If you're new to growing hops like we are - don't fret! We've teamed up with Immaculate Brewery to provide you with everything you need to know, and maybe some things you don't, for successfully growing hops at home...
What do I do when it arrives?
Upon arrival, unwrap the shrink-wrap around your hops plant to prepare it for planting. Select a location outside that fits the following requirements: full sun, access to water for irrigation, good air flow, and healthy soil. The soil should ideally have a pH balance between 6 and 7, and a good level of organic matter, which can be mixed in prior to planting or added with a cover crop. Although not recommended - if you prefer to plant your hops in an outdoor container, rather than into the ground, make sure to choose one that is at least 5 gallons and drill holes in the bottom for drainage. IB cautions, "Even then, I'd expect the plant to be root bound by the end of the year. You'll want to transport to an even bigger container after that... Hops need room to stretch their legs." They are not conducive to container gardening.
How do I plant my hops plant?
Once you’ve chosen a location, plant your hops plant as quickly and efficiently as possible into the ground, making sure the root system is completely covered. IB says, "You should see it start to grow immediately after transplant shock wears off, which shouldn't be more than a few days. You'll want to plant the hop crown so that the ground level stays about the same." Once planted - water immediately.
Help! I am unable to plant my hops right away.
You can store your hops plant for up to 2 weeks in a cool dark spot, preferably with a temperature of under 42 degrees fahrenheit. Alternatively, you can pot your hops plant in a 1-2 gallon container until you are able to plant it in the ground outside. Keep the potted hops plant well-watered. Make sure to plant your hops plant into the ground outside no later than early fall.
Help! I ordered multiple hops plants.
Just make sure to plant each hops plant at least 36-40 inches away from each other. Ample spacing makes sure you’ll have enough space to weed between plants and cultivate later on.
How much water do my plants need once planted?
Your new hops plant will need at least an inch of rain water per week during the first growing season.
How much can I expect my plants to grow once planted?
Your plant should grow into a full-grown hops plant in about a year’s time. It should bear cones as well.
Will I need a trellis?
Yes - your plant will need something to grow up. And hops grow quite vigorously so it’s never too soon to get a trellis or put together a makeshift one. If you're planning to DIY your trellis - Immaculate Brewery recommends using coir, jute, or hemp twine as a training string instead of synthetic cords. "Natural fibers are easier for the bine to grab onto," IB explains. Additionally, they make any bine 'leftovers' recycling and compost-friendly.
Will I need to weed?
Yes! Hops do not compete well with weeds. Use a weed killer or cover crop to clear weeds and grasses prior to planting.
Will I need to cover my hops plants?
Nope. “Hops need a period of cold dormancy to thrive, so unless you live in a frozen tundra or a meat locker… you’ll be fine,” says Immaculate Brewery. The rule of thumb? If temperatures outside are above -20 degrees F - your hops plants will be fine.
When do I harvest my cones?
Immaculate Brewery recommends using this guide by UMV that explains when hops are really ready to harvest and how to calculate it. They even offer an online calculator to help. "I pick a few sacrificial cones, weigh them, microwave on low or toast in the oven on low, and reweigh them," IB explains. Going through this process for the first few harvests will give you an idea of what your hops look like when they're ready - so you can eventually graduate to what IB calls "the folksy squeeze method" - i.e. waiting for the cones to feel papery to the touch, yet spring back when squeezed. The lupulin glands will also go from translucent yellow to opaque yellow, and the cone might start to open up a tiny bit on the bine. All signs your cones are ready for harvest.
What do I do with my harvested cones?
Once you separate the cones from the bines, you'll want to dry them out. IB recommends spreading the cones out on a window screen and position a small fan to blow air on them. "Once you have them down to about 8% moisture, you'll want to vacuum seal them. (If you don't have a vacuum sealer - use a freezer bag and make sure to squeeze as much air out as possible.) Store in the freezer until you're reading to use them," says IB. They should keep anywhere from 6 months to a year.
Once I've harvested the cones - what do I do with the bine?
"Once the cones are gone, the bine will continue to put any energy it makes from photosynthesis into root development. This is especially beneficial in your first year or two of growing hops," Immaculate Brewery points out. A strong root system makes for a better harvest. If you've opted to plant your hops in containers instead of directly in the ground, you'll need to do light crown maintenance (not after the first year, but after the 2nd and following years). You can find more about that on Immaculate Brewery's site here. Crown maintenance can also be beneficial for plants potted directly in the ground, but not crucial.
* A HUGE thank you goes out to Immaculate Brewery for all their help on composing the information above. Their "Growing Hops At Home" and "Fall Hops Maintenance" articles should be mandatory reads for any hops newbie. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook.