If you are a homebrewer with a bit of space in your garden, you might have considered growing your own hops. Believe it or not, it's easier than you might think! In this article, I am going to take you through some of my learnings as I've grown my own hops right from growing to harvesting. I am no professional, but merely a homebrewer with an interest in hops - hopefully you might have some takeaways of your own from this!
Where to buy Hop Rhizomes
If I really stop and look back on my recipes, I have to admit that I brew a lot of IPAs and Pale Ales which is why I wanted to choose a hop that I could either use for bittering or aroma that suited these styles. Another thing that I found out is that if you are looking for any of the big punchy U.S hops such as Citra, Simcoe or Idaho 7 - you might be a bit dissapointed to find out that these are unfortunately not available to the home grower. These hops are proprietary and also not available here in the U.K.
Planting the Rhizome
When the hop rhizome is delivered, it doesn't look like much. It's basically a cut away root that looks a bit gnarly. Don't be dissapointed, this root will grow into a big hop plant with the right love and care!
When it comes to the location that you decide to plant, remember that hops are climbers and can grow to about 8 meters in height! I've had the most success with a sunny spot that has a sturdy string that allows the bines to creep along. I have previously tried planting the hops in a pot, but not had much success. The plant grew nicely, but unfortunately, it didn't produce a many hop cones.
In the U.K, you should aim to plant rhizomes in early spring as late planting limits the plant's growth potential. When you are ready, plant the rhizomes horizontally with the buds pointing upward. It may seem a bit counter-intuitive planting this way, but the buds will shoot vertically from the horizontally planted rhizome.
The waiting game
At this point, it really is just a waiting game. When the temperature starts to get a little warmer and the days a bit longer, you should notice shoots start to appear above the ground.
During my first growing season, I noticed these purple shoots appear first, but paid them no real attention. The image below gives you an idea of what this might look like.
As it turns out, these first shoots are known as bull shoots and they aren't a good thing! If they grow into bines, they produce less side shoots and your yield will be a lot less. You want to trim these as soon as they appear.
The best way to identify them is via their colour - they tend to be purple. Bull shoots are also hollow inside and almost snap if you try and bend them. It may seem a bit scary trimming them away, and the real shoots might be slower to emerge, but the difference in cone yield is worth the wait!
Harvesting the hops
As the summer progresses, you will eventually be rewarded with the emergence of some tiny hop burrs which will grow into hop cones!
Eventually, the burrs will grow into cones and be ready to harvest. When it came to harvesting the hops, I have to admit I was a little impatient. Because the plant was homegrown, I didn't need to cut the whole bine down and harvest all at once. Instead, I chose to seperately harvest as certain cones looked ready. This also made the amount of hops that I was dealing with at a single time more manageable!
Drying the hops
I have seen a number of online articles about building your own oast at home, or using a number of different drying methods using fans, but in order to keep things simple I went with my home oven.
As I harvested the hops in different batches, this gave me the opportunity to fit each batch into the oven. First off, I started by adding some baking parchment to the oven tray and then added the hops.
I set the oven to 30 degrees celsius and left the hops alone at this point. After an hour or so, I turned the hops manually in each tray to make sure that they got an even opportunity at drying.
There was no perfect amount of drying time, but rather I kept a close eye on them and constantly felt them to test for 'dryness'. After a few hours in the oven, the hops felt dry and ready to be packaged.
Packaging and storing the hops
Once the hops were dried and ready for storage, I weighed each batch out into reasonable amounts.
Finally, I added the hops to vacuum bags and dropped them into the sealer. I purchased this vacuum sealer on Amazon. It is nothing fancy by any means, but it does the trick and I am happy with the purchase.
The vacuum packed hops now live in my freezer and are ready and waiting for the next brew! I shall update the site when I get round to brewing with them. I hope that you have found this post useful.
- Think about the location before you plant the hop rhizomes. They grow quite tall and need lots of sunlight.
- It is better to plant the rhizomes in the ground versus in a pot.
- When the first shoots appear, also known as bull shoots, don't forget to trim these away as your yield will be much better if you do!
- As a homegrower, you might not need to harvest your entire hop plant at once, you might be able to harvest in different batches
- You can dry your hops in an oven at home, just remember to keep the temperature really low (30 degrees celsius) so as not to drive of those aromatics
- Get yourself a decent vacuum sealer so that you can store the hops long term.