of the northern and southern hemispheres. Commercial hop production in the United States began on the East Coast in the 1700s, but eventually shifted to the Pacific Northwest, where more than 80% of U.S. hops are currently grown. With the growing appeal of specialty beers and locally grown foods, interest in hops has increased among Michigan farmers, gardeners, and home brewers.
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The Hop Plant
Hop plants are perennials that produce bines (twining stems) from the crown or rhizomes (permanent root stock) each spring. Hop plants are dioecious – that is, male and female flowers grow on separate plants. Only the cones produced by female plants are used in the brewing process.
Aided by trichomes (stout hairs) hops grow clockwise around strings that are attached to trellis systems in commercial hopyards. Under the right conditions, bines can grow 4 to 10 inches a day. Around the summer solstice (late June), hop plants develop lateral branches and produce clusters of 0.5-inch to 4-inch papery green flowers or cones.
Hops will grow in a variety of soils, but do best in welldrained, deep, sandy loam soils with a pH around 6.5. Growers should avoid siting hop yards in heavy, poorly drained soil.
To flower and produce high cone yields, hops need long days and short nights during the growing season. Hops also require winter temperatures below 40 °F for one to two months.
For these reasons, most commercial hop production takes place between 40 degrees and 50 degrees latitude.
Hops need supplemental water and nutrients to ensure ample plant growth and the full development of the chemical compounds in the cones that are used in the brewing process.
Choosing a Hop Variety
According to HopUnion (n.d.), hop varieties can be divided into two basic categories: bittering (with high alpha acid levels) and aroma. Some dual purpose varieties can be used for both bittering and aroma.
Different types of beer are often made with different types of hops. For example, ‘Cascade’, ‘Centennial’, and ‘Chinook’ are all often used in brewing India Pale Ales or IPAs. Hop varieties also differ in their disease susceptibility and yields. These aspects should be taken into consideration when choosing which varieties to plant. “Comparing and Selecting Hops” (Brew Your Own, n.d.) provides hop variety descriptions, comparisons, and substitutions.
Planting & Trellising
Hops can be purchased and planted as rhizomes (root cuttings) or propagated plants. Brown and Sirrine (2012) recommend that growers buy disease-free propagated plants instead of rhizomes – unless the rhizomes come from a reputable source.
Weeds and other vegetation should be removed from hop yards throughout the growing season (see fig. 2). New hops should be planted in the spring (late April to early May in most of Michigan), though some growers have had success with early fall planting as well. Maintain a 3- to 4-foot diameter weed-free zone around each hop plant for best results.
Figure 2. A newly established, well-weeded Michigan hopyard.
Hops are vigorous plants and in the right conditions can spread rapidly. Planting different hop varieties at least 10 feet apart will help keep them from mixing through underground root suckering.
Because of their vigorous growth potential, hops need support from a trellis or some other structure. In most commercial hop yards, growers train hops to grow up coir strings that are attached to overhead cables.
Planning for Fertilizer & Irrigation Needs
The best way for growers to identify the nutrients they’ll need to provide for their hop plants is to test the soil in the hop yard annually. Compost can be applied at any time, but fertilizer should be split into at least three applications between April and the beginning of July. If applying compost, fertilizer rates can be reduced.
While hop nutrient needs vary depending on soil quality, cultivars, and growing region, in general established hop plants need 120 to 150 pounds of actual N (nitrogen) per acre (about 0.33 pounds of actual N per 100 square feet). Hops typically have low P (phosphorus) requirements, while the optimal range for K (potassium) is around 100 parts per million. First-year application rates for all nutrients are generally one half to two thirds of those for fully established plants. Hops also require micronutrients like boron, zinc, and manganese.
To maximize yield, hops require supplemental irrigation. Michigan State University (MSU) Extension recommends at least 6 gallons per plant per day during June and July when the plants are growing rapidly.
Pruning & Training the Bines
Growers often prune second- or third-year plants back to the crown when the bines are about 2 feet high or have been growing for about 2 weeks. Such pruning helps improve the plants’ vigor, removes the previous year’s growth, and reduces disease pressure. Once the secondary growth reaches 2 feet, growers choose two or three bines from each plant to train in a clockwise direction around a support string or structure, and remove any other shoots.
Managing Diseases & Pests
Hops are susceptible to diseases such as downy and powdery mildew and to insect pests such as mites, aphids, and leafhoppers (see fig. 3). Growers must monitor plants for signs of disease and pest problems at least once a week throughout the growing season to determine whether control measures are needed. The Field Guide for Integrated Pest Management in Hops (Gent, Barbour, Drewes, James, Parker, & Walsh, 2009) is an excellent resource for identifying pests and diseases that affect hops. It is available online as a free pdf. Growing Hops in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region (MSU Extension, 2014) provides an overview of the organic and conventional pest control methods that are recommended for hops growers.
Figure 3. Potato Leafhopper on a hop plant.
Some people develop a slight rash from handling hops, so it’s smart to wear longsleeved shirts, long pants, and gloves when harvesting and picking hops.
Harvesting & Drying the Cones
The hops harvest in Michigan generally happens sometime between late August and the end of September. The timing depends on several factors, including the hop variety being harvested, the weather, the cone moisture content, and any pest or disease issues in the hop yard. Proper timing is essential, because hops are in prime harvest condition for only 7 to 10 days. Hops are generally ready for harvest when:
- The outside scales feel papery and dry.
