Stringing up the Hops!
HBS Blogger Chris Corcoran
Spring time is here and the hops are going wild. One day they were just poking through the ground and the next they were waist high! What next? This means it is time to get them strung up. I’m going to briefly cover a few points about hop plant growth: from planting and stringing hops up on a trellis, to reading plant health and harvesting. Don’t stress too much. Hops are basically weeds that will grow and grow, taking anything you can give them. For a more in-depth look at growing hops I highly recommend reading "The Homebrewer’s Garden". Later this summer, we’ll cover harvesting your hops, different methods on drying them, and brewing a home grown wet hop harvest beer.
My hops are in large 5 gallon containers. I recently bought a home and had to move them. And as with many new home owners, I have been too lazy to put them in the ground yet. You can grow container hops just like in-ground, but you just need to water a little more. When you get a rhizome (baby hop plant), it looks like a stick with some bumps. Plant the rhizome about an inch under the ground bump side up. (It doesn’t really matter if the bumps are up or down, because the sprouts will grow up either way. This is just how I’ve always done it). The soil should be well draining and fertilized. Keep the soil moist without puddles and in a few weeks you’ll see little buds popping up.
As the hops break through you’ll want to prepare a trellis. Hop cones don’t grow on the first few feet of the plant, but don’t worry. The overall height of a hop plant will reach 25 to 30 feet! My first trellis was a maypole style trellis. One 16 foot pole in the middle of my five plants. I ran twine from the top of the pole to each plant, getting about 18 feet total per plant. This never worked well for me. The hops grow up, but they grow out as well. Eventually all 5 would get mixed with each other and it would be a real hassle to harvest.
This time I built trellis that strings up the hops in a line. I got 3 twelve foot 2x4s and strung up an aircraft cable between them. I originally was going to use two 4x4s but the cost was quite high. I was able to get the three 2x4s, 3 bags of quick dry concrete, heavy gauge cable, and various bolts and what not for the cost of less than one 4x4. The 2x4s may not work as they may curve or bend over the course of the growing season. For this reason, they were placed in buckets with concrete. If this method works out, I’ll bury the buckets for next season.
Some folks I know grow hops along their fence, along old cloths lines, or run them up the side of their house. Any way you go, get them strung up and space them out about 3 to 5 feet between each other. They will grow as high as you let them and will try for more!
As the hops grow, I usually trim back any mid-season or late season stems that pop up. This will help focus growing into hops, not leaves or bines. Quick note: hops grow bines, not vines. Bines are climbing plants that climb by growing around and up; where vines use tendrils to grasp as they climb. I also keep the leaves cut back for the first foot or so to promote better air flow and to minimize fungus growth.
Before long you’ll notice little fluffy "burs" growing from the plant. These are hops in the making, as the season passes these burs will turn to cones. The cones will quickly grow bigger and as harvest time approaches the cones will lighten up in color and weight. When the edges of the cones brown slightly, they will take on a papery feel. This means your hops are ready for harvest.