If you’re reading this, chances are you have at least a basic understanding of what hops are and their various uses and properties. There is also a strong possibility you are somewhat familiar with their growing methods and have seen them in one state or another of growth, either digitally or personally. However, there is a distinct likelihood that you have not grown your own or have been met with limited results or difficulties in doing so.
As a local of Yakima, I must confess that in my personal hop yard, the plants grow with little to no effort on my part. In the seven
Being a clonally propagated plant (in that existing varieties are grown from cuttings and not seeds), each hop rhizome can be split into multiple new rhizomes, as small as a few inches long to roughly six inches. I would recommend only planting or digging up rhizomes either shortly after harvest (traditionally October), or as soon as you can dig into the ground (February-May depending), as they can either fail from being planted in poor conditions or suffer from a reduced yield.
Yakima happens to fall in the center of a Venn diagram of the various conditions that
In terms of weather, Yakima is a desert with slightly sandy soil that does not retain too much moisture allowing the hops to be regularly watered without leading to root rot or mold. Our location at the foothills of the Cascade Mountain
All of these conditions contribute to the fact that the Yakima Valley produces over 70% of the North American hop crop, and around 30% of the global supply. These ideal conditions also create the unique ability for
Again, do not let this discourage your desire to grow hops. They can grow literally almost anywhere, especially hardy varieties such as Cascade. Boutique commercial hop growing ventures are popping throughout the country, despite their lack of ideal growing conditions. Since you are not putting food on your plates with hops, you don’t have to worry about yield. With a little square footage, stick-to-itiveness and time, I do not doubt you will make some hard fought, verdant cones pop up in your own backyard.
So, how do you do this? Here are some simple tips:
● Decide how many hop plants you want to grow. Ideally, hills are planted 3.5 feet apart from each other to ensure they get as much light as possible. You can work with less, however as previously mentioned in my own example, this can lead to bleed over from hill to hill and varietal confusion. If growing multiple varieties, 5-7 feet would be safer as 45-50 square feet per hill is ideal.
● Pick a plot of south facing dirt. Ideally, this will be the sunniest part of your property without any shade throwers obstructing access to that sweet UV. You’re going to make this your own little Yakima. Once the plot is selected, dig that sucker up to make sure the soil is good and loose. A balance of some pebbles and sand will help with improving drainage. (If it helps, know that our valley is an ancient river bed, so there are dang ol’ rocks everywhere you stick a shovel.) You should probably work in some fertilizer too, depending on the pH level of the soil, climate and location. You’re not going to be digging this up regularly like a traditional vegetable garden, so be sure to build in a good amount of organic material to mulch over time and feed the rhizomes.
● Keep your rhizome slightly damp and cold until you plant them. Rhizomes do best after a hard, cold winter, so keeping them in hibernation until spring is ideal. Rhizomes certainly aren’t into being dry, but don’t keep them so wet they molder either. I personally just had a slightly damp paper towel in a Ziploc bag and kept them in the freezer until planting. Rhizome planting normally occurs anywhere between February and April. For backyard hops, one to two rhizomes per hill will suffice.
● The first year, the hops are going to require more frequent watering to help them establish their root system. During the initial phase, following the planting process, we suggest watering roughly 3-4 times a week, depending on the weather and the dryness of the soil. In the hottest part of summer, 5 or more gallons per plant per day is critical. In subsequent years, you can put them on a timed drip system to provide daily water, but not overmuch.
● Don’t expect immediate results. Tended well, your plant will lock itself in place and produce an annual delight for years to come, but you probably won’t see anything of note the first year. Patience is a virtue, and your rhizome is judging you. Especially if you are outside of the 35 to 55 latitude range, your results will vary.
● Always bet on Cascade. It has been known to produce the world over, and is a perennial superstar. Golding is also a good choice because it takes on a unique character based on wherever it is grown.
But, don’t take my word for it. This is
Many thanks to Patrick Smith of Loftus Ranches and Steve Carpenter of YCH for their input from many years of experience and oversight as commercial hop growers.
Stay tuned to the Hop Wire for Part Two of our Home Grown Hops blog series for your next steps, including training and caring for your hop bines!