You do not have to be a serious beer nerd to get involved with growing your own hops at home. Hop plants are beautiful and, when taken care of, will reward you with yummy green goodness! Growing your own hops is not at all complicated, and is a great way to enjoy the hobby of brewing even more. Here are some tips to help you succeed with growing hop plants in your home garden.
As with most plants you want to really take care of, being conscious of where you plant your hops and what type of soil they are in is a good starting point. Hops like sun, 6 to 8 hours a day, so a southern facing spot is usually the norm. The soil should be nutrient rich and offer good drainage. Dig a 50cm hole and fill it with nutrient rich soil, then build a mound of soil around the base of each plant to assist with drainage. If you are planting a rhizome, plant it about 5cm under the top of the dirt to allow it to grow well in both directions, up and down. Leave plenty of room between each hop plant, usually 1 meter between plants of the same variety and up to 3 meters between plants of different varieties.
Care During Growth
Being the second fastest growing plant on the planet, be sure to leave plenty of room for vertical growth. Use strong twine to build a trellis system and do not be afraid to leave 5 meters of vertical growth space, if you can. Building a good trellis can be a difficult task, but it is well worth the effort. Stunt the growth of your plants, and your yield will certainly suffer. As the shoots start to grow up from the ground, they will grow very quickly (up to 30cm a day!). Don’t be afraid to cut them back early in the growing season, they will shoot up again. When this happens, you must train the shoots around the vertical strands of twine (clockwise) for a few days until they begin to naturally follow the sun around the twine themselves. Plan to be training your plants around May. Keep the plants well watered during growth, but watch out, over watering can cause root rot. Don’t be afraid to add regular use fertilizer to the soil during the growth stage, just stop using fertilizer as soon as the plants start flowering.
Harvest time for most hops is late August to September. The cones should be uniformly green, smell like hop resins and most certainly not dry and brittle. It can be difficult to know when to harvest, but using the ‘press test’ can be a good way to make the decision. Simply press the cones lightly between your thumb and pointer finger. If the the cones slowly retract back to the original shape, it is time to harvest. You can either pick all the cones by hand or simply cut the bines down by cutting the twine at the top of the trellis. Some say you should cut the bines from the ground immediately, others say trim down the bines and only cut them away after the first frost. Both approaches work. Once you have picked all the cones, you need to dry them quickly or use them immediately for a fresh hopped beer. You can dry them using a dehydrator or spread them thinly on oven sheets, then bake them at about 40°C until they are dry and brittle. Temperature, time and air circulation are the most important factors here, so be engaged with this process else you will lose both flavor and aroma. Once dry, vacuum pack the hops or pack them as airtight as possible, and drop them in the freezer.
After every growing season, the bines should be trimmed down to the ground for winter. You can leave a few centimeters of the plants sticking up from the ground, but cover the general area that the plants are in as well as any leftovers sticking from the ground with mulch. Then wait patiently for spring. The first year of growth for hop plants can be slow in terms of yield, but with proper care, you can have great yield with three year old plants. When spring comes around, the shoots will start sprouting early. Prune these back and allow a second round of shoots to sprout. From this second round, choose four or five shoots to grow and cut the rest back. You do not want to be training your bines too early as this will result in low yield. By cutting back the first shoots, you are delaying the entire process so that flowering begins in June. If everything goes right, you should be prepping your plants and trellis in March, training them in May and flowering by mid June. Always remember that your plants need love. Love them and they will thank you with lots of yummy green goodness!.