Growing your own hops part one

Growing your own hops a extract from Brewing Britain – part one Planting and training

Growing hops

Hops Growing up a pole

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.

Planting and training

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 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.

Fruit and Vegetable Gardening – Getting started

The following article first appeared in Ethical Living magazine. When I wrote the following Ethical Living magazine was a physical magazine. As with other Ethical magazines they have chosen to make the bold move to online only.  When I wrote this article it was after an email exchange with Kim Marks the editor. She told me that she wanted to get into vegetable gardening but lacked the experience. So, I wrote the following and subsequent articles in this series with her in mind. It was a good way to focus the mind on who the reader was going to be. I might, if I feel brave enough post some articles where I didn’t do that.

Fruit and Vegetable Gardening – Getting started

My allotmentA common misconception about growing your own produce is that it is somehow difficult. The truth is that nothing can be easier. Humans have been growing produce for thousands of years without the aid of complicated equipment or books (or this magazine).

Equipment needed

This depends on the size of your plot. If you are growing in a window box then, other than a watering can, you won’t need much else, as you can weed with your fingers and the soil won’t really need digging. Moving up to a small bed in the garden I would suggest a spade, a fork, the before mentioned watering can and a hand fork for light weeding are all that’s needed.

If you are considering a larger plot or an allotment then you will need many more tools. A rake, fork, spade, hoe, hand fork, trowel, large watering can or hose, water butt and compost bin are all advisable – although you could get by just using a spade and fork. Before you start to panic at the thought of all of this cost may I suggest that the compost bin can be made (see next issue) or you can just pile up your compost into a heap. Other tools can be borrowed from friends or from sites set up for tool sharing schemes such as (The freeconomy website), or can be gotten for free on

Some of my tools came from a handy garden centre in Bath that sells second hand tools rather cheaply, so keep your eyes open for places near you. Remember too that cheap new tools are a false economy as they will break within the first season.

How much space do I need

I have seen wheat, mustard and even tomatoes growing in the cracks of a pavement. Helpfully illustrating that plants will try and grow wherever they can. I am not suggesting you turn your street into a vegetable patch (although wouldn’t it be great if we all could), I am saying that if you think you have hardly any space, think again.

Even if you live in a small flat you can still grow fruit and vegetable in pots. I have grown tomatoes in a bucket in my living room. A good friend of mine has also grown all the herbs she needed on her one windowsill in her bedsit. Another friend grew blueberries on the flat part of the roof of his London flat. The roof was no bigger than the average dinning room table!

Basically a plant needs room for its roots to take up as much moisture and as many nutrients as it needs. Generally speaking, the bigger the plant the more root space it will need. So, fairly obviously, the more you want to grow the more space you will need.

How much to take on

One of the best bits of advice I can give to anyone when getting started is not to take on too much in one go. If you think you can turn a full allotment plot or (average 250 sq meters) or a huge back garden by yourself. keep a family and a full time job you might need to think again. I would have thought most people could manage it for the first season but as with university drop out rates it seems to be the second year that most people give up. Although if you take on half a plot at first or better still try taking on the plot with a friend or partner then you stand a better chance of cultivating the plot.

What to grow


Tomatillo growing in a pot in my back yard

A very obvious bit of advice is only to grow things that you like and will eat. I was once talking to someone who was really excited as he had, “tons of radishes”. I asked him what he intended to do with them and he was not sure as he does not like radishes.

I too have come foul of seed excitement and once planted a whole packet of beet spinach. Beet spinach is very easy to grow and most seeds will germinate this left me with 4 rows of the stuff. I ate some every day, filled my freezer up with the stuff and gave as much away as I could. I still had more than I could ever hope to do anything with. What made matters worse is that beet spinach just keeps coming. Indeed it also goes by the name of perpetual spinach as you can pick the leaves and they keep growing back. In the end I dug up every single plant and did not plant it again for another few years, where upon I only planted 2 plants and that was plenty.

