Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hop Farm Season 2011 Begins!

Around this time of year, it's usually a good idea to start getting ready for the upcoming hop growing season.  My hop farm is located in sun drenched San Diego North County.  I have three terraced rows on a north-facing slope.  Each row is setup to accommodate ten mounds (for a total of 30 mounds) which seems more than enough to handle on a casual basis.  Here's several images to show the preseason hop farm:
Hop Farm from the top of the mulch hill.
Hop Farm from the east.
Detail of the terraces with lots of weeds to pull.
Hop Farm from the lower east slope.
Hop Farm from the lower west slope. Avocado tree to the right.
Today, Michelle and I set out mostly to start weeding and mulching.  The ground was nicely wet from recent rains so the weeds were easy to pull. While we worked for quite some time, we were only able to take care of the top row (Chinook and Centennial).  Next weekend we will try to recruit Kara to come and help with the bottom two rows (although the outlook looks like rain again).
My wife, Michelle, taking out those weeds!
After the weed pulling (which never stops) and mulching, we'll need another work day to prune the mounds.   Essentially, this involves shoveling and cutting around the mound to trim down the roots to prevent the plants from popping up away from the mound.  This should also present opportunities to find rhizomes to share with others.  I have a few QUAFF buddies already signed up for Chinook and Centennial rhizomes.
Hop Farm Row 1 (Chinook and Centennial) weeded and mulched.
Beyond pruning comes trellis maintenance and restringing.  All of my posts seem to be in good condition this year.  I will need to re-anchor the end-posts of each row to help keep the top guide-line taut.   A small buried cement block might do the trick.  I know that hop farms restring each year with twine but I have been using wire.  I'm finding the wire tends to rust out after one or two season so perhaps I should also look into finding a better solution for this as well.
Row 1 from the west, after weeding and mulching.
Another concern, I need to find better solutions for the problem with rabbits and gophers chewing on the vines.  In some cases, these wascal wabbits have chewed mature cone bearing vines that essentially put an early season stop to some of my mounds.  Possibly a simple chicken-wire cage will keep the nasty gnawers at bay.  See some of my previous hops seasons' blog posts on this topic and more.
One Chinook hop mound seems to already be breaking soil.
As for this year's last planning element, I want to replace all the mounds in the middle row with two new varieties of "C" hops.  While the former two varieties,  Magnum and Vojvodina, had a good running, last year had a significant decrease in viability and yield.  It's time to get rid of these and move on.  Considering the success of my Chinook and Centennial mounds, I believe other "C" hops will likely do as well.  I recently pre-ordered Columbus hops and am crossing my fingers for Cluster or Citra to be available this year.  Even Simcoe (we'll write it "Cimcoe" to keep with the theme) would be desirable.

Here's a couple of links for buying rhizomes directly from the source.  As of now, no rhizome source has a list of what will be available this year.  Several homebrew suppliers and stores will also have rhizomes available beginning next month.  I got really excited when More Beer! announced their rhizome pre-order a couple of weeks ago and jumped at the chance to order Columbus hops.  Their pre-sale deal is only good until March 1st.
Rhizomes from Hops Direct
Rhizomes from Northwest Hops

Hops Direct made a YouTube video series last season to show the hop farming process.  They're great if you haven't seen them yet.  Hop farmer guru at Hops Direct, Stacy Puterbaugh, shows you how to plant hops and even what a large scale hop harvest looks like.  I'll share some of these videos here as the season moves on.

Hops TV, Episode 1: Planting Hops


  1. A couple questions:
    Are you planting one rhizome per mound?

    What do the rhizomes look like in the dormant stage under ground? (I ask because my Goldings didn't do too well last year, made it 4 ft and got beat up by mites and grasshoppers. I dug down a bit yesterday to see what they looked like. The rhizome is much bigger than I remember and both had pretty decent sized tap roots)

    Lastly, I'm excited to try your rhizomes this year, but I was wondering how you use the high alpha hops. Do you use them only for aroma/dry hopping or do you just guess at the Alpha Acid to use for bittering?

  2. I typically plant one rhizome per mound. Every year I have at least one mound that fails to grow. If it happens to be one of the chinook or centennial, I have been able to hack at the crown of another mound and replant the dead mound.
    Dormant mounds look just like a bunch of roots. Some of the roots are like pipelines nearly the size of a quarter! I'd say your Goldings will probably sprout again this year.
    I use the high alpha hops for everything (bittering/flavor/aroma/dry). For quite some time, I didn't paid attention to calculating IBUs. Now, I base my alpha acids on the low to middle-low range of the expected range. I use the USDA cultivar hop profile for a fair estimate. Here's the profile for Chinook:
    With using BeerTools, I might just use the values they have for whole hops.
    There's a fellow blogger, Homebrew and Chemistry, that tested his hops in the lab for alpha acid content. I suppose if I was inclined...
    I still have lots of hops from last season and will give you an ounce of Chinook and Centennial :-)

  3. How long is each row? I planted my first 9 rhizomes this year and all but one made it. I had so much fun with it that I wanted to add more but I am trying to decide what kind of set up I want. :)

  4. Allyson, each row is about 50 feet in length. Seems like there's lots of information out there on hop growing these days.


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