- The inside lupulin is dark yellow.
- A cone that is crushed by hand stays compressed when the pressure is removed and leaves behind a sticky residue and a strong aroma.
Some growers send cone samples to a testing laboratory for a more precise analysis of their crops’ harvest readiness.
Hops are harvested by cutting down the bines, then removing the cones from the bines. The harvested cones can be used immediately to brew wet-hopped seasonal ales. They can also be dried, vacuum packed and stored in a freezer for later use.
The harvested bines can be composted or burned, but it’s best to keep composted bines away from the soil near the hop plants to reduce the chance of spreading disease.
The best drying method depends on the quantity of hops to be dried, the facilities available, and the budget. The choices include placing the hop cones in a commercial dryer, in a sealed room with a dehumidifier, or on a screen in the sun or in a warm attic. Whatever the method, drying hops at temperatures below 140 °F will generally result in a higher quality end product. Hops should be dried to 8% to 10% moisture to keep them from molding or otherwise spoiling. The simple online Hop Harvest Moisture Calculator (University of Vermont Extension, 2014) is useful for determining moisture levels.
Growers or brewers may want to have a laboratory test the quality parameters such as the alpha and beta acid levels in the hops they have grown or are considering buying. To find a Michigan lab capable of conducting such testing, search online for “hops testing service Michigan.”
In general, and depending on the variety, a mature, well-tended hop bine should produce at least 1 pound of dried hops a year
References and Resources
Brew Your Own. (n.d.) Comparing and selecting hops . Retrieved from byo.com/resources/hops
Brown, D., & Sirrine, R. (2012). Purchasing hops for planting. Retrieved from msue.anr.msu.edu/news/purchasing_hops_ for_planting
German Beer Institute. (2004–2006). Three millennia of German brewing . Retrieved from www. germanbeerinstitute.com/history.html
HopUnion. (n.d.) Hop varieties: A hop for every flavor and style . Retrieved from www.hopunion.com/ hop-varieties/
Michigan State University Extension. (2014). Growing hops in Michigan and the Great Lakes region . East Lansing: Michigan State University, MSU Extension. Retrieved from hops.msu.edu
Related Topic Areas
Michigan Fresh, Hops, Field Crops
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Farming Hops During the Ultra-Hoppy Beer Craze
Hoppy beers tend to be (though they aren’t always) more bitter than other beers, thanks to a heavier hand adding hops during the brewing process. In the past decade, there has been an explosion in the popularity of this style of beer, including some absurdly hoppy beers like the Gluttony Triple IPA from the Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Alaska. There’s even a sort of arms race to be crowned the hoppiest beer of all.
So what’s it like to be a hops farmer these days? To find out more, we spoke with James Altwies, the president and CEO of Wisconsin’s Gorst Valley Hops, a collective that’s doing some really interesting work in the hops field.
Hops are an agricultural product, the female flowers of a plant in the cannabis family. The hop plant is a perennial, just like rhubarb, so it grows back every year without having to replant. There are hundreds of varieties, grown exclusively for the female flowers (known as hops) which are almost exclusively used for brewing beer. They’re climbers and grow vigorously pretty much no matter the climate. “They grow 16-20 feet tall, so there’s a considerable amount of infrastructure that goes into growing hops – poles, high-tensile cable, twine that we hang,” says Altwies. A hop farm looks bizarre and otherworldly.
They also grow very densely, about 1,200 plants per acre at the farms under the Gorst Valley umbrella. “Hops are a very vigorous plant. They grow like crazy, so people ask if hops are easy to grow, I say, hops are easy to grow. They’re not easy to grow properly,”says Altwies. At harvest time, each plant is cut down entirely, and the whole vine is sent through what’s basically a combine, which separates the female flowers from the rest of the plant. Each vine produces about 0.75 to 2 pounds of dried hops.
This is a very strange plant. It’s native to much of the world, including North America, but it isn’t really edible in any simple way. The hop plant was considered a weed before its peculiar properties were discovered, namely that it has specific antibacterial effects. Hops extract creates an unfavorable environment for most microorganisms, meaning that bad bacteria can’t grow. One of the only varieties of bacteria that can survive is brewer’s yeast, making it perfect for beer. And the bitter flavor of hops, normally not that desirable in food and beverage manufacture, serves well to balance out the sweetness of beer.
There are hundreds of varieties of hops, but they can be generally separated into two categories: bittering and aroma. Bittering hops are usually added earlier in the brewing process, and are largely used for antibacterial properties as well as bitter flavor. But hops aren’t only bitter in flavor. Aroma hops are used to add all sorts of other flavors. “Some are citrusy, some are piney, some are earthy, some are dank and musty, some are very fruity,” says Altwies. “The brewer really does have a full palate to look for.”
Like a lot of specialty crops, the hops market is dominated by just a few companies. (Altwies names Hopsteiner, Yakima Chief, and John I. Haas as three of the biggest.) And American hops growing is currently dominated by the Pacific Northwest. But hops, as we found out in a conversation with Altwies, is not particular about climate, and can grow pretty much anywhere. More and more growers are popping up all across the country.
