Hops (Humulus lupulus) entered the United States in 1629 from Europe; Virginia was the hops capital of the colonial states, notes Blue & Gray Brewing Company. Virginia's warm climate and 37-degree latitude make it ideal for hops, which grow between latitudes 35 and 55 degrees. Hops plants produce fragrant cones that give beer its aroma and distinctive taste. It's not difficult to grow hops from rhizomes, but they require a lot of garden space to develop properly.
Choose a full sun location that offers the hops plant plenty of room to grow. Hops grow back every year and are capable of climbing up to 30 feet, so select a location that offers them space and where they can remain for years to come.
Test your soil pH with a home test kit. Most kits require you to place a color-changing strip into a soil sample, then match the pH value on a corresponding chart. Hops prefer a neutral to alkaline pH of 6 to 7.5.
Increase your soil's pH if necessary by adding lime. Use The Garden Helper's recommendations based upon your soil type (see Resources).
Mound the soil in the area into a hill. Then, dig holes twice as wide as your hop rhizomes in the spring, placing no more than two plants of the same variety per hill. Place hop rhizomes in the holes so the bud side side faces up. Cover over the holes with 1 inch of soil. Blue & Gray Brewing Company recommends planting hops in spring once frost danger passes; typically April to May for Virginia.
Water the newly planted hops until the ground becomes saturated. Continue to irrigate the area when the soil becomes dry and crumbly to the touch, adding enough water to saturate the soil.
Install a trellis beside your hop plants. Brew Your Own recommends using a 15- to 30-foot tree branch, or placing your hops beside a tree, porch banister or fence you can use as a natural trellis.
Allow the hop plants to grow until the tendrils are 1 foot long. Then train the plant by selecting two to six strong, healthy shoots and removing all others. Trail one to three of the vines up the stake and allow the others to grow outward.
Fertilize the hops with 3 lb. nitrogen fertilizer per 1,000 square feet three times during the growing season--in March, May and July. Scatter the fertilizer on the ground near your hop plants and water the ground to work the nutrients into the soil.
Harvest hops cones by cutting tendrils off the vine. Hops are ready for harvest when their yellow powder sticks to your hands and the cones feel papery. Then, pluck off the cones by hand and discard the vine.
Things You Will Need
- pH test kit
- Hop rhizomes
- Nitrogen fertilizer
- Garden clippers
- Select a type of hop that's suitable for brewing the kind of beer you like to drink, using Beer Advocate's Hop Guide to choose hops varieties (see Resources).
- Purchase female hops plants from brewing stores or order online. You do not need male hops plants to obtain hops.