Growing Your Hops.
Growth patterns & Watering
The initial signs of life from the rhizome come when the bines begin to break through the ground during the spring. This generally happens when the weather begins to warm and when there is more sunlight. If this is the first year of growth on the rhizome you should be carful that the young bines do not get broken, stepped on or chewed up. If they break they will most likely die and if you only have one our two bines coming off the rhizome you could end up loosing the whole plant if they are compromised. Once a rhizome is on its third or even second year you won’t have to worry as much because you will likely have more bines that break through the ground than you will know what to do with (during and after year 2 you will actually need to prune during this initial growth period to keep the plant in check). The bine of the hop wants to grow upward and it is important to train the hop bine onto a rope or a structure by the time the bine has grown to over a foot tall. If the hop grows too tall without support it will not be able to hold itself up and will fall down to the ground. If it does not break it will continue to try to grow and find something to climb on. You can grow your hops horizontally but it requires more work because you have to wind the hop along the horizontal structure daily. While manually winding the hop horizontally on the structure it is easy to break them so be carful if you try this. I would not recommend that you try to grow your hops on a horizontal structure during the first year unless you have a good amount of bines that shoot up from the rhizome. This is because the probability of breaking the bines while training them horizontally is high. During the first year try to train at least two bines onto each rope section so that if one breaks you still have another active bine. If you have plenty of bines to work with and you aren’t worried about the hop spreading out then train multiple bines on multiple ropes.
As the hop bines continue to grow make sure they are receiving ample water. If it is raining constantly such as it does in the Pacific Northwest you may not need to water as often spring. However it is very important to keep the rhizome moist yet not waterlogged during the first year. During the second year and beyond you can soak the ground around the hop with more water less frequently to keep it well watered. However if you saturate the rhizome when it is too young it may rot. When you water the hop make sure to water all around the base of the rhizome and don’t water the leaves themselves as this can promote the growth of mildew.
The hops will continue to grow higher and higher as the weather gets warmer and they begin to get full days of direct sunlight. During the early summer the bines may grow as much as 6 to 8 inches in one day. Once the hop bines reach their high point they will begin to grow shoots sideways from the top of the plant. These side shoots will spread out horizontally at the top of the plant and you will notice the little green spiky balls developing in around the leaves. These little green spiky balls will eventually develop into the hop cones that you will harvest.
During the growing season it is important check the hops regularly for pests which will vary in severity based on your location. The most common pests in the Northwest are aphids and to a lesser extent caterpillars. Aphid control can be done by yourself using soap spray, but you may notice the presence of aphid munching lady bugs develop on the hop naturally, or you can introduce them yourself. Lady bugs love hops because they attract aphids and they can be your best ally in keeping the aphids at bay. However there are different types of lady beetles. For instance the imported Japanese Lady beetle is highly invasive, and although it helps control the aphids in the same way as the common lady bug does, it can multiply at an exponential rate which can be bad for the hop (and your property). We dealt with a pretty heavy dose of Japanese Lady beetles one year and had to hand mange their extermination. If you see their eggs just squash them, if you see their larva, squash them. I spent a good 5 to 10 minutes each day looking under the leaves of the hops during this time and eventually the Japanese lady beetles subsided to just a few mature beetles that kept the aphids in check.
To be continued…