That’s one hoppy beer- Growing hops with Boe Part II
Today’s blog post comes from our guest blogger, Nichole Kemp. Nichole is the marketing and event specialist for FarmTek’s parent company ESAPCO where she manages and organizes all our trade shows, CEA Schools and events. She is also the main blog contributor to our building division’s blog, www.ClearSpan.wordpress.com. Nichole is an avid beer drinker and when we told her we wanted to write about growing hops, she jumped at the opportunity. Today’s post is the conclusion to the original post (10/3/13), so sit back, relax and crack open a cold one while she continues explaining her father’s journey from beer drinker to hop grower…
Last week I told you how my dad went from beer drinker to home brewer and today I’m going to take you from home brewing to hop growing. I believe I left off at the point when my dad had just met is new found friend and learned that he grew his own hops.
So, after the barbecue finished we returned to our house and my dad carried on just like he would any other day. The conversations he had that day over beers slowly began to fade over the course of the next several months, until one day he received a package. During this time I was still living with my parents so when dad received a package it got the whole house interested. Unless it’s beer supplies, my father did not receive packages. After inspecting the shipping labels the mystery of what was inside was still to be determined.
We’re a close family and we made the opening of the package an event, everyone was interested to learn what was inside the box. Once opened my dad’s face did not reveal any clue as to the contents of the package. I peaked inside and saw a bunch of little seedlings wrapped in moist paper towels. My first thought was of something less than legal and my reaction was “Who sent this to you?” and “Maybe we should return to the sender!” While I was freaking out my dad had taken out the note left inside the package and began to read.
The note was from none other than his new friend he had met at the family cookout months prior. The note went on to explain that he had such a wonderful time meeting my dad and thought my dad should finally try his luck at hop growing. Those conspicuous seedlings weren’t illegal, they were baby hops (of the Kent Gold variety to be exact)! The note went on to explain general instructions on how to start the hops in the spring and keep them alive until then (it was February at the time).
Although the note was very helpful my dad had to do a little research on his own. He soon learned that hops should be started in the early spring. So from February to late March the Kent Gold seedlings lived in my father’s “beverage” fridge. He kept moist paper towels around them and kept them in the soil packed package they first arrived in.
Hops are climbing plants that enjoy sandy soil and mulch. Hops are frequently referred to as vines; however their technical classification is a bine. Unlike vines, which use tendrils, suckers and other appendages for attaching themselves, bines have stout stems with stiff hairs to aid in climbing.
McGivering the perfect growing environment for the seedlings wasn’t difficult for my father. He converted our old playscape into his hop wonderland. He created a mound of soil (hops would also grow well in a raised bed) at the base of each support pole, planted 2 seedlings in each mound and spread mulch around the top of them.
Normally, when hops are already established they sprout up from the ground on their own during the spring. Once they get to a certain length you need to trellis them. The seedlings were pretty much at that length a week or two after my dad planted them (individual bines grow very rapidly and will continue to grow depending on the space available to them). He attached twine to the top of the playscape and wrapped each bine clockwise around the twine. Throughout the summer the hops took off and continued to climb their way to the top of the playscape.
In order to produce a better crop he had to remove the weaker bines along the way, otherwise the hops will grow wild without budding. My dad took a shovel and chopped in a circular motion into the ground around the mounds to prevent unwanted bines to sprout. Hops are easy to maintain, they aren’t fussy about the temperature or watering. My parents also had a vegetable garden, so pretty much whenever that needed watering he would water the hops too.
From March through September my dad gave his hops some tender love and beer, oops I mean care. Once you get them started they’re pretty self sufficient until harvest. When the cones develop a strong fragrance, turn a little brownish in color and develop yellowy pollen in between each pedal it’s time to pick them. This usually happens between September and October.
When my dad was ready to harvest he cut each bine completely down at the base and covered the mounds with fertilizer (homemade compost) and mulch to keep them protected and winterized until the following spring. Once each bine was removed he laid them on top of an old bed sheet in the basement for a day or two. His reasoning for this technique is that any bugs and spiders would remove themselves from the plant and it would provide easier picking.
After hand picking each cone off the bines he placed them on an elevated screen to dry in a cool, moisture-free location. After a few days of drying he then filled freezer bags with the cones and put them in the freezer. Over that winter he had a lot of fun incorporating his home-grown hops as needed into his beer recipes. For Christmas my mom ordered him Cascade hops (one of his favorite to use) to grow the following spring.
Today he continues to grow both Kent Gold and Cascade varieties. I’m getting married in September 2014 and we hope to incorporate this summer’s harvest into my wedding brew. We’re thinking a nice Amber/Summer Ale (name yet to be determined). My dad enjoyed his experience from beer drinker to home brewer to hop grower. When he retires his hope is to get into all-grain brewing and try his luck at growing barley.