What’s really interesting about Gorst Valley Hops is not just that it’s a collective specifically designed to provide local hops to local brewers in Wisconsin, but also that Altwies is seeking to reignite a bond between the Upper Midwest and the hops plant. Around 150 years ago, he says, Wisconsin provided as much as 20 percent of America’s hops. But by the early 1900s much of the hop industry had moved to the Pacific Northwest. Gorst Valley works with dozens of unusual types of hops, but they’re also working with ones that have gone feral. “In our valleys here, we’ve got numerous wild types,” says Altwies. “Some of them are true natives, some of them are left over from the production heyday in the 1860s and have been left to pollinate and cross for 150 years. We’re finding some of these female plants that have been pollinated are producing very unique flavors that brewers seem to enjoy.”
Hops can be a lucrative crop to grow. The giant providers out in the Pacific Northwest are wholesaling for as little as $3 per pound, but Gorst Valley’s small-scale hops can net as much as $15 per pound, giving the crop the potential to be an extremely profitable plant. At that higher price, hops yield around $25,000 per acre. Compare that to, say, asparagus, which nets less than $1,200 per acre. That kind of money can cause potential hops farmers to develop dollar signs in their eyes, but Altwies cautions that this is no easy plant to grow at those high values. “The reality of that is, if you’re three days off of exactly perfect for your nitrogen application, your yield will suffer. Disease is significant. What we spend on fungicide is ridiculous, but that’s what it takes. We have to train these vines to go up the twine by hand, every year, and it takes five tries, easily. If you train them too late, and could be just five days, you’ll have problems,” he says.
Finding new kinds of hops is a trendy new avenue for brewers, who are always on the lookout for new ways to make better and more buzzworthy beer. It is, all in all, not a bad time to be a hops farmer, all things considered. But this isn’t a field you can get into on a lark. Altwies has decades of experience in research programs for agricultural-chemical companies, as well as a graduate degree in horticulture and environmental physics. He’s seen a lot of folks come strolling in the past few years, trying their hand at hops farming. “They have their beer-colored glasses on. And I’m not going to say it isn’t cool to be in the beer business, but, you know. This is farming,” he says.
Images (top to bottom) via Flickr users The Mad Penguin, Adam Barhan, and Allagash Brewing
Hops are vegetables = Beer is Salad – Picture of Granville Island Brewing, Vancouver
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By Richard M. Smith|February 13, 2018
The compounds that comprise hops not only help give beer unique sensory attributes, but also could hold keys to human health.
Photo by Paul Rusnak
Hops and crafting beer are synonymous. The flowers of the plant are rarely used for anything else above and beyond the brewing process; thus much focus of breeders, researchers, and growers has been on developing new varieties, increasing yield, and disease resistance in production primarily for the brewing industry. However, the versatility of hops runs much deeper than your average frosty mug.
Besides bitterness and aroma, hops also provide antimicrobial properties against gram-positive bacteria, helping to increase storage, stability, and sterilization of beer. Hop residues also enrich and stabilize beer foam and encourage foam lacing, which gives beer aromatic and aesthetic qualities as foam brings volatile compounds out of the beer solution to the surface for more proximate interaction with olfactory senses — all before your first sip!
Among the Suds
Hop alpha acids, beta acids, and essential oils are principally the key compounds of interest for brewers, growers, and researchers; but, within beer are trace amounts of a medicinally significant compound known as xanthohumol, the most abundant prenylated chalcone present in lupulin glands (1).
Xanthohumol was first isolated from hops in 1913 and is the only known naturally occurring methylated hop resin. Although xanthohumol is the most abundant prenylated chalcone in lupulin glands, accounting from 0.1% up to 1% of dry cone weight, it is lost in substantial amounts during the brewing process due to thermal isomerization into flavones and becoming isoxanthohumol.
Xanthohumol content in beer varies upon the beer style, recipe design, and hopping rate. More hop-forward beers such as India Pale Ales have high hop usage and therefore show a larger content of xanthohumol than pilsner or lager beers.
Secretion of xanthohumol by lupulin glands takes place in female cone bracts and in less concentration on leaves. The precursor of xanthohumol is desmethylxanthohumol and in the brewing process is converted into 8-prenylnaringenin, a highly potent phytoestrogen molecule with a wide range of potential health related benefits. In the gastrointestinal tract, isoxanthohumol is converted by microorganisms into 8-prenylnarigenin. However, a small percentage of people contain the gut biota with the ability to do the conversion. Consequently, 8-prenylnaringenin content is dependent upon xanthohumol, isoxanthohumol, and desmethylxanthomol concentrations.
Little is known of the native biological activity of xanthohumol, but like many flavonoids, it is thought that production of the compound is to protect the hop plant and the female cones from herbivory by insects, as an oxidant against stress, and roles in plant growth and development (2).
Hops actually have a long history of being used in traditional medicine.
Photo courtesy of Caloosa Hop Co.
Hops and their phytoceutical properties have long been used in traditional medicine as treatment for anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Interest in xanthohumol has grown because of its many pharmacological properties, which include anti-cancer, chemoprevention, cardiovascular protection, anti-inflammation, antiobesity, antioxidation, antiviral, and as treatments for menopause and osteoporosis. These health benefits seem likely since xanthohumol is a chalconoid, which are compounds known for their positive health attributes. Today, hop powders, extracts, and teas are found in health and nutrition stores throughout the world promoting these benefits.
