Posts Tagged ‘garden’

This year’s hop harvest may have seemed a lot of fiddly work at the time and a hot slog on a sunny September weekend, but it proved well worth it in the end. And at an average price to homebrewers of around a fiver per 100g for new crop hops this year, ‘growing yer own’ is fast becoming an essential boost for those Winter milds, poters and stouts.

The hops had been drying in the makeshift ‘loft oast’ for around ten days when we ventured up to retrieve them. It took a little while as its best to handle fresh hops as delicately as possible in order to retain as much lupulin as possible. All three varieties were nice and dry and just needed packing in bags for storage. I say just….

Now, packing hops is a massive pain in the backside. We don’t have a vacuum sealer and perhaps one of those might be a good idea next year, but even so. Our method is to cram hops into zip lock bags so tightly that there is very little air inside. The bags we use are heavy duty 10″ by 7″ jobs bought in bulk from eBay a while back. If you work and work at it, you can get 100g inside each one, dry weight after taking the bag itself into account. I can’t lie, it’s not easy, but it is very effective and each big is literally ram-packed.

Anyway, check out our efforts below. It took a while, and our fingers were pretty stained and bitter for a day or two afterwards, but it was quite a haul for just three small plants. We now have 400g WGV, 300g Fuggles and 133g Bramling Cross from the 2009 harvest. Not bad at all and perfect for seasonal milds and that all important batch of Christmas Dry Stout!

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Well, Spring has definitely sprung and the purple budded hop bines in the Boxshed garden have braved the morning frosts, pushed themselves through the ground and started their mad journey towards the end of the fence.

We only grow three varieties of hops ourselves right now, and didn’t get around to planting any more rhyzomes this year. But we did harvest a pretty decent yield from our first year and we’re hoping for even better results from these second year bines. They’re not doted on in any special way, really. They get plenty of water everyday once they start growing, and are fed with any tomato or veggie food that happens to be around as the summer progresses. We then pick ’em, dry ’em and store ’em around September time.

The three varieties are WGV Goldings, Fuggles and Bramling Cross. The first two contributed to several Autumn and Winter brews, while the Bramling looked pretty enough but didn’t provide sufficient cones to bother processing this year. We’re also lucky enough to have plenty of hedgrow hops in the local area – including Boadicea and Sarah, probably – which I’ve also noticed surfacing recently.

Anyway, plenty more on hop growth as things progress, but for now, here are photos of the three plants’ first sighting above ground!

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One of the most satisfying parts of our last couple of brewdays has been the chance to use our own homegrown hops. We don’t have a large garden outside the Boxshed by any means, but we do have sufficient fencing to train a few hops, which although not particularly disease resistant, can thrive in the smallest space as long as appropriate varieties are chosen for the local climate.

We’re rather lucky in East Anglia. Although we experience a fair amount of high winds and our share of rainstorms all year round, we also have short hard winters and mild weather generally. The soil is rich and easy going, and there are wild hops in the hedgerows and numerous local intensive and organic hop farms. Any of the popular UK varieties traditionally associated with the fields of Kent, East Anglia and the home counties, as well as a few now linked with Eastern Europe and even the cooler parts of North America, will happily grow up some trellis, wire or guttering in any village garden in most regions of the UK.

We have three main sources of hops for brewing. Online brew shops selling whole flower, plug or pellet hops from as far afield as California or New Zealand; local hedgerows that come alive in early autumn with large harvests of Susan and Boadicea; and our own three (currently) varieties – Fuggles, WGV and Bramling Cross – planted in Spring 2008.

You can buy your own hops online or at a nearby nursery or farm in the form of rhyzomes. These are shoot sending plant stems that are cut from more mature plants and which lay dormant underground in the hard winter before growing root networks and then flourishing above ground from around March until harvest time in late September. Traditionally the first year of hop growth witnesses more action below ground than above, with extensive root systems created at the expense of impressive flower yields. We were rather fortunate in our first year, and did at least manage to take around a kilo of both Fuggles and WGV wet, resulting in a nice sample harvest of 200g+ of each dried and frozen. The Bramling Cross wasn’t so impressive, and although it looked very nice, we didn’t bother harvesting its flowers this year.

If you fancy trying your hand at hop growing, it really isn’t very testing and the plants are very attractive and rewarding to take care of. It’s no exaggeration to say that you can actually watch the climbing stems grow at the height of summer. I found for example, that I could take note of how far a creeper had progressed before mowing the lawn and doing a few odd jobs in the garden, then revisit it a few hours later and see it an inch or so further along the fence. Anyway, we are no experts, so if we can get a crop to brew with so can you – here’s how we did it.

First we bought three hop plants from a local nursery. This is best done after the last frost and up until late Spring. They cost just a few pounds each, but any friend with established plants ought to be more than happy to cut you off a clump of trailing shoots in the spring, or you could always dig up a chunk from a hedgerow. Wild hop spotting is best done from early summer onwards by bike, when the distinctive green/purple bud-tipped shoots are heading for the sun. The next stage is to dig a minimum two foot square hole for each, lined with John Innes No3 compost or similar. Drop in a plant or rhyzome, cover with soil, and cap with a few inches of organic compost or manure and water in with tomato feed solution or your favourite organic plant food. The only care the plants need from that point on is plenty of water every dry day and feed once a week if you’re feeling generous.

Although they’re easy to care for, hop plants do need training, especially if you are growing them horizontally. Left alone, they produce multiple shoots which all head for the sky, binding themselves to the nearest vertical surface and surging up to 40ft without thought of stopping. If, like me, you don’t have the space or energy to purpose build telescopic or pivoting hop frames, I recommend investing in a small piece of trellis, spools of heavy duty coated garden wire and scoops of galvanised eyelet screws to create runs at least two or three fence panels long in parallel lines down your borders. Once your plants have broken the surface and grown around four feet in height, choose around three of the more promising looking creepers, twirl them around some upright trellis, then cut back any remaining stems. This will ensure that growth is concentrated and prevents the plants getting wayward and out of hand. As the season progresses, you’ll find that twiddling and knitting your hop creepers along your wire frames becomes a daily task. This is actually quite fun, and of course ensures you notice any problems, such as powdery mildew, which may need treatment from time to time.

By the end of summer, creepers suddenly stop growing at some predetermined but impressive length. By now each plant resembles a bush, and fluffy buds pop out all over – seemingly overnight. These are the beginnings of the all important hop flowers, and they will continue to grow until they become large fragrant bright green hop cones by early Autumn.

Another day we’ll try and remember to talk about amateur methods of harvesting, processing and storing hops, but for now, here are the few photos of our own hops and some local hedgerow hops we took over the summer.


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