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Hops Garden 2.0

Today’s 60 degree weather in the middle of December has me thinking about my hops garden and what I can do better. This past spring, I planted a couple three rhizomes and ended up with mixed results. I am fortunate to have tons of land around my house so staked out a few places on the south side of my house. I had read this is the best area to capture the most sun for these hungry plants.

One Centennial popped up out of the ground quickly but then fizzled out fast. It never grew beyond about 3-4 feet. I’m thinking the location I choose was a major factor. It was next to a tree which I suspect was stealing water and nutrients and was also casting way too much shade on it. I’m going to try transplanting it before the weather turns warm so I can give it a fighting chance.

Another Centennial started to sprout and broke the surface when a damn squirrel attacked it. The annoying little bastard completely uprooted it and damaged some of the growth. After that trauma it never came back. Needless to say, squirrels are now on my shit list and I will be putting up some fencing around my future rhizomes.

My greatest success came from a Mt. Hood that I planted on a whim in late spring. By September it had reached close to 9 feet tall. However, it yielded nothing which is not unheard of for a first year plant. I was happy that it grew so large but I think I still made a few mistakes.

I had read that you should prune away smaller, slower growing bines so that the plant can concentrate its energy on the large one. But I think I should have kept at least two or three to help it bulk up a bit. I’ve seen lots of other hop gardens with bushy plants pumping out some huge yields. Next year I will be less prune happy and just let the plant do its thing.

In preparation for the spring, I’m going to set up a 3′-4′ x 10′ area exposed to some serious sun. This is where I plan on transplanting my poor little Centennial to give it a fighting chance. I would also like to grab a couple of other rhizomes. Anyone interested in sharing or trading??

Next will be some serious soil preparation. I have access to a roto-tiller and a mountain of horse manure that has been composting over the past few years. It’s basically turned into Miracle Gro potting soil – black as night and chock full of nutrients. Once the ground thaws and dries out a bit I’m going to mix that in well. I’ve also been dumping all of my spent grain in this area to let that work it’s way in over the winter. Hopefully, this will give my precious plants a fighting chance when the weather breaks.

Does anyone have any advice for me? Have you successfully grown hops outdoors in the Cincinnati area? Let me know what I’m doing right or wrong!

Mike Stuart

Craft beer enthusiast and hombrew dabbler. Part-time writer, sometimes funny.

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