Growing Hops

Firsthand advice on growing hops on a small scale, and maybe even making some money at it.

  • A hops bud can also be decorative.
    Photo by GettyImages/PeterHermesFurian
  • Hops have been used for medicinal purposes.
    Photo by Lorain Ebbett-Rideout
  • Growing hops can be a fun endeavor.
    Photo by Jason Herbert
  • Learn how to grow hops to make homemade beer.
    Photo by Lorain Ebbett-Rideout
  • Hops have been used for aromatherapy purposes.
    Photo by Jason Herbert
  • The author uses black walnut for the posts and coconut twine for trellises.
    Photo by Jason Herbert
  • A hops plant is heavy with buds.
    Photo by Lorain Ebbett-Rideout
  • The young hops plants will soon reach around 12 feet high.
    Photo by Jason Herbert
  • Hop harvesting season is a special time of year for the author and his family.
    Photo by Jason Herbert
  • Twisted hop vines grow up the coconut twine trellis.
    Photo by Jason Herbert
  • The author looks on with a full load of harvested hop binds.
    Photo by Jason Herbert
  • Hops plant with cones growing as a climbing plant up the side of a porch, in Issaquah, Washington.
    Photo by Janet Horton
  • A truck bed full of hops binds is ready for drying.
    Photo by Jason Herbert

Nobody forgets the first time they experience the up-close aroma of hops. Mine happened on a warm, late-summer Michigan day. My dad and I had just each picked a “wild” heirloom hop cone growing on our family farm. Tearing mine open, I revealed the buttery orange inside that smelled like nothing I’d ever before sniffed. Senses are often linked to memory, and this sensory experience is hard for me to describe with words. Bursting with fragrance, our hops smelled brilliantly floral and citrusy. The thick oils clung to our fingers, reminding me that these cones had substance. I could only imagine how they would taste in a nice cold craft beer.

Since that fateful moment, we’ve had a lot of fun establishing our small hops farm. This journey that led me to hobby farming has turned out to be unusual, but with a little learn-as-you-go and a lot of hard work, anybody can become a successful hop farmer. Hops grow up, not out, climbing anything they can in a clockwise manner. It doesn’t take a lot of space to grow hops, just a strong work ethic and dedication.

Proper introduction

By definition, hops are the flowers of the hop plant (Humulus lupulus). The majority of hops grown are used as flavoring agent in beer. Hops were first used in beer as an antibacterial, keeping harmful bacteria out and extending the shelf life of beer. The India pale ale (or IPA) is one “hoppy” example of this. The IPA was created way back when beer made the long journey from England to the British colonies in India. Because of the long trek by sailing vessel and lack of proper refrigeration, these India pale ales had to be extra full of the hops to make sure that no bacteria grew.

There are a multitude of uses for hops, but in my family, we have decided to focus on growing them and marketing them for use in craft beer.

Grapes grow on vines, while hops grow on bines, and they’ll always climb whatever structure they are growing up in a clockwise fashion. Without limits, an aggressive hop bine will easily climb over 25 feet in one growing season. There is a distinct male and female version of the plant. Hop farmers try to propagate the female plants, because only the females produce the cones (flowers). The thick, oily pollen in the hop cones contains precious alpha and beta acids, as well as flavors that craft beer lovers crave.

Our hops farm

As I hinted earlier, I sort of fell into hop farming by the grace of God. We live on a farm that’s been in my family for more than 100 years. Somewhere along the line, my ancestors were brewing beer, and we think they got really serious during Prohibition. One thing led to another, and their old hop yard became overgrown. Our best guess is that as the years passed, the hops must have gotten choked out. In his retirement, my dad started to reclaim some of the land and get things back under control. After he trimmed back bushes and less desirable trees, the hops came back with a vengeance.

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