With hop rhizome pre-orders around the corner and the weather warming up, it’s time to think about growing your own hops at home. In order to grow a hop plant, most people start with an offshoot of the root called a rhizome and plant it in the early Spring. I gave it a go for the first time last year by planting a rhizome each of Centennial, Kent Golding, and Cascade in a pair of earthboxes. I chose the earthbox because I’d be able to quickly move the plant in case I had to move. We did in fact have to move unexpectedly from our apartment, but what I didn’t plan for was the vigor with which these plants tend to grow. They overshot my fifteen foot leader strings and branched onto the fire escapes of the second and third floor apartments above. It was a bit too risky to climb up and untangle them, (plus the vines are super sticky and don’t like to let go) so I just pulled as hard as I could and broke them off. The important thing was to keep the root structure that I had started, but when I situated them in the backyard of my new apartment, the Cascade and Kent Gold (the Centennial plant never took hold from day one) took off and continued to grow even with the stress I put them through.
Fire escapin’, pre-yanking.
Some research confirmed my findings that when the lead shoot is broken (i.e. when I snapped the vine off the fire escape) the plant may begin producing hop cones, sometimes earlier than the season would suggest. The Cascade plant started budding early and I eventually harvested them early after many warnings that Hurricane Irene would come and whisk them all away. The Kent Gold vine continued to grow throughout the fall but never produced a single cone, and my guess is that it probably prefers a cooler wetter climate (something the NYC 2011 Summer was not) similar to conditions it would experience in the United Kingdom.
Cascade cones pre-picking.
I ended up harvesting around eight ounces of Cascade and dehydrated them to a dry weight of just under two ounces. I have an IPA on tap right now that used an ounce of my home grown Cascade. I can’t say that I can pick them out from all of the other hop aroma and flavor going on, but it’s still cool to have them imparting their little homegrown Brooklyn bitterness in each sip. Each year’s harvest should increase as the root structure continues to strengthen, so my hope is for a more plentiful bounty when it comes picking time this year.
This is the full bounty, it dehydrated to about half this size and an eighth of the weight.
I plan on grabbing one or two new varieties this year from Brooklyn Homebrew, possibly Glacier or Mt. Hood and maybe giving Centennial another go. I think I’ll stick to varieties that can be used in the last twenty minutes of the boil as aroma/flavor hops. Without laboratory testing, I won’t know the specific alpha acid content of the hop and it would be tough to know how much to use as a bittering addition. If all goes to plan, I hope to have an all fresh home-hopped brew by Fall 2012 on tap.
Update 4/15/2012: Planted two new rhizomes, a Columbus and a Nugget each in a big keg tub in some new potting soil. The Kent Golds sprouts are starting to climb and it’s almost time to start trimming back the leaders and let the strongest growth begin its ascent.