Hops are most commonly known as the flavoring agent in many beers, but are in fact a beautiful vine that can enhance the landscape of any garden. Hops plants are hardy perennials that are very easy to grow and maintain in most climates. These plants are especially suited to chillier winters and warm summers, making them the perfect garden addition in northern states. If you’re thinking about becoming a home brewer, or are just curious about this viney plant, its time to learn how to grow your own hops and use them in numerous ways!
Hops have flavored, bittered and preserved beer for several centuries, making them an extremely useful plant to grow for those who enjoy homebrewing. The tantalizingly bitter aroma of these bell-shaped flowers is heralded by brewmasters as the necessary ingredient for any ale, stout or porter. Adding just the right amount of any certain variety provides a subtle hint of floral, oaky or piney tones that gives the finer beers their particular flavor.
Hops can be grown in pots or planted in an outdoor spot where they get full or almost full sun. Although hops can grow 25 feet tall in a season, they can be grown and trained on to shorter trellises that make harvesting much easier. Dwarf varieties that grown about 8 feet in a season are also available, and more ideal for limited vertical spaces. The plant will thrive in well-drained, loamy soil that is rich in nitrogen phosphates and potassium, meaning that it likes a lot of fertilizer. Making sure to buy hops plants from a reputable source will most likely ensure a disease-free plant. Researching the different varieties will allow you to choose one that works for your particular growing space, whether a tall climber or a dwarf version.
Planting hops along fences, latticed walls or property lines allows the vines to create a pleasant green wall. Planting should occur anytime from winter to late spring, after which the vines will begin their impressive climb. A strong support system is essential for a healthy plant, so strong poles in a teepee shape are recommended if planted in the middle of a yard. Young shoots should be trained along the trellis at first to point them in the right direction. Optimum growing conditions include a minimum of 120 frost-free days to allow the hops vines to produce flowers.
Hops need plenty of water throughout their growing season to stay healthy and reach their full height by mid-summer. They will then sprout feathery buds that flower by the end of July or beginning of August. The flowers, which resemble green pinecones, should be harvested from the end of August and into September. A sign of ripeness is when the flowers emit yellow oil upon crushing. Fresh hops should be used for brewing within 12 hours of picking, or dried, vacuum-packed and frozen for later use. Hops can be harvested after the first planting year, but will begin to produce ample harvests by the third year. In the late autumn the plants should be pruned to the ground to allow them to go dormant and reduce risk of disease or pests.
Although hops are traditionally used for beer-making, their resinous properties offer multiple other uses. They flowers can be used to flavor sauces and marinades, and young shoots can be harvested and prepared like asparagus. The flowers can also be steeped in oils or cooked in butter for flavoring dressings, spreads and baking. Skincare uses for hops include lotions and creams, as well as shampoos, as the resins in the flowers have shown soothing and restoring effects. Naturopaths also use hops to promote appetite and improve sleep. Teas can be prepared out of the leaves and the flowers for these effects, and you can even prepare a pillowfull of dried hop flowers to improve sleep. Sounds like some sweet dreams to us!
Image: Scout Seventeen