Monday, May 5, 2014

Growing Hops in New England

If you follow us Meg on Instagram you've recently seen an update on our hop vines.  I'm hoping that if you're reading this post, we don't have to explain what hops are - just that we live in New England and we have a few growing on the side of our house.  As home brewers and gardeners, growing our own hops was a natural progression in the "farm to table glass" movement.
We've asked many people, and read many articles about growing hops, and wanted to take some time to share what we've learned along the way in our now five year hop growing adventure.  This post is not a tutorial on how to grow hops.  We just want to provide honest answers to help you in your own hop growing process.  

"In New England, hops rhizomes must be started indoors" - BUSTED
During our five year hops adventure we started the rhizomes inside twice.  We started them inside perfect 2 gallon buckets, just like the home brew store told us to.  We lost all of these hop vines after transplanting them outside.  Just get them outside - our third attempt we went directly outside, and those are the hop vines we still have growing today.  Also - see below at the speed these guys grow.  Do you have room in your house for "seedlings" that are 7 feet tall?!

"Rhizomes need to be ordered ahead of time" - PLAUSIBLE
We've ordered Rhizomes twice, and just picked them up once.  This all depends on your home brew store and how they like to run the show.  Since the rhizomes need to be refrigerated until planted, most will only order what they know their customers will purchase.  To be on the safe side, put a reminder in your phone to call your home brew store the end for FEBRUARY and ask.

"You have to start hop Rhizomes in March" - BUSTED
Early March is typically when home brew stores receive their rhizome orders.  And then they will likely tell you to start them indoors as soon as you get home, see above.  After picking up your rhizomes keep them in your refrigerator in a zip lock with a wet paper towel and plant directly outdoors once all chances of frost are gone.  Again, this could be April, and that's OK.

"You can watch hop vines grow, they grow so fast" - CONFIRMED
After your hop shoots peek up from the soil they will grow fast!  Sometimes 1" - 3" a day!  Which is just about fast enough to watch them grow.  Or at least measure them ever hour and see a noticeable change.
What the hops are looking like right now - early May.
"After three years, we can finally use the crop to make our own beer" - PLAUSIBLE
We're on year three, so we can't confirm this quite yet.  What we can confirm is that year one and two didn't yield much.  We enjoyed them as an ornamental plant and hope to see a bigger yield this year.

"They must smell amazing in your garden" - BUSTED
This our favorite one.  Hops only smell great when the oils in the cones are crushed up and they only get crushed up when you pick them to make beer.  So no, our garden does not smell like a brewery.  (At least not until we add spent grain to the compost bin.)

"Hop vines love and need lots of sun" - CONFIRMED
If you're going to grow these guys and want to eventually make some beer with them, give them the love they deserve.  Hop vines should get the spot on your property that gets sun all day long; tomatoes and basil will have to take a back seat.  Our vines get shade half the day, but we plan to move them once we can add a pergola and believe that will increase the yield once they can finally have their full sun.

"Hop vines can grow up to 20' tall!" - CONFIRMED
Be prepared for this.  Hop vines will travel clockwise around a twine guide - we attach ours to the roof.

So are you going to do it?! or do you already have hop vines growing in your own garden?  I'd love for you to share your own hop growing myths either confirmed or busted.  Especially if your are a New England hop gardener.  Cheers!

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