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Hops have been cultivated for thousands of years. Many of the hops available to homebrewers come from family farms that span many generations. When harvest time came, all hands were required to pick the fragrant and valuable cone-like flowers that play such a crucial role in making beer. Hops can also be grown at home in small quantities with very little effort. So if you're into gardening & homebrewing, growing hops at home is the perfect project for you! Here are 7 simple steps to growing your own hops at home.
Our friend Ross grew hops at home, watch this video for a visual guide of the article below!
Materials Needed to Grow Hops
- Hop rhizome or hop plant
- Perforated steel angles*
- Decking screws*
- Steel cable*
- Corkscrew ground stakes*
*for making a trellis
Steps to Grow Hops
Step 1: Buy hop roots (rhizomes)
Procure a hop root, commonly known as a rhizome, or a young hop plant. Make sure your rhizome is cut from a mature female cone bearing plant. Certain hop varieties such as Amarillo, Citra, & Mosaic are not available for consumers to buy because they require a special license to grow. Our friend Ross (in the video above) was able to buy rhizomes for Cascade, Chinook, and Nugget hops.
Here's Ross standing next to his 3 hop plants. They grew over 20ft during the course of one season
Step 2: Plant hops in direct sunlight
Plant hops in soil in a place that will get direct sunlight (at least 6hrs per day). Hops can be planted as early as February and as late as June, depending where you live. It's important to plant your hops after your last expected frost and in temps between 40°-70° F. Ross lives in Asheville, NC, so he planted his hops in late April.
Fun fact: Hops are a cousin of Cannabis Sativa better known as Marijuana.
Step 3: Water, water, water
Water your hops daily. Hop roots need to be kept moist in order to grow. However, too much water will cause the roots to rot. Hops have extremely large root systems and need ample space to grow. Tip: Cover your root system with soil then straw or mulch to help trap in as much moisture as possible.
Step 4: Set up a trellis for your hop bines, something they can easily wrap around. Yes, bines not vines. Vines are unique in their ability to grow straight up flat surfaces because they actually grow little tendrils and cling on to other objects. Hops are bines, meaning they wrap around structures in order to grow upwards. Ross used the materials listed above to make a trellis that can be lowered for harvest using a pulley. However, your trellis can be as simple as a piece of twine attached to the top of your house!
Step 5: Train your hops. Help your hop bines grow by taking early sprouts and wrapping them clockwise around your trellis.
Step 6: Trim and Maintain. At the start of the season, trim your weakest/smallest bines and keep 3 of your strongest bines. Pruning your plant to 2-3 vines allows for a healthy hop harvest! This will help promote vertical growth.
Step 7: Harvest! Hops can be harvested between the months of September and August when the concentration of lupulin is at its peak. Lupulin is a naturally occurring substance in hops that gives the plant its characteristic scents and flavors. The following are signs your hops are ready to harvest.
- The cones become papery & dry to the touch
- The lupulin (pictured below) will become aromatic
- The color will change to almost brown
After harvesting, hops can either be added directly to the kettle or dried out to be used later. It's important to dry and preserve your hops directly after harvesting to avoid spoiling them (unless you plan on wet hopping). To dry hops, spread them out on a screen or flat surface in a dry area for 24 to 48 hours.Hops can also be placed in a food dehydrator for 12 hours at 140°. After drying your hops, place them in a vacuum sealed bag and freeze them.
We ended up using these hops in this Fresh Hop Saison Recipe.
Looking to make something non-alcoholic with your homegrown hops? Try out this hop water recipe, it's like soda water, but better!
Here are our top tips for growing hops.
1. Check The Map
One major limit to growing hops at home is the climate where you live. For your hops to thrive, they need about 15 hours of daylight per day, and a growing season that lasts at least 120 days without a frost. Hops also need a dormant season where temperatures drop below 40 degrees fahrenheit. While you can technically grow them elsewhere, hops tend to grow best and deliver the greatest yields between the 30th and 52nd latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, which roughly spans the Northern U.S. and Canada across Europe and Asia.
2. How To Buy Hop Rhizomes
When you purchase a hop plant from a homebrew store, nursery or online shop, you’re actually buying a root system called a rhizome. Check with your vendor to make sure you’re getting a variety of hops that is well adapted to your home climate.
3. Ideal Soil Conditions for Growing Hops
Hops prefer loose, slightly acidic soil that drains well. Dig a hole deep and wide enough for the roots to burrow.
4. Preparing Your Hops For Next Year
As soon as the first frost hits, you can start pruning back your bines. Leave a little bit of the stem at the base and then cover it with mulch. When spring returns, uncover the top of your plants to prepare for the next growing season. If you want to use fertilizer, now is a good time to add it to the soil.
Common Threats for Homegrown Hops
Like any agricultural product, you have to watch out for Mother Nature’s attempts to ruin your harvest. Here are some of the most common threats for hop cultivation:
When a hop plant is infected with this fungus, which originated in Japan, the shoots will become stunted, brittle, and lighter in color than healthy ones. Infected shoots are also unable to climb and can quickly begin to rot. If you are experiencing a particularly wet growing season, you might also find your flowers and cones rotting as well.
The telltale signs of this fungus are the “powdery” white colonies that form on the leaves, bus, stems, and cones of your plants.
If you notice your cones turning suddenly brown, you may have been invaded by an army of tiny aphids that leave behind a sooty mold in their wake. Aphids may also transfer viruses between plants.
Even smaller than aphids, these mites will attempt to suck your plants dry. They are particularly dangerous during dry seasons when you’ve overlooked watering your plants. You might see a loss of leaves with tiny webs left behind.
If your plants begin to suffer from any of these pests, you can remove them by picking them off or spraying with a hose. If that fails, you can make a visit to your local nursery or garden supply store to find out what kind of organic pesticides (such as neem oil) you may use to get rid of unruly pests.
Is Growing Hops At Home Worth It?
Growing anything at home—including hops—requires patience and persistence. Ultimately it’s a wonderful feeling to know you’ve brewed beer using hops that came straight from your garden - plus, you’ll definitely impress your family and friends when they ask you why your beer tastes so fresh!