Organic Backyard Hops: What to Know & How to Grow
The art of beer crafting has been sweeping the world at the same time the organic market has been blowing up. More people are becoming aware that how their food is grown is important to their overall health. For beer crafters, this means that to get the purest form of hops and be certain of their origins, you need to look at growing them yourself. While growing your own backyard hops has many aspects to consider, it is more an art form than a science and can easily be understood and mastered.
To know how to grow hops, you first need to know the function and basic elements of the plant and flower. An excellent resource can be found here, which explains much of the historical and present day use of beer and hops. The hop grows on large bines which attach to wooden poles for support. They are used to combat the sweetness left by the fermenting yeast and grain.
Choosing Your Backyard Hops Seeds
There are two things to consider when searching for the right hop seed, or rhizome, to use in your backyard. First, you need to know your primary use. Different flavors, aromas and levels of bitterness require different types of hops. An easy way of selecting the right hop for you is by choosing a favorite beer and researching the varieties used to create that effect.
The second aspect to consider is the source from which you’ll buy your rhizomes. There are many online stores to buy through, but to stay truly organic you may need to ask about the rating from the Organic Raw Materials Institute (OMRI). This will give you a better idea as the quality of your hops.
Selecting the Area for Growth
As hardy plants, hops can grow in most moderate zones. They can become incredibly tall, up to 30 feet, and will need an area that they can fully mature; having taller buildings on your property can allow the bine to grow along it. The area that you plant should have excellent drainage and be able to give the growing plant a good amount of southern sun exposure.
If you decide to use more than one variety of hops, be sure to keep them separated. The roots of the hop plant tend to spread widely and may take over other plants or other hops. For those that measure the pH of their soil, try to aim for a measuring of 6.
Preparing the Soil
As you get ready to plant the rhizome, make sure the soil is well broken up and void of large clumps. While you break down the soil, check the area for roots, stones and sticks, and remove those as well. Once the soil is prepared, insert some fertilizer. Some types of fertilizer to include would be manure, bone meal and blood meal.
Planting and Care
When you plant your rhizome, dig a hole about one foot deep. Keep the rhizome vertical as you cover it with soil, and water thoroughly but avoid creating a swamp. One recommendation would be to utilize a drip system; this keeps the area wet but not drenched, and avoids any dry times.
As the plants grow, train them to grow on your trellis; this should only take a few days. You will need to take the strongest bines of the plant and wrap it around the trellis. Hops grow quickly and will get the hang of it after a while. The weaker bines that do not grow on the trellis can be trimmed off.
Harvesting and Drying Your Backyard Hops
The first year of your hops’ life may not produce a large amount. This is very normal, and you should look forward to growing yields each new season. The plant will be ready to harvest by late summer. Ready hops are dry, smell strongly of that distinct “hoppy” flavour, and are springy to the touch; opening one should reveal a yellow lupulin powder.
There are a few different ways to dry your vines and hops. You can either pick each hop as it ripens, or pull a whole vine down to allow them to dry at the same time. (Drying the whole vine keeps the sap within the root system.) Once the whole vine is dry, you can then pick the hops off and dry them either out in the open or in a dehydrator.
Once you are done harvesting, trim the bines. You’ll want to trim each one back a few feet and wait for the winter frost to kill off the weaker parts. Once this has been done, cover the plant and wait until spring. As the weather warms for a new season, take a shovel or spade and begin to cut a circle around the rhizome. This will trim the roots back and keep it from overtaking the yard.
Growing backyard hops requires minimal knowledge and experience to get started. It can be easily and quickly done in one season. As the plants grow and mature over their lifetime, you will be rewarded with a bounty of fresh, organic hops to feed your growing love of craft beer.
About Bob Gorman
Bob Gorman is a freelance contributor to health and wellness blogs around the world; connect with him on Twitter for more DIY projects.
The views and opinions of guest authors do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Full Circle.