I've only been growing hops for two years, so I won't profess to be some sort of genius - at the end of the day, hops are still plants, and standard garden knowledge still applies. That being said...
PLANTING & GROWING
- I grow my hops in raised planter beds built out of 2x6's, about 2 feet above ground level. I till the ground inside the planters and then mix in a good amount of Miracle Gro Moisture Control soil and a little manure for good measure.
- I plant my rhizomes late April/early May (your timeline may vary depending on climate/growing season).
- For first year plants, I don't trim anything. For second year plants, I leave between 4-6 bines per plant and cut the rest off at ground level.
- You will occasionally need to continue trimming new growth as the plants will keep sending up new bines all season.
- Once hop flowers (cones) appear, I start applying light doses of fertilizer formulated for flowering (orchid bloom is a good one).
- I water at least once a day, sometimes more if it's in the triple-digits.
|Ladder is out, notice the top of the plant is cone-less as I'm already partway through harvesting.|
- To determine when hop cones are ready to pick, I go by the smell & feel method (very scientific). I've already gotten it down to second nature, but basically, the cones should feel papery, not wet. A good test is to squeeze the cone - if it stays deformed, you're good, but if it springs back like a wet sponge, it's not ready. As for smell - if they smell like the variety you planted, you know they're close. A combination of these two tell me they are ready to pick.
- In my experience, you will end up with two (or more) waves of cones to harvest, usually within 2-4 weeks of each other.
- Commercial hop farms will cut the plant down and then pull off all the flowers on the ground. I don't like doing that, I use a ladder and cut them off by hand. Shortcut: cut off the side bines and then harvest the cones in comfort.
- There are usually lots of bugs living in the canopy of the hop plants, usually harmless bugs, but you have been warned.
DRYING & STORING
- I use a screen to dry my hops, you can build one yourself with about $10 worth of material, or less if you have leftovers from other projects - mine cost me nothing to build!
- To dry hops, I lay them in a single layer across the screen (as best I can) and put a fan on low speed close enough to get airflow. Not too close, or you will blow the cones right out of the drying rack as they lose water weight. I dry them in a garage, as it's protected from the elements and relatively moisture free. It usually takes 2-3 days for them to dry to the point that they are ready to store long-term.
- The goal isn't to remove all moisture, but to get the moisture content down to a point where the hops don't turn to dust, but also won't spoil.
- I use a food-grade vacuum sealer to store hops. I try to limit myself to an ounce per bag, otherwise they get too unwieldy and hard to seal properly.
- I weigh and add hops to the bags a quarter ounce at a time (about as many fit in a plastic cup) to ensure I get an ounce (or close to it).
- Once sealed, I write the date, variety, and weight of the hops on the bag, then store them in the freezer until use. They should last at least a year this way.
- If you want to get fancy, you can purge the bags with nitrogen and use mylar bags like the commercial hop places do.
Here's some links to some of my posts on here, as well as other places, that go a little more in-depth:
- Hop Farming - brief post of building Stage I of the hop garden last year.
- Hops Harvest 2012
- Hops Harvest 2012: Drying and Storing
- In The Garden 2013: Hops, hops, hops! - Some photos/overview of Phase II of the hop garden/planters.
- Hops on the Rise - some photos of my hops from this year.
- Wet-hopped IPA & Hop Harvest 2013, Part I - some photos from this year's first round of harvesting
- MoreBeer's article on hop growing
- Here's an alternative take on drying hops, courtesy of the Mad Fermentationist.
That's a very brief overview of my process. I haven't yet had to harvest rhizomes or transplant crowns, but if I cross that road I'll be sure to post an update.