Lab studies have shown positive results from xanthohumol as a dietary supplement. One evaluated the effect of xanthohumol on the cognitive ability of young and old mice as a possible method to mitigate age related metabolic syndrome and memory loss (3). Young mice treated with xanthohumol showed an increase in cognitive flexibility and spatial learning, but did not significantly improve in older mice, though both sets of mice showed a reduction in fatty acids of the brain.
Recently, similar work has found xanthohumol was able to reduce body weight gain, insulin resistance, and lipids in blood stream of mice (4). One of the more important applications of xanthohumol is its use as a wide range cancer chemopreventative that inhibits the metabolic activity of procarcinogens and early stage tumor growth (5).
Unfortunately, xanthohumol exists in such extremely small amounts in beer, that in order to achieve the positive health-related benefits a person would have to consume large quantities of beer, putting an individual’s health at risk because of the negative attributes of high alcohol consumption. However, investigations of the biosynthesis pathway of xanthohumol production in hops are being studied. These investigations highlight much of the work that still needs to be accomplished such as understanding xanthohumol content of different hop varieties, influence of various production methods, postharvest storage, extraction, and recipe design on xanthohumol concentrations.
Richard M. Smith is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Orlando-based Florida Hops LLC. See all author stories here.
How to Grow Hops at Home
Homebrewing has been climbing a steady slope of popularity for years, but the practice has been around for decades. Bringing the great outdoors inside is nothing new, either–just look to Urban Jungle Bloggers for examples of the indoor plant craze.
Recently, though, the two hobbies–homebrewing and planting–have merged with avid craft beer fans opting to grow their own hops in the comfort of their living room or backyard.
Why Grow Hops at Home?
Many of us enjoy homebrewing because it offers an element of control and satisfaction that we can’t attain when we’re building our own stellar 6-packs at the local bottle shop. Not only does the opportunity to independently grow hops ring true as just another extension of an ever-expanding hobby, but it also allows for an added element of personalization and authenticity in each batch of homebrew.
Unfortunately, not every craft beer enthusiast has access to a hefty plot of farmable land or even a backyard; that’s when it’s time to get creative and embrace the Urban Jungle. In other words, transform your studio apartment into an oasis of greenery, and do it with hops. Whether you hope to grow hops on an apartment balcony, in a tiny yard, or share a living space with your hop plants, we’ll show you how with some help from the pros.
1. Do your research.
Hops are the flowers of the perennial hop plant, meaning that these plants will stick around for a long time and continue to bear a fruitful harvest once a year if they are well-maintained in an optimal environment.
When they’re truly allowed to shine, hop bines (the term for the vines of a hop plant) can grow up to thirty feet tall, and the weight of a bountiful cone harvest is no joke! Hop plants have been known to take down a trellis or two in their heyday.
Hop plants can be male or female. Only the female plants grow the flowers, called cones, that you’ll want to use for homebrewing. This means that, if you were to purchase a packet of seeds and plant them all, you would have only a fifty percent chance of cultivating a plant that could deliver the goods you’re looking for. This is where rhizomes come in.
Rhizomes are a small piece of root cut from the main root system of a female hop plant. They’re not technically part of the root, but rather an underground stem system of sorts. A fully-functioning, hop flower-producing plant can emerge from a single rhizome, and by using rhizomes, you’ll know that the plant is female. No guesswork. Just lots and lots of hop cones on harvest day.
Hop Plant First Aid
Just like us, hop plants can get sick. Aphids and mites love to prey on hop plants by feeding on developing cones and a hop plant’s delicious juices. Aphids can even transmit plant viruses from one victim to another. Luckily, if you’re growing your hops on a balcony or on the side of your home and you find these pests to be a problem, you can employ predatory mites or ladybugs to feed on these pesky critters and protect your crop.
Mildew is another enemy to keep an eye out for, whether you’re growing your hops indoors or outside. Mildew is caused by a few varieties of fungus, which can infect your plant, colonize, stunt growth, and sully the bines that do manage to grow and climb. The best way to deal with these fungi is to remove the affected parts of your plant or employ a fungicidal remedy.
Taking these facts into consideration is critical when you’re planning the “how” and “where” of your future hop yard or hop room, but don’t stop here! Read up on which hop varieties grow best in your location and ask local hop farmers about their experiences.
2. Pick the perfect location.
Whether or not you choose to plant your rhizomes indoors or outdoors, location is everything. Your hop plants will need a place to climb, and they’ll flourish with 6-8 hours (or more) of direct sunlight. Any less sunlight may mean a small harvest if any cones grow at all.
Pick a place by a window that sees a lot of sun or try planting your hops along the side of your house. They’ll spread upwards, not outwards, so it’s no problem if you’ve got very little space between you and your neighbor! It’s best, if possible, to choose a spot facing South.
3. Establish a place for your future hop plant to climb.
Hop plants are known to grow incredibly fast, which is part of the reason it can be so satisfying to grow them for yourself! Few types of greenery provide the satisfaction of seeing as much as twelve inches of growth in a single day, but hop plants aren’t just any plant. With this said, it’s important to provide your plants with an opportunity to climb to their heart’s content.
“Having the trellis completely built first is a huge thing,” says Adam Tymn of Father Time Machine Hops in Denver.
