I thought that I would try to grow some hop plants, acquiring a few specimens of different varieties to try out. They come as rhizomes (stems growing horizontally underground) in the winter when dormant or in pots during the summer.
So to give them a head start I planted them in pots in the greenhouse and put 2 ft canes for them to grow up. My first big mistake, they were at the top of the canes in a couple of weeks, so I put them onto 4 ft canes but they just keep growing.
Having never planned where to plant them in the garden, I read up on Kentish hops which they grow up poles or cords about 20 feet tall. Instead I decided to plant them at the base of fruit trees, as they are about the right height.
I decided to try traditional English varieties, so we have Fuggles, Challenger, Goldings and Northern Brewer which are all rather large, and as a touch of sanity a dwarf one called Prima Donna which only grows about 2-3 metres tall. The first 4 grew tremendously fast and even for a young plant produce a significant amount of hops, so much so that we couldn’t even reach the ones at the top of the tree. The dwarf hop Prima Donna was much easier to manage and still produce a large amount of hops, you could easily have one in a small garden. There is also a very attractive ornamental golden hop called Golden Tassels which is not limited to looking pretty, it also produced a good brewing crop and it only grows 2-3 meters tall so it can be grown up a fence panel or trellis.
The different varieties have all been analysed for bitterness and aroma and are used to give different flavours to beer, the ones I am growing are ideal for English Bitter. What about Lager I hear you ask? Well I will probably have a go at a hop called Saaz next winter as this is the Pilzner Lager hop. The aroma is also what helps you identify when they are ready to pick, they smell aromatic, rather than a 'green' smell. You can also identify when they are ready as some have gone papery, they pop off the vine easily and they are producing a sticky substance from the lupulin.
The most interesting hop is 'Fuggles', believe it or not a man called Mr Richard Fuggle found a hop in a neighbours We dried them them for about 8 hours at 40 degrees centigrade in the herb dryer and vacuum sealed them into brew sized bags. It will be interesting to substitute our own fresh hops in our brews to see if we can taste the difference.