Shared From Grit Magazine – Written By: Chris Colby
It usually takes at least three years for hops to start producing up to their full potential. From the second growing season onward, the steps you take are the same. In spring, the shoots will emerge. Once they are long enough, train the fastest growing three to four to the trellis wire, and cut all others as they emerge. One variation of this is to let the first set of shoots grow until they are about a foot tall, then cut them all back and train the next three to four best shoots. The rest of the growing season, all you need to do is keep the plants watered and clip off new shoots as they emerge.
You should yield enough hops to harvest in your second year. The amount of bitterness in these hops will likely be less than what the variety is capable of producing, but this will increase to normal levels in the third year. Hops are a light green color and are ready to harvest when the tips of the bracts – the “scales” covering the hop cone – turn brown. To harvest on a home scale, cut the bine down and pick all the cones. You’ll want to wear work gloves as you do this as hop bines are abrasive on your skin.
You can use freshly harvested hops for brewing if you’re making a so-called “wet-hopped” beer, but most hops are typically dried and stored before use. The simplest way to dry hops is to spread them out on a screen and let them sit until they feel papery and break apart easily when rubbed between your hands. You can also use a food dehydrator. Commercially produced hops are dried in a heated chamber called an oast.
Growing hops is pretty straightforward. The hardest thing is building your trellis. Hops can thrive in any moderately rich, well-drained soil, and most often require little by way of tending after the shoots have been trained. If you keep them watered, they’ll keep growing and growing. When full-sized, they look spectacular, and if you’re a brewer or look to market hops to home brewers, they might become your new favorite plant in the garden.
To continue reading about Chris Colby’s Homestead Business, check out Finding a Niche: Finding a Niche: Growing Hops at Home on MOTHER EARTH NEWS.