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Hops: Can Be Grown Commercially or At Home

The brewing and enjoying of beer is a human endeavor that literally pre-dates recorded history. This magic amalgam of water, barley and hops can be reconfigured in literally thousands of ways, to create a rainbow of beverages to match any taste.

In our modern world there are basically two ways to experience beer. A consumer can either purchase ready-made beer, product produced by commercial breweries. Or they can make their own. In Canada the distillation of stronger spirits is illegal, but home produced beer and wines form the backbone of an entire industry. When delving even deeper into the world of hand-made beer, there are a couple of ways to approach the problem. A practitioner can either make their frosty beverage from a kit, from raw materials, or some combination of the two.

The flower of the hop plant (only the female flower) is the element that generally gives a beer its homemade hopsbitterness, and as a result its distinctive flavor. Many experienced home beer makers have discovered that to produce a product that rivals (or surpasses in some cases) in taste that delivered by the commercial breweries the use of actual hop flowers in the brewing process is essential. What many people don’t know is that for an experienced gardener the growing of hops at home can be a relatively easy process – if you know some of the tricks of the growing trade. As summer is fast approaching, and as hops are something that have to begin growing in the spring, beer aficionados may be too late to start this year. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make plans for next year’s harvest.

As a plant the hop is a hardy, perennial that can be easily grown at home. To ensure the plant has the best chance to survive it must be planted in a sunny location and have room to climb. A vine, similar to a pea plant or a grape vine, hops can grow as much as 25’ in a single season. Hop poles, typically made from yellow cedar are implanted in the ground to serve as the climbing structure for the vine. Yellow cedar hop poles are preferred as they can be acquired locally and yellow cedar is highly resistant to rot or insect infestation.

A hop plant can grow 25′ in a single season

Hop plants grow from root stock which is known as the crown. From the root, which is planted adjacent to the hop pole, the vine will emerge and climb up the pole. Normally a hop trellis is constructed that helps keep the poles upright and stable. The vines will die at the end of each growing season in the fall but will return in the spring. The crown also produces the underground stem or rhizome, it is the root-like rhizomes which sprout the plant’s numerous buds, which are the key to its propagation.

While commercial growers will plant entire fields with hop poles, backyard hop growers can get by with much smaller allotments, depending on how much of the hop flower is required for their specific needs. The fields of a commercial hop farmer will resemble those of a vineyard from a distance. The fields will be recognized by its rows of hop poles, green with the climbing vines, suspended in a trellis system and anchored with guide wires.

The basic requirement for a hop growing hobbyist is an area of the yard that has plenty of space. When in its growing cycle a healthy hop plant can grow a foot a day, so pre-planning is essential. In addition a successful hop yard has to have direct sunlight and access to plenty of water. Hops require a soil that is easily worked, not one that is hard clay and one that can be easily drained as standing water can lead to rot. A pH of 6.5-8.0 is also required. As hops use large quantities of water and nutrients, the soil needs fertilizers rich in potassium, phosphates, and nitrogen. Home growers can use manure compost and commercial fertilizer for this purpose.

Vancouver Island is a great place for growing hops, thanks in part to its benign climate. The plants need at least 120 frost-free days to reach maturity. Hop vines grow typically until mid-July and can produce anywhere up to two pounds of blooms of dried flowers per plant during the growing season. Hop plants are normally spaced at least five feet apart to provide easy access, and to prevent the plants from chocking each other out.

Are hops something you should consider? It depends on your available space, your commitment to quality home brewed beer and to the color of your greenthumb. If you are determined enough, they are a plant that can be grown and used at home. Do a little research and see if hop growing is for you.

For more information visit our hops page and videos here

Read about yellow cedar as the premium hops trellis material. 

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