Hop Garden: Early Spring Update (March)

So it has rapidly turned to spring in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The nice early warm temps are good for the hop growers. I have decided to document this years growing season as I have planted some new plants this year in place of some that succumb to fungal infections and one to root rot.  I also plan to plant some cuttings from the other plants in hopes of growing a new plant.

Picture of the newly planted Nugget rhizome that was planted early March.

  • two cascades, a dud, and ….wha happened?

I have two wonderful cascade plants that are in their 4th and 3rd year. They have both been decent producers in the past few years with last year as an exception. My yield last year wasn’t very good at all due to a bad outbreak of a fungal infection on both cascades. They grew enormous but just did not put out much in terms of hop cones. My other two plants are a Golding and a Mt. Hood. The Golding has been replaced with a more hardy Nugget plant this spring. I have read that Cascade and Nugget are the easiest ones to maintain, they are mostly disease resistant, and grow well in most climates. I also have two open spots for two more hop mounds. I had some Centennials there but had some issues with growth.

  • My Issues with Goldings

The Golding plant did pretty well the first year but as all first year plants, failed to yield any cones…again this is completely normal. The second year (last year), the plant failed to climb at all. It made a few deep green leaves, but did not put out and climbers AT ALL. I have read that Goldings can be peticular about the weather and usually do not like the high heat and humidity of the American southeast. I’m thinking it just isn’t the right climate for Goldings. Hence the replacement of a Nugget rhizome. I should have more luck with this variety due its hardy nature.

  •  Mt. Hood and the root rot

I had a feeling about this rhizome when I purchased it from my local retailer. It was “broken” in the middle and was still available for purchase….not sure why. So, I decided to buy it as the picking were slim. This one sprouted very quickly and even put out a cone or two at the top. Then about half way into the growing season, the vine started to turn yellow and the started to die.

When digging in the hop garden recently, I pulled up the Mt. Hood root and discovered that the break in the original root had been the problem,(or at least one of the problems), because the original root is now half the size of the one that was planted. There was still a good half and it was still alive with new buds (eyes) visible. I figured why not give it another try, so I replanted the living half. With the new buds on the root, it shouldn’t have any issues growing…(hope,hope). Only time will tell.

  • Lessons Learned

So what have I learned from all of this? Glad you asked.

  1. Start composting! Seasoned gardeners will tell you there is NO comparison. Compost is the best thing for your garden. It attracts worms, it’s rich in nitrogen, and it has the ability to correct soil PH in some instances. It is quite literally plant fuel but in natural way…the best way. In the fall after harvest, top dress the hop beds with broken down compost and it will pay off in the spring. Just be ready to weed a little as EVERY plant loves this stuff.
  2. Test your soil. Hops like a sightly acidic to balanced soil PH level. 6.0 to 7.0 is a safe range from what I have read. Right now my beds are about 6.0. In my case I plan on adding some wood ash to help adjust the PH and might end up using some lime…but the wood ash is much more soluble than the limestone. The largest component of wood ash (about 25 percent) is calcium carbonate, a common liming material that increases soil alkalinity. Wood ash has a very fine particle size, so it reacts rapidly and completely in the soil. Although small amounts of nutrients are applied with wood ash, the main effect is that of a liming agent. I have read that PH is not usually a HUGE deal unless its below 5.7. This can present a danger to hop crown and it may not be able to take in the needed nutrients very well due to the high acidity in the soil. To make sure everything stays in the “good range”, I bought a PH, light, moisture meter recently at the local home improvement store. This will help me keep and eye on the moisture levels in the beds and periodically check the ph in the soil. Over and under watering was a problem last year and I want to be sure that does not happen this year, after all why guess?
  3. Address fungal infections with an anti-fungal spray. I plan to try to stay ahead of the problem this year. This could stunt the plant or could affect yield. Other that the occasional aphid, Japanese beetles can be a problem, but generally pests a not the biggest problem I have. It always been a fungal or mildew issue with many of the plants in the garden, especially the tomatoes.
  4. Use a commercial fertilizer like Miracle Grow.  I know…the whole chemical thing, but it seems that this is the route to go to make sure the plants get full nutrition all year-long. I plan on spraying the plants every few weeks or so. I plan on using the original formula spray as it is predominately nitrogen, potassium, and some phosphorus. It also has trace amounts of boron and other things that are needed by the plants in small amounts. I think I have experienced some lack of plant nutrition in some way. I think with the top-dressing of compost and using the liquid fertilizer may keep plant malnutrition at bay.
  5. Lastly I should point out that I have begun to bury the new and replanted roots vertical, under the advice of Puterbaugh Farms (hopsdirect.com). They have a series of videos about the planting and care of new hop plants. If you have ever used Hops Direct, you will know they consistently put out a quality product every season, so I feel their advice is invaluable. They have to be doing something right if they have been in the hops business for four generations! They suggest planting the rhizome upright with the buds (eyes) facing up. In the past I have always planted horizontal with the buds facing up. I think this practice will enable the roots to start down as opposed to sideways, and will give it a chance to deep root itself right off the bat. We’ll see if it makes a difference…I’m pretty confident it will.

As always I will update as new things happen. I have still not finished planting the new stuff and plan on getting at least 1 or 2 more rhizomes to plant before April. So plan on seeing at least one more update before the end of April. Heres to a great growing season, learning from past mistakes (big and small), and to drinking fresh hop brews! Cheers!

ALSO…the 2nd year grape-vine was also top dressed with yard compost and is already starting to bud. She is looking good too!

Also the 2nd year grave vine. Note the new buds on the ends. Hope to have some grapes this year.

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