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How to Grow Hops

Hops Plant Beer Cones 

Humulus Lupulus

If you are both a gardener and a home brewer, you are in luck. Hops plants, an essential in home brewing, are an easy to grow perennial. You won't be able to resist growing a few of these plants in your garden. Hops, that magic, shall we call it vegetable, is an essential ingredient to beer makers around the world. Whether you are a home brewer, a craft brewery, or a major beer manufacturer, hops are absolutely necessary for making beer and ale.

There are a wide variety of hops, offering a wide range of bitterness, aroma and flavor. There's actually over 120 varieties. It is the cones that are used in the beer making process.

Did You Know? One mature hops plant can yield 5 to 6 pounds of fresh cones per year.

Days to Harvest: about 120

It is important to note that hops are an invasive plant. Unchecked, the rhizomes will spread out into your lawn, and across your garden among the other plants. We strongly recommend using landscape edging to contain the spread of the rhizomes.

Watch Us Grow - Follow our Hops Growing Diary, as we grow hops plants for the first time.

A Fruit, a Vegetable, or an Herb!?

Just how do you classify hops plants? The part of the plant that is used in beer making, is the cones. The cones are the seed pod of the plant, and emerge from the spent flower. How can one call it a fruit? It certainly is not sweet tasting. And, we do not eat the cone. It does have flowers… so do most vegetables and fruits. It is not used as a flower. People certainly do not eat any part of the plant. On the other hand, we consume it… as a component of beer. Could it be an herb!? The cone is aromatic, putting the flavor into beer. In actuality, Hops are classified as an herb.

Hops Plant Propagation:

Hops plants are most often grown from rhizomes. The rhizomes are not usually available in local garden stores. They can be found at beer craft supply companies, specialty shops and even your fellow home brewer. If you are not going to plant the rhizomes right away, store them with a little moisture in a sealed baggie. Place the baggie in the refrigerator.

You can also separate and replant the crowns.

Once you have established plants, you can dig up and separate the rhizomes every few years, never having to buy them again. Dig the rhizomes up, and cut them in 3 to 4 inch segments. Make sure each segment has at least one pinkish-white bud on it.

Did You Know? Hops plants can live from 50-100 years.

How to Grow Hops:

Hops need fertile, light, well drained soil. The plant has a broad, ideal pH range: 6.0 - 7.5, but grows best in the slightly acidic area of this range. Select a place in your garden where this perennial plant will receive full sun, and the plant is allowed to grow for many, many years.

Many people start hops indoors over the winter months in a large container. Transplant plants or rhizomes into the garden after all danger of frost in your area. If a late frost is in the forecast, cover up the young plants.

When first planting them, mix in an ample amount of compost into the planting site. Plant one or two rhizomes per location. Plant rhizomes 2 to 4 inches deep, with the bud facing up. Slightly mound the soil at the planting site, to help with drainage. Space plants three to five feet apart. The plants will begin to sprout in 2 to 4 weeks. After the plants have begun to grow, add a thick layer of mulch, to keep the weeds down, and to help retain soil moisture in the hot, dry summer months.

Hops plants require ample amounts of water. Water frequently in hot, dry weather. Keep the soil moist, not wet. Do not use overhead sprinklers. Keep the leaves dry, to help avoid mildew and other plant diseases.

Fertilize plants regularly from spring through July, to help fuel fast vine growth. Keep soil moist, not wet. Later in the season, it is important to fertilize them with a fertilizer high in potassium to promote blooms, from which the cones will later emerge.

Each rhizome produces 4-6 or more vines, called "Bines".  After the bines reach a foot or two, keep the strongest growing 3-4 bines. Hops bines need something to climb. Use a trellis, fencing, or poles that are at least 10 feet tall. We recommend at least a 15-20 foot pole. As the bine quickly grows, train it to grow clockwise around the support.

Did You Know? Hops bines can grow up to 20 to 25 feet in a single garden season!

Pruning: In the second and later years, pruning is important. It helps to avoid over-crowding, and helps minimize plant disease. Keep only 3 to 5 bines, removing the weakest, slowest growing ones. Remove any leaves that are damaged by insects or weather, and especially any leaves that are diseased. After the blooms begin to appear, prune all leaves and secondary branches below 4 feet. After the cones develop, allow the lower branches and leaves to re-grow. This will help send energy to the roots for next year's growth. 

Insect and Disease Problems:

Downy mildew and powdery mildew can be a problem. It may hide on the underside of the leaves, so check both sides of the leaves thoroughly. Early in the season, treat with fungicide, as needed. We do not recommend using fungicides after the flowers and cones begin to develop.

Aphids and spider mites can be an occasional problem. Use organic, sprays only as needed.

Harvesting Hops Cones:

Hops will produce just a few cones the first year. Plants are mature at 3 years. Each mature plant can produce 5 to 6 pounds of cones per year. Cones are usually ripe and are ready to harvest from late August to mid-September.

Cones can grow to about 2 1/2 inches long. They are ready to pick when they are dry, powdery, and lighten in color. They will have an aromatic scent, and be springy when squeezed. If you are inexperienced at growing hops, break a cone open. It should be filled with a yellow, powdery substance called "Lupulin".

If you harvest them before they are ripe, the cones will have little or no flavor.  If they are overripe, they will have a rancid odor.

Drying Cones:

Hops cones can be used fresh for making beer, or dried for later use.

Drying your cones is an important step. Dried cones should have about 10% moisture level.

After harvesting, dry them immediately. Lay them out to dry with good ventilation and out of direct sunlight. Using a fan is helpful for the drying process.

You can also place them in a dehydrator. 

Test for appropriate dryness: Bend the central stem. If it is brittle and snaps off, the cones are dry. Place cones in vacuum sealable bags and store in the freezer until ready to use.

Winterizing Plants

Frost will kill the plants for the season. Cut back the bines to two to three feet. In northern regions of the country, add a 6 to 8 inch layer of mulch, to protect the rhizomes from extreme cold.

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