Montana is the number one producer of barley in the United States, so it seems appropriate that Montana would also be a good place to grow that other vital ingredient to making beer, hops. Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a vine that produces flowers and fruit in the form of a cone. These cones are dried and used to flavor and preserve beer. Hops are also sometimes used in herbal remedies. Different hops cultivars impart different flavors to beer. Depending on the climate, hops can be easy to grow at home.
Choose a well-drained location that receives full sun. Because the growing season in Montana is short, take advantage of micro-climates in your yard and select the warmest spot for your hops. Choose a spot with southern exposure that is sheltered from the wind.
Prepare a hop yard. Hops are traditionally grown on trellises. The vines can grow up to 20-feet high, so you'll need a tall, sturdy trellis to support the vines. Construct a hop yard with 16-foot poles set in 3-foot holes reinforced with concrete. String cable between the poles. Build rows of trellising 8 feet apart.
Purchase hops rhizomes from a home brew supplier or mail order source. Keep the rhizomes wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until ready to plant.
Cultivate the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Rake away all stones. Add nitrogen fertilizer. Rutgers University recommends 3 pounds of nitrogen per square foot. Mound the soil into hills 2 feet apart.
Plant two rhizomes per hill after all danger of frost has passed. This may be late May in some parts of Montana. Plant the rhizomes 1-inch deep and cover with soil. Water.
Water daily if necessary to keep soil moist to a depth of 1 inch. Once vines have emerged, water at a rate of 1 1/2 inches per week. A drip irrigation system is ideal for delivering the right amount of water without waste in Montana's dry summers.
Train the growing vines to twist around the trellis. Rutgers University recommends stringing coarse hay rope from the top of the trellis to a stake in the ground in front of each hops plant. Wind the new vine around the rope until the vine has grown enough to reach the trellis. In the short growing season of Montana, vines may not reach the top of the trellis before harvest.
Snip off any additional vines that arise from the rhizome with garden clippers, so the plant can devote all its energy to a single vine.
Pick hops by hand when ripe. Ripe hops are golden at the base and feel light and dry to the touch. This should be mid to late September in Montana.