Growing Hops at Home
As spring is quickly approaching, it is time to start thinking about growing hops. Hops are a very hardy plant. They are easy to grow, as long as certain conditions are met. Hop vines are capable of growing as high as 25 ft in a single season. Under good conditions, a single hop vine can grow up to 2’ per week and produce ½ to 2 lbs of hop cones.
Hop vines are grown from rhizomes, which is a piece of the root that is cut from an established female plant. The rhizome is then planted in the spring around March/April. When you first receive your rhizomes, they should be stored in a plastic bag and kept moist and refrigerated until you are ready to plant.
One of the most important aspects of growing hops is picking a suitable location to plant them. Hops prefer a south facing area with partial to direct sunlight. The soil should have good drainage as well as a ph of 6.0-8.0. The soil where you are going to plant your hops should be well tilled and weed free. It is a good idea to dig an area about 1 ft deep and mix the soil with fertilizer and organic compounds. This will loosen the dirt around the rhizome giving it ample space for the roots to begin spreading.
The rhizome should be planted approximately 1” below the surface and can be planted either horizontally or vertically with the buds facing upwards. As hops can grow quite large and the vines can often tangle, it is recommended that different hop varieties should be planted at least 5 ft apart. Hops of the same variety can be planted as close as 3 ft feet apart.
As with many young plants with a minimal root system, hops require frequent short waterings to ensure that the soil does not dry out for extended periods of time. But it is also important not to over-water, if the rhizome consistently stays wet, it will begin to rot. It is best to water, let the soil dry for a short time and then water again. After the first season, the hops will require less frequent watering.
As hops are a vine, they are in need of a support system for them to grow. There are many different options in regard to setting up your garden. Commercial growers traditionally use an 18 ft high trellis for the hops to grow up. This is not necessary the home grower. Ideally anything that is 10-15 ft will give the hops plenty of room to climb. Many hop growers will use a strong twine from a tree or from the side of a house as a support system. When the hops first begin to grow a foot or more, you can begin to train them to climb the support system by wrapping them clockwise around the string or pole. They will then continue to wrap around and climb the string on their own.
In late August or September, your hops will be ready to be harvested and dried. The best way to determine when your hops are ready is to squeeze the cones with your fingers. You should get a strong hop aroma as well as be able to see a yellow powdery substance from the lupulin glands. Some browning on the edges of the lower cones is also a good sign that they have reached maturity. The hops should have a paper-like feel to them and can often be sticky when squeezed because of the lupulin. Once they have reached full maturity, you can go ahead cut down the support system and begin picking the hops. You only want to pick the hop cones and not the leaves.
After the hops have been harvested, it is time for them to dry. Since Colorado has such a dry climate, the easiest process is to take a window screen and place a thin layer of hops out for a few days. Make sure that you keep them sheltered from the wind, so they don’t blow away. It is a good idea to mix them up each day so that they dry uniformly. Other ways of drying include using a dehydrator or an oven. If using direct heat, be sure to keep the temperature below 140°F. Your hops can then be stored frozen, in airtight bags until you are ready to use them.
There is nothing like making beer from hops that you have grown yourself. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to the staff at The Brew Hut who will be happy to walk you through the process of growing hops.