Finding a Niche: Growing Hops at Home

Growing hops at home, either for home beer brewing or to market to various micro breweries, isn’t as hard as one might think.


| January/February 2016



Beer

Growing hops for home brewing is a fun endeavor.

Photo by iStockphoto.com/trevmo64

Hops, along with water, malted barley and yeast, are the four main ingredients in most beers. Hops add bitterness to beer that helps balance the sweetness. They also add a floral aroma to heavily hopped beers. Not only can you brew beer with hops, these plants look great as ornamentals and can serve a very practical purpose for home beer brewers. Best of all, growing hops at home does not require a “green thumb.”

Vining perennial

Hops are a product of the common hop plant (Humulus lupulus). The hop plant is a vining perennial that grows up to 30 feet vertically each year before dying back in the fall. Over the winter, the plant’s rhizome (an underground stem) awaits the arrival of spring, when it sends up young shoots. Grown commercially, these shoots latch onto the ropes of a trellis and grow upwards. In the wild, the plants generally climb trees. The vines of the hop plant do not send out tendrils, like many vining plants do. Instead they rely on tiny “hairs” to stick to their trellis wire or other support. This type of vining plant is called a bine, and the vines of this type of plant are also called bines.

Near the end of the growing season, female plants flower. (In a commercial hop yard, no male plants are grown, as their pollen lowers the quality of the hops.) This flower – a tiny, green spiky structure that looks nothing like your typical petalled, ornamental flower – develops into a cone. It is this cone that is used for bittering beer.

Hops are hardy plants that grow well under most reasonable circumstances. The hardest part of growing hops is installing the trellis – something you only need to do once. For the home beer brewing enthusiast, hops can be used in beer production. For non-brewers, hops are simply an attractive ornamental or a supplement to your chickens’ diet. Lastly, in light of the home brewing and craft beer craze, and the shortage of hops it’s created at times, market homegrown hops to beer brewers of all sizes. That’s a niche that will lead to supplemental income.

Hop growing regions

Commercially, most hops are grown between the 35th and 55th parallels, but hobbyists can grow them well outside this zone. I grew hops for several years in central Texas. In the United States, two of the largest hop growing regions are Washington state’s Yakima Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Idaho is the third largest producer of hops in the U.S. Historically, New York was home to many hop yards. With interest increasing in both craft beers and locally grown ingredients, commercial hop growing is once again happening in New York.

Trellising your hops

Before you start planting, the first thing you should do is install your trellis. The simplest trellis can be made by screwing some eye hooks into the roof line of your house and dropping lines of heavy twine from the hooks. Alternatively, home hop growers erect tall poles and grow several plants around the base of the pole. Your trellis should be able to hold a mature hop plant on a windy day. Extremely flimsy trellises will get knocked over by the wind.





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