You know me, I love growing food. In pots, in raised beds, even in hanging baskets. I’ll grow as many food bearing plants in our garden as possible every year. And although space becomes an issue when you live in a town or city, it’s never put me off.
One guy, Mark Ridsdill Smith, managed to grow £900 worth of food on his British balcony and windowsills. If that isn’t an inspiration, I give up!
One crop I have found that is super easy to grow is hops. At first you’d imagine that hops would need a lot of space. After all, they grow to 25ft (8meters) but read on and be thoroughly impressed by this crop.
Quick hop facts:
- Believed to originate from Egypt in the 1st Century
- The cultivation of hops started in Belgium and Holland around the 13th Century
- It’s a perennial plant so once established returns every year
- The hop vines can grow up to three inches, every day, in the growing season
- There are more than 124 varieties of hops to grow, 80 of those are commercially grown for beer.
- Dried hops, made into tea can be used as a mild sleeping sedative (do not use if you are pregnant though).
- Hops are poisonous to dogs
How to Grow Hops:
First of all, select a variety that is suited to your local area. I chose “Fuggles” which is a traditional British variety which is suited to our climate of short (sometimes hot) summers and is adapted to loam/clay soil. Also, grow hops that are best suited for what you want to use them for; beer, decorative use, or herbal. Each variety will have its own merits.
Go to a reputable hop grower rather than trying to buy something cheap off the internet. Hop growers pride themselves on their stock and can guarantee the plant are disease free.
Hop plants start off as rhizomes (root looking, but with numerous buds).
For smaller gardens you just want one rhizome and increase with space. However having said that it’s really head space that is required, more so than root space.
- Before planting ensure the soil is fertilised. It needs to be rich in potassium, phosphates and nitrogen (aka either manure or all purpose plant food)
- Plant the rhizomes in autumn, just below the surface of the soil (2inches).
- March the following year you’ll start to see shots appear.
- In the first year keep just three shoots and cut the rest away. Hop plants become really productive from their third year onwards.
- The vines will start to grow incredibly fast from March to August and it’s this part that takes a bit more time.
- When planning to grow hops take into account where the 25ft vines will go. Up or across. They are easily trained and need nothing but wire or string to wrap themselves around. Getting the structure right for the vines will take the most time.
I have experimented with both trellis and string supports and I think the plants prefer wrapping themselves clock-wise around the string as they climb. I have my hops going up a 6ft fence and then either guiding them off to a higher wall opposite, or training them across the fence. Both works. In theory you could let them grow up trees and other shrubs in the vicinity. And I can’t imagine why you couldn’t let a plant trail over the ground either? The only issue is their natural tendency is to grow up towards the sun. So just keep training their growth to where you want them to “hang out”.
There are loads of ideas of where and how to train hop vines – they allow you to get quite creative in the garden!
- May onwards the vines will start to send out side shoots. Allow them to grow without getting tangled up with other shoots.
- Cut down any other further shoots that are coming up from the ground. Beware, they will keep coming!
- In July remove the lower leaves and shoots, from the vines to aid circulation to the plant and prevent disease.
- August onwards the hop cones will begin to appear, starting off green and slowly, slowly turning to a beautiful golden colour. As the weeks roll into autumn, the cones will become lighter, and begin to dry out. Harvesting can be done once the cones feel softer and easy to squeeze.
- Spread the hops out and let them dry. This can take anywhere from 3 days to a week depending on where you let thm dry. The inner stem of the cones needs to be brittle. This is the indication that the moist content is now low enough for the hops to be used.
- Store the hops in airtight containers and put them into the freezer until required