Thursday, April 22, 2010

To Grow Where no Hops have Grown Before....

I like beer.

I mean, I can enjoy a good glass of wine or a fine scotch as much as the next man, but I really like a good beer. I'm not too much of a snob about it. However, I do have certain things I like about my beer.

1) I like my beer to be plentiful,
2) I like my beer to be enjoyed in the company of good friends, and
3) I like my beer hoppy.

Several years ago, some friends of ours turned us on to the potential of home-brewing. Under their watchful eye, I helped them produce a double batch of some fairly seriously good beer. If memory serves it was an APA. Perhaps my fondest moment of the whole process was passing around a bowl of fresh hops, just breathing in the aroma.

So, fast forward several years, and I am gearing up to get back into brewing, getting my own equipment, etc. After talking with a friend who grows his own hops, and because my garden has been a slight obsession this year, I thought...

"What the heck, I'm going to try to grow some hops."

There's a fairly good possibility that I will look back on this sentence and either laugh or weep uncontrollably.

So I read up on growing hops. I learned about good soil pH...about proper twine and which way the vines should be trained etc etc etc. Hops grow well between 35 and 55 latitude. Houston is at roughly 29.65. Also, hops like lots of space, the vines getting 20 feet+ in length/height. We have a balcony. This was going to be a challenge.

Undeterred I sent away for some hops rhizomes. The "Nugget" and "Cascade" varieties seemed the most idiot proof, and I'm an idiot, so hey, we have a match.

Since we have no actual land, I got the largest containers I could easily find in a 5 minute search of Lowe's. The 5 gallon buckets ($2.24!!) that I had previously converted into tomato containers. I started by drilling several holes in the bottom and low sides of the bucket to ensure drainage.


I then cut out the mesh bottom of a plastic flat from the garden center, to use as a filter/strainer at the bottom.


I put a thin layer of cedar mulch at the bottom to try to avoid mud compacting in the holes.


The soil I chose to go for was a mix of about 2/3 garden soil and 1/3 peat compost. This was based on the scientific principle of "that's what I happened to have on hand". This is my very favorite scientific principle.


I mixed up the soil in another bucket (Did I mention they're 2 bucks each? I bought about 10. You never know when a bucket is going to come in handy. Gardening, painting, zombie apocalypse...etc). It was then added, with some water stirred in, to the prepared bucket planters.


Now it was time to add the hops rhizomes, which already had several small buds on them. (Note to fellow good as fresh hops smell? That's about as bad as rhizomes smell with whatever they were shipped soaked in.)


I spaded out a shallow 2-3 inch depression for each rhizome, and then gently placed the earth over it.


Lastly, I put some more cedar mulch around the sides to help prevent moisture loss, but left an opening along the central axis so as not to present too much of an obstacle for the buds.


Will they grow? Not sure. Hopefully I've gotten them in the ground, so to speak, early enough that they can take hold before the death grip of summer.


Mert said...

Hey! Can't wait to watch your progress with the hops... I should really give it a whirl too. Do you have to string them up? Don't they grow uber tall?

JMBower said...

Yeah, apparently 20-25 feet is not unheard of. Not quite sure how I'm going to deal with that yet, but I've never been one to let logistics stand in the way of experimentation.

What I'm hoping is that they will also function growing relatively horizontally, or at a diagonal, in which case I can train them around the balcony railing laterally.

I'm hoping they sprout at all. We'll see. They're really not an ideal container plant:)

stanford said...

If beer aprecaiation was a video game, 'growing your own hops' would be the final level. I am honored to know you.