It is also worth thinking about why you are growing. If it is an attempt to save money then try growing things that cost a lot of money.

What’s easy to grow

There are some plants out there that are really easy to grow which is why many people seem to have them on their plot. Things like beetroot (and the before mentioned beet spinach), lettuces, runner beans, rocket all can be pretty much planted from seed and as long as you water them and the slugs don’t get them they will just grow. I would also highly recommend tomatillos; not only because I love Mexican food, but also because they are very, very easy to grow and give a good yield. I grew some in pots a few years ago and was eating them almost every day! It is noteworthy to suggest that you will need more than one plant in order for them to fruit.

Fruit is another good option especially for the beginner as not much work has to be put in. Raspberries, strawberries and even an apple tree can be planted meaning you will enjoy year after year of delicious fruit.

I would also like to recommend potatoes as they can be a very easy to grow. Indeed, it is often recommended that potatoes should be the first thing that people plant on their plots. This mainly because the soil gets moved when growing spuds as they need earthing up (a process that involves covering the growth to ensure larger crops). Moving the soil in this manner can help keep weeds down, leaving a workable soil the next year. Good advice, that is unless you live in the South west of England as I do; we have real trouble with blight. Blight is a disease that can destroy potatoes and tomatoes rotting them and making them inedible. Our wet summers really don’t help as rain can transfer the disease.


Above all else you need enthusiasm to grow your own produce. Be warned that it can be addictive, one you have roasted your first home grown beetroot, baked your first potato or eaten a pea straight from a pod, you won’t want to look back

Winter Gardening

sheds in snow

sheds in snow

This article was first published in the sadly missed Ethical Living magazine back in the winter of 2010

Winter Gardening

If these two months are anything like they were last year then it will be impossible to attempt much gardening on your plot. The hard ground doesn’t just make hard work for you, but also for your tools. More importantly, you could be harming your soil more than helping it if you get digging now.

So why bother? Yes, there are a few jobs that you could be getting on with out on the cold, cold wilds of your garden or allotment but can’t they wait for the bright sunny days? So put your feet up, throw another log on the fire (or put another jumper on) for now is the time that the only exercise muscle you should be exercising is to that grey matter. It is the time for reflecting on the year; the time for reading and planning for the next.

As with most, I am sure that some things worked last season for you and some things didn’t. (At least I hope some things worked for your, if not then I admire your perseverance)!  Perhaps an army of slugs destroyed everything you planted or you had so many courgettes you’ve been eating frozen ones every day since the summer. Gardening is all about these successes and failures and good gardeners learn by their failures. Use the books that I have no doubt you got for Christmas or pop down the library and get ones out if you didn’t (I hear the Selfsufficientish Bible is a good option), browse the internet and talk to other gardeners. Learn what it was you did wrong and try not to re-create it next year and hopefully your life should become much easier.

Something else that will improve your gardening is planning. Draw your allotment or vegetable patch. It need not be completely to scale just as long as you can work out where everything is when you look at it. Draw each bed and leave blank where you can grow your produce. Then put it on your fridge. Do nothing for about a month but keep looking at your picture and keep thinking about what you might want to grow, this should help you make some clear decsions about what to grow.  Ask yourself how much time you can put into your plot. It is really easy to think you have more time than you do, if you do have plenty of time then great but if not then make sure you don’t think you can take on more than you can; this is the biggest mistake most people will make in their first few years of gardening. Taking on twice as much often means you do half as much over a bigger scale and your plants suffer, you lose heart and quite often give up.

There are cheats to growing produce without having to take on any extra work and the tastiest is Soft fruit. Bushes should go in about now so if you can find a day when the ground is not solid put some in. Dig a hole that will fit the root ball put in your fruit bush and backfill with good compost. Make sure you heel in the bush (harden the ground around the bush with a heel).  In fact I would suggest fruit bushes for everyone!

As with university most people “drop out” of gardening in their second year. If this is yours then please try and hang on in there you never know you might get a first class honours in potatoes, a HND in carrots or a masters in sweetcorn.