Hops are one of the most critical components of the brew making process. And, if until now, you thought that hops are something you have to purchase from your local market, then you’re about to be proved wrong. Will you believe us, if we say that you can grow your hops, right in your backyard?
Yes, growing hops is fun, rewarding and easy! Hop vines start from a rhizome that is nothing but a piece of root that is cut from a larger and mature plant. By planting the rhizome in the soil in late spring, you can watch green shoots come out from underground, just after a few weeks. A hop vine grows rapidly and can even increase by 2’ per week.
Growing hops is not all that different from growing other plants in your garden. All that you need is a tiny bit of green thumb and the right know-how. Here, in today’s article, you can find all that you need to know before you plant your first rhizome. Let’s get started.
When to place your Order for Hop Rhizomes?
Hop rhizomes are available for sale, only once a year, around March/April, depending on your geographical location. Farmers the dig the bulbs from the ground and ship them to customers. Just like other products, you can now purchase rhizomes at an online store. When you receive your consignment of rhizomes keep it refrigerated until your garden is ready for planting. Make sure not to freeze your rhizomes, as temperatures below freezing point could end up harming it.
Where to Plant it?
Look for a patch that has southern exposure. The next best choices are an eastern or a western exposure. Hops grow well in soil that has a light-texture, well-drained with a pH value of 6.0 to 8.0. If you have drainage issues, then you can try building mounds for planting.
The next step is to dig holes about one foot in depth and add some manure to it. You can choose any one of the following organic fertilizers like bone meal, rock phosphate, cottonseed meal, etc. This helps to add nourishing nutrients to the soil uniformly.
When planting mixed varieties, ensure that you leave a distance of at least 5’, between bulbs to prevent tangling. If using same varieties, a distance of just 3’ feet between rhizomes will also do.
While preparing the soil, make sure to look for ways to support the vine. Poles with netting are one of the most frequent ways to support the plant.
How to Support Hop Vines?
Hops are climbers and require support. Planting them close to walls, fences or posts is a great way to provide support to the vines. Seasoned hop growers plant a stake in the ground and tie a secure string or twine between the stake and a secured place like a hook fixed on a wall. Once the plant reaches sufficient height, the growers then wrap it around the stake and guide it gently on the twine.
Young plants occasionally need external support for being guided. However, as they grow older, they become capable of finding the path on their own.
How to Plant Rhizomes?
It can be planted either in vertical or horizontal rows. If the rhizomes have buds already in them, then ensure that the buds face upwards while planting. Cover the bulbs with 1” of dirt after planting.
How to Water and Fertilize Hops?
Hops in their first year have a minimal root system. This implies that you shouldn’t let the soil remain dry for too long. Mulching is a great way to conserve moisture in the ground, as well as helping in deterring weeds. However, beware of overwatering as it can cause the rhizomes to rot. So, it pays to let the soil dry out occasionally.
A right approach is to soak rhizomes and then let the ground dry out alternatively. Using a timer/timetable is an ideal way to help you.
Additionally, make sure that you add fertilizers to assist in the growing of your plant. However, remember that overdoing fertilizers will give you a plant that thrives, but the cones don’t have the necessary alpha acid percentage.
When is the Right Time to Harvest the Hops?
Once you see hop flowers, the next step is the formation of hop cones. We know that seeing the freshly bloomed cones is tempting to pluck, smush, smell, and put them for brewing. But, it pays to be patient. Hop cones require some time to ripen.
An excellent way to test if the cone is ready for harvesting is to pluck a cone and squeeze it with your fingers. If the cone feels very damp, looks green, and even stays compressed, after giving it a hard squeeze, then it means that it isn’t yet ready for harvesting.
Once the hops begin to ripen, it becomes to dry out. A ripe cone will spring back to its original shape after compression. Also, ripe hops have more lupulin content (the yellowy powder) on top. If this yellow powder sticks on your fingers, then it indicates that you’re close to harvest season. Also, strong aroma is another indicator of ripeness.
How to Harvest Ripe Hops?
Once the hops become ripe enough, cut off one end of the string/twine that you have used to tie the vine. Then, let it lay down on the ground. Now, you can pick the ripe cones and let them dry.
How to Dry Picked Hops?
A food dehydrator is a useful tool for drying homegrown hops. You can know that it’s done when you cut open the cone and find that it’s dry inside. If the hops are papery and petals peel off easily, then you can know that hops are ready for use.
If you don’t have a food dehydrator, you can dry them in an oven set at the lowest temperature. Additionally, if you live in a region that gets plenty of sunlight, then air-drying them out in the sun is another option.
A word of caution: whichever method you choose, don’t over dry hops, so that it becomes brown. This results in loss of alpha acids. Once dried, place hops in an airtight container and place them in the refrigerator, till use.
How to Use the Hops?
Since finding the exact alpha acid content of homegrown hops is difficult, expert brewmasters suggest that you primarily use it for adding flavor and aroma to your brews, along with your regular store bought hops.
We suggest that you play around with your hops and adjust the quantities until you find the perfect brew.
Nothing equals the joy of knowing you have brewed your beer with homegrown hops that you nourished from the ground up. Are you ready to try your hand in growing hops?
For further expert assistance, at any step of the brewing process, just get in touch with us by clicking here.