Growing hops at home in Alberta is easy. Growing hops that produce plump, pungent cones that are fit for bittering the hoppiest of IPAs? That’s a little more difficult. With a little bit of planning and care though, a bumper harvest of hops can be yours in little more than a year.
Now is the time to start thinking about it; hopyards are taking orders for spring deliveries of rhizomes (a piece of hop root you plant in the ground, out of which sprouts hop shoots) and hop plants. Catherine Smith of Alberta’s only commercial hopyard and north America’s northernmost hopyard – Northern Girls Hops – has lots of experience growing the right kinds of hops for Alberta’s unique climate. The Daily Beer will have a story tomorrow about her and her sister’s goal of finding the perfect hop to grow in Alberta.
Here, Catherine offers up her top five tips for those looking to start growing hops at home.
Ensure plants are disease free
“The most important thing is making sure your hops are clean. We want to protect Alberta’s future hop industry, and we really, really want others to do that too. One disease can completely ruin a hop yard. We quarantine all rhizomes and plants for a full year before moving them to the hopyard and planting them. Ask whoever is supplying your hops for some sort of guarantee that they are disease free.”
Choose your site wisely
“When you look at your yard, see where the sun is. You want full sun exposure. You can grow hops in the shade, but they won’t produce much. You won’t kill the plant, but they won’t produce much. They don’t like wind, so a spot that is sheltered from the wind is good. They need a lot of water too, so access to a water supply is vital.”
Give them room
“You can train them to grow on a short trellis – up to eight feet – but more space is better. Beside a house or garage works well. Hops are not vines, with a “v”, but bines, with a “b”. That means they don’t have tendrils to climb up walls. They need something to crawl their way up. String up some twine about a foot out from any wall or building so the bines have room to climb around the twine and grow.”
Well drained soil is vital
“You need somewhere where the roots won’t sit all soggy. They need to be drained. A lot of houses in cities are built, and then enough topsoil is added just to grow grass, but the rest is compacted clay. Dig down a foot and see what the soil is like. If it’s clay, you can grow hops in pots, or build a raised planter box to give enough drainage.”
Pick your variety wisely
“Because Alberta has such a short growing season its important to pick early or early-mid maturing varieties. Hops need a certain amount of sun to trigger cone growth. Early data for us shows that Centennial is really good. We’ve seen that now for three years. It’s a beautiful hop for Alberta. Golding is another one, and does really well around the Edmonton area. The Calgary area is slightly different due to its lower latitude – Cascade are on the cusp in the Edmonton area but in Calgary they may be perfect for home growers.”
Northern Girls opened up their online shop for orders this week. Rhizomes are $6.50 and the “hops in a box” planting kit, with everything you need to grow the hops, are $15.00. Delivery takes place before the spring planting season.
They have four varieties available – Centennial, Cascade, Golding and Sterling. Their order form for rhizomes and plants can be found here.