The site location for the hops is as important as the soil preparation and the strain itself. Hops can grow up to 12 inches in a day if the conditions are right due to the amount of soluble sugars stored in the root crown along with its desire to climb to the sky. In short it is a climber and needs room. If it reaches the top of its support it will work harder towards growing lateral branches, which is where the flower production occurs. Lateral branches are good and necessary, but a premature stunt to growth could limit production in general by not allowing the bine (vine) to reach its true potential.
Hops can grow up to 30 feet in a year, and that is a marvel in itself compared to most plants.The bines spiral clockwise with strong hooked hairs. It will climb nearly anything that is either small enough or has a rough surface for the hairs to cling too. As it ascends it prefers southern exposure with full sun, except when in southern latitudes where semi-shade will prevent bleaching. Shaded areas will allow for extraordinary growth, however the end yield will be diminished.
Soil preparation is described in the next section, for now the focus is on the trellis or support for the hops. Hops is surprising in its ability to climb whatever is near. It will cling to itself, other plants, and namely a well designed trellis structure designed for both flower production and harvesting. The design for picking the hops is as nearly as important as the ability for the hops to extend its growth, and without taking this into account initially will likely bring on a redesign for the next season.
During the first year of growth, the plant will be primarily focused on establishing root depth. This assures that it can survive droughts in subsequent years. And due to this the upward growth of the bine will be limited to growth of 8 - 10 feet. If the soil conditions are rich and fertile this growth may very well exceed this. During the second year the attention for the plant will be directed towards the bine and flowering.
A typical commercial trellis will reach 18 feet tall with additional horizontal cables that act as a stabilizer for the poles and supply additional support for additional growth if needed. As mentioned, the first year will not require these heights, but its better to build once. Commercially hops are spaced 3-7 feet apart allowing for the lateral branches to soak the sun while not shading neighboring bines. It's worth mentioning that very good yeilds can be produced without these 'ideal' conditions. At home, there are probably limitations on height, space, and sunlight. Do not let this detour you from growing your own.
Below are some trellis ideas that each have their pros and cons. Many of the designs incorporate existing structures that are found around the home, like the home itself, a flagpole, or a tree. These are only intended to spur some ideas.
Flagpole Trellis Design
The flagpole trellis design for growing hops has some key advantages. First, there is nearly no construction to do if the flagpole is already in place. Flagpoles generally range from 15 feet to 25 feet, and can go up to 40 feet on a commercial scale. The second key advantage is there is is already a built in pulley system that can be used to raise the twine or cord to the top in the spring, as well as lower in the fall. This eliminates the need for a ladder (or stilts) for harvesting the hops. More than 3 lines can be ran, but might diminish the returns due to competition for the same space and light. One potential solution is to extend the base of the lines to be wider from the base. This gives each bine more room to grow vertically before it reaches the top.
One of disadvantages with the design was just mentioned. Towards the top of the lines, the bines will gradually grow closer and closer to each other. Should they reach the top the bines will literally be climbing over each other in competition. This will impede the amount of sunlight received. This will create a clump near the top that makes it a little more difficult to lower at the end of the season. This clump will also diminish yields
In short however, the flagpole design makes for some of the least effort for getting up and going compared to other trellis designs.
House Eve Trellis Design
The hops house trellis design shares a similar reward with the flagpole design in that construction, parts, and materials are all simple and cheap. A fastener, a pulley, a few other mechanical pieces, along with the twine or metal cords is all that's needed. This same design will work for two story structures. As mentioned the plants prefer southern exposure so keep this in mind.
The pulley, again allows for easy harvesting by allowing you to lower the entire bines to the ground when ready to harvest. Pulleys can be found at any local hardware store for a few dollars. Metal rings and fasteners can be found for similar costs. Wire Rope, aircraft cable, or heavy twine can be used for the bine support. One consideration is reuse for the following years. So if this investment, its worth it to get the higher grade materials that will stand the test of time.
Clothes Line Trellis Design
The hops trellis clothes line offers a simple example of a design, and one that may already be available in your yard. Alternatively it can be created by either 4"x4" posts, 2" x 4" lumber, steel or copper piping, or even PVC piping. Whats important is the burial depth of the post, along with arm supports for the top post or beam. If using heavy materials for the post, and lighter materials for the top support, the width or reach of the overall trellis can be extended to support more lines for the bines. The main central beam or pipe can be whatever length make sense and can deal with the extra weight of the hops including wind and the other elements. Further more, the lines can be lengthened to be staked further from the main support in order to get more growing room for the hops.
Arbor Design with Horizontal Trellising
Now we are talking. This one is on the elegant side, but you can imagine late summer afternoons sitting with ale in hand under neath the aromatic hops growing above. This design introduces horizontal trellising, which is standard for commercial growers. In hop fields the horizontal cables are ran at 90 degree angles each direction across the tops of the poles. When the hops reaches the top, the are forced to grow across the wire. At the same time the plant will start to focus on the development of the laterals and flowers. Again, this design assumes plenty of sun exposure.
This design does not have to be so proper with round Greek style columns. Simple 4" x 4" posts would do the job, or any strong material that could be stabily posted and not flex under the weight of the elements and the plant. Attachment to the house could be done with eye screws for wood or miter screws for brick and mortar.
This design mimics what you might see in commercial hop yards. There are variations to this design, including vertical climbing lines versus the angled lines seen here. Commercially the height can be up to up to 18 feet, while there is some movement towards lowering the height (thus lowering the yield), but having the benefit of much lower spring time trellis maintenance, and harvesting costs as everything is within reach. That is an interesting equation. For the home grower, its really whatever is in budget and reasonable for the space.
The diagram shows subsequent rows that can be built, that will benefit from neighboring rows. Horizontal trellising is again used, and in this case acts as a stabilizer for the beams as well as provides additional growing space for the hops. Enough spacing should be planned between the rows so there is enough room to walk, for a ladder, and for enough sunshine to reach the lower end of the plant. Also distance is important so that the bines to not cross lines and take over another plants terrain.
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.