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By Lisa Olson, RNV Enterprises, L.L.C.
What are hop rhizomes? Hop rhizomes are small roots that are cut from
the main root system of a mature female hop plant. And a hop plant is a
perennial plant that produces little cones or flowers called hops,
which are one of the main ingredients in brewing beer. In the
springtime, after the rhizomes are planted, the bines (hop vines) of a
new hop plant begin to grow. Hop vines are capable of growing up to 12
inches a day under ideal conditions. However, most grow approximately 2
feet per week. The bines grow vertically winding around their support
system in a clockwise direction following the sun. In June as the plant
reaches its maximum height, which could be anywhere from 15-25 feet, it
will begin to grow sidearms. The sidearms will then bear the hop cones.
When this happens, it is known as flowering. In order for flowering to
occur, the weather must be frost free for about 120 days, the plant must
have ample moisture, and there must be plenty of long length sunlight.
The first year you plant your rhizomes, it is wise to plant 2
rhizomes of the same variety together. This gives your plant a better
chance of surviving. Plan to plant in the spring after the frost is
gone, but no later than May. Create an area that is free of weeds and
close to a support system, such as a fence or pole. Keep in mind; hops
grow the best in between the latitudes of 34-50 degrees, and a sandy
well-drained soil with a PH of 6-7.5 is ideal for growing hops, should
you want to test your soil. You can apply a fertilizer in the
springtime, like in May, one that is rich in phosphate, nitrogen, and
potassium. Then apply again in July.
Plant the rhizomes vertical with the buds pointing upwards. If you
can?t tell which way the buds are pointing, you can place the rhizome
horizontally. You will need to plant so that 1 inch of soil is covering
the top of the rhizome, whichever way you do plant it. If you are
planting several plants, you can space them 3 feet apart on all sides if
they are the same cultivar, 5-7 feet a part if they are different
cultivars. Make sure to keep some kind of marking, like variety pegs, on
which cultivar is which. Keep the new plants watered frequently, but
don?t over water. Over watering is one of the biggest and most common
problems when growing new hops. Too much water can cause the roots to
rot. So water real heavily one day, let the water soak in, hold off on
watering for a couple days, then give it frequent light waterings. Even
though hops are pretty resilient, keep the area clear of other foliage
and weeds to reduce the risk of disease.
The first bines that begin to grow may be subject to frost bite.
Commercially, all new bines if they come up too early, like in February,
will be cut. Then new ones that come up later will be used instead.
Don?t be afraid to cut the first bines that come up, if they are at risk
for getting frost bite. When your plant reaches about 1 foot tall, you
will need to begin training the vines on some kind of a coarse cord like
baling twine. Begin with training 2-3 bines, leaving the other bines
left down. Should something happen to the ones you train, you will then
have these to use as a backup. The bines will grow upward and clockwise
around the cord. Remember hop plants grow quickly, so be prepared. As
the season progresses, you can then cut off the extra bines.
If you are planting in a pot, you can use a 55 gallon barrel, like a
wine or whisky barrel. Remember though that planting in a barrel leaves
the roots more exposed, as opposed to them being protected underground.
Use your judgment. If it is too hot outside, move the plant into the
shade before the roots get too hot. If it is too cold, move the plant
indoors before the roots freeze.
As your hop plant grows to its ultimate height, typically at the end
of June, the beginning decrease in sunlight will cause the sidearms to
shoot out from the vines, and the plant will stop its vegetative stage
(vertical growth stage). The sidearms will then begin to produce hop
cones. This is known as the flowering stage, when horizontal growth
begins. Make sure to keep the sidearms from tangling up during this time
and clear away foliage, weeds, and branches from the bottom 2-3 feet of
the plant. Weeds promote moisture, a cover for insects, and fungal
disease, so by removing this, chance of disease is reduced and also will
improve air circulation for the plant.
As the hop cones grow bigger, keep a close eye on their color and
texture. They should be a yellowish green to light green and should feel
light and dry, if they are ready to be picked. You can also compress
some of the hop cones in your hands. If they stay compressed, they are
still not ready. The lupulin, which is the yellow powder in the center
of the cone, should make your hands feel sticky, and if your hops are
ready, your hands will take up the aroma from the lupulin. If the hops
are not yet ready to be harvested, the cones will appear too green and
will feel damp in your hand. But keep watch, because harvesting too
early or too late will affect the quality of your hops. Low alpha hops,
or aroma hops, will typically be ready to harvest sooner than bittering
hops, ones with higher alphas. However, if you are using the plant for
decorative purposes, cut it down a little earlier while the cones are