How to Grow Hops: A Home Brewer’s Dream

How to Grow HopsHop plants are usually used to add bitter flavors and stability to beers, but they can be used for a variety of other purposes too. Closely related to the marijuana plant, hop flowers have some medicinal qualities that act similar to valerian root and can help ease anxiety and restlessness. When beer brewers add hops to their beer it creates a bitterness and tangy flavor that can be measured in IBU’s or International Bitterness Units. The higher the IBU number, the more hops that were used in the brewing process.

Growing hops is a brewers dream and you can learn to be a brewer in beer making 101. Being able to go to the garden and collect your own variety of hops for your brew is incredibly satisfying and not that hard to do. While hops are very large plants, they can be grown indoors however it’s recommended you dedicate some outdoor space for your hops garden.

Types of Hops

Like many plants, there are different strains of the hops plant. You have flowers that will be more bitter than others, and some have a complex compilation of flavors that make your beer unique. There are noble hops which are low in bitterness and high in aroma. Typically, the brewer will throw these into the wort at the end of the boiling time to add the aroma without affecting the flavor too much. Really, there are a lot of hops that you can add at the end of the boiling process to add aroma, but noble hops can only be officially called noble if they are grown in a region dubbed as such. English noble hops are like Fuggle, East Kent Goldings and Goldings.

The more popular hop varieties include Centennial, Cascade, Nottingham, Liberty, and Fuggle. These are just a few of the many, many hops available. Brew real beer in your home by taking this online course. You’ll be at it in no time.

Getting Started

Unlike other plants, the hops plant must be started from the hop rhizome. The rhizome looks like a grape vine that is grown underground as part of the root system. It’s vital to transferring nutrients from the soil to the plant and it will be the piece you need to start a new hops plant.

Remember, hops plants are very large, often growing 10-20 feet in height and their root systems equally expansive. Indoor growing is not recommended, but with a little patience, you can make it work.

Indoor Growing

So, if you are up for the challenge of tackling indoor hops growing here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • 2 600 watt dual arc light bulbs (Dual arc lights include both a red and blue spectrum – HPS and MH)

  • Lots of space for roots (25gal smart pot)

  • 4x4x8 grow tent that zips up and has a Mylar lined interior

  • Trellis or wire to help the hops plant grow up and around the tent

Of course, you can adapt the sizes, and amount of lights as needed but I would recommend starting with these supplies to ensure a successful grow. Since hops is an upward growing vine like plant, it’s important to make room for this growth to occur. This is why we will use wire or a trellis system inside of the grow tent to ensure we maximize the space inside the tent and let the plant do what it needs to do. In addition to being a very tall and wide growing plant, the root system is intense and very expansive. You should start with a 25 gallon smart pot. Smart pots are organic breathable pots that help prevent root rot and are flexible to allow for extra growth if necessary. They are pricier than your typical gardening pot but it’s well worth the investment.

With your tent set up, your two 600 watt dual arc lights hanging from the center ceiling of the tent, go ahead and wrap the trellis around the interior of the tent. You want to cover as much of the walls as possible so the plant can grow adequately. There is no real method to make this happen other than using common sense, some tape, zip ties, or whatever you can to make the wire or trellis stay up and spread out.

For planting procedures, see the below in outdoor growing. You will follow the same techniques just in your smart pot instead of your outdoor hop yard. If you are a novice grower, don’t worry. Here are some tips for the “I-kill-everything-I-touch” breed of gardeners.

The lighting schedule inside is very important to the health and yield of your hops. If you are familiar with growing marijuana, you know that the plant must be on an 18 and 6 lighting cycle when in its veg state and you switch it to 12 and 12 when you want to flower it. The same applies for the hops plant. You can buy a light timer to have your lights automatically turn off when the time is appropriate. Remember though, if you don’t have proper ventilation in your tent you will have to be there to zip up the tent every night in order to prevent light leak. Without ventilation, you can’t keep the tent closed because you will burn and endanger the plants.

Outdoor Growing

If you are lucky enough to have the room – grow outdoors! The hops plant loves to grow huge (and quickly!) and its extensive root system warrants a lot of good growing room. Plus, hops like 12-16 hours of direct sunlight which is a lot easier with the naturally occurring solar cycle then keeping track of indoor lighting. Your new hop garden can be referred to as a hop yard.

  • Soil

Hop rhizomes aren’t high maintenance. As long as your soil isn’t full of rocks and clay, you should be fine. Sandy soil is preferable as it helps drain water which prevents root rot. If you can pH test your soil, aim between 5.5 and 8.0. You can buy a pH test kit at any local grow store, or online. You can also create your own organic soil compositions. Learn how in this organic soil building for the backyard course.

  • When to Plant

No more waiting until the spring to play in your garden! Hops plants are fairly durable and can withstand down to 20F. The ideal time to plant is between February and April. If you have a rhizome before the viable planting time, wrap it in a moist cloth and put it in the fridge until you are ready to put it in the ground.

  • Planting

Obviously, you need to till you garden. Get it ready for your new hops plant to grow. You’ll dig a small trench about 4-inches deep and just wide enough to fit the rhizome you’re eager to plant. Make sure you plant the rhizome horizontally and not vertically. IF there are white buds on the rhizome make sure they are planted pointing up, if there aren’t, check for roots and make sure those are planted down. Don’t over water your hops plants, they prefer a kind of arid climate – but they still need to drink. Pay attention to them as they start to sprout up. You’ll want to weed out the weak and make room for the strong.

The most common problems with the hops plants are aphids and powdery mildew. Just pay close attention to your plants and take care of them like you would any other plant or animal. There are a ton of organic sprays you can use to eliminate any pests should they occur. And don’t forget, give the plant something to grow up on. They are like vines and want to crawl, so let them.

  • Harvesting

So, your plant is tall and healthy and you’re ready to harvest your hops. You’ll know they are ready when you see the cone turn papery and brownish. Crack one of the cones open and if you see the lupulin glands looking yellow and sticky – you’re ready to harvest! It’s all about timing. Don’t wait for all of your cones to turn brown before picking, start checking them and picking some when they look ready to you.

Good luck on your growing adventure. Growing your own plants, vegetables and medicines is incredibly satisfying and it’s a contribution to creating a socially and environmentally conscious global community. For more about growing medicinal foods check out this medicinal food forest course.