I’m hedging my bets. The father in law claims rhizomes of any kind grow like crazy up north near the farm, so I’m sending some rhizomes to him to grow while I grow some here in the cities. In a few years, I’ll report back on the Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, and Willamette. (Okay, I’ll probably panic a few times a year between now and then and bug you guys for advice).
I’ve been growing hops here in MN for about 6 years. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with them. On several occasions I’ve been able to compare them side-by-side with commercial pellets, and mine have always been as good as or better than the commercial versions in terms of aroma.
The bitterness gamble is a crap-shoot and that keeps me from using the homegrowns exclusively. I tend to buy a pound of high-alpha hops like Warrior or Magnum for bittering.
It’s hard to say exactly what’s off with your hops. There are certainly a lot of factors that can make or break a harvest. If you’re thinking about growing some hops, give it a shot. Everybody’s experience will be different. :cheers:
uberculture & Mabus,
I’d suggest trying as many different varieties as you can (within your resources), and give each one at least 3 years before you decide to give them the old heave-ho. Back in the early 90’s I had about 15 different varieties going and had tons of cuttings I had to get rid of so I’d pack up an 84 qt. cooler and lug it to as many different beer events as I could. Down at a competition in Pittsburgh (50 miles away), a bunch of folks ended up with rhizomes. A year or two later I was back down there again and one of the guys showed me his Hallertau (rhizomes he got from me). The plant basically covered his garage and was covered with cones. The years that I grew them, one ounce of dried hops would have been a great yield for me! Only 50 miles away made a HUGE difference so there’s most likely some varieties that will do well in your location but finding them will be the hardest, most time consuming factor so settle in for a long, hoppy ride!!
FWIW, I planted 6 hop plants in the twin cities last June- the very last week of the month. By the fall, some of my plants but not all of them had given me a small amount of ripe hops. Others had hops that weren’t ready yet (and others plants were just too young). Given a full growing season this year, I’m expecting to at least double the amount of hops that are ready in time but I accept that some of my varieties still may not be ho(a)ppy.
YMMV, but FWIW I bought Nugget, Chinook, Spalter select and Sterling rhizomes from Great Lakes hops. They were pre-ordered and when they arrived they were in great shape and well packed. It was actually a club buy and they missed one rhizome in the order, so I called and they obliged and apologized profusely for the omission. Great customer service and very knowledgeable to talk to. I tilled a stripe of my yard on the back lot-line adjacent to my neighbors chain-link fence. I bought a drip hose to water with and tried to make sure it got watered for about 15 minutes each day early in the morning. My first years hops were about 4 oz, mostly from the nugget and Chinook. The Sterling and Spalter are flavor/aroma hops and I was kind of disappointed, but oh well. I cut the bines about a foot from the ground to winter and made a batch of miracle grow in a five gallon bucket and watered one last time with that.
Next season had the same setup but watered about an hour a day whenever I could be home for an hour at a time. the plants really took off. I also fertilized with the miracle grow three times during the season and got a pretty swell pile of aromatic cones. About 2 lbs, but again mostly from the nugget and Chinook. Ive used these hops in a few batches and they are particularly useful for dry hopping because of the reduced cost, ease of cleanup and tendency to stay out of my dip tubes. This next season these are the things I will concentrate on and wish I had known when I started:
You cannot get enough sunlight on your bines. Ideally you would plant these in a little clearing so that you wouldn’t miss a minute of sun. the south side of a building is pretty ideal too, unless there are other factors to consider.
These buggers are THIRSTY. if you get good sun, they will drink a LOT of water. Drip is best as it discourages the mildews that can be a problem if things are wet for an extended period of time.
Training for yield. The first few shoots to come up each season are called bull shoots and aren’t particularly rugged. They are large and qhite hollow but will fold right over in the wind even with good structure. Cut these so that the plant can make better, stronger shoots that will be better suited to weather variability. Get your shoots as high as your structure is and then TRAIN EVERY DAY. I got lazy mid season and lost probably about 8 oz of hops because the bines didn’t know which way to go. they waste quite a bit of energy chasing the sun if the tip isn’t racing around something supportive.
Harvest. you should be having a look every day anyway so think of it as homework. you will see the cones get dryer and lighter around the mid-end of august. Not all varieties mature at the same time and cones on the same bine will ripen at different times. Open a cone once every few days and look for the yellow lupulin inside. It will get a darker saturated color as the season wanes. A cone is ready when the color of the lupulin is fully developed and the cone is papery and doesn’t spring back into shape when pressed between your fingers. I usually look for the tips of the leaflets in the cone to turn brown. Harvest too early and you’ll have weak and unpredictable acid content. Harvest too late and you’ll have rotten bitter cones with mold and bugs.
Another great reason to have a peak at your plants each day are the beetles. I had a pretty substantial jap beetle clan chowing down on my hops leaves. There are many options for control, but if you ignore this problem early you wont get hardly any cones.
Growing hops is very much a GIGO hobby: garbage in, garbage out. The more time you invest in taking care of your bines the better the yeild. Great Lakes Hops has a facebook page with literature on common questions and links to the more nerdy stuff. They are a great resource and love to talk to people with unique problems. There are also a host of other resources available on the internet.
Still waiting for rhizomes in the mail. I did just catch wind of a local community hop garden in town, so I may try that as well as I learn. Either way, I’m not pinning my hopes on pounds of hops the first year. If it’s a hobby, I will not be saving money, just having fun. That’s been my homebrewing philosophy thus far, anyway.