Hops are the main ingredient in brewing beer. The hop plant is a perennial, Humulus lupulus, growing from a root system called a rhizome. Hop vines can grow up to 25 feet in length, dying back each fall. Keeping hop plants growing year after year requires a few care tips.
Hop varieties are chosen according to their ability to grow in the climate of the area. Hardiness, yield and ease of growth are considered when choosing a variety, as well as the hops' final use. Aroma hops provide the smell of the beer, while bittering hops provide a bitter taste to the beer. Since flavor and aroma are the most important parts of beer brewing, home growers will choose aroma hops to grow as opposed to bitters, as home produced hops often have a small yield.
Hops require a trellis to grow so that vines do not become tangled and the hop fruit is given enough room to dry after rains and to prevent disease. Hop trellises are comprised of two metal anchors, set at an angle, which pulls a thin wire taut. This wire holds the plant up from the ground and gives the hop vines room to grow. A trellis requires 18 feet of height to allow for the long vine growth. Twine is run from the top wire, to the ground, where it is attached with a stake.
In the first year of hop growth, the plants require frequent, short watering to establish a firm root system. Water down 1 to 2 inches at most to establish rhizomes. Mulch added to the soil, as well as organic material, will aid the absorption of water. After the first season, deeper, less frequent watering is used to deepen the root system.
Once the plants have established vines that are 1 foot in length, the best two are chosen and wrapped around the twine of the trellis system. Hops grow vertically, so the best vines will grow up the twine toward the top of the trellis. Vines should never intertwine, so regular untangling is necessary. Tangled vines inhibit the growth of the hop fruit.
Disease and Pests
Insect pests are of great concern to the hop grower. Mites and aphids are known to congregate on hop vines and eat away at the fruit. Proper cultivation methods will prevent them from gathering. An insecticide soap, or manual removal of mites and aphids using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol, will remove them from the plant without the need for harmful chemicals.
Downy mildew, or Pseudoperonospora humuli, is a major cause of hop disease. Mildew appears in spring after wet winters when new shoots begin to grow from the plant. A shoot will begin to grow into a spike, then growth stops. Curled leaves with a silvery look on the surface, with a black underside, is another symptom of the mildew. Ridomil or Aliette are two fungicides effective in the removal of downy mildew. Application according to the fungicide instructions is advised.