Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hop Rhizomes

Planting, harvesting and using your own hops can be a fun and rewarding hobby. They smell good, and can look nice growing up the side of a fence, trellis or patio, especially if you don't mind the company of s few bees.

You can pre order your Rhizomes now for planting in March, and while they don't typically produce much there first year, you could be experimenting with "wet" hop additions next summer.

Not sure what a Rhisome is, or what to do with them. Here is a bit of info to get you acquainted:

Hop rhizomes are a cut from the root of an established hop plant. They must not be allowed to dry out before planting, need well drained “workable” soil, lots of sunlight and need approximately 4 months of frost free growing for fully developed flowers. Well established plants may require a couple of growing seasons, but can produce around 2 pounds of hops per vine under the right conditions.

Planting – you can plant your rhizomes horizontally or vertically 1-2 inches below the surface in fertilized soil. If the rhizome has started to bud, orient the plant facing the bud towards the surface. Hops like the sun and grow quickly, so a Southern exposure works best and separate multiple plants 3-5 feet apart to avoid tangling. Do not let the soil get overly dried out. Frequent short watering is recommended.

Growing – While a first year plant may only need a 6-10 foot support system (stake, fence, wire,
etc.) mature healthy plants can grow 20+ feet under the right conditions, but for the home grower 10+ feet of support will work just fine. The hop plant is durable and can survive harsh winters. The plant will die back to just the bottom stock in the fall and grow back in the spring. Pruning back to the stock is recommended at this time during the first growth.
Picking/Harvesting – Once the hops are most fragrant and before the first frost it is time to pick the cones from the vines. The cone's “petals” will be papery and fragrant when crushed. Sticky yellow powder should be evident, as this is the lupulin produced by the cone and what is responsible for the bitterness used in brewing. A little bit of browning is normal for mature cones. Pick from the top of the plant first and work your way to the bottom. Dry the hops while avoiding direct sunlight before storing. The hops are dry when the inner part of the cone is brittle. Hops degrade when exposed to oxygen, heat, and light, so store your dried hops in a cold dark place with little exposure to oxygen. Packing tightly in a ziplock back and storing in a freezer works great, but vacuum packing in oxygen barrier plastic is ideal.

Usage – When growing your own hops, your Alpha and Beta Acids will not be known, but should fall within the range specified for that specific plant type. You will need to get a feel for the bitterness through some testing. Undried "Wet" hops require a 6:1 ratio by weight as compared to hop pellets. Dried hop cones have a 1:1 ratio in weight to hop pellets, but of course the voume of Wet or Dry hops will be much more than pellets.

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