Growing Hops

Happy Oktoberfest, Cheers Charlotte listeners! Hope everyone had a great time at this year’s Oktoberfest. If you came by the Cheers Charlotte tent, I was pouring some brews earlier in the day. I had a great time and plan on going back next year! A big thanks to the Carolina Brewmasters for putting together a great festival; it has now become the premier beer event in the ever-growing beer scene in the Queen City. All of the area’s homebrew clubs were there as well including my own beloved club: the CABREW Crew – based out of Cabarrus County! Anyway… covering Oktoberfest is not exactly my forte’ but growing hops is definitely closer to my knowledge than real journalism…so let’s get into it.

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This week the special guest was Philip Davis of Sticky Indian Hop Farm based in Asheville, NC. Philip talked about his hop farm and which hops tend to grow the best in the NC climate. This is an excellent starting point when considering which hops to grow. He mentioned briefly about his grandmother’s “wild” hops which are somewhat of an unknown species, although he mentioned that they have had it analyzed by a lab. This is a very important point backing up the previous few sentences – the fact that they were growing since the early to mid 20th century states that this climate was perfect for that type of hop to grow.

I would like to acknowledge something about this article: this time of year is considered hop harvest time which is a great time to be talking about hops. Usually hops are planted by use of rhizomes (root cuttings) and starter plants and are always planted in the spring after the last frost. If you are planning on growing hops, not only will you not be able to find rhizomes this time of year, it would be counterproductive to plant them now to say the least. However, this is a perfect time to plan out where you would like to plant them, and prepare the ground for a spring planting. Hops like a good amount of sunlight and even work quite well in some partially shaded areas as well. Also, consider making use of yard compost such as leaves, grass clippings, food wastes (fruit peels, vegetable matter, etc). Do not compost proteins such as meats, as this will attract stray animals which are a bad thing! The use of compost cannot be emphasized more, but steps for starting a compost pile are beyond the scope of this article. Just know that incorporating it into your gardening routine is a great idea because it’s rich in nitrogen, will work to buffer pH in the soil, and it will help to correct many deficiency issues that may cross your path during the summer growing season.

Getting back to choosing which hops: (I will only speak about which hops I have had a great experience with in the past.) I typically encourage new growers to start with cascade and nugget hops, as these seem to be the hardiest of all hops plants. They particularly grow well in the NC summer heat and climate. They also seem to be very abundant and are likely to be the cheapest you will find from a rhizome distributor. I do encourage you to shop around and find a quality distributor that will deliver a good rhizome that is not dried up and already has some rootlets started. These rootlets are a good sign of a hardy plant and look like small, colorless vines growing off of the root. I have planted rhizomes vertically and horizontal and have seen no difference either way; a rule of thumb is to plant two roots per hill. If you didn’t know by now – hops plants produce vines or “bines” that like to climb vertically, so make sure you have some sort of trellis system to allow upward growth. Usually a stake in the ground with a climbing twine attached is sufficient.

During the growing season: (summer), keep a top layer of much to control weeds and keep a good layer of well-composted material around the plant base. Typically you would want to water in the morning to avoid mildew issues; which will allow the sun to slowly dry any water on the leaves. Every few weeks it can be a good idea to use some Miracle-Gro as a secondary fertilizer (also available in organic).

In the late summer to early fall (this time of year and earlier), wait for the hope cones to feel “papery” before picking them. Typical first year hops will not produce much of a harvest until the roots are settled – which usually occurs in the second year. All hops cones (commercially produced) are dried before vacuum sealed to prevent oxidation and are then refrigerated. Hops will keep longer in the absence of oxygen and in cold storage; especially whole cone hops. Some brewers like to use fresh hops in the batch, but I personally think they add a “grassy” flavor to the beer. If they are dried, they will produce a much better aroma in my opinion.

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Using your homegrown hops should really be left to aroma and flavor additions only (this includes dry hopping of course!) After all, why would you waste nice homegrown hops on a bittering addition, especially if you do not know the alpha acid percentage? Remember, using your own hops is a great way to make an original beer, as the hop plants will “take-up” the nutrients of its environment. Your home grown hops can be your personal touch on your homebrew!

That’s hop growing in a nut shell! If you have any comments or questions please feel free to let me know! Be sure to check out Sticky Indian Hops Company on Facebook and at http://stickyindianhops.com/ . Thanks for reading…Cheers!

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