Let’s Get Hoppy

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golden cluster hops in our garden

golden cluster hops in our garden

Hops are a wonderful plant to grow: as they are a bine (not to be confused with a vine), they grow up and up and across and around, and can provide a fantastic summer-time cover.

Like grapes, they are perfect for the patio or summer deck, where the thick foliage provides a cool, natural shade. In winter, the foliage dies back, allowing the sun to shine through.

And of course, for the home-brewer, the flower cones which bud out in late summer/autumn are one of the fundamental ingredients for beer. Hops provides the bitterness and aroma of beer, and also acts as a natural preservative for the malted barley wort. In old times, the bines were also cut and used for basket weaving.

Hops basically need full sun, water and nutrient, and something to climb up. They need a well-drained soil, that is basically acidic – it is the alpha acids that are sought after in the flowers, which provide their distictive flavours.

There are many different strains that have their own distinctive flavours and aromas. Legend has it that all strains are based upon the English Fuggles variety, which grew wild around England. And just like any bine/vine, these guys will run rampant given the right conditions. They could take over your garden, so perhaps they re best kept confined to a pot or some such vessel. I’m not aware that you can buy seed, but they grow extremely well from rhizomes, which are more-or-less easily available via searches online. Most decent Home-brew shops will also be able to point you in the right direction.

We’re baby-sitting a couple of bines for a friend this season: a golden cluster, and a cascade. Cascade are an American variety, and used in beers such as Mountain Goat’s Hightail Ale. It is particularly nice and earthy. I have used Golden Cluster in one of my earliest brews, but I don’t remember how they smelt or tasted (I used them in conjunction with another strain of hops). Both are in large pots.

As you can see from the photo above, the Golden Cluster is just placed on top of a bed we’re developing, and the bine is working its way up the Jade (money) tree. This is not proving to work that well, so I’ll be setting up some lines so they can work their way upwards easier. Once they  reach a certain height, they then like to spread out horizontally. This particular plant I hope to train along towards a north facing window to provide some shade in the heat of summer.

The other plant (Cascade) I have working its way up a trellis I set up out the front porch. Unfortunately, I don’t have the height here, so I I’m going to have to improvise somehow. Its also not copping the full daytime sun, but gets plenty of the morning light as its east-facing.

The ideal place would be a fence/trellis that gets a lot of sun, and obviously well-drained soil. I have heard that they tend to being quite invasive if planted (a bit like bamboo), so it depends on how much you value the rest of your garden. Oh, and did I mention they really like a lot of height…..?

Come winter, after you’ve picked the flower-cones, the foliage drops, and you cut the bines away and use them to make dream-catchers or baskets (etc). These are cut right down to the root, and the plant then lies dormant until the next spring. The dormant period is when you divide rhizomes to give to other home-brewing friends with gardens.

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One Response to “Let’s Get Hoppy”

  1. Janet Says:

    Snap! We have hops in our garden too for the home brewer. I’ll be interested to see how you go with yours. Ours are also rocketing out of the ground although our tomato plantation is unexpectedly threatening one of them. 🙂

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