Friday, October 28, 2011

One Full Season of Growing Hops

Back in the spring I thought it would be a great idea to grow some hop plants in my back yard. I figured that the vines would not only dress up one side of the yard, but also move me towards being a more self sustaining newbie homebrewer.

For me, the first step required researching the plants them selves, best sun exposure, best varieties for a Canadian climate and just the basic how-to-grow would be important. For several weeks I researched, read, watched videos to develop my plan. Narrowing down the location, I decided that the north side of the back yard would work best, giving them full sun all afternoon. I also decided that close to the fence line would be benificial to make sure plenty of water was to be had. Luckily that is where a significant amount of drainage happens on my property there.

The next steps were convincing the wife that it was a good idea, then sourcing the hops themselves. With the wife on board, finding a supplier was the next challenge. In the US, it is pretty easy to find distributors, but in Canada it was a bit more difficult. Cross border horticulture was not a challenge I wanted to take up. I managed to track down Left Field Farms in British Columbia. Not only did they have a great selection of varieties, including organic rhizomes, but also reasonable prices and shipping within Canada. Being a little late to the season, I managed to get in on the second shipping for Left Field Farms. I ordered some Cascade as well as some Nugget rhizomes and had them express shipped in no time.

Before they arrived, I started to prepare the back yard for the planting. I dug out four 18 inch by 18 inch holes that were about 18 inches deep. I them lined the bottom of the holes with organic sheep manure , then some black earth to make for the perfect growing environment. I piled the black earth into a mound about 6 inches higher than the ground level. Upon arrival I dug about 6-8 inches down and placed the rhizomes in with the mini shoots pointing up. Then covered them with earth and watered them in.

For the next week or so, it continually rained, giving the hop plants what the needed to break ground and start growing. Within a week or two, some vines had already started to sprout. Over June and July, they had really taken off and the string I had run to the top of my fence (about 8 feet long) was no longer enough for them to trail up. So thinking ahead, I decided to have a 12 foot pergola/trellis structure built. The fine folks at Dovetail Carpentry in London took care of this without hurting the plants at all. Thanks Trevor and Mike!

The hopes continued their vertical assent, Making it over 10 feet high in their first year (apparently by year three, they can grow
20+ feet in the season). As the vines doubled up, the cones started to develop. By the end of August and into early September I was ready for the initial harvest of the hops.

For the first year, I was impressed with the yield. Having a later start (end of May) and the first year being more about root establishment, I managed to get about one and a half ounces off of the Nugget plants and two ounces off the Cascade after drying.

Currently I am getting ready to trim the vines back and winterize them to be prepared for the spring. After a little protection with some mulch, I will be set for the snow to fly and look forward for the spring to see what they do in their second year!

Can't wait to brew with them...


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