So, you make your own homebrew. You may have started out like many other home brewers, using extract syrup or
extract powders. This is how most people start out making their own homebrew. Then, you may have moved up, so to speak, and began using grains along with your extract. The final step was going all grain.
<P>But, you know thereís more to brewing your own beer. You want more control over the entire process. You may have roasted your own grains, started a yeast ranch, and even made a few of your own brewing gadgets. But, something is still missing. Youíre not getting the flavor of your favorite commercial beer. Youíve tried varying procedures, different recipes, etc. But still, youíre not satisfied. The freshness just isnít there. You yearn for something more, but you donít know what it is.
The answer is simple. Grow your own hops!
Yes, I said grow your own hops. Itís much easier than you may have imagined. To begin the process of growing your own hops, you must take a look at what style of beer you enjoy most. Is it an India Pale Ale? Maybe a Hefeweizen? Or perhaps a Barleywine?
All styles utilize different breeds of hops. When you decide which beer style you enjoy most, then you can begin to trace down what kinds of hops are used in the making of this beer. You can do a little research on the Internet to find out what hops are used in different styles of beers. I wonít be going into the different breeds and uses of hops here. There is plenty of information on the Internet about that subject.
Why grow my own hops?
The answer to that is manyfold. First, you get the freshness of a homegrown product. Second, you have the satisfaction of knowing you have grown your own hops, thus controlling another aspect of the homebrewing process. Third, you get to express the budding gardener that is inside most of us. Who among us doesnít like to see things grow and flourish? There are many other reasons that people like to grow things, and youíll have to look inward to decide the best reason for you. Iíve touched on a few things here, and maybe it will give you a reason to reflect on your personal reasons. Enough said.
<b >Where do I get hops?
A little background is in order here, I believe. Hops are plants that grow from roots in the ground. They are called rhizomes, because they spread and grow by sending out side shoots from the mother plant. Hops plants produce cones, which are the actual thing you will be using in making your own beer. They are perennial, meaning they come back every year after dying down in the fall. They are also called bines, not vines. The entire plant is called a crown. You can purchase hop crowns from a variety of sources including your local home brew store. There are also online websites that sell them. Most cost less than $5.00 each, which is a great price, considering you only buy them once. The only time you can buy them, however, is in the springtime. This is the prime growing time for hops, so thatís about the only time you can buy them.
<b >Getting down and dirty
You will have to decide on a place in your garden that receives a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. Hops do not take up a large space in square foot terms, but they need a place to climb. They also need lots of water, so you might want to consider locating them in a place that can be reached by your hose. They need good air circulation, in order to prevent diseases, such as sooty mold, black spot, etc. I donít have the space to go into all the diseases of hops, but that information can also be found on the Internet.
Insects are another concern with growing hops. June bugs, also called Japanese beetles, just love to eat your hops, especially Fuggles.
Aphids will attack any hop plant without fail. They are soft, small white insects that suck the juice right out of a hop plant.
They are easily displaced by a shot of cold water from your hose, or you can use a myriad of different chemicals on them. Hops need a rich, loose soil to grow in. You might have to amend your soil to get them to grow properly.
<P>You will need to work the soil to loosen it up, and add whatever amendments you so desire. Compost is best, and it is what I use personally, but you can decide for yourself what you will need to add to the soil, if anything. If you order the crowns from the Internet, and you canít plant them right away, wrap them in a wet paper towel, and place them inside a plastic bag. Place the bag inside your refrigerator until you can plant them. When you plant them, make sure the white buds are pointing up, and the roots pointing down. Plant them to a depth of 4Ē or so, making sure they are completely covered. Water them well, and let them start growing on their own. Donít worry, they know just when to come up out of the ground all by themselves. Keep this fact in mind also--hops can and do grow at the rate of a foot a day or better. I have plants that have grown to 5í in only 2 weeks from emerging from the ground. So, you will need to build that trellis before you know it.
Hops grow up, not out
You will need to build a trellis of some sort to support your hops as they grow. It can be as simple as a large single pole stuck in the ground, with good garden twine going from a stake in the ground up to the top of the pole. There are plans on the Internet for making this teepee arrangement. You can also build an elaborate trellis from steel pipe and wire mesh. Be aware however, that whatever you build will have to be taken down later, so you can harvest your hops. When you make your trellis, make sure it can withstand the weight of a fully grown bine, because hops plants will grow a great deal of leaves along with the cones they produce. They can get mighty heavy after it rains, and they are soaking wet. Keep in mind that hops will grow to a height of 20 feet or even more, if given proper conditions for growth. A common practice when growing hops is to strip off the bottom 4 or 5 feet of bine leaves, so air can circulate through the plant, thereby preventing disease.
Why arenít my hops producing any cones?
Most plants will not produce anything the first year. However, you may get lucky like I did, and have a few cones the first year.
Perennials take at least 3 years to get established. The second year, you will see more bine growth, and a lot more leaves. The third year after planting is when you should see a full crop of cones. When your hop shoots come up out of the ground, you will want to trim them back to the strongest 2 or 3 leaders. Donít let them just grow wild, as they will produce mainly stems and leaves, and not cones, which is the whole point of growing hops in the first place. You will need to fertilize the plants every year with the fertilizer of your choice. I use compost and composted cow manure myself.
Picking the cones
When the hop cones are starting to dry out slightly, itís time to pick them. Take down your trellis, and lay it flat on the ground. It is a lot easier to pick cones down low than trying to stand on a 16í tall ladder, believe me. After you pick them, spread them on old window screens to allow air to dry them out completely. Then, you can pack them in plastic zipper bags, and freeze them. Freezing them will prevent a lot of the aromatics and resins inside the cones from evaporating away. You can then use them whenever you need to brew a batch of beer.
After-care of hop plants
Plants will need to be cut back to 3 or 4Ē in length before winter sets in. Also, mulch them with straw, pine needles, what have you, to a depth of 8 to 10Ē before snow falls. Next spring, before they sprout out and take off again, make sure you give them a boost with a good feeding of a balanced fertilizer just to make sure they have a good start for the year. Hops are great plants to grow, because they provide shade and beauty. Itís nice to say to your friends, ď I brewed this beer, and I grew the hops used in making it too.Ē Then, show them your new hop garden when they donít believe you. I know, Iíve done it. Itís great.