The past year has found many of us exploring new hobbies, and home brewing has surged in popularity. If you also enjoy gardening, why not combine the two pastimes and grow your own hops? That way, you can be certain of exactly what goes into your home brews and go all organic if you prefer.
First, research your hops. Hops are actually flowers that grow on bines (no, that’s not a misspelling for vines). These plants are perennial, meaning they will return year after year to bear more flowers for you. The bines are so hardy that, when well maintained, some varieties can reach 30 feet or more and collapse a trellis with the weight of their cones (what the flowers are actually called). You want to provide the ideal environment and enough space for whichever variety of hops you choose.
Now, you will purchase your rhizomes. Hops plants can be male or female, but only the females bear cones. Therefore, you want to purchase rhizomes, or underground cuttings, from female plants.
Next, choose your location carefully. Hop plants need a place to climb, such as a trellis, and they need 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. Choose a sunny spot with proper support. Luckily, because hops grow upward rather than outward, a long narrow space will do. Hops can actually serve dual purpose as a bit of a privacy barrier between neighbors with smaller yards.
Then, prepare the soil. Hops can be damaged by heavily clay soils that retain too much water. So, you want loose, well-draining soil that does not hold onto moisture. The preferred soil is slightly acidic, so keep that in mind if you amend it.
Finally, plant your rhizomes about three feet apart from one another. Remember that they spread underground, so leave them plenty of space. Bury each rhizome about two inches deep, with the bud pointing upward. Water your hops regularly, and make sure to pull any weeds that encroach into their space.
Remember that hops spend their first year establishing a root system, so you won’t see many cones at first. By the second or third year, however, you will be harvesting enough hops to throw a home brew party.