Growing Hops is fun and easy. It can be accomplished most anywhere. Hops do not have to be grown specifically for beer. They can be used as a decorative sculptured plant, privacy curtain, or solar shade. Some dogs can die from eating them.
The more sunlight, drainage and water...the better. The best hops for growing around here are; of course, the American varieties, with Cascade leading the C-pack in success and yield. It all starts with the 3”-12” Rhizome or root cutting. The rhizome clipping resembles a twig which is planted in the spring after the last frost about 3”-6” under the soil, laying flat about 2”-4” apart. You can check to be sure the rhizome is alive by looking for buds (sprouts) or cutting the end off and looking for the creamy white inside if does not have sprouts.
They can be started indoors, but that sometimes makes the harvest sooner and hops vines gone sooner, I have heard of 2 crops in one summer. The ideal setting is having some sort of raised bed in loose soil for drainage. I used 4”x4” stacked 2 high in a rectangular shape and drilled 1” holes so metal conduit could be held securely to make a superstructure that would have hooks or eye-bolts for multiple trellises. It worked fine and the root structure was extensive as they grow quickly too. Sadly, my hop paradise ended when the landlord dumped 3/4” granite aggregate and turned my victory garden into a parking lot in store in Princeton.
So, I moved to Trenton, where I did not have any yard, but I’ve successfully grown hops in 30”x10”x10” window planting boxes with drains on the bottom. I then built rolling trellises out of 2”x4” boards, 1/2” carriage bolts, 3” coarse screws, 3” casters, and hook and eye wood screws. I did not have a problem the first year with it becoming “root bound,” but plan on thinning the rhizomes out this year before they break ground.
The small sprout will start off purple, then change to white, then green in a few days. You’ll have about a week to build the trellises and start training the sprouts to know where they are - so they can spiral up them, they are pretty quick learners. They can grow really fast (6” day) with the proper amount of soil, water, sunlight and nutrients, and will usually grow as high as your trellis goes and then some. I usually put an inch fresh potting soil on top every month and the hops respond by blushing green.
The hop growing season around Philly is from late March to late October. The leaves start of by resembling pot plants and then look like 6” Maple leafs. The cones grow in clusters of three and are the only part that is picked and used in beer. After you pick them; rub them between your hands so heat is generated and smell the aroma ~ nice! You should pick the cones when they get about 1 - 2” long and just before they turn straw colored. Hop cones can be dried as they contain 80% water weight and then stored or they can be used without drying for “hop harvest” beers. The first year sometimes does not produce many cones, but that is not always the case. At the end of the year, cut the hop vines down to soil level, clean up the trellises and the rhizomes will rise again come next spring.