The ideal planting time for hop rhizomes is between March and May. If you decide to plant your rhizomes early, we advise using a bit of mulch (but not too much!). Make sure to plant your rhizomes between 1" and 2" beneath the soil's surface with the "eye" of the rhizomes facing upwards. The vine breaks the surface where the "eye" is, so it's pretty important that you face it upwards. Hop vines naturally grow clockwise up the string or trellis once they break the surface, so be sure you're prepared for that! (Tip: only use a chainlink fence for growing if you are able to reach both sides. Beware of property lines!). Additionally, if your vine begins to grow counter-clockwise, train it back around to make sure that it follows your string or trellis. Be aware that while hop plants need as much natural sunlight as they can get, they do not do well with reflective devices that increase heat/light. They will die with these unnatural heat/light sources. One big mistake that a lot of first-time growers make is overwatering. Don't lose your hop plant to overwatering!
Caring For Your Growing Plant
Pay attention to when your hop plants reach 7'-8' feet tall, because at that point Barley & Vine recommends a process known as "hilling". Hilling your hop plants are easy though, so don't worry! Simply gather some additional soil around the base of your hop plant's. By hilling, you are helping to maintain both the moisture and temperature of the plant. Also, you are preventing the plant from mildewing. If you're interested in fertilizing, know that hop vines will continue to grow with only moderate need for fertilizer. The pelletized, slow-release type is highly recommended and Barley & Vine uses 16-16-16. The trick is not to over fertilize, but you also need to make sure you don’t let your plants starve. To help with this, you can increase the nitrogen content near the end of the growing season just slightly. At this point, the hop plants you’ve been growing have established feeder roots and will be almost ready to be “on its own” (without being watered or fertilized by you).
How to Harvest
Expect your hop plants to begin flowering by around the first of August. By around the third week in August, you can begin expecting the fruit of your hop plants—though that can depend based on the varieties that you have chosen. The hop varieties that we carry at Barley & Vine have been consistently ready by the second week in September. You as the home grower get to choose when you pick your hops, but we typically pick at around the tenth of September (when the alpha acid percentage is at its peak). There is more than one way to dry your freshly plucked hops! To start, the target moisture content is 8% to 10%, which preserves your fruit acids while also preventing mold. We recommend using a good dehydrator, your oven, or you can even make your own at-home hop dryer (be sure to do a little research on the internet first though). If you’re using heat to dry, be sure that the temperature doesn’t exceed 140F. Here at Barley & Vine, we frame our own screens and set our hop cones down in a single layer and fluff them daily (so moist inner cones are brought to the outside of the pile). When you are finished drying your hops, seal and freeze or refrigerate them. Don’t forget that your hop plant isn’t good for just one year, but rather is a perennial and will continue to yield hops for the years to come. The more experience you gain, the better you will become at growing hops and the more delicious your favorite ingredients will come out!