Planning Your Hops Yard for Home BrewingSunday, March 15th, 2009
Growing hops at home is a great way to expand the brewing hobby, practice a green thumb, and have fun in general. It is cheap to get started, and also saves money on each batch, though it does take up time like everything else in brewing.
Hops is a perennial and produces new vines annually starting in the spring from a crown that can live upwards of ten years. The scientific name of the hops plant is Humulus lupulus. The female hops plant is the one that produces the desirable cones used in brewing beer. The male plant is not used for brewing. The male plant can improve the yield in females nearby but its presence causes seeds to form in the cones which are not good for brewing.
When selecting what kinds of hops to grow, it is important to balance between bittering and aromatic variates so you have flexibility in brewing. Each plant will yield anywhere from one half to two pounds of dried cones when mature. I have two bittering (Nugget and Magnum), and four aromatic (Cascade, Kent Goldings, and two Hallertauer). This gives me plenty of surplus to share with friends or experiment with.
Location considerations for your hop yard:
Sunlight exposure: Hops need lots of sunlight to grow properly. In the northern hemisphere a southern exposure is the best. At least eight hours of sunlight per day is recommended.
Soil quality and drainage: The soil should be nutrient rich, with pH in the range of 6.5-8.0. Hops should to be kept away from damp areas to discourage diseases.
Trellis setup: Hops need to climb, a minimum of 12 feet. Commercial hops yards have 18′ trellis systems. Hops will grow even higher than that, upwards of 25 feet. A trellis system can be as simple as two poles with a wire strung between them. It needs to be strong enough to support the weight of the vines and withstand windy conditions. The one I have is bolted together so I can tear it down in the fall when the harvest is over.
Potting: You can start rhizomes off in planters, and this is recommended in cold areas. However, within the first few months they should be transplanted into the ground since the root systems like to spread out.
For practical purposes at home, the side of the house that faces the sun during the day is best. It makes a convenient location because of the warmth and the ease of rigging up something the vines can climb up. Way out in the back yard, or below a balcony are other great choices.
Late winter or early spring is the time of the year to order hops rhizomes. A rhizome is a chunk of root from an active plant. There are many affordable sources online but they sell out fast! When the rhizomes arrive, put them in the fridge (they should already be in a moist bag), and plant them on the first nice day that comes along. It is recommended to space plants at least five feet apart, but plants of the same variety can be three feet apart. Make a diagram of where each variety is located and keep it safe as you will refer to it again and again.