Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Growing Hops: For Beer & Pleasure

Hops, ready to be picked

Hops

Growing hops (humulus lupulus) is very easy, whether you want them for home brewing, crafts, or just as an ornamental. The requirements are: somewhat fertile soil, plenty of sun and water and something rugged for them to climb on (they can grow up to 30’, although ours have never gotten that tall).

Each winter they die back and start over again in the spring. They are such prolific growers that you can almost watch them grow.

We started out with two types, Cascade and Perle, but they have been dug up and moved so many times that we are no longer sure what we have. Hops are very easy to move and to share with other people. Once your hop plants become established you will want to thin them out every few years (great for a plant swap).

We grow some of ours up concrete reinforcement wire that we attached to our woodshed with hooks. At harvest time we unhook the wire, lower it for easy hop picking and re-hang the wire for the next year. In the spring we remove all the dead vines.Hops growing up side of woodshed

Some of our hops grow up wrought iron posts on the corner of our deck and become entwined with an apple tree. No harm done.

The best way to obtain hop rhizomes is from someone who already has hops growing. If that is not possible, there are a lot of places that sell rhizomes.  Keep in mind to choose a variety best suited to your growing area and season length.

Be sure to keep weeds cleaned out the first few years, especially grass. After they are well established (3-4 years), they seem better able to deal with weeds, but it is still a good idea to try and keep the hop bed weed free.

A great guide for growing hops and brewing herbs is The Homebrewer's Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher.

We have never had a pest problem on our hops and we attribute that to healthy soil and no chemicals. We put some compost in the soil when we first plant, and top dress with more each year, mid season. Compost tea is also good to spray on the vines as they grow. The best time to spray is in the morning or evening (just like watering, it’s best not to do it in the middle of a sunny day)

HARVESTING

The time to harvest your hop cones is when you see a yellow, powdery substance clinging to the cone. There should be a strong hop aroma when you break the cone open, and a resin that sticks to your hand when you pick the cones.
We dry/store our hops in paper bags. Put only enough hops in the bag so when you fold the top over and lay it on its side the hops are not piled on top of each other; you want breathing space. Every so often shake the bag to aerate them a bit. If you have too many hops in one bag they are apt to mold or not dry well. We place our bags in a spare room (sometimes all over the bed) and leave them for a few months. They don’t need to be completely dry to use in beer, in fact fresh hops are tastier, but if you are going to use them for a craft project, you will want them completely dry.

USES FOR HOPS

Besides the obvious beer making, hops have many other uses.

Hop tea is said to help insomnia, diarrhea and intestinal cramps--note: very bitter, add honey.

In early spring the young side shoots can be steamed and eaten like asparagus (we have never had enough to try this, maybe next year!)

The leaves can be used to make a brown dye.

Spent hops make great mulch, or can be added to the compost pile.

Hop pillows are said to help people sleep.

Cut a few branches with hops attached and dry for flower arrangements.

Fill a tea ball with hops and add to bath water for a relaxing bath. Add some chamomile and valerian for a nice treat.

Dried hops can be added to potpourri.

Place a few hops in a piece of cloth (cotton), warm just a little in the oven and apply to a tooth ache; it will help reduce the pain.

THE BEST PART

The best part about hops is you don’t have to make anything. They are a beautiful plant in their own right and are a lovely addition to any home garden. Toads hide in them, birds fly in and out looking for bugs, and they can make a great privacy screen. With a little care they will reward you for years to come.
Hops

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