If you’re growing indoors or on an apartment balcony, you’re probably already wondering how you’ll be able to handle twenty to thirty feet of bine growth. Fear not! Hop plants can be trained to grow upwards and then horizontally, so an arch over a window or over a garden path could be in your future. If all else fails, the bines will double back down on themselves and hang once they’ve reached a peak—if you choose this route, you may want to guide them by installing some hooks in your ceiling.
4. Ready the soil.
Even the healthiest rhizomes may not flourish to their full potential if the soil you house them in doesn’t contain the ideal drainage or acidity levels.
Eric Olson is a hop master from Rhode Island and the founder of Olson & Son Hopyard. When asked about some of his mistakes when he first began growing hops, he replied, “Not paying attention to what type of soil I was planting in.” In his case, the dirt in his region was heavy in clay and therefore resistant to draining. Moisture had stuck around the plant’s roots for several years, and upon digging up the plant’s root system several seasons later, Olson discovered that part of it had rotted in stagnant water.
Ensure that your soil is loose so that it will drain properly, and if you plan to let your hops grow in pots indoors, drill some holes in the bottom of your planting container before placing on a tray to catch the run-off. Hop plants may be thirsty, but they should never be allowed to sit with water for too long!
Also, hop plants prefer a slightly acidic soil. Whether you’re purchasing soil in a bag or using the real thing from your backyard, you can always use a pH testing kit to make sure you’re providing your hop plants with exactly what they want.
5. Choose your rhizomes.
Choosing where to purchase your rhizomes is one of the most important decisions you can make. Remember those pesky hop plant diseases we mentioned? Some of these diseases are genetic, meaning that you’re already doomed if your rhizome was cut from an unhealthy plant.
Even Richard Smith of Florida Hops, LLC has found himself the victim of infected rhizomes. “The plants that later developed from the rhizomes showed Apple Mosaic Virus infection, which drastically impacted the growth habit of the plant. I wasn’t the only one to do this! Associates at another campus of the University of Florida also brought in rhizomes from a larger supplier and those plants were discovered to have Downy Mildew, a killer of hop plants. We immediately culled those plants and restarted the projects.”
As drastic as it may sound, he’s absolutely right—if something like this happens, the best thing to do is to start over entirely with new rhizomes. Consider buying your rhizomes locally so that you can more easily inquire about their origin and the history of their “parent” plant.
6. Get planting!
When you decide to plant your rhizomes will vary depending on where you live, especially if you’re doing your planting outdoors, but Tymn, who lives in Colorado, is a proponent of starting out early. “I waited until the first week in May to plant the rhizomes and I think I could have planted them even two weeks earlier than I did.” Generally, you’ll want to aim for planting your hops as soon as the threat of a frost has left for the year, in the early Spring.
At Florida Hops, however, things are a bit different—“holiday hops” can grow well into the winter, even offering up a second harvest between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
If you’re planting outdoors, space your rhizomes at least three feet apart (and at least five feet apart if you’re planting different varieties). For the optimal hops-in-a-pot experience, get your hands on a 20-inch planter and plant a single rhizome in the center. Place your rhizomes vertically, and make sure that the buds are pointing up towards the surface of the soil. Bury about two inches deep.
7. Take care of your new hop babies.
Hop plants are hungry, thirsty living things that need proper nutrition and hydration at every step of the way.
Smith knows this better than anyone, as he has pioneered the process of successfully growing hops in a state where it was once thought impossible. “When I meet growers for the first time they are often under fertilizing their plants which tends to lead to less vigorous growth and reduced yields. If you can give the plant what it needs at each stage of growth, you’ll have learned one of the most important factors in successful plant production,” he says.
If you don’t feel like you have a full understanding of hop growth and when or how often you should be fertilizing, take a detour back to step 1 and do some more research. While you may be able to produce a fine hop harvest without extensive knowledge, you’ll be more likely to succeed with information on your side.
When in doubt, simple is still best. “ater your hops daily,” Tymn advises. “Hops like a lot of water, but they also like well-draining soil.” To ensure that your soil remains just as pristine as it was when you first planted your rhizomes, keep on top of the weeds if you’re growing outside. “ops do not like to compete with weeds.”
8. Be patient. Drink some beer.
After you establish your rhizomes in your yard or pot, you’re in it for the long haul. The hop plant will spend the first year or so establishing its root system, but you can bet that with patience and attentive care you’ll see some beautiful hop cones in year two. Olson’s rule of thumb is, “Don’t expect real cones first year, second year you’ll get a few, and by year three you’ll be sharing with all of your homebrewing friends.”
Others have seen faster growth, but this is largely variable. If you don’t get a harvest right away, you probably haven’t done anything wrong. Relax and wait it out, all while giving your hop plants the TLC they deserve.
A Final Word of Advice
Richard really said it best. “The reward for a job well done is, as it always should be, a nice refreshing beer. How can you go wrong?! Even if you aren’t successful, you can have a beer. How’s that not a Win-Win?!”
Find some sun, find some dirt, get planting, and reward yourself for a hard day’s work.
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Growing hops at home in Alberta is easy. Growing hops that produce plump, pungent cones that are fit for bittering the hoppiest of IPAs? That’s a little more difficult. With a little bit of planning and care though, a bumper harvest of hops can be yours in little more than a year.
