Hops are well known for their use in preserving and flavouring beer. Originating from Egypt, the hops that we now grow have been developed from first century AD when they were used as a salad. Cultivated hops for beer began in Belgium and Holland as far back as the 13th century and later in England during the 15th century. It’s a plant with serious history! There is an old English proverb, ‘Till St James day be come and gone, there may be Hops and there may be none’ (Folkard 1884: 380). St James Day is on 25th July and you would expect to harvest from mid August all the way through September and even into October. Before hops were used in beer, a mix of herbs were used which were mostly brewed by women. One of those herbs was Henbane which can cause hallucinations. If that did occur, the women would be persecuted as witches. So hops, a member of the hemp family, completely changed the future of beer and the persecution of ‘brew witches.’
How to grow hops
I love seeing hops, the bines are pretty and being able to brew your own beer is fun! They are surprisingly easy to grow as well with just a few tips. A south or west facing spot with 6 to 8 hours of sun throughout the summer is ideal - the most important tip is the need for sun. Plant rhizomes in spring after frosts have passed in a well drained soil having been prepared with some well rotted organic compost. They do prefer slightly acidic soil but they will grow in neutral to slightly alkaline soils as well. Keep the soil moist especially in dry weather and they will need a sturdy support up as they are vigorous climbers.
Your hops will be ready to harvest when the hops are dry to touch with a strong aroma. You’ll find when you touch them your fingers will be yellow from the lupulin powder (this contains much of the acids and oils that gives beer the taste). Each hop will be full of the yellow powder which is what they are harvested for. If they have turned brown, you may be too late. If all of the hops are ready at the same time, cut down the vine as it’s easier to harvest but if not, it’ll be picking one at a time. Hops are perennial, so will grow back every year.
Did you know?
Hops have ‘bines’ rather than ‘vines’. The difference is that bines tend to twist and the stiff hairs bind to the support. Vines vertical stems have tendrils and runners that find the support to cling onto.
Find my guide to making a hoppy sleep pouch in the September edition of Grow Your Own Magazine.