Thursday, September 29, 2011

Growing Hops

Hops are the female flower clusters, shaped like small cones, of the plant Humulus lupulus. They are primarily grown for their properties of flavoring and stabilizing beer.  Hops impart a crisp, bitter flavor, which has become favored over using other herbs in beer-making, due to their antibiotic effect that works with well brewer’s yeast at the expense of less desirable microorganisms. 

It is believed that the traditional herb combinations that were once used for ales hundreds of years ago in Bavaria were abandoned when hops recipes proved to be better tasting and less susceptible to spoilage.

The hops plant is a perennial, which grows as a vigorous climbing vine.  It is usually trained to grow up strings or other supports, and can reach lengths of up to 14-20 feet in a single growing season.  Most commercial production of hops in the United States comes from the Pacific Northwest, but hops do very well in colder regions as well.  Historically, hops have been grown successfully in New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

T-Farm tried a very small trial of hops this year and the results were encouraging.  Paper mulch and straw was used to suppress weed growth, and only organic fertilizer was used.  Irrigation was provided as needed.   No sprays of any kind were used and the vines developed healthy leaves and a small number of nicely formed hops.  The first year of growing hops typically results in a very low yield, as the plants are just getting established, and spend less energy on developing flowers.

In mid-September, the hops cones were harvested and then dried in a food dehydrator set at 100 degrees for about 8 hours.  (We sell several food dehydrators in the "Food Drying" section our Amazon General store.) If you don't properly dry the hops within a short time-period, you must use them right away as "wet hops," or they will loose potency or deteriorate. 

The dried hops were then put in FoodSaver bags, and the oxygen was removed to prolong their storage.  And yes, we do sell FoodSaver machines and bags in the "Food Storage" section of our Amazon General store.  These bags can be stored on the shelf for about a year, or placed in the freezer for even longer.  This is a nice method to use for the small hops grower as all of the tools and equipment necessary can be used to dry tomatoes and other garden produce.  All in all, it looks like hops is a great plant to grow if you have the space and take the time to establish a support and watering system for the vines. 

Now then, what to do with the hops…

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