Locating Your Hops.
Once you decide on the hop variety or varieties you want to grow, make sure you have selected a suitable location for them to grow.
First and foremost the hops are going to need a lot of direct sunlight. 12-15 hours of direct sun should do the trick. If you pick a spot that receives less direct sunlight its fine and your hops will likely grow, but don’t expect to see a large yield. Make sure they are not going to climb up anything you don’t want them on and make sure you can get access to the top of the plant during the harvest season so you can get them down. This can be a little tricky if you build the hops a climbing structure that is as tall as they would like (around 20 ft). So consider how high you can make your hop structure and where you can situate your ladder in order to harvest in the summer, and re-rope in the spring. The best hop structure I currently have hops growing on is a telephone pole support wire at the front edge of our house (this is not the telephone pole, which could impart toxins into the final product). The difficulty with this structure is that if I let the hops grow too high they will hit the telecom lines. To solve this issue I cut the top of the primary bines when they get to a height where I feel like I can still safely harvest them without needing a cherry picker.
The structure your choose to grow your hop on doesn’t need to be extravagant, but if you like to make cool structures or have some tall existing structures that are accessible, then use them. However, keep a few things in mind. The hops will want to wind themselves (generally clockwise) around whatever structure they are growing up. If the structure is too wide for them to wind around they will eventually just flop to the ground or fall over themselves and break. Choose a structure that will still allow the hop to see as much sun as it wants. Also, if you are very fond of the structure that it is growing on, make sure you won’t damage the structure when you try to harvest the hop as the bines will wind themselves into a very tight weave as they grow up a structure. Don’t expect to simply un-wind them off of the structure during the harvest. By far the easiest structures to harvest from are simply ropes that the hops grow up and around. Ropes can be strung up from stakes near the rhizome to a nearby pole or to a cross wire between two poles.
Hops are rhizomes and during the first year the rhizome will spend most of its effort establishing its root structure. That’s not to say that it won’t grow tall, but don’t expect to get a high yield of fragrant cones the first year. Hops really come into their own during the second or third year and beyond. If you are buying and planting your own rhizomes, make sure they still have some life to them when you get them. They will look like a small stick or end of a root and should have what look like small nodes or potato eyes sticking off of them (only one or tow are necessary). These little nodes are the beginning of the bines and need to be facing upwards when planted. Plant the rhizomes so that the bines on the rhizome are one inch below the surface of the soil in a good bed of compost and dirt. Pile more dirt on top and lightly pack the dirt around the rhizome so that it will stay upright. Hops can be planted soon after the last frost or even during the early spring when you may still have a few frost days. If you plant the rhizome and notice that you are still seeing some cold weather, just add some mulch to the top of the rhizome to keep it warm. Since it is in the ground it will be fine unless you get some serious cold weather that freezes the ground an inch deep. For watering, treat the rhizome like any other seed you would start. Keep the ground around the rhizome moist but not water logged.
To be continued…