Root and Rhizome Preparation for Spring
Rising shoots from the soil is a reason to celebrate and pop the top on a beer that has been aging over the winter. As the beer itself has been maturing, the rhizomes or roots have been in preparation for exuberant growth in the spring months. Towards the latter half of last years growing season, the plant starts to send carbohydrates back to the roots in preparation for hibernation. During this time the carbohydrates are converted to starches for storage. Over the winter months when the plant is deemed to be dormant, it is actually converting these starches into soluble sugars. These sugars are the food source for the enormous growth of the young shoots, and explains how the pace of growth kicks off with such aggression.
Premature shoots, or those left over from last year should be cut before the growing season. These shoots are more susceptible to mold or fungus. The timing for letting the shoots thrive depends on the variety and the region. Shoots that come before the frost has ended for the season should be clipped. March is an ideal time for the preparation and pre-pruning. Depending on your location April is likely the beginning of season where the initial shoots will show.
During this time the amount of water and moisture is key for the young plants. Excessive water can impede growth and actually damage the root or rhizome. Root rot can result and and the life of the plant. Meanwhile lack of moisture will strain the plant and stunt its growth. The same is true for the complete growing season, however rhizomes and seeds are much more sensitive as they have not established the proper rooting to compensate. Short frequent watering is required and can be compensated with the use of mulch to protect from drying out and well draining soil to prevent water saturation and stagnation.
Shoots and Bine Selection
When the shoots reach at least 1 foot, they should be supported to stay off the ground to prevent disease and pests. When the bines reach 2 feet select the 2-4 strongest bines, and clip off the remaining. The choice for number of bines to select should be justified by the trellis support and room at which the bines can grow. If you are working with an 8 foot climbing trellis go with less. If you have an 12 foot trellis support with horizontal trellising go with more. Hops bines will naturally wrap themselves in a clockwise manner along their supports, so jump start this by wrapping the young shoots in the same manner. This type of training will usually happen during the month of May. Shoots that are clipped should be cut at ground level. Throughout the spring and summer the hunger for growth will cause for more shoots along the way. This requires normal maintenance to clip these shoots so that the plant can focus on the vigorous winners from the initial selection. If one or more of the initial shoots is not doing well, feel free to take this time to clip it back, and allow a new shoot to take its place.
Hops Physical Makeup
The old growth root ball of hops will grow into semi hard wood. The rhizomes are full of moisture and are flexible. The binds and shoots contain tiny hooked hairs. They are microscopic and branch out then hook back in the direction of the roots. These hairs are critical for the plant to be able to climb almost any surface. The leaves grow opposite of each other from the bines and stems. Hops is a palmately veined species, meaning the veins and it's leaf profile radiate from the end of the petiole. The petiole is the hub or section of the leaf that attaches to the stem. Hops flowers (cones or strobiles) are made up of green overlapping petals (bracts) that are paper-like to the touch. The strig is the stem that runs through the center of the cone. Attached to the stem are the bracts. Inside the female flowers, at the base of the bracts, is where the lupulin glands are found. These tiny yellow glands provide the resins and oils that give the bitterness and aroma to beer.
Hops Protection and Maintenance
From early on and throughout the growing season weed control is necessary and should be cleared from the growing area. The weeds, lawn, or any other plants in the area are really enemies to a successful hops harvest by introducing risks to the plants. Weeds will compete with the water supply and the nutrients that are in the soil. They create breeding grounds for both pests and plant disease. Insecticides and weed poison should be avoided if possible as it may impact the growth of the hops itself. There are organic means for accomplishing the same thing, but again it should come with caution.
Drip irrigation is a preferred method for both commercial and home growers of hops. It allows for precision of watering amounts on a controlled and automated basis. Automated timers can also take the risk away by making up for a forgetful or busy hops grower. Irrigation systems are available online, and for the timer, piping, and drip lines can cost as little as a (good) case of beer.
See our next section on hops fungus, mildew, and pests.
Watch the progress of growing hops on video. The video shows growing hops in an urban setting on the side of a house and on an arbor. The varietals include Glacier, Nugget, Zues, Horizon and Sterling.