Growing Hops: Adding yet another signature to your brew

I first planted 2 cascade rhizomes back in 2008. Since then I have sunk a 12′ post in the ground and both plants always climb PAST the top of the pole and trellis. Basically these vines (more appropriately “bines” as they are called), grow so well in the hot, humid, weather of the Southeast that they are already putting out hop cones!

Cascade hop cones picked early June 2011

The cascades are definitely my biggest producer of hop cones. They always “bloom” first also. The downside to hop growing is unless you live in the Yakima Valley or somewhere like that, you are forced to find a species that grows well in your environment. I have since been through 2 or 3 hop rhizomes that wouldn’t grow and gave me nothing but problems. They didn’t die but its just that they refused to grow up…the trellis that is. The ones I am referring to are the Goldings and the Centennial species. I have read that the Goldings HATE the hot weather and that statement seems to be true in my experience. I planted this root 2 yrs ago and the first two years it climbed all the way to the top, and even put out a cone of two, but not much yield at all. This year it has made an effort to make some small-leafy things on the ground but has not made an effort to put out any real climbing shoots. This saddens me because I absolutely love Golding hops. But it’s just not meant to be. I guess I will have to dig it up next year and start over with a more tolerant species. The other type that didn’t work for me was the Centennial. This is something that perplexed me. I have heard local hop growers and homebrewers have grown this type with no problems at all! In my case it just might be that root cutting, although I planted 2 of them in beside each other. Same thing happened to those as well, some weak shoots came up but no real producers or climbers in that sense.So once again I will be digging these up and replacing them as well.

I planted my Mt. Hood vine last year and has yet to let me down…*knocks on wood*. I planted it last year and it climbed all the way to the top of the trellis and is on a good track this year, nearly half way up now. With any luck, I will have nice Mt. Hood hops to use this year.

The few tips I have learned about growing hops:

  1. Anyone can grow hops, they are a very resilient plant and withstand a pretty good amount of abuse.
  2. Always mulch. Hop beds are a pain to weed out. Not to mention mulch will help the dirt around the roots hold water while fighting evaporation in the sweltering heat.
  3. Hops love to climb and will climb very quickly in some cases. Be prepared with a tall and sturdy trellis system.
  4. Mixed reviews on this: I have always with the exception of last year, cut all the shoots that sprout, except for the strongest ones. But I will say that when I let the plant just climb and throw out as many shoots as it made, I had an excellent yield. This year I went back to trimming and it is seemingly giving me less than last year…so far.
  5. Use a fertilizer. If you can find worm castings (also known as vermicast or Vermicompost) by all means use them! They are very expensive, but could be the best thing to use on not only your hops but your entire garden. I highly recommend using this product. It is somewhat hard to find and you probably wont find it at your local Home Depot, Lowes or big box store. This is found , from my experience, your local mom and pop hardware stores or your local greenhouse. See here: http://mypeoplepc.com/members/arbra/trinity/id14.html
  6. Even if you for some reason cannot find worm castings, other liquid fertilizers will work. I do highly suggest using composted fertilizer before going the easy route with Miracle Grow. You can mix the compost directly into the top soil or you can make a “compost” tea and spray it on your topsoil and leaves. (just make sure it has composted well before doing this.) Raw compost could kill your plants. Even Home Depot sells bags of composted cow manure, peat moss and mushroom compost which will all work exceptionally well and its all a natural fertilizer. If you are planning to brew with these hops, why chemically fertilize them when you can use a natural compost, bought or made yourself? No you have a reason to save all of that spent grain from brewing!

I look at it this way, anyway to get your brews to stand out against the “masses” is a good thing. Using homegrown hops is a great way to do that. Hops are like grapes in wine. They take in whats in the soil and can produce slightly different flavors and characteristics because of the environment that they are grown in. I mean, a cascade will always be a cascade, but whats more rewarding than using your hops in your beer! No one else can make your beer except you because no-one else has your hops. An excellent thought…

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