Now is the time to start thinking about it; hopyards are taking orders for spring deliveries of rhizomes (a piece of hop root you plant in the ground, out of which sprouts hop shoots) and hop plants. Catherine Smith of Alberta’s only commercial hopyard and north America’s northernmost hopyard – Northern Girls Hops – has lots of experience growing the right kinds of hops for Alberta’s unique climate. The Daily Beer will have a story tomorrow about her and her sister’s goal of finding the perfect hop to grow in Alberta.
Here, Catherine offers up her top five tips for those looking to start growing hops at home.
Ensure plants are disease free
“The most important thing is making sure your hops are clean. We want to protect Alberta’s future hop industry, and we really, really want others to do that too. One disease can completely ruin a hop yard. We quarantine all rhizomes and plants for a full year before moving them to the hopyard and planting them. Ask whoever is supplying your hops for some sort of guarantee that they are disease free.”
Choose your site wisely
“When you look at your yard, see where the sun is. You want full sun exposure. You can grow hops in the shade, but they won’t produce much. You won’t kill the plant, but they won’t produce much. They don’t like wind, so a spot that is sheltered from the wind is good. They need a lot of water too, so access to a water supply is vital.”
Give them room
“You can train them to grow on a short trellis – up to eight feet – but more space is better. Beside a house or garage works well. Hops are not vines, with a “v”, but bines, with a “b”. That means they don’t have tendrils to climb up walls. They need something to crawl their way up. String up some twine about a foot out from any wall or building so the bines have room to climb around the twine and grow.”
Well drained soil is vital
“You need somewhere where the roots won’t sit all soggy. They need to be drained. A lot of houses in cities are built, and then enough topsoil is added just to grow grass, but the rest is compacted clay. Dig down a foot and see what the soil is like. If it’s clay, you can grow hops in pots, or build a raised planter box to give enough drainage.”
Pick your variety wisely
“Because Alberta has such a short growing season its important to pick early or early-mid maturing varieties. Hops need a certain amount of sun to trigger cone growth. Early data for us shows that Centennial is really good. We’ve seen that now for three years. It’s a beautiful hop for Alberta. Golding is another one, and does really well around the Edmonton area. The Calgary area is slightly different due to its lower latitude – Cascade are on the cusp in the Edmonton area but in Calgary they may be perfect for home growers.”
Northern Girls opened up their online shop for orders this week. Rhizomes are $6.50 and the “hops in a box” planting kit, with everything you need to grow the hops, are $15.00. Delivery takes place before the spring planting season.
They have four varieties available – Centennial, Cascade, Golding and Sterling. Their order form for rhizomes and plants can be found here.
From baseball games to backyard cookouts, beer is a summertime staple in the U.S. But you might be surprised to find how much time, effort and money is involved in growing just one brew ingredient: hops.
Easily growing up to 20 feet tall, hop plants require labor-intensive training, trellising, pruning and harvesting, which can also call for specialized equipment. And when hops receive too much heat, or don’t obtain enough light, greenhouse hop growers turn to shade curtains or supplemental lighting — more added costs.
But demand for hops and starter hop plants is prompting some craft brewers and hobby home brewers to purchase products from greenhouse producers.
Jon Vanden Heuvel, vice president of Sandy Ridge Farms in Zeeland, Michigan, supplies starter hop plants to finished growers, who are in turn, growing and harvesting hop cones for brewing. As a greenhouse manager and former home brewer, he ventured into growing hops around 2006 during a hop shortage in the primary hop-producing states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
“That’s when the hop production industry in Michigan and in the Midwest started to take off, because the Pacific Northwest wasn’t producing to the demand at the time,” he says. “It was kind of right place, right time. I learned that I was better at propagating plants than I was at growing them in the field, so we moved it into the greenhouse and started to market starter plants to the farms that were going in in Michigan.”
Now Vanden Heuvel ships an estimated 100,000 plants a year — sometimes more — regionally, nationally and internationally to finished growers. In some cases, he can trace hops harvested from his plants, once they fully grow and are harvested by one of his customers, to specific craft breweries such as West Michigan’s Bell’s, Founders and New Holland.
Kyle, left, and Greg Stelzer of 24 Hour HopsPhoto courtesy of Greg Stelzer
Sandy Ridge Farms has 110,000 square feet of greenhouse production space, including about 20,000 square feet for hops production and 5,000 for hydroponic lettuce. Ornamental perennials such as hostas, daylilies and clematis make up the rest of the greenhouse’s production.
Vanden Heuvel grows his 3- to 6-inch-tall hop plants in the greenhouse, scattered throughout the rest of his production. He controls the environment similarly to his ornamental perennial production.
A few years ago, the company transitioned from growing annuals to perennials. When they were growing annuals alongside hops, they ran into production issues with heat.
“Hops are a plant that will grow a foot a day, so the cooler you can grow it, the more controlled it is,” Vanden Heuvel says.
Sandy Ridge Farms propagates its starter plants using green cuttings from stock hop plants. The operation has had field-ready plants in eight to 12 weeks, but usually allows about four months to produce them.
“Ideally, we’re doing the cutting and the sticking in the summer, and then the guys are planting them in the spring,” Vanden Heuvel says. “That gives them that winter to vernalize in the greenhouse.”
