This page is dedicated to those of us who find it necessary to grow our own hops, and to those of us compelled to teach what we've learned to others.
Pictures will come in the spring as I deal with shoots and rhizomes (didn't have the digital camera last spring!)
My hops bines began as rhizomes shipped by a friend from his hop farm in Vermont. Due to many complications,they did not find the soil until very late in the season. I planted two rhizomes in the front of the house and three along the back fence. A handful of rhizomes that felt slimy and looked nasty were thrown into the corner of the yard on the compost heap behind the tool shed.
By now, you may be guessing where I'm going with this little discourse! Yup! The composted rhizomes became the heartiest bines, producing the lion's share of the hops in my harvest! I guess it's proof of the old adage: don't judge a book by its cover...
Of all the others planted, only one other survived. This one was also on the back fence, near a stand of pines. The back fence bines have something in common: plenty of sunlight, with some shade provided by (a) the pines or (b) the shed. The soil (particularly at the "heap") is very rich and drains well. The front porch bines, had they even sprouted, would have lived their lives in shadow. The eaves of the house provide water, the soil is pretty rich, and drains better than that of the back yard, so I must attribute their failure to the lack of sun. Of course, back to that old adage, I assumed they were healthy...
The first year's harvest from the two bines was fairly impressive - hops are not supposed to provide a harvest the first year! I netted about four ounces dried! Man! What a hop farmer I thought I must be!
The next spring, I took some cuttings and planted them. The cuttings were young bines showing small leaves at the top and at least one set of leaf buds below. They were planted by burying the lowest set of leaf buds in rich soil. These buds, being now underground, switched gears from becoming leaves to becoming roots! I added four more bines to my "fold" in this manner.
The second year harvest was incredible! Even the new bines provided some hops. My family and I harvest over ten pounds wet. Some friends harvested another ten to 12 pounds. An a TON of hops died on the vine!
I found hop growing, like most aspects of brewing, really isn't that tough. My bines are "fence trained". This means that I occasionally had to unravel a travelling bine and reroute it to prevent the bine from becoming a huge ball of hops and foliage! The rain took care of the majority of watering demands, and I would dump some of my lawn clippings at the base of each bine each week - doing so provides compost, and helps the water to runoff, improving drainage. I would also hose-water them during dry spells, and dump the dregs of fermenters on their bases on occasion as well.
Professional hop growers recommend that you remove all but a couple shoots in the spring to ensure the hops dedicate the season to producing cones. I started out this way, but found there was very little difference in the yields between a pruned bine, and one that wasn't. I recommend that, for our uses, the trimming of shoots is done just to keep your bines manageable. If you are growing your hops trained to climb twenty feet or so along strings or cables (like the pros), then I think plucking all but a couple shoots would be of benefit to you.
Come winter, the hops require a bit of attention! I like to put chunks of unprinted cardboard around the base of the bines. This protects the root stock from frost damage, and will break down in the spring providing compost and improving drainage. Failing to find cardboard in time, I pile leaves raked from the yard over the root stocks. Not as dense as the cardboard, but the affects and benefits are similar.
Winter is also time to attend to removal of last year's bines. I wait until the sap has withdrawn, and they a brown, dead, and easy to snap. I then remove them from the fence and as close to the root stock as I can get. This leaves the fence clear to hold next year's crop, and looks a hell of a lot nicer than having a bunch of dead bines hanging around! The dead bines join everything else in the compost heap.
The hop bines emerge from the ground initially as little white sprouts. They quickly green and grow from there. I'd swear you can literally watch a hop bine grow!
The leaf buds are typical of other plants: little green nubs opposing each other on the bine. Cones develop similarly, but at the base of some of these leaf buds. Instead of forming leaves, a stem grows out from the juncture, and "burrs", pictured below, form.
Over time, with the proper care, these burrs will mature to become the cones we are so familiar with.
So! How do you know when it is time to harvest your babies? First, the size of the cones are a fairly good indicator! Large, robust looking hops are a good indicator. If there are a lot of yellow lupulin glands at the base of the bracts, that's another good indicator. As the cones become mature, they will lose moisture on their own, slightly spreading their bracts.
But there is another way! The best way, at least in my opinion, is to perform the venerable "Test of the Squishing Digits" - a squeeze test! A young hop, when squeezed, will stay flat. A mature hop is drier, less supple, and will return to nearly its original shape. This test is demonstrate below...
Note: With all the questions regarding hop drying in recent HBDs, I'm sort of rushing this section (if you can consider the first update in over seven months rushing...).
The first step of drying is to spread the hops out in a single layer on a suitable surface for drying. A suitable surface will allow air to flow all around the hops - like a window screen!
Temperature is less important than is airflow. As long as the temperature is high enough to prevent the hops from freezing, you can dry the hops. Of course, the ability of the air to draw the moisture from the hops is also related to the humidity of the air. I dry mine in the basement on a storm window screen suspended between my weight bench and a chair (most work my weight bench seems to get these days..) My house is air conditioned, which tends to keep the basement humidity down. If yours is not, consider a dehumidifier, a well-ventilated room or a well ventilated attic.
It takes three days to dry the hops. The pictures below depict the hops after one, two and three days of drying. Note how the strobiles "loosen" or open from the stem.
Note the difference between the fresh and the dried hop. The dried hop is dried to 25% moisture (1 pound fresh; 4 oz. dried). These two cones were selected for their similar size when fresh. Note how much larger the dried hop appears compared to the fresh hop. This is due to the spreading of the strobiles from the stem as they dry out.
|© 1995, 1996, 1997 by Pat Babcock|
|Last updated 7/22/97|