It’s early May here in Toronto and spring has finally arrived. My raspberry bushes are showing the beginning of their leaves, the apricot tree I grafted last spring actually has 3 flowers, the garlic is up, the grape vines are waking and the spinach and Kale are in the ground. This year is special. My first hop plant will be going in the ground. I was very excited when Canada Post dropped off a small lightweight box at my office yesterday. A few months back, I ordered an organic cascade rhizome for myself and a conventional Willamette rhizome for my bud Eric from one of our favourite brewing supply stores, Canadian Homebrew Supplies. They arrived in great condition, still damp in the Ziploc bags and complete with instructions on how to care for them.
At the back of my yard there is a tall pole that supports both our laundry line and our neighbours. I figured that it would be a perfect spot to plant my hops because these plants like to grow up to 25-30ft in height!
The first thing we need to do after receiving the rhizomes is make sure they are still a little damp – very important. If they’re not, you can use a spray bottle or even soak them in some water for a few minutes. Just make sure they don’t dry out. Next it is important to keep them in your refrigerator in a Ziploc bag until you are ready to plant them in the ground.
From what I’ve read and heard from others, these plants will take over your garden if you let them. Something I’ve done in the past with things like raspberries and blackberries (which will do the same thing) is plant them in either a container of some sort before putting them into the ground, or building a bed of some kind that goes down 2-3 feet so the roots can’t spread as easily to places you don’t wan them to go. I have a bunch of 5 gallons buckets that I got with my fresh grape must to make wine. (Post to come on that one!) All we have to do is prepare them for holding some hops.
In order to do that, we need to drill some holes in the bottom to allow water to drain out, otherwise the hops will drown as the dirt around it gets saturated after any rainfall. The roots may eventually find their way down and out of the holes as they search for moisture, but at that point they should be pretty easy to control, just cut the shoots as they come out of the ground.
To help with drainage, I’m going to add a couple of inches of crushed rock to the bottom of the pail. I only had white decorative rocks that I wasn’t using, but you can use any kind of crushed stone you have access to.
It’s important when you’re handling your rhizomes that you be very careful and not break any of the little buds that have hopefully started growing. You want to place the rhizome vertically with the buds pointing upwards, or horizontally if that way works better.
If you’re just planting them straight in the ground, dig a big hole and mix in the compost and peat moss like we did above. Be sure to keep about 1 foot around free of any weeds. A good mulch will help with this as well as keeping the soil moist. I wouldn’t use any of those coloured cedar mulches, even if they say ‘natural’ or ‘organic. Who knows what really goes into those dyes, I just know I don’t want any of it in my hops and later in my beer!
Now loosely cover the rhizome with about 1-2″ of your soil mixture being careful not to damage any of the growing buds. Then give it a good soaking of water.
For now, I’m just going to leave them in buckets on my back patio until I get a chance to dig out a spot by the pole. I will update with some pictures when I do. It’s been 8 days since I planted them and the first sprouts on the Willamette have just broke through the surface!!
For the first year, the hop plants will be focusing on growing a strong root system, so they will need frequent watering (just don’t drown them!) After the first year and once the root system has been established, less frequent, deep watering will be fine. A drip system is best, but however you water, be sure not to get the leaves and vines too wet because it will promote mold growth that could damage or hinder your plants.
In the fall, cut the vines back to about 4 feet above the ground and add some compost around the base. In the early spring, trim the deadwood and add another layer of compost to the base. In the first year, don’t expect a huge crop as the plant is really just trying to establish itself in its new environment. The second years harvest will greatly increase and by the third, you’ll be in full swing! If I have any hops at the end of this season, I’ll write a post on how to harvest and store those lovely little buds!
For a more detailed overview on growing your own hops, check out this fantastic article from Colorado State University graduate Ali Hamm titled: Give Your Homebrew Terroir: Grow Your Own Hops (you’ll need to scroll down the page to find it)
Since planting them 3 weeks ago, the baby hop plants are finding their way nicely. They’re looking very healthy and growing strong. I haven’t been able to plant the bucket in the ground yet as I still have some work to do in the area they’ll be going. I’ll continue to update as time goes on…