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Positive Progress

May 24, 2010

After 3 weeks I’ve have seen growth from all 8 varieties of hops, with Newport moving the quickest. We have seen a lot of sun lately here in Maine and it’s showing in the growth. I have been giving these little guys a good amount of water and they seem to be responding quite well.  Most seem to have their first sprouts ready to start training onto the twine and I will start doing so this week.  I had a small problem with grass and weeds growing in around the plants that I took care of by adding a layer of mulch to the pile surrounding the plants. I will be adding fertilizer this week, based on information obtained from this article that gives a few timeframes on when to add nitrogen and other elements to the soil. Fertilizing is another important topic that I plan to research and share some information on later. The newly sprouted plants and trellis ropes have gotten some attention from some of the store customers, and it seems like there is a bit of a buzz going about these little guys.  Hopefully they can have a nice healthy harvest to show off to the public.

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Trellis Construction

April 10, 2010
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The method you use to construct your trellis is obviously based on how you plan your hop garden layout.  I was at an obvious advantage when constructing my trellis, as I already had a steel building to offer support and to plenty of space to plant facing the sun.  I contemplated creating a free standing trellis away from the building, allowing people to roam and explore the garden more freely, but future construction plans could have potentially forced me to relocate my hop garden, and I settled for the more permanent solution.  But everyone who tries growing hops will be faced with a different situation in terms of space, and once you have decided on a location for your plants, you can decide on which form of trellis best suits your area.  Here are some quality trellis examples I have found online:

Remember your plant’s needs when constructing your trellis:

  • Minimum of about 8 feet of height to maximize yield
  • Your plant will weigh, on average, about 20 to 25lbs at full growth so make sure your trellis can support this weight

Once you have your construction plans put together, gather your materials and get ready to race your hops to completion.  You should have your trellis completed by the time your hops are 6″ to 8″ so that they can be properly trained onto the twine.  For twine, I would suggest a sisal twine from a hardware store.  You can pick up upwards of 2250′ on a spool with 75lbs of test strength for less than $15 (Check it out here).

Remember to stay within your means when constructing your trellis.  If you have decided on an elaborate setup, with lots of cutting and building involved make sure you have the means and the know-how to do so.  Don’t attempt a huge project that will be costly and time consuming if you do not have the resources or the ability to complete your project within a short period of time.  Remember hops must be planted shortly after the ground thaws and will be ready to be trained on a vine within a few weeks of planting, so you are on a timetable when constructing your support structure. There are often easy and inexpensive answers to any project, and you must put your hops needs before your desire for an aesthetically pleasing design. Remember practicality over presentation because remember, your hops will still be the focal point of your garden no matter how much effort goes into the trellis.

Trellis Design Plans:

More Trellis Construction Examples:

http://www.gordosoft.com/hoptrellis1/

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f92/my-hop-trellis-design-99256/

Planning Your Garden

April 2, 2010

A good site for your hop plants is the key to a healthy crop. The following criteria is the most important:

  • Sunlight exposure: Hops need lots of sunlight to grow properly. In the northern hemisphere a southern exposure is the best. 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight is needed to keep hops healthy.
  • Soil quality and drainage: The soil should be nutrient rich, with pH in the range of 6.5-8.0. Hops like a lot of moisture, but ground that stays too saturated after a heavy rain will promote the growth of mold and other diseases.
  • Vertical Space: Hops need to climb, a suggested minimum of about 12 feet. Commercial hops yards in America have 18′ trellis systems. Hops will grow even higher than that, upwards of 25 feet. A trellis system can be as simple as two poles with a wire strung between them. It needs to be strong enough to support the weight of the vines and withstand windy conditions.
  • Air Circulation: This will help to prevent diseases and will help keep pests to a minimum. If your area is really windy, a windbreak should be considered.

The side of a building that gets plenty of sunlight can provide a great framework for your garden.

For practical purposes, the side of a building that faces the sun during the day is the best place to locate your garden, so long as there is proper drainage. During the storm there should be no soil erosion occurring in the area you are going to plant, and the area should dry out quickly following the storm.  this method will save you the hassle of constructing an entire trellis, makes stringing your supports easy, and provides a decorative effect to the building. This is the method I have chosen, and will be stringing up 15 foot supports to the top of a building that faces the South. Against a fence in the backyard, or below a balcony are other practical choices. If these options are unavailable, but you have enough open space in the sun somewhere on your land that can grow hops, you are going to have to construct a trellis. To determine which trellis method will work best for your situation, take a look at some examples and consider your options.

