Growing your own hops part one
Commercial hops are grown up poles, but you can grow them up the side of your house. Hops like sunlight and will require around 8 hours of it every day, so a south-facing garden that gets plenty of light is ideal. They can also grow up to 7 metres/23 feet, or about the size of a typical two-storey Victorian house. They won’t tolerate thick clay, preferring a nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. If you do have thick clay, digging in plenty of manure and compost will transform the growing medium into a hop-friendly one. Alternatively, they can be grown in big pots measuring at least 50cm/20 inches in diameter and they will need watering more than a ground-planted hop.
Plant softwood cuttings or rhizome cuttings (root cuttings) in spring when the ground is not frozen. Once you have chosen which type of hop suits your needs (see p000) the search can start, Cuttings can be found on home-brew web forums, from specialist nurseries, by asking members in your local brew circle and on classified websites like eBay or gumtree.com. It is always worth trying to get rhizomes that have been grown as close to your home as possible. This is because plants will naturally adapt to weather and soil conditions, and growing them in the same district just means there are less things for them to re-adapt to.
Before planting, ensure rhizomes are nice fat examples and not dried out or disease-ridden. If they are firm to the touch you are on to a winner; you want something that feels like an under-ripe avocado rather than a very over-ripe one . Ensure that the rhizomes are planted horizontally, with the white shoots facing up and the roots facing downwards. If you don’t intend to plant them out immediately, then wrap them up in newspaper or damp sawdust to stop them from drying out and check frequently to ensure they don’t go mouldy or dry out.
Plant to a depth of 20cm/4 inches and water in well. Adding a mulch of straw or bark will retard weed growth.
Hop bines will need to grow up something. I have used fencing wire, but rope, or even a sturdy old washing line, will do the job. Select the strongest bines and allow them wrap themselves around the wire; they may need a little bit of coaxing at first but they will get the hang of it after a week or two. To make a trellis, set a 3–4-metre/10–13-foot pole in the ground and tie the wire to the top, pegging it out at around 1 metre/3 feet from the base of the pole to form a tepee-like structure for your hops to grow up.
Don’t expect too much in the first year – it will vary, my fuggles produced enough to make a pint/500ml and my Bramling Cross enough to make 19 litres. Prune some of the young leaves in late spring to open up the bines to the sun. Keep varieties separate and feed with an organic liquid fertilizer (or even mulch with spent hops).
Part two of growing your own hops, pests and diseases will be posted later this year when your plants have a chance to grow a little.
Brewing Britain is available from many great bookshops, including Blackwells in the UK and over in the US of A – you can buy it from your local indie bookstore or if you live in Australia and want to be of the minority that makes good beer, buy it here. Then there is the rest of the world… if you want to email me, I’ll find you a bookseller or perhaps I’ll even sell you a copy myself.