Hops can be grown from seeds or rhizomes. Although this section primarily focuses on rhizomes, as it is much more common, seeds can be planted the same way. There are two key differences however. Seeds will be much less tolerant to dry conditions. The rhizomes are packed with moisture and soluble sugars that allow for it to sustain stressed conditions. Also, the seeds need to be sexed to remove the male plants, but this can only be done once the plant matures. Not to mention hops can actually change sexes, which will produce both male and female flowers. The safest bet, and most common practice is to grow from rhizomes.
Rhizomes should be refrigerated until ready for use. Vernalization is a process that the plants go through over winter and allows for the voracious growth in the warmer months with more light. The cold allows for the plant to lay dormant, although its actually in preparation. Vernalization allows the plants to spring into...spring. Hops requires 120 days free of frost to reach its potential. Rhizomes and seeds can be started in a greenhouse or cold frame. This allows for getting an early start on the season, protecting the young plants, as well as allows the hobbyist to do something besides wait for late spring.
Soil Preparation and Location
The final resting place for the plant should be a well drained, nutrient rich location. The location should also allow for deep rooting. The roots can extend to a depth of 15 feet. This yearning for the deep takes away from the first years production, but allows for the plant to strive when other plants are suffering from drought. When planting in a pot, for the urban growers, go big...very big. The roots are conquerors and will consume the space available. The soil pH should range from 6 to 8. PH meters and pH testing kits are readily available online and range from pocket meters to commercial packs.
Nutrients and Soil Composition
There are 17 essential nutrients to plant growth. Three of which are considered macro-nutrients and are vital to hops growth. These macros are Potassium (K), Nitrogen (N), and Phosphorus (P), and are common components and listed on nearly every fertilizer. These nutrients are outlined below:
- Potassium (K) - While not a part of the plant structure, Potassium is key to nearly every process of the plant dealing with growth and reproduction including protein and photosynthesis, and enzyme activation. Plants lacking Potassium are less tolerant to any of the extremes including excessive water or drought, insects, or mildew and fungus. It can effect nearly every attribute of the harvested hops including yield, aroma, flavor, and effects the same breadth for all aspects of the plant itself.
- Nitrogen (N) - Nitrogen is the most abundant element on earth, and at the same time lack of this nutrient is one of the leading causes for poor plant growth. It is a major component of chlorophyll which is responsible for converting water and carbon dioxide into sugars through photosynthesis. All of which is possible by the energy of light. Nitrogen is also a building block in DNA, and allows for the cells growth and reproduction.
- Phophorous (P) - Phosphorous is also a part of the plants structure and can be found in DNA and RNA. It is also a key component of adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which are critical to the storage and transfer of energy for the plant. Lack of Phosphorous will be evident in slow growing and stunted bines and leaves.
Brewers have unique access to compostable ingredients. Composting not only saves on land-fill space and fuel costs for transport, but also can be leveraged in both gardens and hops planting alike. After a brewing session the grain husks and hops cones are soaked in sugars, and contain biodegradable compounds that are ideal for composting. Not to mention the sludge left at the bottom of the pot or fermenter are packed with nutrients. These nutrients are broken down by microorganisms over a span of several months and end up as black gold....ideal soil for mixing with the earth for planting hops. See the section on composting for more details.
Rhizomes will generally have noticeable rootlets and buds. If so, it can be planted in the proper direction with the buds up. If not the rhizome can be planted horizontally a 1-2 inches under the surface. For year one, planting multiple rhizomes or seeds in the same location can help the probability of successful shoots. If drainage is a problem, mounds can be created to keep moisture levels as desired. Excess moisture can lead to root rot. Conversely, if in dryer climates mulching can be used to cover the soil to keep in moisture. Separate varieties should be planted in excess of 5 feet apart to avoid them growing together. Its a very good idea to add plant markers as you go so that the varieties are not forgotten. Planting can happen in late April or Early May, or whenever the regional climate will allow. Weeds should be removed from the area so there is no competition for the nutrients.
For more information see the next section on hops growth and plant care....
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.