Why grow hops?
After watching a summer hailstorm pulverize my 5,000 square foot vegetable garden, and slice through my first year apple orchard, I expected my first year hop plants to be done for the year also, but the hop plants surprised me. The hops rebounded and produced a small harvest of fragrant hop cones whereas the garden was mush for weeks and the apple orchard was so battered most trees died that winter. The proverbial light bulb went on in my head and within 2 years, most of my growing space was converted to growing hops for sale to Colorado’s Front Range craft brewers. There are more articles on hop growing than ever before (do you Yahoo? I do), but one more won’t hurt, so here is mine.
The Hop plant is a vigorous perennial plant that has separate female and male plants. Only the female hop plant produces the cones that are harvested … ie, pollination is neither needed and nor sought after unless your goal is to follow in Gregor Mendel’s footsteps, hate peas, and love beer.
Unfortunately the extensive above ground growth of a hop plant dies back to the ground every fall, the “crown” and roots will survive and lie dormant until the next spring for a couple of decades with proper care. A hop plant will reach maturity in about 3 years and will be a joy to watch grow from the very first year.
Hops are one of the most amazing plants you’ll ever grow, but they require substantial and timely physical maintenance to produce the best hop cones and prevent invasive expansion. The old saying goes, “Hops like to see their master every day”… so plan to make yourself available to them if you chose to become a hop grower.
Hops require large amounts of sunshine, water, and nitrogen/nutrients to grow best. The rapid growth rate of corn will pale in comparison to what hops can do. Latitudes 35 and 55 degrees, either north or south of the equator, will provide the best length of day for hop growth. Hops will grow in humid locations, but expect to fight more mold, mildew and insects than you would in dryer climates that naturally limit these issues. Sorry Paducah, Kentucky… congrats Yakima, Washington.
Select a very sunny location that will also allow the hop to climb. Heights of 25 feet in a single season are common for mature hop plants. The hops can be trained to grow horizontally, but I find that really want to climb up so keep that in mind when selecting your planting site. I recommend 5 foot spacing between plants. Hops can be grown in very large pots, but expect growth and life span to be limited.
When spring starts to hit your area, plant your rhizome at your site in workable soil amended with composted manure. Cover the tender first year sprouts during any frosts. Plant your hop rhizome in loose; well-drained soil … hops hate soggy feet/roots. When planting, I usually lay a 3-4 inch long rhizome under 1-2 inches of soil. Angle one end of the rhizome a little deeper in the soil so that buds/sprouts are facing up and root hairs facing down as much as possible.
Water your first year Hop plant daily throughout the growing season when it is hot dry… skip a day when it’s obvious water is not needed. Strive to keep the ground moist, but not waterlogged. Covering the hop crown with a couple inches of fresh clean straw during the growing/watering season will help retain moisture and, especially in dry climates, and prevent the soil from forming a hard crust that prevents water from soaking in when applied. Deep watering every few days will be sufficient for mature Hop plants.
In my next article, I’ll cover what to do when your hop plants hit their first big growth spurt. Hop adolescence can be an awkward time, but they’ll be through it before you know it. For now, consider taking Charlie Papazian’s advice and “Relax, have a home brew”.
Written by Urban Conversion Contributor, Andrew Voss. For more information on Facebook: Voss Farms Colorado.