Hops are flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles) that are used primarily as the flavoring and stability agent in beer. They impart bitter, tangy flavors and they are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicines. Medicinally, hops have been used as a sleeping aid, for tension relief and to improve digestion.
Choosing a location:
The hop is a hardy, perennial plant vine that is easily grown at home when sufficient sun and climbing space are available. Vines can grow up to 20 feet high in a single season. Direct sunlight, easy access to water, a stable support system and plenty of room for vertical growth are necessary for the ideal growing site. Well draining, loamy soil with a pH of 6.0 – 8.0 is preferred.
Planting directions (for potted plant):
Despite their large size, hops grow well in containers if provided with a sturdy trellis, abundant water and ample supplemental nutrients.
1) Grow hops in full sun. Use a container with a diameter and depth of at least 20 inches. Make sure the container has several holes in the bottom for adequate drainage.
2) Fill the container with a mix of four parts potting soil and one part *perlite. Do not tamp down the soil, as this will restrict the drainage needed.
*Perlite appears as tiny, roundish white specks amongst the soil. Perlite is a non-organic additive used in potting soil to aerate the media.
3) Place two 8-foot-long stakes into the potting soil along the edge of the planter and put a screw at the tip of each stake. Tie “coir yarn” (also known as hop twine) onto the screw at the top of the stakes. Wind the yarn in a crisscross pattern between the stakes. Trim the ends of the yarn off once it reaches the potting soil and then tie the ends together. This will allow your hop vines to climb.
4) Plant your hops so the buds are pointed upward in a small hole roughly 2-3 inches deep. Water so the soil is damp, but not oversaturated. Add some extra soil if water settles the dirt too much.
Planting directions (in ground):
Sun exposure is the first key thing to consider when selecting a spot to grow your hops plants in the ground. For the most success with your plant you’ll want over 10 hours of sun exposure. Typically the most light comes from Southern and Eastern exposures.
1) Select a site with light, well draining soil and a soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 8.0
2) Hops like organic nutrients. They enjoy composted manures and blends of slow release nutrients like bone meal and rock phosphate mixed into the soil when planting in the hole.
3) When planting you’ll want to dig a small hole roughly 4 inches deep and then cover with 1-2 inches of soil with the hops buds pointing upward. If planting more than one hops vine space them 3-4 feet apart to keep the vines from intertwining with each other too much.
4) Trellising is very important since hops prefer to climb. Plants that are close to a fence or wall will climb along the tops of wire or lines, which you can run. This will allow you to support multiple vines
Hops love water but only when applied directly to the root system. If the leaves get wet too often it’s an opportunity for mold and mildew to form on the plant. Water your plants daily directly at their bases in order to keep the soil moist, but not over saturated. In the event of rain getting your leaves wet and the sun coming out shortly thereafter it’s recommended to go out and gently shake the excess moisture off. Water droplets can form miniature lenses and burn your leaves.
Hops love fertilizer. Provide your container grown hops with a liquid fertilizer diluted to quarter-strength. Start out feeding them with fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen. Then when the first signs of hop cones form, move away from nitrogen rich fertilizer for fertilizers that are rich in phosphorus and potassium. After feeding the vines give them a good amount of water to keep their roots from being burned.
When pruning be sure your trimming tool has been sterilized for healthy and clean cuts (a household rubbing alcohol works just fine for sterilization). Prune hops vines once they begin to outgrow their trellis. Remove foliage from under one foot of growth on the vine. This increases air circulation and avoids the likelihood of pest infestations and disease.
Remove vine tips once the main stem produces several branches. In the late summer the removal of lower leaves should be done carefully to avoid damaging the main stem. However, around August allow additional bottom growth to remain, as this will boost the hardiness of the crown and plant vigor for next year.
Harvesting usually begins in the middle of August and continues until the middle of September. Test the cones in order to be sure that its time to harvest. To determine the readiness for picking judge the cones by touch and smell. If the cone is too green, feels damp and soft to the touch on its scales then it may not be ready just yet. A cone ready for harvest will feel papery and light.
If your hands quickly take up the earthy scent of hops and are slightly sticky due to the yellow powdery lupulin (which is the yellow powder of the hop cone), then the cones are ready for harvest. Hops cones must be properly dried to optimize their flavor during storage. Store your hops in an airtight container in the freezer or refrigerator.
With some effort, plenty of space and sun, growing your own hops is easy and very fulfilling. Rumor has it that homegrown hops are the best variety because they are so flavorful and will provide much self-satisfaction.