Backyard Beer Garden, Part 2

Ben Sammis, June 18, 2014

Due to circumstances within varying degrees of my control, I have been somewhat remiss in my BeerGraphing.  What follows is a an image heavy attempt to rectify this situation, and also a certain amount of braggadocio concerning the cultivation of humulus lupus.  

When these matters were last discussed, it was early spring, astronomically, and not even the most ambitious of plants were doing more than biding their time beneath the soil in hopes that winter might eventually recede and permit them and us to poke our collective heads out of the earth and perhaps eventually don a T-shirt instead of twelve pairs of long johns and a hoodie.  There were some setbacks, most of which involved quantities of snow that would give even the Night's Watch pause.  Anyway, on with the boasting!  


Here we see the thousand tentacles of Hopthulu emerging from the earth.  Cut these bastards back.  I have no idea why, but the first shoots that appear are weaker and less productive than the later ones.  After those have been cut back below the soil, wait a week or so and choose between two and four of the shoots that have reappeared to train up your trellis.  I keep three, but that's based on my own hop yard configuration.  There are plenty of other ways to set your stuff up.  Do some research.  No matter how you choose to configure your hop yard, this is the season of maintenance.  You'll be doing some trimming at least every third day, or you'll be truly astonished by the ability of hops to just dominate all other vegetation.  

Those are hop shoots poking up from the ground three or four feet from the hill they originate from.  The shoots on the actual hills are numerous, daily, and never ending.  Keep cutting the new shoots back below the ground when they appear.  You want all of the available energy directed at your chosen bines.  Soon, they'll look like this.  The image below is May 4th, 2014.  The bines are 12 inches or so above ground.

Before you know it, they'll look like this.

Above is May 30th.  Bines are approaching twenty feet, and the lower portions are incredibly thick with vegetation.  This thickness is a danger.  In addition to the general maintenance of removing the new shoots that crop up constantly throughout the growing season, the thickness of vegetation at the bottom makes the plants susceptible to downy mildew.  I had an infestation of it a couple years ago, and it was decidely unpleasant.  In addition to my hops, it entirely fucked up my pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, and butternut squash.  And my neighbor's acorn squash.  Microorganisms are the beauty and bane of our existense.  Here again, be not shy with the scissors.  Trim the lower vegetation away with a vengeance.

That's just one weekly pruning session, with my foot for perspective.  Hops produce an enormous amount of vegetation, and left to their own devices will direct their energy towards that end rather than the production of useful cones.  A large part of hop cultivation is stopping that vegetative growth so that the production of the useful parts of the plants are maximized.  If you've a mind to grow hops, be prepared for the commitment to maintenance during the growing season.  It's got quite a bit common with having children.  They're an enormous obligation, but the rewards cannot be adequately expressed verbally.

After the trimming (not the pubic hair trimming), pay attention to the leaves.  Daily.  They'll tell you what you need to know.  Most of what you need to know is to trim the leaves, and possibly to add nutrients to the soil.  Be unyielding with your scissors.

Above is June 13. And I am absolutely terrible at photography and the digital manipulation thereof.  

But none of that really matters, because in 50 days or so, these will be hop cones that I'm making beer with.