Saturday, April 4, 2015

DIy Growing Hops Part Two: Preparing the Soil

There are many things to factor in when you are planting your hops including placement, soil, and watering routine. Again, I have left this to the brew master in our family to outline this for you! 

Choosing the location:
South-facing, with 6-8 hours of sunlight per day

What kind of soil and nutrients do hops need?
In his book, “Homegrown Hops,” author and fellow hops-grower David Beach shared his discovery about soil amendments in the famous Willamette Valley hops growing region in Oregon.   This was the ”correct” fertilizer blend used on one particular hop farm:  (blends and supplements will vary, depending on the original soil conditions)
(amounts are in pounds per acre)
Step One:  Dig a hole
Nitrogen - 90
Phosphorous – 200  (organic source:  wood ash)
Potassium – 190  (organic source:  rock phosphate)
sulfur - 50
boron – 3

Based on this information, and various other sources I read, here the custom soil blend I created, using soil mizes from American Soil and Stone in Richmond, CA:
  • ·      3 gallons Ultra-Potting mix (Coconut Coir, Sand, Red Lava, Dolomite Lime, Nitroform 38-0-0, Iron Sulfate, Triple Superphosphate, Calcium Nitrate)
  • ·      3 gallons Ultra-Bedding soil blend  (Coconut Coir, Greenwaste Compost, Rice Hulls, Chicken Manure, Grape Compost, Red Lava, Sandy Loam)
  • ·      2 gallons veggie mix (Sandy Loam, Greenwaste Compost, Rice Hulls, Chicken Manure, Grape Compost, Fir Bark, Cocoa Bean Hulls)
  • ·      1 handful of wood ash (pot ash)
  • ·      1 pinch (1/2 teaspoon) borax
  • ·      straw mulch – a 2-3 inch layer on top, surrounded by ¾” fir bark mulch, to minimize weeds and retain moisture.
Step Two:  Fill hole with soil
The ultra potting mix (nitroform) and veggie mix (chicken manure) are both very high in nitrogen, which hops don’t really need a lot of.  What hops really need are the OTHER 2 elements in the standard N-P-K formula for fertilizers:  phosphorous and potassium.  Two other lesser-known nutrients that the hops also need:  molybdenum, and boron.   In order to get these nutrients in the soil, I added a handful of wood ash to the top of each hop hill, and a pinch (1/2 teaspoon) of borax.  Although, I’m slightly concerned that the Potting soil blend has a mixture of fertilizers in it, and the borax I added to the soil might not even be accessible to the hops.  I won’t be able to tell until the plant starts to grow, and I see what potential issues I have by looking at the leaves and hop cones, and can troubleshoot from there.  But, hopefully, I have created a happy place for my hops plants to start growing and start providing me with free hops for my homebrew for the next 5-10 years!!!

Step Three: Add Ash and Straw
One thing is for sure:  this blend drains VERY well!!!  After creating the “hills” for each rhizome, I poured water from a garden hose directly into each hop hill for 2 solid minutes, and the water disappeared immediately, which is perfect, because the soil need to constantly be damp, but not saturated.  As with most other plants, standing water is not good.  So, at least for drainage and water retention, this blend is outstanding!

Did you know?
In doing my research about growing hops, I discovered how important boron is, not only for growing hops plants but for the human body as well.  Some people swear by the use of boron as a dietary supplement to counteract the effects of arthritis.  Apparently, it either works way too well or is actually toxic, because the major pharmaceutical companies deny that it does anything and won’t allow clinical trials to find out if it actually does what people claim it does.  Either way, boron is an important nutrient for hops AND the human body, and it doesn’t get absorbed effectively in either situation when artifical/synthetic fertilizers are present, which emphasizes the importance of using and consuming organic food and soils that don’t have synthetic fertilizers in them. 

Next step:  Plant the rhizomes and hope they grow!

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