How to Grow Hops
How to Water Hop Plants
A proper watering schedule with a drip system that waters right at the base of the plant will ensure a healthy plant throughout the growing season. Hops do require a good amount of water once they get going and are far from drought-resistant. The drip system is preferred because it waters without splashing and spraying the leaves and will cut down on disease and mold exposure. Flood irrigation is still commonly practiced in European countries, but water conservation is a major issue in the Yakima Valley so drip irrigation here is the standard. Water schedule will depend heavily on your local climate and soil profile, but in general during peak summer hops should be watered every day or every other. Watering in the morning, before the sun is high in the sky, is also ideal as it will ensure that as little water evaporates as possible.
A Note on Hop Sex
Hop plants are gendered, with only the females producing fruit. Hop plants are also able to change gender from year to year or even within the same season. Gender switching is largely caused by environmental stresses and can even cause plants to present hermaphrodites with both female cones and male flowers. Commercial farmers rigorously patrol for male plants (commonly called stags) as their pollen will fertilize the female cones and produce seeds. Commercial hops are always tested for seed and stem content and if the seed percentage goes above 3% it can result in lower prices for the farmer and a nock to their reputation. On the homegrown scale seeds are not as much of an issue, but if your plant transitions fully to male it is best to rip it out and replant. Hermaphrodite hops are mostly impotent so there is not a risk to producing seeds, but the fruit yield will be lower on a hermaphrodite plant as it is spending energy to produce both male and female parts.
How to Harvest Hops
When to harvest your hops is a tricky topic and most commercial farmers have their own special ways to determine when to harvest. In general each variety has its own harvest window; Centennial tends to be one of the first to ripen and depending on the growing season they can be ready towards the end of August. But the majority of varieties peak around the second or third week of September and very few are still in the ground come October. Not only does the variety determine when it is best to harvest, but it also determines how long you have to harvest. This is commonly referred to as the harvest window and some varieties like Columbus have a notoriously short harvest window that only lasts a day or two.
The most important thing to look at to determine proper harvest date is the lupulin glands. The lupulin glands run along the middle of the hop cone and vary from light yellow to brown in color depending on maturity. Ideally, hops will be picked when the lupulin glands are fully matured (bright orange) and not overly ripe as they will tend to have unpleasant aromas of onion and garlic if left to hang too long. Starting in the beginning of August you can start pulling off a couple cones, cut them in half with a razor blade and watch the color, shape, and aroma change even day to day. If you have access to a microscope that will give you an even better idea of the ripeness of the lupulin glands as they will start out perfectly round, but start looking more like a raindrop as they ripen.
Some seasoned farmers squeeze the cones and are able to tell maturity based on feel. The young cones will feel waxy and squishy, while mature cones will feel more papery and springy. The most important thing to keep in mind for harvesting is that if you like the way it smells, then you will probably still like it after you brew with it. Keep track from year to year on when you harvest and it will help you to really dial in the ideal harvest date.
When it is time for you harvest, it is important to dress appropriately by not having exposed skin on your arms. Bines can be a bit mean and are notorious for cutting or scraping skin. Eye protection and leather gloves are also a good idea when harvesting. Depending on your growing setup, hack the hops just above the ground and cut the tops from the wire so you can lay the bine down on a table or the ground. It will take awhile to pick all the cones by hand, but the only other alternative is to put in a million dollar picker, which your neighbors might not like too much.
Once the cones are all picked you can brew with them wet, but you must use them within 24 hours or you risk them getting slimy as they start to decompose. If you are not able to use them immediately you are able to dry them out and then store them in the freezer. Commercial kilns use high powered heaters and fans to achieve the goal of less than 10% moisture by weight. And even then it still takes 6-8 hours to properly dry them out.
At home, spread the cones out on a screen or breathable fabric so that fans can blow air both under and over the layer. Airflow and temperature can be increased to decrease drying time, but it will still probably take at least 6 hours and be sure to toss or mix up the cones so they dry out evenly. Food dehydrators are also an option, but tend to not dry many hops at once. Once the cones are properly dried it is best to vacuum seal them before tossing them in the freezer. Hops do not require any care or maintenance over the winter as long as they are cut down to the ground.
Q: How do I grow my own hops?
A: Growing your own hops at home is easy! For a complete guide on how to grow your own hops, just download this FREE How to Grow Your Own Hops PDF.
Q: How to grow hops from rhizomes?
A: Growing your own hops at home from rhizome cuttings just requires three things. A nice, sunny spot outside. A trellis or twine for climbing. A bit of patience and maintenance throughout the growing season.
Q: Is it ok that my hop rhizomes have white mold on them?
A: Yes. Soft, white mold is common and a sign of a healthy rhizome. Black, slippery mold is no good and the affected portion should be cut away.
Q: How should I store my hop rhizomes before planting?
A: Store the rhizomes somewhere dark and cold. Don't freeze and don't seal completely in a plastic bag as they still need some airflow. They do need to stay moist, but do not like being soaked.
Q: How many hop rhizomes should I plant in a single hill?
A: 3 rhizomes go in one planting or hill. Farmers plant three rhizomes together like this to ensure that at least one will grow per mound.
Q: Where is the best place to buy hop rhizomes?
A: Buy your hop rhizomes fresh from the source here in the Yakima Valley, WA. We work closely with local farmers to offer you the freshest rhizomes, right out of the field.
Q: What varieties of hop rhizomes can be grown at home?
A: We are able to provide most of the USDA public hop varieties. For the 2023 growing season we have:
- Cascade Hop Rhizomes
- Cashmere Hop Rhizomes
- Centennial Hop Rhizomes
- Comet Hop Rhizomes
- CTZ Hop Rhizomes
- Mt Hood Hop Rhizomes
Q: How do I start growing hops commercially?
A: We offer wholesale bundles of 50 rhizomes for farms. If you are looking to place a wholesale order larger than 1,000 rhizomes, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can assist with any special orders or anything else.
- Tags: How To
- Kaleb Schwecke