Home-brewed beer is becoming increasingly popular at the moment, with many people wanting to get involved in the world of brewing and have a go at making their own drinks from scratch. If you want to go all the way and have full control over every step of the process, however, then you are going to want to grow your own hops at home. But if you are going to grow good quality hops and make great beer, you are going to need to know what you are doing before you start.
Here at Best of Tools, we’ve put together a guide to growing your own hops in order to help you to do exactly that. Below, you will find a basic introduction to how to grow your own hops, from planting the hops to storing and drying your harvest at the end of the process. With the help of our guide, you will be ready to get started on brewing your own beer in no time!
Growing your own hops is just as easy as growing your own tomatoes, but more attractive. As well as being a vital part of brewing your own beer, hops provide an incredibly attractive landscape garden element that gives shade as well as looking beautiful.
Getting started with growing your own hops
Hops are generally grown from rhizomes, which are small sections of roots trimmed from large, mature hop plants. These are easy to mail order in a dormant state, ready for planting, or can be bought from local home brewing supply stores.
You can also purchase small hops plants from some home brewing supply stores. Both of these options are usually relatively inexpensive, with rhizomes ranging from $4 to $10 depending on the variety, and potted smaller hops plants coming in at around $8 to $10 in most cases.
There are several different varieties of hops available, and all of them offer slightly different properties. For the most part, that’s differences like levels of heat resistance, mold resistance, and protection from disease and pests, but each variety will also taste different when used in beer. No matter which type you choose, though, hops can be grown in pretty much any of the various climate zones across the US.
Hops are large plants, producing vines that can grow up to 25 feet longer every year, so it is worth planning for the long term. You will need to put them in a sunny area of your yard or garden, as they require 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day in order to grow well. They are also going to need strong support, which could be a sturdy trellis or could simply be a tall fence or stable wall.
How to plant hops
Once you’ve chosen a good spot to plant your hops in, it’s time to prepare the soil. Till it well and add soil conditioner or compost for the best drainage, as hops prefer not to be too wet. Early spring is a good time for planting after the risk of frost has faded. In general, that means March or April.
Plant each rhizome in a separate mound of dirt, spaced 3 to 5 feet apart. Plant them with the small buds pointed up, about 1 or 2 inches deep. You’ll start to see the first sprouts within a week or so, and after that, progress can be very fast if you feed and fertilize your hops well!
The first year after planting, you are unlikely to see many (or any!) cones on your hops plants. In its first year of growth, the plant is focusing all of its energy on growing a strong, stable root system. By the second year of growth, though, the plant can afford to focus more energy on producing cones, and you’ll see your first harvest. Hops produce large yields of up to a pound (or sometimes even more!) per plant.
Hops cones are usually ready around late July or early August. To test whether a cone is ready, pinch it and see how it feels. If it feels papery and brittle, it’s ready to pick! Inside a ripe cone is a cluster of small, yellow particles, which are the bits you want for flavoring beer.
Drying your hops
Once you’ve picked your ripe cones, they can easily be dried in an electric food dehydrator. Set it to 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and ensure that it never rises above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Alternatively, just set up a window screen in the sunshine to dry them out in a DIY setup. Once the stems of the cones turn brittle and dry, they’re appropriately dried and should be ready for use.
Once your cones are dry, you can add them to an in-progress brew, or you can vacuum seal them and freeze them for later use. Some homebrewers like to use fresh cones instead of drying them, for a sharper and fresher tasting beer, but most people prefer to dry their cones first.
It is worth noting, however, that hops are highly toxic to dogs! If a dog eats hop cones, this can lead to panting, high body temperatures, seizures, and potentially death. Make sure you keep your hop cones, both fresh and dry, securely away from dogs.