Grow (h)OP: Urban Hop Growing (Part 1)

growHopI started a patio garden in a very accidental way. My neighbor has done unbelievable things with the small enclosed patio and alleyway beside our building, growing green beans, corn, grapes, carrots and just about everything else you can imagine in pots mounted to the walls of the building. My girlfriend, jealous of his ‘magical forest’, decided that we should start one too. She bought a number of herbs and a few vegetables and planted them, and within 3 weeks I was taking care of them everyday and she had already lost interest.

So now I had a garden, and somehow with my limited space it was a huge success. Tomatoes, basil, serrano chilis, arugula. Just about everything I planted grew like crazy. So leading up to spring this year, I made a decision that I was going to try and grow hops this year, just to see what happened. I did a bit of research on growing hops in planters, including a nice summary at BYO.com and hopsinpots.com, and while its definitely do-able, I’m sure the California summer will be difficult to get through.

There’s a number of places to order hop rhizomes on the internet but I’m pretty impatient so I decided to go with the hop crowns available at Great Lakes Hops. These plants are at least one season old, so the likelihood of them actually blooming are significantly higher. I knew that I wanted one aromatic IPA hop variety, and since you can’t buy Nelson or Simcoe plants (they are patented), I opted for Chinook for its resiny quality, which according to brewwiki, has the following characteristics:

Chinook hops has a strong and distinctive pine-like aroma and flavor that is not common among other varieties. They are also somewhat spicy with a mild fruitiness similar to that of other Northwest hops (Cascade, Columbus, Centennial),

But I also wanted to try something else – something a bit more classic. I’m a big czech pilsner fan and I love beers with a crisp peppery quality, so Saaz was a natural fit. For the uninitiated:

Chinook and Saaz

Chinook and Saaz Hops on my patio garden

Saaz is a very traditional aroma hop that has been grown in the Czech Republic for centuries. It is classified as one of the four true Noble varieties. The saaz aroma can be described best as spicy, clean, classic and noble (a term that you just have to taste to understand, really.) Saaz hops are the defining element for the classic Pilsner Urquell and Budìjovice Budweiser beers, and are a welcome addition to any light lager, pale ale, and even the wit style.

So between the two I think I have my bases covered. Within about a week of placing my order with Great Lakes, my crowns arrived and I had already prepped my planters so I could get them into soil immediately. I also built the BYO.com suggested ‘adjustable trellis system, which was quite easy to do. With the crowns in the ground I expected to start seeing vines poking through the ground within 2-3 weeks.

4 Days in and the vines are poking out

4 Days in and the vines are poking out

Boy was I wrong. Within 4 days of planting these crowns I started to have little bines poking through the soil, and by a week in I started to  worry that I should have decreased the size of the crowns before planting. The weather for the first few weeks was quite warm for the season, so I was also concerned about temperature and water levels, but so far I’ve only had to water once a week at the most. I also bought a handy little moisture meter on Amazon to help keep an eye on things.

By a week  in, those little bines poking their heads out of the ground turned into full out plants with a fair amount of foliage. They are growing a noticeable amount every single day and sometimes a good inch between the time I go to bed and when I wake up in the morning.

One Week In - Plants have Leaves

One Week In – Plants have Leaves

Every few weeks or so I hope to update this blog with the progress on these hops. I’m still unsure how well they will bloom later on, but its been fun to watch them go. As an incredibly impatient gardener, having something grow several inches a day is definitely more rewarding than most plants.