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The trials and tribulations of growing hops {+ my March fave}

Look what came in the mail!!!
cascade hop rhizome

Some of you are like, um, wtf is that? Hop rhizomes people!!! It is officially hop planting season. Last year was the first year we planted hops. We opted for three varieties: the very popular Cascade, Nugget, and Golding varieties, which grow back from season to season. Quite unfortunately, a very evil squirrel hijacked the entire Cascade rhizome so we bought another one, and tried again. This time we learned our lesson and installed some netting, as well as a solar powered stake that supposedly uses sonic waves to scare away animals. I’m slightly skeptical about whether this actually works, but so far, so good.

Last year, our nugget hops did pretty well. We were able to harvest a small, but reasonable amount considering that typically the first year there is very little to harvest. We’re hoping that this season we will do even better. That is, if we can keep those evil squirrels at bay.

Now that spring is FINALLY here, our hops from last year are coming back with avengence! The nugget hops especially. In just three short days, they went from this:

hops just starting to grow

To this.  

hops growing

Then this.

Hops growing 2And a week later, BOOM. These suckers grow FAST. At peak growth they can grow up to 12” in one DAY.

a week later

The trickiest part about growing hops, is that you either need a giant trellis, or to create some other jerry rigged system like we did. Don’t worry I plan on telling you all about it, with the help of hubby of course.

The two biggest things you need to consider when building yours are: height and harvest. You need a significant amount of height (15-20 ft). Obviously, if you are looking to build a big wooden trellis you will have your work cut out for you. For harvest, you need to have a way to get to the top of the vines. Some home-hop-growers will advocate for a single harvest each year where they wait until most of the hops on the vine are ripe and then hack down the whole vine and harvest at ground level. But, not all hop cones will ripen at the same time and you can usually get 2-3 smaller harvests of fully-ripe cones if you don’t hack down the whole vine. You need a way to get up to the top of your vine or bring your vine down to you. If you are thinking tall solid trellis, you need it to be sturdy enough to hold the vines in windy conditions and maybe support a ladder. These trellises take a ton of construction, and seemed like overkill. So, we chose to find a way to bring the hops down to us, with minimal construction.

Hop Vine Trellis

We (and by that I mean hubby) planted a 16′ 4×4″ wooden post 3′ in the ground like a flagpole, with a cement base. We then ran airplane cable from the ground, to the top of the post, then to a nearby tree. This gave us a “crossbar” 13′ up in the air made out of airplane cable. The whole cable can be lowered to the ground by releasing it from the ground stake. On the “crossbar” I attached several steel rings to work like pulleys, then run string from the ground up through these rings back down to an anchor. This allows the hop vines to grow up one side, then we can release the other side to gently lower the vines one harvest, then pull them right back up. It has worked well so far, and didn’t require any fancy carpentry. In general, it is recommended that hop plants are planted about 5′ apart, with a little further spacing if you are planting different varieties. You want the vines to get full sun and well irrigated soil. They require regular watering and grow like weeds during the summer. Take a few minutes to look into your climate zone and which hop-destroying bugs live in your area. We found that in our area a nice organic “vegetable garden pesticide” sprayed every couple of weeks helped to keep the plants from being eaten alive.

Nugget Hops on Vine

While you try and take all this crazy hop nonsense in, you should probably pop open a delicious hoppy beer. One of my March faves is the Great Lake’s Alchemy Hour, a double IPA which actually has some of that delicious nugget hops in it. She sits at 9.4% abv, 80 IBUs. This beauty has a nice citrus hint on the nose, with great head retention. She tastes fruity upfront, with big balanced bitter hops at the finish. This is a seriously delicious double IPA. I made the mistake of drinking my first one after a long day of work and very little in my belly. Whoa did that 9.4% hit me. Alchemy Hour is their spring seasonal, so snatch it up if you see it in the store, as it won’t be around for long. I just learned as I’m writing this that on April 4th, Great Lakes released a statement that they will have to change the name of Alchemy Hour next year due to a trademark issue. Big bummer! But, I’m sure no matter the name, that this beer will be just as delicious next year as it is now.

I can’t wait to tell you about the next home brew we are planning! We’ll be using up last year’s nugget harvest (probably for dry hopping) for sure. Until then, cheers!




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