Growing Hops in the Garden
It's no secret that Home Brewing is our thing. So it seems a natural next step to start growing hops in the garden.
However the chickens in our garden would decimate an entire field of hops in under 20 minutes. So we'll be growing our hops at the allotment instead.
The desire to grow our own hops was born when we began holidaying in Belgium in the region of West Flanders. Hops have been cultivated in this area for centuries.
When you visit Poperinge and the surrounding villages in the later summer/early autumn as we frequently do, you see hop farms dotted around the countryside. They are stunning.
The images I've used in this post are all my own, and were taken when I screamed "stop!" and jumped out of the car the day time we saw them. We were soon to discover that this isn't an unusual thing in Flanders for they are everywhere.
How difficult is it to grow your own hops?
Growing hops from a rhizome (root stock) is seemingly pretty fool proof. We've been advised to steer clear of growing hops from seed as that takes ages. Growing from an existing plant is the way to go. Meanwhile lovely Ambulance Driver Mark, a regular customer, grows Fuggles hops in his garden and has kindly offered us some cuttings.
However hops need to be planted soon, by mid April ideally. So in case Mark forgets, I bought some hop root stock on Ebay too. I got 5 Humulus lupulus varieties:: 'Hersbrucker' 'Northern Brewer' 'Challenger' 'East Kent Goldings' plus a dwarf variety Prima Donna. Plants can be grown in pots three feet apart. And each plant could produce enough cones for between 20 and 40 gallons of beer.
So not exactly on the scale of Poperinge, Belgium... but perfect for us.
Vertical space is needed however, as even the dwarf varieties grow to at least eight feet, and commercial varieties to around 20 feet. We'll have to be careful of that at our allotment, because there are regulations about how high we can go. Hence buying one dwarf variety. We will need to find a way to grow hops along structures as well as upwards. We also plan to make a bamboo tepee like we do for runner beans, so that we can grow hops up them instead. We expect to see shoots quickly after planting, and then they'll need lots of sunlight and rain. Not usually a problem in our climate, which is why these kinds of hops do well in this part of the world.
How long before you can harvest your hops?
The female flowers are usually referred to as cones, and contain the acids and essential oils that give aroma and bitterness. This is what you will be harvesting. Hop plants take 3 years to mature so yields will be low in the first year, though we should still get a handful of cones in September. After harvest we'll need to prune them back hard and then they'll thrive in a nice cold winter. How will it go? Watch this space!
How to grow your own hops - update
They're in! And we got to re-purpose an old swing chair frame into the bargain.
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