Depending on how many hop plants you plan to purchase, you should stake out where you are going to put the hops in the ground to illustrate your future garden.  Make sure your stakes are in bright areas with proper drainage and are about 5 feet apart (if your hops will be different varieties).  Once you have a good idea of where you’re hops will be located, you can move on to constructing your trellis and preparing your soil for planting.

Hop Rhizomes Have Arrived: Rhizome Care and Preparing Your Soil

April 1, 2010

Hop rhizomes should be kept moist, cool and out of direct sunlight. Keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you are ready to plant them.

Hops are incredibly hardy plants that can really take a beating.  Once you have received your rhizomes in the mail, you may find that you need to store them for a short period while you finish preparing your garden and trellis structure.  If this is the case, you have to be sure to store them correctly so they are ready to grow once they hit the soil. To get the most out of your plants, your rhizomes need to be kept cool, moist and out of direct sunlight.  The quickest and easiest method of doing so would be to place them in a clean ziplock with a very small amount of water, and kept in the refrigerator.  It seems basic and self explanatory, but to get your hops plant off and running once it hits the soil, this is very important. Hop rhizomes will store well in this manner until the winter frost has subsided and you have prepared your garden for planting.

Once your rhizomes have arrived, you can get them off to a good start by adding lots of compost or well rotted manure to the soil before planting. Hops grow best in soil with a Ph of 6 to 7.5, and need plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, and boron. I would suggest beginning with a 50/50 mixture of earth and commercial gardening soil, then adding a good organic fertilizer or compost to provide most of these nutrients.

Rhizomes can be planted horizontally, or vertically with the buds facing the sky.

The soil should be worked at least 2′ deep. Separate the plants based on variety.  Hops of the same type can be planted about 3′ apart, and with different varieties about 5′ apart, just to be safe. Plant the hop rhizomes 6″ deep and in raised beds. Rhizomes can be put in the ground either vertically with the buds facing the sky, or horizontally if you are unsure.  Cover the planted hops with a thick layer of mulch to prevent the soil from drying out and to keep weeds and pests to a minimum.

Don’t forget to MARK YOUR PLANT with a flag or other notation that will tell you what kind of plant is in the ground.  If you buy a handful of varieties like I did, things could get confusing if you don’t mark your plants in some way, and this is information you will want to remember down the road.

Buying Your Hops

March 29, 2010
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Purchasing hop rhizomes over the internet has become extremely easy over the past few years, with a range of companies now offering single rhizomes for very little cost (Usually under $5). All you need to do is find a company that distributes the plant and place an order online.  I have yet to read a bad review about any companies out there, so it seems as though your purchase will be simply a matter of preference.  But I do suggest that you consider shipping times when you decide on who you will be purchasing from.  If your hops are in transit for an extended period of time, there is a greater chance that they could dry out. You want to try to minimize the time that your hops are in an exposed environment where you cannot control the temperature and moisture levels that they are exposed to.  Before your hops are planted, rhizome care is important. Because of this you will want to consider choosing a distributor that is either located more closely to you, or choose a method of shipping that will get the hops to your door quickly.

Here is a quick list of suggested rhizome distributors:

The only distributor that I have personal experience with is Freshops.com, and would definitely recommend them to anyone looking to buy hops.  Their purchase was quick and easy, and because of my location, they upgraded my shipping for free to make sure my hops arrived healthy. So a tip of my hat to Dave over at freshops for the outstanding customer service.

Some of you may be lucky enough to know someone who is already growing a healthy crop of hops.  If this is the case, ask them if they could propagate you a batch of rhizomes from their growing season for you to use in the spring.  Most growers will be more than happy to grow you your own rhizomes for little to no cost. The best part is that you know these hops can strive in your region, and the overall time that the rhizomes are out of the ground will be next to nothing, with only a quick transplant required. It is always a great idea to establish relationships with the other growers in your area. It will be useful to have an extra resource, or someone to trade varieties with down the road.