24 Hour Hops picked its fresh hops on a given morning and shipped them out the same afternoon.Photo courtesy of Greg Stelzer
Hop production techniques
Sandy Ridge Farms acquires its stock plants from the USDA’s National Clean Plant Network out of Prosser, Washington, and follows strict sanitation protocols. The operation propagates roughly 50 varieties, including USDA’s new Triumph variety, which it will begin selling in July.
“Starting seed with hops is incredibly rare, and it’s also rather difficult,” says Brian J. Pearson, assistant professor of environmental horticulture at the University of Florida. “Getting them from rhizome has been the traditional way of getting it.”
But he tells growers who have an interest in producing hops to consider tissue culture propagation so they can bring in a disease- and virus-free product, and have consistent parentage.
As with other crops, it takes effort to control viruses, pests and diseases in hop production, Vanden Heuvel says. Hops are susceptible to powdery mildew and downy mildew, as well as thrips and spider mites.
“It has to be treated as an edible, so the spray routines — the chemicals that are allowed to use in the greenhouse — is greatly reduced,” he says. “They’re on a spray rotation similar to impatiens for impatiens downy mildew, so we’re spraying very regularly. But the chemical base to rotate through is not nearly as broad. That presents challenges in itself.”
Greg Stelzer, co-founder of finished hydroponic grower 24 Hour Hops, says another production consideration is that hops require vernalization to improve their plant vigor and root hardiness, and produce higher yields of better-quality cones than first-year plants.
24 Hour Hops has been growing hops in a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse leased from the University of Arizona since 2017, but recently halted production as it looks for investors.
To vernalize its hop plants, 24 Hour Hops chopped the crops down to the root crowns and placed those in refrigerators to simulate winter conditions.
The University of Florida has linked up with Florida breweries First Magnitude and Redlight Redlight for special beer releases. “They’ve been just wildly successful in terms of interest,” Pearson says. Photo courtesy of Brian J. Pearson
“With that said, we did do some second grows,” Stelzer says. “We chopped them down and then just let them grow again to do some experimentation. They did pretty well. We just figured that since Mother Nature tried it, we’d try it both ways.”
24 Hour Hops, along with the few other finished greenhouse hop growers, often specialize in fresh hops. While most hops are dried right after picking, fresh or “wet” hops go straight into the beer-making process.
The operation carved out a niche selling its fresh hops to home brewers, but it also sold to some craft brewery clients such as SunUp in Phoenix and Dubina in Glendale, Arizona.
24 Hour Hops grew in Dutch buckets, trellising the climbing plant stems called bines. They leaned and lowered the bines, similarly to the way a grower of indeterminate tomatoes would treat vines in the same production system. They also used LEDs to manipulate the photoperiod and shade cloth to reduce the amount of brutal Arizona heat entering the greenhouse.
While Stelzer doesn’t come from a horticulture background (he worked in the tech sector) he says he would imagine experienced growers could catch on to producing hops pretty quickly.
“I think this is one of those plants that wants to grow,” he says.
Still, growers must consider the time it takes for hop plants to mature. Sandy Ridge aims to save its finished grower customers time by allowing them to get a full yield of hop cones a year sooner than if they grew from rhizomes, Vanden Heuvel says. The reduction is from three to four years, to two to three.
At the University of Florida’s Mid-Florida Research & Education Center in Apopka, Florida, Pearson and his colleagues have grown hops in a semi-enclosed greenhouse, then in a heated and cooled greenhouse with a polycarbonate roof, using deep water culture hydroponics.
“We ended up doing a post on social media showing a hop harvest in January,” Pearson says. “We got quite a few positive feedbacks from folks in the Pacific Northwest, thinking how cool it was that we had some fresh hops available. And I see that … here we have fresh hops available when nobody else in the U.S. has that.”
“I’ve had a few different growers visit my greenhouse. I’m completely okay with sharing what knowledge I have, as long as they’re not in my town competing against me,” says Mark Koehler of Hank’s Hops.Photo courtesy of Mark Koehler
Challenges of greenhouse hops production
Despite the potential for greenhouse growers to offer hops year-round, Pearson says many questions remain about growing hops in a greenhouse and its feasibility for profitable commercial production.
“There’s pros and cons to every production system. And yes, greenhouses have the con of oftentimes being more expensive than a field because you’re paying for electricity; you’re paying for water; you’re paying for light. But the pro of it is you can control your environment to a higher degree.”
Jaki Brophy is communications director at Hop Growers of America, a nonprofit trade organization based out of the high hop-producing city of Yakima, Washington. She says growing hops in a greenhouse usually involves expensive equipment designed specifically for them.
“We’re finding that some people are trying different things, like growing in greenhouses, but that would be quite expensive,” she says. “And then people are tending to just drop out of growing hops in different regions now because there’s a capacity that you have to hit to be financially feasible, because there’s a lot of things that people aren’t considering in their budgeting process.”
When it comes to cost, Brophy and Pearson both reference cost estimates. Although the estimates are for outdoor production, Pearson says greenhouse growers could adjust by inputting their own unique costs.
One of Florida Hops’ clients in Florida that it consulted withPhoto courtesy of Richard M. Smith
Demand for dwarf
Downy mildew can affect hop foliage near the ground, so Pearson recommends that greenhouse hop growers prune toward the bottom of their plants to prevent the disease. They can also select certain varieties like Chinook, which produces more cones near the top of the plant versus the bottom.
