Growing hop rhizomes is truly something special. Being able to add an ingredient that you grew yourself is not something that every homebrewer can claim. Plus, you can't get any fresher then going out in your back yard and picking your own hops. Let's show you the process of planting and caring for your rhizomes.
Prepare the Hop Yard
You may already know exactly where your new hops are going to go, if so, look-up and make sure you have 10-20' of vertical, or trainable, climb space. If not, find an area that is full of sun, low on wind and has plenty of climbing space. You may also incorporate a trellis system.
Select where you are going to plant the rhizome and prepare the soil. Be sure it is loose and porous; compact clay style soil will result in standing water and eventually root rot and plant death will occur.
If drainage is a concern build a hop hill with soil and gravel/sand mixed in to make a looser bed. If you can grow vegetables or flowers fairly well in your soil then you should have no problem growing hops.
For the precision growers the rhizomes require a soil pH of 5.5-8.0 and a general nutrient regiment where the potassium and phosphorus are roughly double the nitrogen content. The trace mineral boron is also beneficial.
When to Plant
With a properly mulched hop hill, the rhizomes can withstand 20 °F freezes.
It is better to plant too early than too late, so as soon as you can till the ground, get them in it.
If you need to await the spring thaw, store the rhizome in the refrigerator to keep it moist. Some will lightly plant the rhizome in a pot and store it in the root cellar and replant once the soil becomes workable.
Plant the Rhizome
Dig a trench 4" deep and roughly the length of the rhizome you are planting.
Look for any whitish buds on the rhizome and position them skyward.
If no buds are present look for roots and place them groundward.
The rhizomes should be planted horizontally, not vertically.
Cover and pack by hand with soil.
Growing the Hops
Watch for growth and monitor the soil. if it is dry and you aren't getting much rain, water the hill.
You can over do it, so occasional monitoring will help keep the water needs in check
Occasional nutrient feeding can also help increase your yield.
Midwest has an Organic Gardening Section (www.midwesthydroponics.com) that features several great organic fertilizers. We have a few good ones listed on the Rhizome section for sale.
In order to reduce crowding, cut back the weaker shoots in favor of the strongest 2-3.
Crowded vines promote infestation and shade damage.
Be sure to water early in the day so the leaves have a chance to dry out, mildew needs moisture and darkness to form.
Also be sure the vines do not get tangled, this promotes crowding.
Monitor the Hops
Keep an eye on the hops as they grow, aphids and powdery mildew are the most common hazards in the garden.
Powdery mildew forms on the underside of the leaves in a white powdery substance. Trim the affected leaves off and completely dispose of them outside your yard (in the trash).
There are several natural pest control sprays for aphids- check out our rhizome section for pest control options.
Problems that are caught early are easier to correct.
Train the growing shoots as well, in the Northern Hemisphere they will grow clockwise vertically, give them something to climb and wrap them around it accordingly.