We have enjoyed growing hops "all naturally" since 1990, and in 2019 made it official when we became Certified Organic. It is absolutely fascinating to watch hop plants grow so vigorously, reaching lengths of up to 25 feet. Their use as ornamentals is limitless. They can be easily trained to grow up trellises to provide shade and privacy in the summer when it's hot, then because they die back in the fall, they are gone when we want all the sun we can get! I have seen them work really well trained to grow up poles to form a teepee.
Hops growing information
A Brief History Of Hops...
The use of hops began as a kitchen herb, mentioned by the Roman scholar Pliny for its edible shoots, which are eaten in spring like asparagus. French and German brewers began using them to preserve and flavor their beers in the ninth and tenth centuries. Bavarian Hops became famous by the eleventh century, but it wasn't until the sixteenth that the English replaced their traditional bitter herbs (Alehoof and Alecost) with hops. Hop cones replaced the use of fruit, a mixture of medieval bittering herbs and flowers, including costmary or alecost, chamomile, yarrow, dandelion, mugwort and horehound (horehound is German for "mountain hops"). Some of these herbs have been proven to be good preservatives. The Massachusetts Company introduced them to North America in 1629, but it took until 1800 before it was an important field crop. The end of the Eastern U. S. market came in the 1920s with a major out break of downy mildew. Today most hops are grown in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California. Hops have a long history of medicinal uses as well, the most popular being its use as a sedative.
Preferred Growing Environment
Hops, Humulus lupulus, are hardy perennials that grow best in zones 3-8 and in latitudes between 35 to 55. They do best with a cold period when they can go dormant and re-group. They produce vines up to 25’ long that die back in the Fall to return again in Spring. The vines are technically called ‘bines’ because they climb wrapping around a support using stiff hairs or bristles to grip with as opposed to vines that wrap around and hold themselves up with tendrils or suckers. At a certain daylight length the bines will quit growing in length and establish side arms where the cones will be produced. Hop cones or strobiles are the female flowers of the hop plant. When they are mature the scales of the cone will turn yellowish-green and papery to the touch. Lupulin glands are located under each scale and produce yellow pollen-like powder with a wonderful hoppy aroma. This golden powder contains alpha and beta acids and essential oils responsible for the bittering, flavor and aroma characteristics of each variety of hop.
Alpha and Beta Acids - There are two main types of acids in the hop cone, alpha and beta. Alpha acids add the bittering to beer and have a mild antibiotic and antibacterial effect against certain bacteria. Beta acids add aroma and are added at the end of brewing to preserve the volatile oils. Bittering hops have high alpha, aroma hops have low alpha and high beta. Noble hops used to brew pilsners have an equal amount of alpha and beta acids. Examples of nobles are be Hallertauer, Saaz, Tettnanger and Spalt. Saaz can be hard to find so I recommend Sterling, a cross between Saaz and Mt. Hood as a substitute with an alpha/beta ratio that is close to equal. Another group of hops that has distinguished the American craft beer industry and its Pale Ale’s and IPA’s are the “Three C’s”: Cascade, Centennial and Columbus (also known as Tomahawk or Zeus.) They are combined in varying amounts to add citrusy, fruity and earthy flavors with a balance of bitterness. See our Hop Characteristics & Substitutions Chart for a complete comparison of hop varieties.
Female or Male? Hops are dioecious or unisexual, meaning the plants are either male or female. Only the female plants are grown to produce flowers for brewing. New hop plants are started by planting 4-6” cuttings with growth buds from the rhizomes the mature plants produce underground. We have Certified Organic Rooted Rhizomes available each year in limited quantities, which substantially speeds up the time it takes the hop plant to get established. Plants can be started by seed but the new plants may be male or female. By taking cuttings from a female plant you are 99.9% sure to get a female plant. On rare occasions a female plant will produce a male rhizome or a male bine on a female plant.
and how to fight them
There are many easy and affordable ways to control the various afflictions that might try to steal into your hop field.
April/May: One industry-wide practice is to cut off the first round of bines in spring. As noted above, you can enjoy these as you would asparagus, lightly steamed or added to soups and stir fry.
As the next set grows, choose four to six of the most vigorous and healthy bines and remove the rest from each established plant.
July: carefully remove the lower three to four feet of leaves and side shoots. Downy mildew spreads when water drops splash up from the leaves and ground spreading spores farther up on the plant and is most active in the spring when it is wet and rainy.
August: allow new vegetation to remain. If you are having trouble with mildew keep your eyes open for infected leaves. Pick them off and dispose of them. Remove any stunted bines or side shoots. Cascade, Fuggle, Magnum, Newport, and Perle are among the most resistant to downy mildew.
The most common pest problem we have with ours is spider mites and aphids. We control ours with 4 Tablespoons each of insecticidal oil and pyrethrum in one gallon of water. There’s also beneficial insects like Ladybug Beetles, Praying Mantis and Spider Mite Predators that feed on mites and aphids. We find that avoiding pesticide use and instead keeping a focus on growing heathy, well-fertilized plants can be one of the best defenses.
There is plenty of information about identifying and managing hop diseases and pests in the “Field Guide for Integrated Pest Management in Hops” published by a cooperative of Oregon, Idaho and Washington State Universities and U.S. Department of Agriculture.