Ready to grow some hops?
This is intended to be a very basic guide on hop growing and meant as a primer to get you started with your very first home brewer’s garden!
Ready to Grow Some Hops?
Starting your very own hop garden is a wonderful way to obtain a more thorough understanding of your home brewing ingredients, and for many its a lot of fun to get more hands-on when brewing your own beer. <b>Hops</b> are the flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles) of the hop plant <i>Humulus lupulus.</i> They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart bitter, zesty, or citric flavours. There are close to 170+ varieties of hop plants available, although only certain ones haven been tested and proven to grow well here in our local climate zone in North Carolina.
Hops have lovely wide, flat leaves and climb easily up a string, wire, trellis or even fence. For those interested in using their hops in home brewing the string method is preferred as it makes harvesting much easier. If you would like something a little more visually appealing a lattice works as well.
Hop bines will grow very quickly once they take root and begin to break through the soil sometimes growing up to eighteen inches per day!. They are hearty perennial and will continue to produce a steady crop of cones each year they mature. In the first year a plant may produce no more than a few ounces of hops, but by around year three certain varieties will yield as much as two pounds per plant. That’s as much as or even more than a single home brewer will use in a single season, and is great if you have friends that also brew or even better if you’re a generous member of the <strong>Raleigh Home Brewers Association</strong>! We love free hops!
The rhizome is the part of the hop plant that sprouts roots when planted and it’s what you want to purchase for your new hop garden. You can purchase rhizomes locally from several vendors right here in North Carolina which will be listed at the end of this article. They are typically sold in mid March to early April for planting at the beginning of the Spring season once we’ve gotten through the final frost.
<h4>Getting ready for Planting</h4>
To begin planting your rhizomes you want to dig a hole that is 4 inches deep and place the root laying flat. Any buds that are already showing should be pointing up. Next you’re going to cover lightly with soil or preferably a mulch that is high in nitrogen.
When planting your rhizomes one at a time make certain that they are no less than two feet apart which will give them plenty of room to grow. If you are planting several varieties you want to leave at least three feet between them.
Once your hops reach a height of about 10″, train them around your string or lattice. Since North Carolina is in the Northern Hemisphere your hops will grow clockwise around the string in order to follow the sun throughout the day. You also want to plant your hop garden facing southward as to provide the most amount of sunlight for your new garden.
As your hops continue to grow, trim each plant back to four to six bines each. Having two strings per plant and training three per string is a good way to go. After about two months prune off the bottom four feet of leaves. This helps to keep your hops off the ground which helps to keep them free of disease and fungus from the soul.