Grow Hops at homeHomebrewing your own beer is a fun and rewarding hobby that provides the feeling of self-satisfaction from stocking your fridge with your own homemade brew that you bottled yourself. This satisfied feeling of self-sufficiency can go even further when you grow your own hops. Growing your own hops is rewarding, you do not need a seasoned green thumb for these hardy plants, and you can save a little money in the process.

When you learn how to grow hops at home, you can enjoy a rewarding way to make your homebrew uniquely your own.

What Are Hops?

The hop is a perennial, dioecious plant which means that there are separate female and male plants. Just like the cannabis plant, the female hop plant is the one that produces the flowers while the male plant is the one that pollinates. The female hop plant produces the ingredient that gives beer its signature characteristics of aroma, bitterness, and flavor. Hops also contain anti-microbial qualities that help to preserve beer and maintain its foaminess.

What to Know before You Grow

It is easy to grow this hardy, perennial plant at home as long as you have sufficient sunlight and climbing space. The hop plant produces annual vines that shoot up from a permanent root stock known as the crown. When growing your own hops you can use the crown, which is basically the entire hop plant, or you can start with small root cuts from the main stem of a female plant which are also called rhizomes.

Since there are many different cultivars of hops, you will want to think ahead to choose the variety of rhizomes you want to grow. Many cultivars are patented and are not for sale, although you can speak with your local home brew store to see what they have available and get your name on a list for when they come in. Typically, you will want to purchase your rhizomes in the spring and once you get them, moisten them a bit and keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until it is time to plant.

Preparing Soil to Grow Hops

The soil where you choose to grow your hops should be well drained with the pH between 6.5 and 8.0. You will want to test the pH balance of your soil with a pH testing kit that can be purchased from your local home brew store. If your pH is too high, you can use aluminum sulfate and sulfur to bring down the alkalinity. If your pH is too low, you can use a form of wood ashes or lime to bring down the acidity.

Growing hops requires large quantities of nutrients and water. Your soil should be rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, typically referred to as N-P-K. Hops absorb other nutrients such as hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon through the air. A typical rate of applying fertilizer is 5 pounds per 100 ft.², which comes out to about one handful per plant. Your schedule for fertilizing may vary but generally you will want to prepare your soil with the right pH level, and then fertilize:

● at the first sign of sprouting
● then again about three weeks later
● once more during the height of summer
● one last time at the beginning stages of flowering

Hop plants require well-draining soil, plenty of sunlight and since hop plants can live for 25 to 50 years, planning your grow space is critical. *Tip – hops are poisonous to dogs so be sure and keep your plants away from your four-legged furry friends.

Planting Hops Rhizomes

Plant in the Spring

Plant your rhizomes in the spring, when the ground is thawed completely, and freezing winter weather has passed. It is best to choose a location facing south that receives plenty of sunlight during the day and that is slightly elevated for well drainage. You can help prevent scorching by finding an area that provides some shade during the hottest hours of the day.

Hops Need Sunshine and a Support System

Hops grow vertically, and require a support system such as fencing, netting, string, or wire. Some homebrewers run string down the side of their house anchored to the roof to build a homemade trellis, as long as you have some sort of framework for the hops to climb on. Consider this, create your framework around an area where you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. A hops trellis that provides some shade to an outdoor patio is a great place to relax with a cold brew to enjoy your homebrewed flavor as well as the fresh aroma of your homegrown hops.

Planting Rhizomes in the Ground

Hops grow well when planted in a mound, in a home garden you can make a row of a raised mound to plant your hops. Dig a hole about 1 foot deep, add some compost and a few handfuls of mycorrhizal inoculum to increase the nutrient uptake for the roots. Plant your rhizomes with the roots down and the buds pointing up. Be sure to plant different varieties of rhizomes 6 feet apart to separate different cultivars. Place the mulch over the rhizomes to prevent weed growth and top off with soil.

Nurture with Frequent Watering

Young hops are thirsty, and require frequent, light watering without promoting root rot. Hops grow very quickly once starts break through the surface, it is not uncommon for hops to grow up to 1 foot each day during the height of summer. The first year of growing your own hops is devoted to establishing the root system and the crown. Each year your hop plants progress and mature into beautiful green, cone growing machines. Mature plants will require more pruning to prevent the rhizomes from spreading out throughout the year and hoarding valuable nutrients.

When to Pick Your Hops

Mid-August through September is the typical time to harvest your hops depending on your location. Once you see the beautiful cones you have been waiting for, look for the tips to get a little dry before picking as a common mistake is picking too early. Here are some tips for checking the ripeness of your hop cones:

● Pick one cone, roll in your hands, and smell it. It is time to harvest when the cone has a pungent smell, sort of like onions and freshly cut grass, when the aroma is at its strongest.
● Squeeze the cone lightly and when it feels dry and light with a little bounce back after the squeeze it is ready for picking.
● Roll the cone in between your fingers next to your ear and listen for a cricket sound indicating they are ready.
● Your hops cones should have a deep green color with yellow lupulin (the powder that clings to the leaves). If the lupulin has turned orange or has a rancid smell, you have missed the window.

To learn more about growing your own hops or to see what varieties are available when home growing in Illinois near the Chicago area, contact RainMakers Supply, Chicagoland’s homebrew store. RainMakers Supply offers a wide selection of home brew equipment, home brew kits, kettles, bottles, ingredients and more. Contact the homebrew experts at RainMakers for more information on brewing your own and home growing hops.