HOW TO GROW HOPS - Humulus lupulus

How to grow hops - Humulus lupulus

If you have a passion for beer (and let's be honest, who doesn't?) then you may have thought about growing your own hops. Native to Europe, western Asia and North America, the hop plant is a perennial, herbaceous climbing plant often found growing wild in hedges and thickets. It is the flowers of the hop plant (known as cones) of which are used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer.

How to grow hops - Humulus lupulus
The hop plant has a vigorous, habit, and when grown commercially is usually trained to grow up strings. This method of cultivation frees up energy for crop growth and flower production which would have otherwise been use to build plant cells for structural support. Hop plants are dioecious meaning that male and female flowers are produced on different plants. This is important to know as only female plants are used in the production of beer.

The traditional time to plant hop plants is during the winter months. Hops will perform best in a southern exposure, but an east or west exposure will do although this will affect the overall size of the plant. They prefer a light-textured, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 - 8.0. Avoid heavy soils and those prone to waterlogging, but if this is not possible the consider planting your hop plants into a raised mound to improve the drainage.

Due to the vigorous nature of the hop plant, dig in plenty of well-rotted farm manures or garden compost prior to plants. You can also consider adding balanced slow-release granular fertiliser. In fact the species name 'lupulus' is a derivative of the scientific name for the wolf - Canis lupus, as the hop plant is said to 'wolf down' its nutrients. Provide a mulch in the spring to maintain moist conditions. Avoid over-fertilizing with too much nitrogen as this will result in lower quality cones.

How to grow hops - Humulus lupulus
New plants will need to be watered in their first year during prolonged periods of drought. By the second year the roots will be established and additional watering should be unnecessary. Overwatering can cause the roots to succumb to fungal rots.

If you are growing a mixture of hop varieties then plant them 1.5 metres apart. If you are growing just one variety then they can be planted 1 metre apart.

The hops will not be ready for harvesting in late August or September. A good test of readiness is to squeeze the cone with your fingers, If the cones are damp, very green, and stay compressed after you have squeezed them then they are not ready. If they are beginning to dry out and expand back to their original shape after being squeezed then they are ready for harvest.

Harvesting hops

Once the hops are ready for harvest, cut the supporting string at the top and lay the vines lay down on the ground. Pick the cones as required, but wear suitable gloves and clothing as the leaves are coarsely toothed. Allow the vine to dry and die back naturally before removing the stems.
Main Image - Hagen Graebner CC BY-SA 2.5
In-text image - By Marti at the German language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,
In-text image - Ilkka Paju file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

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