Growing hops in north texas
A recent post asked about growing hops in our area. Some time back I wrote an article for another club for their newsletter when they had one. I attached the article below. Hope it can answer some questions.
GROWING HOPS IN NORTH TEXAS
By RICHARD GRAHAM
One of the things I like about being a homebrewer is that I can experiment with all aspects of the brewing process. One way I have tried to expand upon the brewer’s art is by growing my own hops. While not a hop producing region, I have found that with a little patience and a lot of care, hops can be successfully grown in North Texas.
Obviously, the primary goal of growing your own hops is the harvest of the hop cones to use in brewing your beer. A secondary benefit can be esthetic as the hop plants provide greenery and shade. They also become a great conversation piece.
The hop (Humulus Lupulus) is a perennial plant that produces bines (vines) that grow 12 to 20 feet in height. The plants are started from a section of the root called a rhizome which produces the shoots and roots. The shoots develop into the hop bines from where the hop flowers (cones) are produced.
While hops are traditionally grown in cooler, moister climates, they can grow just about anywhere. This summer I saw hop vines growing at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia. A large portion of commercial U.S. hops come from the semi-arid Yakima Valley in the state of Washington. This does not mean that growing hops is North Texas is without its challenges. Without question the greatest challenge to growing anything in North Texas are the hot summers. Secondly, hops are susceptible to fungus and mildew which can be a significant problem in this area. Finally, insects can also pose a problem, but to a lesser degree.
The first step in growing hops is to select and prepare the growing site. The site must allow the vines to grow to near their maximum height. An arbor or tall trellis is ideal, but the side of a building or even a tall pole will suffice. Hops require a lot of sun. The hop bed will need to receive at least a half a day of full sun, preferably morning sun.
Hop plants grow best in a moist, well drained soil containing a lot of organic matter. If your soil is mostly clay, it will need to be broken down with the addition of sand and organic material. Clay alone will not hold water at the surface and will dry out during the summer.
After choosing the site and preparing the soil, the future hop farmer must select his or her hops. American varieties such as Cascade or Willamette seem to do better in this area. I would not recommend any of the noble hops as a first time growing endeavor. Rhizomes can be mail ordered or the local homebrew stores sometimes take orders for early spring delivery. The best way is to get some rhizome cuttings from a fellow homebrewer. After receiving your rhizomes, they can be refrigerated until it is time to plant.
Once all threats of frost are past, the soil can be cultivated, mulched, and fertilized. Do not be stingy with the fertilizer as hops like a lot of food. I use a common lawn fertilizer on my hops, but any fertilizer will do as long as it contains a lot of nitrogen and phosphorous. I fertilize at least three times a year.
Plant the rhizomes about two inches deep in a hill about two feet in diameter. Water well and keep the soil moist. As the bines begin to grow add mulch around the plant to help retain moisture and keep weeds down. Once the shoots have broken the surface and grown five or six inches, pick the strongest looking three or four vines and cut the rest off. Having already pre-strung the twine on which the bines will grow, gently wrap them around the string and they will do the rest.
I have not had a lot of trouble with plant diseases as I usually spray the hops several times during the summer as I spray other plants in the yard such as roses and grapes. Insects do like the young, tender hop leaves, so spray as needed for bug control.
As the bines reach the top of their climb, they will begin to flower and put out side shoots which intertwine and produce more flowers. As the cones mature, they will become fuller and the hop glands will develop. When the cone is lightly squeezed and it returns to its original shape, then it is ready to harvest. An advantage for hombrewers over commercial growers is the ability to harvest several times during the year. Multiple harvesting also encourages additional cone development. In a good year, I have gotten up to two pounds of hops off three plants.
After the hops have been harvested, they must be dried prior to storing. The easiest method I have found is to place the cones on a screen and allow them to dry naturally. A window screen will work, but I have made a square wooden frame with a screen bottom. By placing the hops on the screen in a hot, dry place like an attic or garage, they will dry out in a day or two. The hops are then placed in freezer bags and frozen until needed.
There is one significant disadvantage of using homegrown hops and that is not knowing the alpha acid percentage. If willing to pay the cost, the backyard hop grower can have the hops professionally analyzed. Alternatively, you can experiment with a batch or two and estimate the hop bitterness. Personally, I use my hops primarily for flavor and aroma where the alpha acids are not as critical.
In late summer, it is time to prepare the plants for winter. The bines should be trimmed back to 3 or 4 feet above the ground to promote additional root development. After the first freeze, the bines then should be cut to just above ground level and covered with several inches of mulch to protect the roots from freezing during the winter.
If you enjoy gardening and experimenting with your brewing, growing your own hops can be a rewarding adjunct to the brewing process.
D’Luzansky, “In the Back Yard, a Gardener’s Guide to Homegrown Hops”, Zymurgy, Volume 20, Number 4, summer 1997.
Fisher, “How to Grow Your Own Hops”, Brew Your Own Magazine, Volume 7, Number 4, April 2000.