Richard M. Smith of Florida Hops Photo courtesy of Richard M. Smith
Pearson says he is interested in working with hop breeders to breed dwarf and day-neutral hop varieties that could possibly help with some of the height and light requirements. Stelzer is also interested in dwarf varieties since leaning and lowering bines is labor-intensive in 24 Hour Hops’ 10-foot-tall greenhouse.
“Most of that has come out of the U.K., and there has been some breeding for dwarf hop varieties in the Pacific Northwest to reduce labor costs of having these big, 20-foot-tall bines and specialized equipment,” Pearson says. “With that said, I have yet to get my hands on dwarf varieties. Because if they are there — and then again, I’ve seen documentation of them — they’re very coveted, and not everyone wants to share their germplasm.”
The variety of hops a grower chooses makes a big difference for the brewer since each variety imparts a different flavor and a different amount of bittering for the beer.
Knowing the market
One of the biggest considerations for greenhouse hop production is evaluating and meeting demand of a market that is largely already being served by producers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In fact, 97% of the U.S.’s hops are grown in just those three states, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
When produced outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, fresh hops are only available once a year in the fall. That’s because lupulin — a compound responsible for important beer qualities such as “bittering” aromas and tastes — is only available on cones flowering outdoors in the fall, Brophy says, and cannot be replicated in greenhouses at other times.
Mark Koehler, right, of Hank’s HopsPhoto courtesy of mark koehler
The environment is likely responsible for lupulin production, Pearson says, but he has not seen any research that states exactly how. He and his colleagues found in their greenhouse studies that lupulin levels increased in consecutive production years but had not reached the levels of those reported for similar varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest.
Hydroponic greenhouse grower Mark Koehler, owner of Hank’s Hops in Von Ormy, Texas, aims to produce fresh hops year-round, harvesting three times a year. After two years researching and developing hops production in his greenhouse, Koehler completed his first harvest for commercial sales in the spring. He notes that his hops’ lupulin levels are high, as are the alpha acids in the lupulin glands.
“The brewers are looking for high alpha acid levels in the hops because that enables them to use less of them, and they’ll have more aromas and more flavors,” Koehler says. “The varietal that I’m growing right now — they usually average between 7 and 9% alpha acids. The ones I grew were 11.13%.”
Koehler delivered Hank’s Hops to San Antonio’s Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery, and the operation brewed them into an all-Texas-grown-ingredient beer to serve in its taproom.
“As far as I know, this beer that’s coming out with Southerleigh is the first all-Texas-ingredient beer to be sold commercially,” Koehler says. “That’s everything from the yeast to the malt, the hops — everything came from Texas.”
For many brewers, acquiring fresh hops to brew beers locally would be preferable to having pelletized hops or dried cones shipped in from afar, as long as orders can be fulfilled and the quality is controlled, says Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.
“People love to make fresh-hop beers, but they’re difficult to make,” Vallhonrat says. “You’ve got to get the hops; timing has got to work out and you’ve got to ship it and everything.”
An Orlando, Florida, company called Florida Hops breeds hops, trials varieties, grows hop plugs in a greenhouse and consults with hop growers throughout Florida. Founder Richard M. Smith says Florida hop growers, most of whom are outdoors, are garnering interest from brewers.
Brian J. Pearson of the University of Florida has been growing hops for seven years. A home brewer, he began growing them in part because he was not impressed with the quality of the hops that he received.Photos courtesy of Brian J. Pearson
“We have folks from Colorado who work in a brewery like, ‘Oh man, I love the fact that I can get wet and fresh hops in Florida. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do that,’” Smith says. “But then you have folks that say, ‘I’ve never used this before and I’m hesitant to change what I’m doing.’”
A few different factors influenced Smith’s decision to start working with growers through Florida Hops, which he founded in 2016: the locavore movement, the ability to support the brewing of fresh-hop beer and the opportunity to provide hops education to a state population that is already enthusiastic about beer.
“The potential for us is to produce something local to add to the whole craft beer climate,” Smith says. “Hop yards become an attractive piece to this whole thing, so there’s that interest in there. And there’s a lot of collaboration between the brewers and the growers. They’re able to attract people into the breweries because now we have a wet-hop beer.”
Since greenhouse growers can mature hops faster indoors than outdoors, some greenhouses are growing specific varieties to fill requests from their brewer customers, Vanden Heuvel says.
“If some of these small brewpubs want to have a harvest ale and serve it in the middle of February, they can go and get these wet, fresh-picked hops and serve their harvest ale in February and have it as a mainstay at their pub,” he says.
Pearson says the type of customer will largely determine if growing niche product in a greenhouse is feasible. It could make sense for a greenhouse to start plants for hobbyist growers and brewers, and agritourism operations to finish. Growing in a greenhouse as a commercial finished grower could be more complicated.
That’s not to say that it’s impossible. Koehler, for one, has answered other growers’ questions about his process, and thinks more greenhouses will start growing hops. He has a few words of advice.
“Be ready to work, but it’s a labor of love” Koehler says. “It’s fun and it’s a very fun industry to be a part of. When you get to have a drink of that beer that you grew, it’s a cool feeling.”