The hop is a hardy perennial plant that is easily grown at home, provided it has sufficient sunlight and space to grow. Growing hops is an especially gratifying hobby in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon is the second largest hop producing state in the US where moderate temperatures during the summer are favorable for growing high quality aroma-hops.
Homebrewers feel a great sense of pride when they are able to enjoy beer brewed at home with hops from their own gardens.
Relax, hops can be grown easily around Portland with proper care. Hops grow from small root-like cuttings that are 6 inches to a foot long and are called rhizomes. You can purchase rhizomes at HBX in the spring. We have a dozen different varieties.
Where to plant hops
Select an area in your garden with plenty of sun and require 6-8 hours of sun a day. We recommend the South side of your home/garden or any area without blockades. Hops need at least 6-8 hours of sun a day. Hop vines need a vertical support. They can grow to over 25 feet so vertical space for a strong trellis is also very important. Keep reading below...
Hops plants grow well in well-aerated soil that is rich in potassium, phosphates and nitrogen. The soil must also have good drainage.
If you are going to plant several varieties of hops, we recommend that you keep the types separated by at least five feet. Hop rhizomes of the same variety can be planted as close as 3 feet apart. Keep in mind that hop vine roots will spread voraciously and quickly take over the garden unless they are separated the roots are trimmed each season.
Hop Planting and Care
Hop rhizomes should be planted in the Spring, late enough to avoid a frost. Amend the soil well before planting. Aerate the ground by turning it over several times to aid drainage, enhance growth and prevent disease. Plant the rhizomes about 4 inches deep (roots facing down), and make a mound of soil over the rhizome that is about a foot high to aid drainage. Cover the mound with some straw or light mulch to inhibit weeds.
Hop plants grow vertically in a long vine and require some kind of trellis for support. There are many ways to make a trellis, for instance rope or twine going from ground level to your roof, or poles securely mounted in the ground, or even a large/sturdy metal fence. If using rope, select rough twine-like rope allowing the vines to grab on easily. Keep in mind that the hop vines can grow to 25+ feet long and weigh 20+ pounds. The trellis should be strong and secure.
Hops also enjoy lots of water and sunlight. In the summer heat they may need to be watered daily. [Ed: In Portland, our hops have been pretty happy without any watering. Depends on how hot and dry your spot is.]
Once the hops begins to grow and are about 1 foot long, select the 2-3 most robust vines and wrap them around your trellis to train them. You will need to train the hops for a few days, but eventually they will begin growing in a clockwise direction from east to west around your trellis. Train the best shoots and trim the rest off (to focus the plant’s energy into a few strong vines).
During year one, young hops have a minimal root system and require relatively frequent short waterings. After year one, less frequent dep waterings work well.
Your hops will continue to grow throughout the summer, and will be ready to harvest by late summer. During the first year of growth, the plant will not yield many hop cones (flowers). This is not at all unusual, and your harvest the first year will be quite small.
Examine the cones to determine when to harvest. Mature hop cones will feel dry to the touch, springy, have a very strong aromatic hop odor, and leave a yellow residue (lupulin) on your fingers. Check the cones every day and when you think they are ripe, pick one and open it. It will be filled with thick yellow-gold lupulin powder when fully ripened.
The hops may not all ripen at once, but it’s best to harvest each as it ripens. Dry the hops out in a warm dry spot in your house, and keep them away from sunlight (which will damage the hops). You can store the hops in a paper bag while drying. The hops will dry out in 1-2 weeks. Alternatively, a food dehydrator or well ventilated oven at low temperature (140 degrees) can be used.
After the hops are dry, seal them in a plastic bag with as much oxygen as possible removed and store the hop cones in your freezer.
Note: Hops can be dangerous for dogs to consume. Keep fido away from your drying hop cones.
Maintaining Hops, Year 2 and beyond
After harvest, cut the vines back to 3 feet. The winter frost will kill off the vines. At that point you can cut them back further and cover them until spring. In early spring, use a spade to cut roots around the rhizome to about a foot. Trimming the roots will prevent the hops from taking over the garden. Add some fertilizer, fresh mulch and make sure your trellis is still adequate, and the hop vines will grow back without problem.
Written March, 2014, by Miranda K for the Homebrew Exchange.