Introduction and Project Background
(Humulus lupulus) is an herbaceous plant with a perennial crown and annual climbing bines. Hop crowns can survive for 25 years or more; however, the fast growing bines die back to the ground each winter. Bines can reach a height of 15 to 30 feet in a single growing season. Hops are valued for their female cones, which contain the resins and essential oils used to provide the distinctive flavor and aroma to beer.
Interest in hop growth peaked during a conversation with Ron Dunham (botanist) who’s been growing hops in Greenwell Springs, Louisiana; with great success. The discussion happened over beers at the Covington Brewery in Covington, Louisiana. And so began my Louisiana Hop Project…
After a few pokes by Wayne Odom, Ron finally posted a hops maintenance schedule for Southern Louisiana. Paraphrased below…
“Cascade has produced leaps and bounds over several varieties attempted. Hops must grow vertically. You will only have moderate success growing on a fence or horizontally. East sun is best; west sun will burn your hops later in the summer because of the heat. PROTECT FROM WEST SUN!
First Year: Fertilize well. 13-13-13, 3 applications Starting in March
Second Year: Fertilize with 8-8-8 every other month starting March 1st and with super phosphate at recommended vegetable rates. Always mulch well. Decompose your spent beer grains.
Third Year: Start trimming back shoots as they sprout. You want to leave at 10 to 12. This will allow maximum energy for flower production. Then trim back about every third or fourth side shoot up to 6’. Fertilize 8-8-8 March 1st and then lightly every month. On March 1, May 1, July 1, and Aug 1 add super phosphate (Super Bloom) at recommended rate for vegetables. Result is that you will have a great haul of hops to fresh your brews. Good luck.
Winterizing Hop Plants: As you can see your plants are beginning to die back. For now leave them alone. The next few frosts and light freezes will cause them to completely die back and go dormant and once all of the leaves and bines are crispy brown be sure to cut them back. Cut to a few inches above the grade and cover them with mulch about 4 to 5 inches deep. Then in the spring when we start getting warmer days pull back the leaves to expose the new vegetation. Keep mulch handy in case we get late frost. ”
As with any pilot project (side project) of this nature, prospective growers would be wise to proceed cautiously by starting small. Larger plantings should not be attempted until the crop has been evaluated over several seasons and the product has been “test-driven”.
Location Location Location
Select a fertile, well-drained, sunny site (facing eastern morning sun) with access to water for drip irrigation. Hops require plenty of water during the growing season, but it is critical to avoid wetting the plants themselves due to some potentially devastating disease problems here in southern Louisiana. Protect the crop from westward sun and from bearing the heat of the Louisiana summer afternoon. While winds in the spring to early summer provide good air circulation and thus allow plant foliage to dry, winds later in the summer can damage the ripening cones. Therefore it is important to situate the plantings with the prevailing winds to your advantage. If necessary, wind breaks can aid in preventing excessive cone injury. Fields should be well-prepared the year prior to planting the crop by improving the soil and controlling weeds. This is also the time to set up your trellis system.
My trellis system consists of three 20’ red oak poles (6-8” diameter trees) that were harvested from the woods near my house. Each secured 2’ into the ground with 15’ spacings. An overhead wire is pulled taunt between each pole with twine secured vertically in providing the overhead trellis system. Setting up the trellis was quite time consuming and should be accomplished prior to planting. The poles can be installed with a hand or motorize auger. It is critical to place the poles deep enough to avoid trellis collapse under the weight of the hops and winds late in growing season.
Based on the research by Ron Dunham and his evaluating yield, disease resistance, and other characteristics of several hop cultivars along with internet research for hop growth in 30° latitude (Chinook, Cascade, and Centennial) are the hops I chose for the ‘side project’. Plantings – 4 Chinook, 4 Cascade, and 4 Centennial rhizomes in late March 2013.
For 2013, one 35 linear foot x 4 foot wide row was designated for hop growth and evaluation. Garden was weed free and well-tilled 2’ deep. Three cubic yards of garden soil and one cubic yard of manure was then tilled into the existing soil. Hops rhizomes were planted in hills and proper drainage was provided along the perimeter since hops can be susceptible to root rots.
Fertilization of crop schedule (referenced above) for first year production. Spring maintenance consisted of grooming out the less vigorous shoots and training the selected bines to grow up the twine. Summer activities included scouting the yard for pests and diseases, pruning out unwanted new shoots, weeding, and irrigation. I had no problems but…Be aware and knowledgeable of downy mildew and powdery mildew along with mycosphaerella leaf spots which have a history of causing damage in all hops growing regions of the U.S.
It normally takes 2 to 3 years for hops to come into full production. Hops harvest season began in July/August. Harvest when they are most aromatic and the cones are just beginning to feel dry. Hops will fade in color from a bright green to a paler green as they mature. Expectations for the first year should be 1/6 to 1/4lb per plant.
2013 –First year harvest should be hand-harvested by removing individual cones as they mature and NOT cutting bines at base of plant to allow proper root growth. I obtained 3/4lb of Centennial and 1/4lb of Cascade my first season. The chinook plants grew extremely well but did not produce cones in the 2013 growing season. One cascade rhizome never sprouted.
2014— All chinook plants died the winter of 2013. 4 Centennial plants returned and 4 Cascade plants returned. An additional 4 Centennial plants were planted in addition to existing plants. 1lb= 5 gallon buck of Centennial hops were picked August 2014. The Cascades did not produce.