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How to Grow Hops

Humulus Lupulus

Hops, that magic, shall we call it vegetable, is an essential ingredient to beer makers around the world. Whether you are a home brewer, a craft brewery, or a major beer manufacturer, hops are absolutely necessary for making beer and ale. There are a wide variety of hops from bitter to aromatic flavors. It is the cones that are used in the beer making process.

If you are both a gardener and a home brewer, you are in luck. You can grow hops in your garden, or even in a large container on your patio or deck. Hops plants are an easy to grow perennial.

Did You Know? One mature hops plant can yield 5 to 6 pounds of fresh cones per year.

Days to Harvest: about 120

A Fruit, a Vegetable, or an Herb!?

Just how do you classify hops plants? The part of the plant that is used in beer making, is the cones. The cones are the seed pod of the plant, and emerge from the spent flower. How can one call it a fruit? It certainly is not sweet tasting. And, we do not eat the cone. It does have flowers… so do most vegetables and fruits. It is not used as a flower. People certainly do not eat any part of the plant. On the other hand, we consume it… as a component of beer. Could it be an herb!? The cone is aromatic, putting the flavor into beer. I guess we will let you the reader decide how you classify it.

Hops Plant Propagation

Hops plants are grown from rhizomes. The rhizomes are not usually available in local garden stores. They can be found at beer craft supply companies, specialty shops and even your fellow home brewer. If you are not going to plant the rhizomes right away, store them in the refrigerator.

Once you have established plants, you can dig up and separate the rhizomes every few years, never having to buy them again. Dig the rhizomes up, and cut them in 3 to 4 inch segments. Make sure each segment has at least one pinkish-white bud on it.

How to Grow Hops

Hops need fertile, light, well drained soil. The plant has a broad, ideal pH range: 6.0 - 8.0. Select a place in your garden where this perennial  plant will receive full sun.

Many people start hops indoors over the winter months in a large container. Transplant plants or rhizomes into the garden after all danger of frost in your area.

Plant one or two rhizomes per location. Plant rhizomes 3 to 4 inches deep, with the bud facing up. Mound the soil, to help with drainage. Space plants 3 feet apart. The plants will begin to sprout in 2 to 4 weeks.

Fertilize plants regularly from spring through June, to help fuel fast vine growth. Keep soil moist, not wet. Later in the season, it is important to fertilize them with potassium.

Each Rhizome produces 4-6 or more vines, called "Bines". Hops bines need something to climb. Use a trellis or poles that are at least 10 feet tall. As the bine quickly grows, train it to grow clockwise around the support.

Did You Know? Hops bines can grow up to 20 to 25 feet per year!

Trimming the bines is important, to avoid over-crowding, and help minimize plant disease. Keep only 4 to 6 bines, removing the weakest, slowest growing ones. Remove any leaves that are damaged by insects or weather, and especially any leaves that are diseased.

Insect and Disease Problems

Powdery mildew can be a problem. It may hide on the underside of the leaves, so check both sides of the leaves thoroughly. Early in the season, treat with fungicide, as needed. We do not recommend using fungicides after the cones begin to develop.

Aphids can be an occasional problem. Use organic sprays only as needed.

Harvesting Hops Cones

Hops will produce a light crop of cones the first year. Plants are mature at 3 years, and can produce 5 to 6 pounds of cones per year. Cones are usually ripen and are ready to harvest from late August to mid-September.

Cones are ready to pick when they are dry, powdery, and lighten in color. They will have an aromatic scent, and be springy when squeezed. If you are inexperienced at growing hops, break a cone open. It should be filled with a yellow, powdery substance called "Lupulin". After harvesting, dry them immediately. Lay them out to dry with good ventilation and out of direct sunlight. Or, place them in a dehydrator.

Note: If you harvest before they are ripe, the cones will have little or no flavor.

Winterizing Plants

Frost will kill the plants for the season. Cut back the bines to two to three feet. In northern regions of the country, add a 6 to 8 inch layer of mulch, to protect the rhizomes from extreme cold.

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