Hops are the aromatic, bittering and flavor-enhancing vegetables that add so much deliciousness to beer. If you’ve ever thought of growing your own, now is the perfect time of year to get started.
While growing hops may seem like a no-brainer for home brewers, well-tended hops also make a decorative trellis or screen planting with a personal twist for general beer-enthusiasts as well. Late spring’s milder temperatures provide the ideal climate to pick up some starter plants and see if your green thumb is as strong as your beer tasting skills.
To get started, you need hop rhizomes, which are short segments of roots from mature hop plants. If you don’t have a local nursery that sells hops, they can easily be mail-ordered in a dormant state. Prices start at around four dollars for common plantings like Chinook, Columbus and Willamette, but expect to pay a little bit extra for more rare varieties.
If you’ll be using the hops for brewing, then choosing which hop to plant depends on your personal preferences. If the plan is to put the hops into different batches, it may be best to go with a mild, all-purpose bittering hop so that you can use it for many different beer styles. However, if you only crave big, resiny IPAs, growing a more specific hop like Newport may be a better investment.
The local climate will play a huge part in your growing success. The good news is that hops tend to thrive in the majority of the country where the average annual extreme minimum temperature is between -30 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Unless you’re in Alaska, Hawaii, the deep south or far west, you can probably grow hops in your backyard.
You’ll want to make sure your growing area has lots of space and direct sunlight. Hops grow as climbing vines that mature to 25 feet tall. Shortly after planting, you can expect a hop vine to grow one foot per day. A trellis or other support structure is highly recommended to keep the plant from overtaking other vegetation or buildings. Regular drip irrigation into fertile soil will give the plants a solid head start.
Hops were called a “wild and pernicious weed” by King Henry VIII, in reference to the tenacity of the plant. Once they take off, they are hardy, thriving plants that are easy to maintain and provide not only back yard shade but also one of the most important and delicious ingredients used in brewing.
For more on growing your own hops or other beer ingredients, check out The Homebrewer’s Garden by Dennis Fisher and Joe Fisher. Recommended sites to order hop rhizomes include eBrew, Great Lakes Hops and More Beer.