The hop sprouts have sprung. We have a later start this year. Six days ago we had 8 inches of snow, thankfully it didn’t stick around long. This has been a winter from hell for us – Minnesota. It has been colder and snowier than normal. I was starting to wonder if it would ever warm up. We had our first 70 degree day in six months yesterday. Starting this Sunday, it looks like another week of high 40′s to low 50 degree temps. There is still hope for a summer here.
This is hops growing season number 6. I have had a few challenges over the years from “abnormal” weather to a boron deficiency that almost killed my Magnum hop plant (2 years in a row). Luckily, the second occurrence, I knew what it was and treated it before it damaged the bines too bad. I had found a spray with boron in it to treat the condition. I couldn’t find any 20 Mule Team Borax – I have been told that is a good source of boron also.
These sprouts are few and small. Shortly there will be several dozen per hop crown and I will have to thin them out to 3 to 5 per rope. You can eat the sprouts, they are kind of like asparagus – try it, I have. You can eat the sprouts, make a calming tea from the cones or a relaxing hop pillow, a hop wreath and of course – make beer and ale! What a wonderful plant! Hops make a great cover for gazebos, arbors, privacy fence over 20 feet tall if you let them.
Eighteen to 20 feet is optimal for most varieties, but they will take what you give them. It is best to harvest them from the ground so have a plan as to how you will do that. Harvesting on a ladder is dangerous and near impossible. Either cut them down and harvest or use a pulley system like I do. I have also used hooks and eyelet screws to thread ropes from the ground to a high point on my house or garage and back towards the ground to tie off (tie cleats work good). Here is how I rig hop bines. If you are already growing hops, let me know how they are doing. Hop on!
Growing hops in Minnesota works well with our climate. I have put together a few resources for folks in our state (good for many similar climates). This info should be helpful for anyone considering or currently #growinghops , if you reside in Minnesota or not. Not much else to write about in January – today we are supposed to have a blizzard. Tomorrow it is supposed to be colder than 20 below zero fahrenheit with a high temp of 12 below zero! Not much hop action at these temps.
Some hop rhizome vendors (and hop plant vendors) are already taking orders for this season. Obviously here we can’t do any ground preparation this time of year but we can start planning what varieties of hops to plant. It is a good time to start planning support structures for our hop bines. Eighteen to twenty feet is an optimum height, but they will take what you give them. My pulley system only has 13 feet and 15 feet but they provide plenty of hop cones for my needs. There are many rigging systems and many creative ways to rig hop bines – Poles, sides of buildings and decks… (southern exposure is best, but east or west will work – (not northern exposure)). Get creative, my setup only cost me about $20 for pulleys, screw hooks, wooden stakes, rope and tie cleats by using the south side of my garage!
I hope these resources help to get you involved and gives you ideas on growing hops for yourself or even commercially.
The Nugget hops are the last to harvest. They have always been a couple weeks behind the Cascade and Magnum harvests. I currently only have 3 hop plants, one of each variety – Cascade (aroma hop), Magnum (bittering hop) and Nugget (bittering hop). Harvesting by hand takes me between 1 to 2 hours per plant – with 3 to 5 bines per rope. By using my pulley system to lower the bines, makes it easy to pick at a comfortable standing height.
The Nugget hop cones are small this year for some reason. My guess is the heavy rains this spring and early summer leached the soil. I had top dressed the soil with compost but it was mostly washed away. I will do a better job next year amending the soil and preventing washout of compost and kelp. When I originally prepared the soil, it was fill. I dug down about a foot and a couple feet in diameter and mixed in compost, leaves, grass and black dirt with the sandy fill. I think the hop crowns or root stock have exhausted most of those nutrients.
These bines are 13 feet tall and produce about half a pound of dried hops. Optimally you would want 18 to 20 feet for maximum production per plant, but I don’t have that luxury on this south side of the garage. Perhaps my next house I can build a double decker garage or better yet, set aside some land just for hops and rig them 20 feet high! We’ll see.
The ladder in the picture is for cutting lateral branches that cross from the one rope to the lowering rope and wrap around it. I didn’t need it for the Nugget or the Magnum hop bines, the rope seemed to slide through without much resistance. The Cascade bines needed to have the wrapped around lateral branches cut from the lowering rope. The ladder came in handy for holding beers and cigars while I was picking hop cones though.