Beer-lovers around the world are quite familiar with this luscious flowering bine (not vine!) that provides the aroma and flavor to their beloved brews. Did you know that hops also provides a natural preservative that is necessary to prevent decay during the fermentation process? Well, now you do.Varieties of hops are often distinguished by the number of lobes present on their leaves and lead to different flavors and styles of beer. In the garden, hops enjoys a range of climates but will do best in USDA Zones 5–9. They have extensive bine and root systems above and below ground and thus require plenty of space on both sides of the soil. Flowering is initiated when the plant reaches a certain height, usually between 10–25′. Although hops are primarily famous for making beer, the flowers are entirely edible and can also be used in cooking.
Chinook hops are a favorite here in our home state of Colorado thanks to its pine-y, spicy flavor and affinity for dry, hot weather. That said, Chinook hops will grow almost anywhere that isn’t extremely humid. This varietal is a great option for beginner growers as it doesn’t require much maintenance and will produce an abundance of cones without many inputs. The flavor profile of this hop makes it a great addition to American style ales, IPAs, stouts, and lagers.
Seed: Not recommended.
Vegetative: Commonly propagated by taking cuttings of runners that grow just below the soil surface. These are known as rhizomes, and each one must contain several buds, from which new growth will sprout. This process preserves precious genetic information and characteristics from parent to clone.
Rhizome Depth: 8–12″
Space Between Plants: 3–5′
Space Between Rows: 7′
Sprouting Soil Temperature: 70–75 °F
Days for Sprouting: 49–56
Sow Indoors: In areas with long winters, plant indoors in early spring. Transplant outdoors in late spring after average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: After all danger of frost has passed, in areas with long growing seasons.
Grows best in mild climates, although different varieties are adapted to different climates. It takes half a year of frost-free days to fully flower and cultivate hops. Hops also enjoys long days with plenty of sunlight. Washington state and British Columbia are areas of high hop productivity.
Natural: Full sun to partial shade.
Artificial: Grows well under high pressure sodium HID lamps. Provide 12 hours light per day to induce flowering.
Soil: Grows best in loamy soils. A mildly acidic soil of a pH 6.0–6.2 is ideal but hops can withstand pH levels as high as 8.
Soilless: Germinate seeds in a soilless mix that contains perlite, vermiculite or coco coir to assist with maintaining soil structure and providing good drainage.
Hydroponics: Like its close cousin, cannabis, hops thrives in hydroponic systems.
Aeroponics: Thrives in an aeroponics system.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. During their first year of growth, water frequently but not excessively. After a strong root system is established, they will prefer deeper, less frequent waterings. To avoid foliar fungal infection, drip irrigation systems are recommended.
Nutrients: Requires high levels of nutrients. Needs plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Apply manure and compost to soil regularly.
Pruning: Trimming bines to avoid some lovin’ between different strains is essential for a pure crop, if you’re growing multiple varieties. This can be done once or twice monthly. After flowers are harvested, trim the entire plant back to about 3 feet tall. When the first frost kills the tops of plants, remove all growth down to the soil level.
Mulching: Use mulch to retain soil moisture and suppress weed growth. Maintain a 1″ layer around the base of each hop plant. Use an even thicker layer of a light mulch like straw throughout the frosty winter to protect the underground portion of the plant so it will come back in the spring.
Support: Provide bines with a trellis or pole for support, and train plants up it by wrapping them clockwise around it.
Rotation: Regrowing annually from its underground rhizome, one hops plant can live over 25 years, so no worries here.
Companions: Grows well with nitrogen-fixing legume plants such as clover, vetch, or peas. This will keep the soil mildly acidic while delivering a steady stream of nitrogen to the soil.
Harvest: Harvest hops in July or August. You will get a more bountiful harvest from bines which are at least two years old. Hops receiving more sun are likely to mature faster, which makes several harvests a strong possibility. A ready flower (or, to be scientifically accurate, “cone”) can be distinguished best by feel. Soft green cones are under-ripe and dry brittle cones are too mature. Perfect cones will express a dry hardness when squeezed; they are also described as light and papery.
Storage: Dry hops and store in a plastic bag or airtight container. These can be kept in a freezer to extend shelf life, but be sure not to thaw and refreeze. See Helpful Links for a manual on drying hops.
Fun Fact: Like its close relative cannabis, hop plants are dioecious with only female plants producing the flowers used for brewing and medicine.
Preserve: Dry hops using a dehydrator or oven set to low. You can even use a solar dehydrator.
Prepare: Make beer, of course! Young leaves can also be eaten in salads and contain rutin, which is also found in apples and is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Nutritional: Contains vitamin(s) B6, E and C, which are anti-oxidants that help prevent the damages associated with aging.
Medicinal: Lupulin powder obtained from the hop flower has been used for anxiety and exhaustion and promotes sleep. Lately, other possible medicinal benefits have come to light, such as potential to treat diabetes, obesity, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal discomfort. Hops produce multiple essential oils such as mycerene and humuline which possess antiseptic properties and aid in pain relief. Phytoestrogens, which promote bone health and milk production in nursing mothers, are also present in hop flowers.
Warnings: Beware of contact dermatitis from foliage. Hops are actually toxic to dogs, so keep your furry friends away from your crops if they have a tendency to turn your garden into a salad bar.
Making beer isn’t just for the experts anymore: we recommend trying this Sister Star of the Sun Beer using Chinook hops from your garden to share with family and friends!