April 11, 2009 – Well I did it. I couldn’t wait. Let’s hope I don’t regret this early hop planting for Minnesota. I checked all available potential hop garden spots in my yard. The ground was frozen in every one of them except on the south side of my garage which was my intention and first choice. The soil preperation I did last fall seems to be working well. The soil is loose and full of decomposed organic matter (leaves and grass clippings and wood ashes).
I built mounds and planted the Cascade, Magnum and Nugget rhizomes 2-3 inches deep and mulched over them with a couple inches of leaves to insulate and keep the soil from warming up from the sun. Where I live, Bloomington, Minnesota will freeze several more times so I am trying to delay the rhizomes from sprouting (I don’t care if the roots grow, I just don’t want the bines to sprout yet and freeze).
Next weekend I have a wedding, I have to work the weekend after that… I just didn’t feel comfortable letting the hop rhizomes sit in my refrigerator that long (my vegetables don’t last long and it has a tendency to freeze now and again) it has already been a couple weeks. Wish me luck!
Ok, I am from here and know better, but damn, we have had a couple of 60 degree days – 55 the previous day then this. Generally the frost free time of year for here to plant your garden is May 15th. Hop rhizomes are hardy but the new bines won’t be able to take a hard frost.
I have the soil prepared since last fall on the south side of my garage, it is protected and receives sunlight all day long. It is the only garden space I have right now that isn’t frozen ground. I was figuring on getting the rhizomes planted and mulch about 4 inches over them to maintain the cool soil temps and delay the shoots from breaking ground. I get nervous about the hop rhizomes developing mold or fungus – and sometimes my refrigerator will freeze items in the back (where my family tends to push things they can’t or don’t want to eat).
Well, I am going to wait a bit, do a little more research and determine the best time to plant hops for my area. I guess I will hit a hop growing forum or 2, double check with a couple of my Minnesota home brewing, hop growing friends and see if my theories hold out. One friend of mine planted too early last year, the new bines froze and died and the rhizome was done – no other shoots from this hop rhizome. Next post, when they are in the ground.
Growing hops from hop rhizomes is easy and almost foolproof. Hop plants (humulus lupulus) are a very hardy perennial and once established, will provide all the home brew hops you will need. Hops are dioecious (male and female) only the females produce hop cones. When you start with rhizomes, they are female so you don’t have to worry about that. You can expect a hop yield of half to two pounds of dried hop cones per plant. If you are into home brewing, growing hops will save you a lot of money and put you in control of your supply and avoid the hop shortage.
Hops grow best vertically so plant where they will have room to grow – at least 16 feet – but will take what you give them. Hops can grow to 30+ feet in a single growing season! The first year the crown is establishing itself so hop cone yield will be much less than following years. Hops will need rope or twine for the bines (not vines) to climb. Hop bines cling to the rope by wrapping clockwise (you train them) around the rope or twine and stiff “hairs” hold on to the rope. It is best to rig the ropes so they can be lowered for harvesting the hop flowers (cones).
Hops rhizomes should be planted in well drained, fertile soil between 6.0 and 8.0 PH once the threat of frost has past. Hops require plenty of water, sun and nutrients to sustain their high growth rate. A good organic fortified soil with decent drainage and lots of sunlight will give the hop rhizomes the environment they need. During the growing season fertilize with compost tea and other gentle organic fertilizers.
The hop plants should be spaced a minimum of 3 feet apart – 5 feet apart if different varieties. Generally hops rhizomes are planted horizontally with the white buds facing up, about 1 to 4 inchs deep (I go 3 to 4 inches deep), one or 2 hop rhizomes per mound (I do 1 per mound). A slight mounding of the soil helps with drainage and does not let the root stock or crown of the plant drown in heavy rainfalls or waterings.
These are rhizomes, they do self propagate by sending out more underground shoots (rhizomes). So if you do not want them taking over your hop garden, you will have to “limit” the rhizome spread by trimming the root stock or crown after 2 or 3 years. To trim hop rhizomes, just cut a 1 foot radius from the center of the hop plant with a shovel, down 4 inches and pull up the rhizomes on the outside of the circle you cut. You can take these cuttings and plant elsewhere or give to friends to grow their own hops or sell them.
I will be posting about this years batch of Nugget, Magnum and Cascade hops from rhizome to harvest so check back at least monthly. Those are the actual rhizomes I will be planting in the picture above. You will see the methods and rigging of the ropes I use – there are many ways to do this, I go for ease and efficiency.
There is still time to do this this season so get to it. The more friends you get interested in growing hops and homebrewing, the more home brews you will have available to you. Home brew beers and ales are meant to be shared and is a growing hobby for many. Join a local home brewing group, join some forums, read some books on growing hops. You can never know to much. Hop onboard!