Requirements or 'preferred' conditions for growing hops

Discussion in 'alt.beer.home-brewing' started by Bill Velek, Feb 23, 2008.

  1. Bill Velek

    Bill Velek Guest

    Interest in growing hops has recently skyrocketed among homebrewers, and
    for a few farmers, too. I haven't kept track, but perhaps as many as
    half of our current 'Grow-Hops' membership of 1,083 will be 'first year'
    growers this spring, but I'm confident the figure is at _least_ pretty
    close to 500 -- and that is just for 'Grow-Hops'. I'm sure there are
    several times as many who have never heard of us or haven't joined yet.
    The good news about all of this is that another dimension to
    homebrewing is rapidly expanding, but the bad news is that it might
    cause a shortage of hop rhizomes, so let's keep our fingers crossed.

    Anyway, with so many newbies, and with so many people who are no doubt
    still considering whether to grow hops as a way to help ensure a supply
    they can afford, there are many basic questions being repeatedly asked
    in many different forums as well as in 'Grow-Hops', so I thought it
    would be useful to put together a consolidated outline to help answer
    them. But first, let me add a few encouraging thoughts:
    1. If you like gardening at all, growing hops is actually a lot of fun;
    2. If you have any sort of a green thumb (or maybe even just a 'thumb'),
    growing hops is relatively easy;
    3. Harvest from the first year or two _might_ be sparse (I netted about
    seven DRIED ounces per Fuggles plant my first year), but eventually you
    should be able to reap anywhere from one to two-and-a-half pounds/plant,
    which will save a heck of a lot of money compared to $2.50/ounce or more
    when purchased. Plus you get to try out 'wet hopping' for a few batches.

    What are the requirements or 'preferred' conditions for growing hops?
    While there are no doubt exceptions to what I am about to recommend --
    which is based mostly on a summarization of various sources -- I still
    believe that the more these suggestions are met, the better your chances
    are of having new plantings survive and of getting the largest harvest
    of good hops that is possible.

    Location and climate: I wrote about this in another thread posted here,
    but since then I have received some feedback from sources in Australia
    and South Africa. Essentially, I had written (based on an abundance of
    sources) that hops generally require long daylight in the summer, and I
    also noted one source that says a degree of vernalization (a period of
    cold temperature in the winter) is needed, and therefore the recommended
    latitude for growing is 35 to 55 degrees. I mentioned that I had also
    read of _some_ reported success between 30 and 35 degrees -- which I
    dubbed as a 'marginal' area -- and suggested that the use of electric
    lights in the summer might be necessary along with some extra efforts to
    vernalize the crowns in very low latitudes. I am now happy to correct
    myself because there are apparently a good number of successful hop
    growers in Australia, well below the recommended latitude range -- and
    even below 25 degrees -- who do NOT use electric lights and do NOT do
    anything to help vernalize despite their very MILD winters, and yet they
    are having bountiful harvests of hops, including American and German
    varieties. Sooooo ... it looks like location and climate are not all
    that important after all, but _IF_ you DO encounter issues with lack of
    flowering, electric lighting should be a relatively cheap and efficient
    solution.

    Other considerations regarding location are that you need room for the
    bines to grow -- you can 'get by' with just 10 or 12 feet and a small
    crop, but the plants normally _want_ to grow about 20 feet or so, and
    the more growth you have, then generally the larger your harvest will
    be; 'vertical' growth is probably _best_ (what the commercial farms do),
    but some combination of vertical and horizontal is suitable, too. I
    have an arbor where my bines grow about 9' vertically to one trellis,
    and then grow horizontally another 12' over to the next trellis. If you
    build a tall structure, a location that is somewhat shielded from the
    wind can be an advantage because of the very strong wind force on a
    large 'wall' of hops. Speaking of walls, you can also grow hops up the
    side of any wall facing the sun; see the picture on our 'Grow-Hops' home
    page as a good example -- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Grow-Hops

    Type of soil: Although hops do require a lot of water to sustain their
    growth, they prefer WELL-DRAINED soil; this can be accomplished by
    raising the level of your plants in either mounds, or even a raised bed
    if you are planting in a low spot, and the more organic material that
    you incorporate into the soil (manure, compost, sawdust, peat), the
    better it will drain _excess_ water and yet still retain an appropriate
    level of moisture for the plant. Note: I'm not suggesting that you just
    dig a ditch in 'clay' and fill it with organic material, because that
    will probably amount to the same thing as organic material sitting in a
    pond; if your soil is very heavy clay that does not drain well, then I
    suggest that you consider a raised bed, with or without a supporting
    perimeter, or at least build your mounds sufficiently high enough with a
    mix of soil and organic material so that the rhizomes are higher than
    the surrounding yard, and the 'mound' can still drain well. Frequent
    watering or 'drip irrigation' will be best, especially for new rhizomes.
    For ell established plants with a good, deep root system, less
    frequent 'deep' watering is probably okay (just like in nature), but you
    really don't want the plants to be 'wanting' for water, or they won't be
    able to achieve their phenomenal maximum growth.

    Soil Condition: Get rid of grass and weeds; my recommendation is to roll
    the sod off of your row rather than till it into the soil, because many
    grasses will come right back up. The easier and better approach is to
    kill it over a season by covering it with black plastic, but you won't
    have time for that if you plan to plant this spring. I also used a
    synthetic mulch fabric. Most people plant without regard to the
    chemistry of their soil, and you can probably get by with that in nearly
    all cases unless your soil is in poor condition. For one thing, it has
    been found that soil pH has no apparent effect on yield, based on
    testing of commericial hop farms with pH ranging from 5.0 to 7.0,
    although decreasing tissue manganese, which will harm plants, is one
    reason for maintaining soil pH above 5.7 for hop production. I would
    certainly make an adjustment if my soil was outside of the range of 5.7
    to 7.0. Frankly, if you're going to go to all of the trouble with
    everything else, I highly recommend getting a free soil analysis from
    your county extension office and then adding any necessary soil
    supplements; many additions take time to incorporate into the soil, but
    the worst case scenario is that your hops will benefit next year. In
    order to keep a VERY LONG post short, I will simply say that I am
    planning to post a summary of soil requirement for hops, including
    nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, lime,
    boron, sulfur, and zinc, over in our 'Grow-Hops' group as soon as I can.

    Sun: Most hops like a lot of sun, although there are a few varieties
    that have been bred for some shade (I don't know how _much_ shade);
    however, it is not necessary for hops to be in full sun the entire day,
    and it seems that if they can get a good dose of direct sunlight for six
    to eight hours, that will be enough ... assuming that they are also
    getting sufficient 'length of daylight'.

    I hope that some of you have found this helpful; if interested in our
    group, please visit us at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Grow-Hops

    Cheers.

    Bill Velek - PERSONAL sites = www.velek.com & www.2plus2is4.com
    1,080+ members Grow Hops, Barley, Herbs: www.tinyurl.com/29zr8r
    850+ homebrewer group just for Equipment: www.tinyurl.com/axuol
    Join 'Homebrewers' to Help Cure Disease: www.tinyurl.com/yjlnyv

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