How to grow your own hops for homebrewing...
Growing your own hops is not only a rewarding way to say “I brewed this beer myself!”, but ensures an even more sustainable link with the process of brewing beer. If you’ve got a garden or a balcony, then all you need to do is a hop plant, shoot or rhizome and let nature do the rest.
Hops: an essential brewing ingredient
An essential part of the home brewing and beer making process thanks to their alpha acids, Hops plants are becoming increasingly available in garden centres and plant nurseries in a massive range of varieties and varietals. If you can't find them at your local gardening sotre, then you can try mail-order eCommerce sites from specialist hops breeders and farms like Eickelmann in Germany. And that’s about the most complicated bit of the whole process!
Once you get your hands on your hop rhizome, and after giving it a name, sit Mr. Hoppy in a well lit, sunny spot – a windowsill is perfect - and give him a drink of water every 2-3 days. Your hops cutting needs to be damp, but don’t let him sit in water or he might get root rot. Apart from that, your new best friend doesn't require much more at that age.
"The main tip is to give it your hops plant plenty of water (and love)"
By early April the weather should be a little warmer and less windy. Now’s the time to put your hops clone into his first pair of long pants. Choose a pot at least 40 cm deep with a hole in the bottom to allow water to drain away, or dig a 30cm deep hole in your garden on a 30cm x 30cm square. Fill the hole with a mix of fertilizer and compost – potting compost is fine, then sit back and watch as Junior grows up. And up. AND UP!!!
How to care for your hops plant
The main tip is to give it your hops plant plenty of water (and love). Once the stem reaches around 20cm your plant’s going to need some support – typical teenager, always mooching off mom and dad – so get a nice long bamboo cane. The stem will naturally twist around the support, so you don’t need to tie it up. It’s worth nowing that a mature hop plant can send out several shoots up to 10 metres, so you can cut it back during the growing season, or you can wrap it around itself if you’re growing in a pot on a balcony. They’re tough little plants, so don’t worry.
If you’ve got a garden, then you might want to think about putting up wires or growing the hops plant up a pergola or gazebo. The longer it gets the more hops flowers you’ll get.
And don't worry if it starts to look dead around October time. Hops plants ar perennial, so once iti's finished growing this season, just cut it back close to the ground and it'll bounce back next spring.
7 tips for growing your hops plant
1. Water it. If the surface of the pot or the compost in your garden is dry, give Mr. Hoppy a drink. He’ll thank you for it!
2. Weed control. As soon as spring arrives, remove any weeds from around the base of the plant to prevent competition and nutrient loss.
3. Support. Your hop plant will send out multiple stems, so select 4 or 5 of the strongest looking to maximize your hops harvest. Cut the others back with pruning shears (kitchen scissors will do). Train the remaining stems to wrap around themselves and let mother nature do the rest.
4. Fertilizing your hops. Give your hop plant a generous dose of fertilizer in early May and early June. Liquid fertiliser is great as it gets straight down to the roots. Don't give them too much though, as you can burn the roots
5. Trimming the leaves. When your hops clone reaches 2 or 3 meters, remove the leaves from the first 50 centimetres to limit the spread of mildew or other fungus.
6. Harvesting. The hops harvest traditionally takes place in the first two weeks of September in the last of the warm, dry weather. Don’t worry, in the first year, the harvest will be about 50% lower, but the next year you should have a bumper hop crop. Don’t leave them on the plant too long. When they start to open, that’s the time to harvest them. You can also tell by the smell.
7. Drying & storage. Dry your hops as quickly as possible, for 2-3 days. They’ll dry more quickly if you leave the leaves on the stem. Also, a desk fan helps. Remember to give them plenty of air while they are drying.
Once they are good and crispy, cut them off the stem with scissors, then pack them quite tightly in a ziplock bag. Squeeze out the air to stop oxidation (Top tip: open the ziplock a centimetre or two, then sit gently on the bag to squeeze out the air, then re-seal). You can now store your hops in the freezer until you are ready to brew your very own “I MADE THIS!” beer!