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Growing Hops for the Home Beer Brewer


Brewing your own beer can be a fun and rewarding hobby. Part of the brewing process includes adding hops to give beer its distinctive flavor. Did you know that you can grow your own hops? The farming experts at Southern States can offer great advice on how to grow hops in your home garden.

A hop plant is a perennial that produces small cone-like flowers known as hops. The plant is grown from hop rhizomes - small roots taken from the main root system of a female hop plant. Choosing which variety of hops to plant may be the hardest part. Hops, a key ingredient in beer, has a direct effect on the beer's flavor.  When selecting a hop variety to grow, choose one that best fits the type of beer you want to brew. If you are growing hops for the first time, plant several varieties to see which will thrive best in your garden. Also, ask other local growers or inquire at your local homebrew store. After purchasing your rhizomes and before planting, wrap in damp paper towels and store in the refrigerator to prevent drying out.

Growing hops is not very difficult with the right soil and adequate sun. Plant your hop rhizomes in an area that gets 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. You will need well-aerated soil rich in nutrients with good drainage. Hops grow on bines that measure 25 feet or longer and often weigh over 20 pounds, so you will need a strong trellis to support the plants. Bines are distinct from vines in that they grow from shoots in a helix formation around their support rather than attaching to the support with tendrils.

Hops should be planted in late spring to avoid frost damage. Hops grow best in sandy soil with a pH of 6 – 7.5 and good drainage. When preparing the garden bed, break up the soil and liberally apply fertilizer rich in phosphate, nitrogen, and potassium. Plant your rhizomes two inches below the soil surface with the buds pointing up. When planting several plants, space them three feet apart on all sides. Once the hops start to grow, select the healthiest bines and train them to climb the trellis. Water your new plants frequently.

Your hops will be ready to harvest in late August or September. Mature hop cones should feel light and dry with a strong aroma. Your first-year harvest may be small. The following year, the plants will yield a larger crop as the perennials become more established and the root systems on the plants develop. Under good growing conditions, a single hop plant can mature up to 20 feet tall in just six weeks and yield 8 pounds of fresh flowers or 1-2 pounds of dry hops ready for brewing.

Hops can be dried several different ways. Ample air circulation and slow drying are key. You can dry hops in a food dehydrator or in an oven on a very low temperature setting. Both of these methods take several hours. To test for dryness, pull the cone open. If the petals break off easily from the stem, the hops are ready. Another method is air drying. Set the cones on a screen out of direct sunlight. This method usually takes several days. Hops should feel papery when dry, but don’t let them turn brown. Once dry, place the hops in a sealed bag and store in your freezer until ready to use.

For additional information on hop varieties, refer to this Hop Guide.


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