Growing Hops From Rhizomes, and Planning Your Garden
The lupulin shift has hit most homebrewers in full stride. I need more hops, you need more hops, and your neighbor Ted needs more hops. Our desire for heavily hopped beers has only grown throughout the years, and with hops sometimes running over 3$ an ounce, a batch of IPA can get expensive in a hurry. However, there is a solution. You can order some of our home brewing hops or you can grow your own hops to use in your homebrewed beer! Don't worry, growing hops at home is easy! Let’s look at how to grow your own hops from rhizomes, and plan your hop garden. First, you may ask, “What are rhizomes”? Rhizomes are root trimmings of an already established female hop plant (only female plants produce hop cones). The hop plant itself is very resilient, and grows large root structures, so just planting a piece of root in the ground will grow a brand new hop plant.
Planning Your Garden
At this stage, before you begin planting rhizomes, you should plan your hop garden. Hops have a lot of needs. Those include sun, space, support, and nutrient rich soil with good drainage. Sun: Hops love the sun, and it’s best to plant them with southern exposure. Generally, the more sun, you can give your hops, the better off you’ll be. Space: The next thing to take into account is space. Rhizomes of the same variety should be planted 3-5 feet away from each other, and rhizomes of separate varieties should planted be 5-7 feet apart. Good Soil: To have a very successful hop garden, you’ll want to provide your rhizomes with nutrient rich soil that has good drainage. If you do not have access to soil with good drainage, build a small mound to plant the rhizome in. The planting area should also be a pH between 6 and 8. In regards to soil nutrition, dig a 1 foot deep hole, and mix the soil with nutrient rich materials such as manure, bone meal, or rock phosphate. It's important to note that you won't plant the rhizome 1 foot deep, you just want to have it surrounded by a lot of nutrition in the early stages of growth. Support Structures for Hops: The last factor that goes into planning your hop garden is support. Hops can reach 15-20 feet high if allowed. That means your plants will need plenty of support as they grow. Hops are great climbers, so training them up a wall or fence is a good idea. You can also train them clockwise up a piece strong twine or a long pole or stake. Once you have your garden planned and ready to go, it’s time to plant your rhizomes.
Growing Your Rhizomes Into Hops
Step 1, Before you plant: Once your rhizomes arrive, you should store them in the fridge until ready to plant. If before planting hop rhizomes, they are budding, remember to plant it with the bud facing upwards. It’s okay if there are no buds on your rhizomes. If there is no budding on the rhizome, it can be planted either horizontally or vertically. They can figure out which way is up!
Step 2, Planting: When you're ready to plant (after the last risk of frost), plant the rhizome 2-3 inches deep. Remember, if it has any buds, have those pointing upwards.
Step 3, Watering and Maintenance: In the first year of growth, your hops’ root systems will still be small and maturing, so the soil must be kept well watered. Hops like their roots wet, but some care should be taken to not soak the leaves when watering. On the other hand, you don’t want the soil to be wet all of the time, as you run the risk of rotting the rhizome. Using mulch can help lock in moisture and prevent competition from weeds. Hop plants also love fertilizer. However, you can use too much fertilizer (with nitrogen specifically). If you do, your plant will be very robust and healthy, but the cones will have a lower alpha acid percentage.
Step 4: Trimming shoots: If you hop plant goes crazy, and sends up 4, 5, or even more shoots, you should think about trimming them back down to the healthiest two or three. This will ensure the new plant's energy is focused on having a few very healthy shoots with more production than many shoots with less production. This principle can also be applied to most fruiting plants and bushes.
Step 5, Training the Bines: There are two stages of growth for your hops. First, the bines will grow vertically until their maximum height is reached. This is usually around June, at which point there will be some horizontal growth, on which the hop cones will grow. You can train the plants to run horizontally instead. This is great if you have a fence or something similar that has the support, but isn't necessarily 10-15ft high. Let the hops climb to the top of the fence, and then train them in one direction. Try not to zig zag. Your hops will be ready to harvest in August or September. You can tell they are ready when they start to dry out. One indicator of ripeness is if you squeeze a cone, it will pop back out to its original shape. The amount of lupulin will also be increasing (Lupulin is the sticky yellow powder inside of hops).
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