Your Guide To Growing Hops

It started with your passion for great-tasting beer and probably evolved into a series of at-home micro brew kits you were given for birthdays or holidays. Now, you’re ready to take the next step in your beer crafting journey and grow your own hops. 

Growing hops may seem like a tall order, but it’s actually pretty simple. Most varieties of hops are hearty plants that are difficult to kill, so even if you don’t have a green thumb, you’ll probably still be able to grow them successfully. 

Here’s what you need to know about growing your own hops to craft your customized ultra-microbrew. 

What Are Hops?

You know the taste, aroma, and bitterness of hops in your favorite IPAs, but do you know what a “hop” really is? Hop is a catchall term for a myriad of varieties of the Humulus lupulus plant, which is native to North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. 

The hops plant comes in numerous varieties, and each variety creates a distinct flavor, fragrance, and bitterness that give a beer its unique taste. 

The plant itself has two types of blooms:

  • Catkins. Catkins form on the plant with yellowish-green flowers. This is the male part of the plant. 
  • Strobiles. Small, cone-like structures called strobiles form the female part of the plant. The strobiles are the brewer’s bread and butter. The strobiles are also referred to as hops. 

The Hops

The hops of the plant are the seed-carrying structures that contain the makings of another plant. Hops are generally harvested when they are ripe and then ground into pellet form for beer making. They are green, cone-shaped structures that are easily recognizable. 

The at-home beer-making kits you’ve worked with previously probably contained a packet of hop pellets, which you add to your brew according to the instructions. 

Some brewers use whole hops in their beer, but generally, the portion of the plant the brewer wants is inside the hops, in even smaller structures called lupulins. 

Lupulins

Lupulins are tiny glands inside the plant that contain a yellow powder. Lupulin powder is essentially beer pollen. It’s yellow, earthy, and contains the phytochemicals, essential oils, and resins that determine its particular variety. 

You may have developed some familiarity with lupulin powder as it has gained increased popularity through the creation of hazy IPAs that are known as much for their light and airy mouthfeel as they are for their citrusy, hoppy taste and distinctively clouded viscosity. 

Why Lupulin Is Important

Lupulin powder can be extracted and used in concentrated form, which is ideal for a brewer who wants to focus on the particular characteristics of the hop plant they are using. 

Adding the full hop casing or parts of the hop casing will always give your beer a hint of plant-matter flavor, which can muddy the aroma, flavor, and bitterness you’re seeking from the lupulin of the particular plant. 

Growing your own hops gives you the ability to control the amount of hop and lupulin you include in your brews, which is why it's so appealing to a true connoisseur. 

How To Grow Your Own Hops

You can grow hops with a small garden plot or even in a deep pot on a second-floor patio, although they’ll grow strongest and produce more consistently when planted in the earth. 

The hops growing process is a year-round labor of love. From planting in the spring to harvesting in the fall and preparing your plants for winter, hops will need attention, space, and time. Here are six easy steps to growing your own. 

1. Order Your Rhizomes

Hops aren’t grown from seeds; they’re cultivated from rhizomes. Rhizomes are root-like structures that grow beneath the soil, kind of like a tulip bulb. It’s important to research the varieties of hops available.

Depending on the type of beer you eventually hope to brew, you’ll purchase a rhizome from a specific variety of hops. The varieties are countless, and it can be overwhelming to decide what kind of hops you need. 

  • Centennial and Cascade varieties have a middle-of-the-road flavor, bitterness, and aroma. They are a good variety for beginners because they can be brewed into many different kinds of beer. 
  • Galena and Magnum varieties are an excellent choice for adding bolder, more bitter flavors. 
  • Golding, Sterling, and Fuggle varieties offer bold, rich aromas.
  • The Mt. Hood variety is an extremely hearty strain known for being disease resistant and might be a solid choice if you’re afraid you might neglect your plants from time to time.

It’s important to order your rhizomes in early spring so you can get them planted in time for a late summer harvest. 

2. Plant Your Rhizomes

Planting should be done in early spring, once there’s no chance of frost. Choose soil that isn’t sandy or filled with rocks, and make sure you heavily fertilize the soil before planting your hops. Bury each rhizome about four inches into the earth, with the root side down. 

Planting your rhizomes in mounds can help prevent root rot, and covering them with mulch or straw can help you avoid weeds. Hops vines (also called “bines”) can grow up to 25 feet long and weigh as much as 20 pounds. They like to grow vertically, so a trellis or series of ropes or twine will help you keep them intact. 

3. Caring for Hops

Your hops will grow throughout the summer. They should be placed in an area where they’ll receive 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. They’ll likely need daily watering, especially if you live in a dry climate with little rain. 

Water your hops just enough to keep them hydrated but not so much the soil stays wet for more than 24 hours. The rhizomes can rot if you over-water them, causing the plant to die. 

You’ll also need to actively prune the bines. Ideally, there should only be two to three shoots per bine. Cut back shoots that are weak or smaller than the others. 

4. Harvesting Your Hops

After waiting patiently all summer, you’ll begin to notice the cones on your plants look and feel drier to the touch. This is an indication it’s time to pluck them. Normally, late August and early September are prime harvesting months for hops. Here’s how you can tell when your hops are ready. 

  • The cones are dry to the touch, feel springy when you squeeze them gently, and feel papery on the outside.
  • Hops begin to give off a strong, hoppy aroma.
  • The hops are covered in lupulin powder.

If you still aren’t sure, you can pluck a single cone and open it. If it is filled with yellow lupulin powder, it’s a safe bet it’s time to harvest your hops and get ready for some serious brewing. 

Your hops won’t ripen all at once, but you’ll need to harvest them individually to ensure they are captured at peak freshness. 

5. Drying Your Hops

If you plan to create a wet-hopped beer, you can use your hops immediately upon harvesting (we’re talking use within 24 hours). If not, you’ll need to dry them and store them for the future. 

There are several different ways you can dry your hops. Each method takes about a week to produce fully dried pods:

  • Use a food dehydrator;
  • Lay them on a screen, chicken wire, or cooling rack and blow them with a fan;
  • Sit them in a warm, dry place where they are protected from animals and weather, like a garage. 

Whatever you do, do not sit them in the sun. The sun will scorch the hops and change their flavor and aroma. Many an at-home hops grower has made this mistake and wondered why their beer ended up with a noticeably charred flavor. 

Once they are dry, place them in a bag and release as much of the air as possible. Store them in the freezer for up to a year. 

6. Maintaining the Bines

After harvest, you’ll want to cut the bines back to a length of two to three feet. As winter encroaches, frost will naturally kill the remainder of the bines, and you can cover the rhizomes to protect them through winter. 

When spring approaches, dig around the rhizomes to cut back the roots, which will allow them to grow more heartily and prevent them from overtaking their space. Place new fertilizer on the soil and get ready for your second year’s harvest. 

Tap Into Better Beer

Growing your own hops is a great way to become more familiar with the brewing process and better understand what goes into creating the brews you love. If it’s not for you, that’s okay too. 

TapRm exists to bring obsessed brewmasters together with passionate beer drinkers. We make it possible for microbrewers to become nationwide distributors and allow you access to that local craft beer you found while on vacation. 

If you decide to grow your own hops, we’re here to support you. In the meantime, log on to TapRm and grab a six (or two) of your favorite stout or IPA. Here’s to happy hops and great beer.

 

Sources:

Humulus lupulus - Plant Finder|Missouri Botanical Garden 

What Is Lupulin and Why Is It in Your Beer? | Hop Culture 

Troubles Growing Hops | Home Guides. SFGate.com

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