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Sitting and relaxing with a tasty beer is a pleasure for many and… doing it with the hop that is grown at home is even more so!
On the other hand, one of the main ingredients for a good beer is hops, which are combined with wheat, yeast and water to get the desired result.
Not everyone knows though, speaking of hop cultivation, that hops are a flower of the female version of the plant Humulus Iupulus, which is an integral part of the hemp family itself. It is a small green flower that looks like a pine cone containing aromatic resins, oils and acids that result in a bitter taste. These are found in the yellow glands of the lupulin, and the ratios of each can differ in the hops creating alternating flavors and aromas.
What is hops used for?
Although it can be difficult cultivate the hops, actually cultivating this element could be worth every effort, considering that it is a fantastic addition to beer, considering that the bitterness contrasts the sweetness of the malt, making the beer more balanced and also acting as a preservative thanks to its antibacterial properties. For this reason hops, once dried, can also be used in some types of medicines.
How to grow hops in the garden
But where should you start for learn how to grow hops?
The first step is certainly to find the most suitable place for growing the plant. Hops need around 6 - 8 hours of sunshine a day, so location is very important. When looking for the perfect location, you can monitor your garden at hourly intervals to see which area receives the most sunlight during the day, thus allowing you to determine where your plant will get the most exposure.
Hops are a pull plant and have similar properties to vines, and therefore will require good vertical space to allow them to grow to their full potential.
The first step for grow the hop plant is to get what is called rhizome. This is a piece of hops that will sprout roots once planted and can be purchased online or at local stores. If you don't plant it immediately, the rhizome will need to be wrapped in a damp paper towel and refrigerated for storage.
How to plant hops
The rhizome it will need to be planted about four inches deep in nutrient-rich aerated soil with good drainage. Plant the rhizome horizontally or with visible gems pointing upwards. If you plant more than one at a time, or several varieties together, place them at least two meters away from each other to allow space for the roots to grow. Once in place, cover with lightly packed soil or high nitrogen mulch.
In order for the hop grow properly, you need to have something available to support the vertically growing vines. Some ideas for this include a trellis, bamboo, poles, or twine. The most commonly used is a coarse twine, such as a rope, which allows the trusses to cling to it, in turn making it easier to train the trusses and get a good harvest.
The hop harvest
Once fully grown you will surely be able to tell if your hops are ready to harvest, by the color and texture of the cones. Ripe cones will be dry to the touch with a strong aromatic odor and will leave a residue of powdered yellow lupulin on the fingers to the touch. It is important to harvest them at the right time and before they turn brown, in order to get the best out of the hops.
Check each hop individually, as some may ripen faster than others and choose as appropriate. If you have checked all the hops on a fork and find that they are all ready to be harvested, you can cut the fork and the twine at the base and spread it out on the ground, making it easier to harvest the hops.
How to store hops after harvest
After the collection of the hop, dry it well before using it for home brewing. The time required can vary depending on the type of hops and can be done in a warm, dry place at home, out of direct sunlight.
If you are not in a hurry, you can let it dry properly for a week or two, or you can speed up the process by using a fan on a low heat setting. When the cones are completely dry, you can put them in airtight bags with a zip closure and store them in the freezer.
Remember that hops are a perennial plant and therefore will start producing more hop cones each year they mature. The first year after planting it will only produce a small amount, but by the third year, some types can be used for full production.