Growing hops for home brewing

For around five years now I have been a keen home brewer. I am proud to say I have produced quite a few decent pints along the way, with a couple of failures, but I have always found it an interesting and enjoyable process. I even took my joy of brewing a step further by working part-time in a micro-brewery two days a week for six months before starting my horticulture training.

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Homebrew in my basic fermeter

My home brewing has been kit-based so far, but I have always tried to improve these basic kits through dry-hopping, a process of adding hops during the secondary formation to add flavour and aroma to the final produce. I have brewed some tasty beers so far, mainly IPA’s that I can really give a hop kick too with hops such like Citra or Cascade, but also some a good stout or two, including a notable one flavoured with chocolate and vanilla

Now I am getting cocky and being a bit more extravagant by trying to get to the point where I can use hops I have grown myself to dry-hop my home brew. This ambition does seem far too hipster for its own liking, but using hops I have grown, picked and dried myself will definitely beat using packets of them bought off eBay hands down.

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The kit (pic ©Amazon)

It all started when my partner bought me a ‘Grow your own beer’ kit for Christmas, a basic little novelty present that provides you with some hop seeds, a little compost, and some husk pots to plant them in. I don’t think either of us really had that much confidence when I embarked on this process but, so far, things are going better than expected.

 

Growing hops from seed requires patience and determination. You have to soak the seeds, sow the seeds, and then put them in the fridge for around 4-6 weeks. These seeds are slow to germinate, really slow, and it felt like they sat in the fridge doing nothing for a crazy amount of time. In the end I think around 5 seedlings appeared and I was able to prick them out and pot them on. I lost a couple during the course of their growing season but, after potting on again, I was left with 3 hop plants that grew vigorously and healthily throughout this summer.

hopsAs we are fast approaching winter I have now cut down the growth and will leave them to over-winter. The hope is that in Spring I will pot them up to larger containers, get them going early and see big shoots growing big and healthy next summer over a frame – hopefully to the point where I can get a decent haul of hops picked and dried ready to be dry-hop a batch of beer.

Using hops which started as seeds in a novelty Christmas present to ultimately flavour my own beer will be a labour of love, but one totally worth it. I love the process of sowing, growing, picking and eating fruit and veg grown at home, and these hops will provide me with an equally satisfying feeling. Here’s hoping it works and next year I can enjoy bottles of an extra special home-brew. I will definitely put some updates on here of how it goes.

Spring Update: 13th March 2018 

I cut down last year’s growth near the end of autumn and stored them over winter outside in a small plastic greenhouse in my yard. I was admittedly apprehensive over how well they would fare with such insubstantial protection over what was a really cold winter and early spring.

20180310_094925.jpgAfter checking on them I was delighted to notice some buds forming, signs they are starting to come out of dormancy ready to start sprouting new green shoots over the coming months, when the weather improves. Unfortunately, there are currently only buds on two of the three hop plants, but it remains early days and I will continue to check on them. I refuse to give up hope on the third one that could simply be lagging behind.

So what is the plan for these hops now? I need to pot these hop plants up into larger containers and allow them to continue to grow on. As hops have deep roots I must make sure to give them a good amount of space to grow into and the dream is to see them growing vociferously up some supports this summer. Giving them get soft, deep and fertile soil to thrive in will be key to any chances I have of getting anywhere near a decent haul of hops this year.

My plan is to continue to update this post as the project continues, with more details and pictures as they are potted on, planted up and starting to flower. Will I get the hops I need for my home brew? Stay tuned to find out.

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