Tuesday, March 24, 2015

DIY Growing Hops Part 1: Purchasing Hops

Recently we have given our backyard a makeover.  It has all of our family entertainment needs, complete with a brewhouse, a soap studio, a play structure, a garden, and soon to come: a fire pit. We have also dedicated several area of the yard to grow hops for our homebrewed beer and handbrewed soaps.

In order to grow hops, you need to plant the rhizome, which is a cutting of the plant's root structure.  There are many different companies that sell hops rhizomes in the spring.  For our hops-growing adventure, we chose ten different varieties from three different farms/cooperatives.   Each has their own speciality and packaging techniques.  I will turn this post over to the master brewer in the family to explain each.

Where to start?
You can get a lot of information online, of course, but Homebrewer's Garden by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher, and Homegrown Hops by David R. Beach provide great information that's not available online.  I started there to get an idea about what all was going to be involved with growing hops.  These resources are a great place to start if you're interested in growing hops.  Important thing to remember:   Hops rhizomes are only available in the spring, from February to April.  So, if you want to grow hops, make sure you plan ahead, and maybe even pre-order your rhizomes, to make sure you get the varieties you want to grow.
Top bags: Freshops, Middle bags: Hops Direct
Bottom Bags: Seven Bridges Coop.

Where to buy the hops rhizomes?
I wanted to buy direct from the hops farms, if possible.  There are many different companies that sell hops rhizomes in the spring.  Choose the one that best meets your needs (location, varieties offered, etc.)  After doing my research, I decided on three different companies from three different growing regions to see how well different varieties adapt to my Bay-Area micro-climate in the Glenview District of Oakland, CA.  (Get Local!)
Freshops - Hop farm in the Willamette Valley (Philomath, Oregon)
Hops Direct - Puterbaugh Farms, a 700-acre, fourth generation, family-owned hop farm in the Yakima Valley (Mabton, Washington)
Seven Bridges Cooperative in Santa Cruz, CA - I chose this company because the rhizomes that they sell are from organic plants grown in California!

What varieties should I grow?
Criteria:  Hops that were recommended for our Bay Area temperature and micro-climate; varieties that grow fairly easily and aren't susceptible to pests and diseases; a blend of bittering hops and dual-purpose (flavor/aroma/bittering).  I purchased 3-4 varieties from each company.  I tripled up on Cascade, knowing that I wanted a large supply of Cascade hops for my IPA's, and I wanted to see whose Cascade rhizome.  Final order:
Freshops:  Goldings, Willamette, Cascade, Chinook
Seven Bridges Cooperative:  Columbus, Magnum, Cascade, Nugget
Hops Direct:  Centennial, Cluster, Cascade

What kind of soil do hops need?
As for the soil, we made a special trip to American Soil and Stone in Richmond, CA-- a favorite local company of ours-- to see if they could help us put together a soil blend that would work best for our hops.  After reading and researching online, I explained to the staff at American Soil and Stone what I was looking for.  They recommended several of their different soil blends, and we decided on a mix of 1/3 ultra potting mix, 1/3 ultra bedding mix, and 1/3 local veggie blend.  Some of the plants are going to be grown in raised planters, so I needed a medium that would maintain water, but also be good to drain water.  This blend has both coconut coir and red lava.  For nutrient needs, the local veggie blend has chicken manure, which is amazing as a short-term, quick-release fertilizer, and the ultra potting mix has a special long-term slow-release fertilizer in it.  The one thing that I'm lacking, that David R. Beach recommends is Boron.  He says that the necessary amount of Boron is a "pinch to the hill." I'm hoping that my special soil blend will get my hops plants off to a great start and provide me with wonderful, fresh hop cones for our homebrewed beer and handbrewed soaps!

Next step... building the planter boxes and planting the rhizomes.

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