People catch the homebrew bug because it offers them the chance to create something unique (and uniquely their own). Why wouldn’t you want to use the freshest, best ingredients possible?
Enter: homegrown hops.
Give growing your own hops a try. It’s fun, it’s fruitful, and we’ll even tell you how.
1. Buy Your Preferred Strain of Hop Rhizomes
Hop rhizomes are the root system of the hop plant. They pretty much look like a particularly gnarly twig, but don’t be fooled. These ugly little buggers are just what you need to produce the towering hop vine of your rich imagination. There are lots of places to buy hop rhizomes, so we recommend doing a quick Google search for “Where to buy hop rhizomes.” That should get you started without breaking a sweat.
2. Look At The Calendar
You can’t grow hops in frozen ground. Seems obvious, right? That being said, you should do your best to avoid exposing your hops to even a light frost. It’s not an automatic death sentence, but it will make success much less likely. The best time to plant is as early as your particular climate allows between the months of February and April. If you need some extra time, you can keep your rhizomes in the fridge and mist them with water regularly. They should be just fine until you’re ready to plant.
3. Select Your Growing Area
Hop rhizomes aren’t the pickiest plant you’ll ever meet, but you do have to pay attention to a few things. Because the plant grows vertically (for a quick mental reference, think of a grape vine), you’ll need to make sure you don’t have any obstacles (i.e. telephone wires, porches, etc.) for at least 10 feet, but 25 feet is really preferable. Also make sure that you choose an area that receives plenty of direct sunlight. Your hops are most likely to thrive with at least 6-8 hours of sunshine every single day.
4. Prepare Your Hops Hill
Once you’ve established your planting place, it’s time to get dirty. To ensure successful growing, you should build a mound to plant your rhizomes in. There are several goals to keep in mind when you’re preparing your soil:
A. Keep it loose and porous. You want to promote proper drainage or else standing water will collect and rot your rhizomes.
B. A sandy soil will work best, but you’ll get fine results with a mix of sand and clay. Also feel free to include manure and other organic matter like rock phosphate or bone meal.
C. The pH balance of your soil should be between 5.5 and 8.0.
5. Plant The Rhizomes
You’ve prepped your chosen growing area, and now it’s time to do some planting. First, make sure you leave plenty of room between each rhizome to prevent overcrowding. A good rule of thumb is to leave at least five feet between separate varieties and at least three feet between two of the same strain of hops.
Once you’ve got your spacing set, it’s time to insert the rhizomes into the ground. You’ll want to place them about one inch deep, horizontally, with any visible buds pointing skywards.
6. Monitor and Maintain
In the first year of your hops growing adventure, you need to aim for something just shy of constant vigilance. Check on your hops hill daily and make sure that you keep your rhizomes moist without drowning them. Your best bet is to water frequently, but only for a short duration each time. Also keep an eye out for aphids or the formation of powdery mildew.
Before you know it, the vines will start growing and you’ll be on your way. When they grow to be about a foot long, it’s time to select the heartiest looking two or three strands. Wrap those strands clockwise around a stake or trellis and trim back the weaker shoots to prevent overcrowding.
7. Harvest Your Prize
It’s imperative that you harvest your hops before autumn’s first frost. You’ll know it’s time to start gathering your hops when the leaves on the outside start to turn brown and papery. If you break open a hop cone, you should note a strong aroma and rolling it between your fingers should leave a yellowish residue from the mature lupulin gland.
Pick the cones off of the vine, but you don’t need the leaves. Once you’ve cleared the vine of all the cones, it’s time to let them dry. If possible, you want to let them air-dry on a mesh screen until the inner stem is brittle enough to break instead of bend. In some colder climates, this won’t be possible and you’ll have to use the oven or a food dehydrator. While not preferable, this option will get the job done so long as you don’t use temperatures in excess of 140°F.
8. Experiment and Enjoy
You’ve earned it!