Growing Hops

Spring has sprung here in the great midwest and Infamous did a little gardening today. My activities involved a new plant for my garden. I am going to try growing Hops. Hops is the bitter stuff they use to flavor beer. It is winter hardy here and although an unusual plant, it is grown by some hobbyists.

My shipment arrived in a plastic bag in bareroot form. They looked like fat cigars covered with bark. I had a great deal of trouble locating a source for them but I am quite pleased with the plants I received. I ourchased from Freshops located in Philomath, Oregon. Their phone number is (800)460-6925. They had a long list of varieties with various characteristics explained. If you know what you are doing, you can select just the right flavor for your home brew. Since I am a mere dabbler in brewing, I was more interested in the appearance, disease resistance and growth characteristics than flavor. I selected three varieties, Brewers’ Gold, Cascade, and Williamette.

The plants arrived just barely starting to bud out. I got good sized big chunks of root rhizomes and they have to grow their own roots. I started the plants in turkey roaster trays made of aluminum. I have to transplant them later to their ultimate growing spot but I do not have that ready yet.

Since roots grow based on signals from auxin, I did not remove any buds that were peeking out. The growing point of the bud is a rich source of auxin and removing them would have decreased the “let’s grow roots” signal in the plants. By the time they are transplanted to their permanent locale I hope to have a good deal of root growth starting.

Hops are a perennial vine that grow very fast and vigorously each season. The tops apparently die to the ground each year and start afresh each spring. I plan to grow them up a wooden trellis but any support can be used. They are heavy feeders and are best grown with lots of sun, water and fertilizer.

From my reading, the worst problem with them is downy mildew. It can really decrease growth of the plants and make the new shoots die back. I will wait to see if my environment has this problem. It may be more prevalent in the Pacific Northwest.

The other problems that may occur are minor fungal problems, aphids and mites.

The source of the hops for brewing is in the female flowers at the tips of the vines. The flowers are dioecious which means there are male and female plants. Only the female plants produce the flowers which have the flavoring used in brewing. Usually only female plants are grown since the males are needed to make seed not flowers.

Flowers are small 1/4 inch sized and consist of a flower cone. At first the stylets (pistils) of the cone stick out waiting to be pollinated. The styles dry off as they mature and the small petals appear. After the flower is done doing its thing, it dries and becomes papery masses of flowers. These dry masses can be harvested and dried in a food dehydrater. The hops can then be stored and used for your brewing pleasure.

One last interesting trivia bit about hops. Dogs are very sensitive to true hops. If they ingest it they can get a condition called malignant hyperthemia. They can die from overheating! Keep your hops away from your pooches.

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