Requirements or 'preferred' conditions for growing hops

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Interest in growing hops has recently skyrocketed among homebrewers, and
for a few farmers, too.  I haven't kept track, but perhaps as many as
half of our current 'Grow-Hops' membership of 1,083 will be 'first year'
growers this spring, but I'm confident the figure is at _least_ pretty
close to 500 -- and that is just for 'Grow-Hops'.  I'm sure there are
several times as many who have never heard of us or haven't joined yet.
  The good news about all of this is that another dimension to
homebrewing is rapidly expanding, but the bad news is that it might
cause a shortage of hop rhizomes, so let's keep our fingers crossed.

Anyway, with so many newbies, and with so many people who are no doubt
still considering whether to grow hops as a way to help ensure a supply
they can afford, there are many basic questions being repeatedly asked
in many different forums as well as in 'Grow-Hops', so I thought it
would be useful to put together a consolidated outline to help answer
them. But first, let me add a few encouraging thoughts:
1. If you like gardening at all, growing hops is actually a lot of fun;
2. If you have any sort of a green thumb (or maybe even just a 'thumb'),
growing hops is relatively easy;
3. Harvest from the first year or two _might_ be sparse (I netted about
seven DRIED ounces per Fuggles plant my first year), but eventually you
should be able to reap anywhere from one to two-and-a-half pounds/plant,
which will save a heck of a lot of money compared to $2.50/ounce or more
when purchased. Plus you get to try out 'wet hopping' for a few batches.

What are the requirements or 'preferred' conditions for growing hops?
While there are no doubt exceptions to what I am about to recommend --
which is based mostly on a summarization of various sources -- I still
believe that the more these suggestions are met, the better your chances
are of having new plantings survive and of getting the largest harvest
of good hops that is possible.

Location and climate: I wrote about this in another thread posted here,
but since then I have received some feedback from sources in Australia
and South Africa.  Essentially, I had written (based on an abundance of
sources) that hops generally require long daylight in the summer, and I
also noted one source that says a degree of vernalization (a period of
cold temperature in the winter) is needed, and therefore the recommended
latitude for growing is 35 to 55 degrees.  I mentioned that I had also
read of _some_ reported success between 30 and 35 degrees -- which I
dubbed as a 'marginal' area -- and suggested that the use of electric
lights in the summer might be necessary along with some extra efforts to
vernalize the crowns in very low latitudes.  I am now happy to correct
myself because there are apparently a good number of successful hop
growers in Australia, well below the recommended latitude range -- and
even below 25 degrees -- who do NOT use electric lights and do NOT do
anything to help vernalize despite their very MILD winters, and yet they
are having bountiful harvests of hops, including American and German
varieties.  Sooooo ... it looks like location and climate are not all
that important after all, but _IF_ you DO encounter issues with lack of
flowering, electric lighting should be a relatively cheap and efficient
solution.

Other considerations regarding location are that you need room for the
bines to grow -- you can 'get by' with just 10 or 12 feet and a small
crop, but the plants normally _want_ to grow about 20 feet or so, and
the more growth you have, then generally the larger your harvest will
be; 'vertical' growth is probably _best_ (what the commercial farms do),
but some combination of vertical and horizontal is suitable, too.  I
have an arbor where my bines grow about 9' vertically to one trellis,
and then grow horizontally another 12' over to the next trellis.  If you
build a tall structure, a location that is somewhat shielded from the
wind can be an advantage because of the very strong wind force on a
large 'wall' of hops.  Speaking of walls, you can also grow hops up the
side of any wall facing the sun; see the picture on our 'Grow-Hops' home
page as a good example -- http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Grow-Hops
Type of soil: Although hops do require a lot of water to sustain their
growth, they prefer WELL-DRAINED soil; this can be accomplished by
raising the level of your plants in either mounds, or even a raised bed
if you are planting in a low spot, and the more organic material that
you incorporate into the soil (manure, compost, sawdust, peat), the
better it will drain _excess_ water and yet still retain an appropriate
level of moisture for the plant.  Note: I'm not suggesting that you just
dig a ditch in 'clay' and fill it with organic material, because that
will probably amount to the same thing as organic material sitting in a
pond; if your soil is very heavy clay that does not drain well, then I
suggest that you consider a raised bed, with or without a supporting
perimeter, or at least build your mounds sufficiently high enough with a
mix of soil and organic material so that the rhizomes are higher than
the surrounding yard, and the 'mound' can still drain well.  Frequent
watering or 'drip irrigation' will be best, especially for new rhizomes.
  For ell established plants with a good, deep root system, less
frequent 'deep' watering is probably okay (just like in nature), but you
really don't want the plants to be 'wanting' for water, or they won't be
able to achieve their phenomenal maximum growth.

Soil Condition: Get rid of grass and weeds; my recommendation is to roll
the sod off of your row rather than till it into the soil, because many
grasses will come right back up.  The easier and better approach is to
kill it over a season by covering it with black plastic, but you won't
have time for that if you plan to plant this spring.  I also used a
synthetic mulch fabric.  Most people plant without regard to the
chemistry of their soil, and you can probably get by with that in nearly
all cases unless your soil is in poor condition.  For one thing, it has
been found that soil pH has no apparent effect on yield, based on
testing of commericial hop farms with pH ranging from 5.0 to 7.0,
although decreasing tissue manganese, which will harm plants, is one
reason for maintaining soil pH above 5.7 for hop production.  I would
certainly make an adjustment if my soil was outside of the range of 5.7
to 7.0.  Frankly, if you're going to go to all of the trouble with
everything else, I highly recommend getting a free soil analysis from
your county extension office and then adding any necessary soil
supplements; many additions take time to incorporate into the soil, but
the worst case scenario is that your hops will benefit next year.  In
order to keep a VERY LONG post short, I will simply say that I am
planning to post a summary of soil requirement for hops, including
nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, lime,
boron, sulfur, and zinc, over in our 'Grow-Hops' group as soon as I can.

Sun:  Most hops like a lot of sun, although there are a few varieties
that have been bred for some shade (I don't know how _much_ shade);
however, it is not necessary for hops to be in full sun the entire day,
and it seems that if they can get a good dose of direct sunlight for six
to eight hours, that will be enough ... assuming that they are also
getting sufficient 'length of daylight'.

I hope that some of you have found this helpful; if interested in our
group, please visit us at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Grow-Hops
Cheers.

Bill Velek - PERSONAL sites = www.velek.com & www.2plus2is4.com
1,080+ members Grow Hops, Barley, Herbs: www.tinyurl.com/29zr8r
850+ homebrewer group just for Equipment: www.tinyurl.com/axuol
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