Hops into spring (or is it ‘spring into hops’?)

In this week’s Think Beer…Drink Beer, colum­nist Tim Pat­ton looks at ways to help urb­an garden­ers grow hops, an es­sen­tial in­gredi­ent in many pop­u­lar brews.

With this year’s un­season­ably warm weath­er, I’ve been plan­ning my spring brews for a few weeks now. 

See­ing the trees start to bud has also star­ted me think­ing about next fall’s hop har­vest. 

But, here’s a bit of back­ground for those who only have heard the word “hops” from com­mer­cials that tell you your fa­vor­ite beer is “triple hopped”:  hops are the flowers clusters from the hop plant and are used for bit­ter­ing, fla­vor and aroma in beer.  These three pur­poses what that beer com­mer­cial’s slo­gan means.

In ac­tu­al­ity, most beers are hopped three times, if not more.

Now, the myri­ad reas­ons for us­ing hops - as well as the vari­ety of fla­vors and aroma they can provide - is such a in­form­at­ive top­ic, I’m go­ing to save that for an­oth­er column.

However, with the per­fect weath­er warm­ing up the air out­side, I did want to dis­cuss grow­ing hops for all of the back yard garden­ers out there. 

Hops will grow in pots, so, even if you do not have much open soil or are con­cerned about it’s qual­ity you can still grow a plant or two. 

Just ex­pect to get a lower yield than if they were in the ground. 

Hops come as a “rhizome,” or small sec­tion of root.

If you can’t plant the hop im­me­di­ately, you can keep it dormant in a plastic bag in the fridge with a damp pa­per tow­el so it does not dry out. 

Rhizomes can be pur­chased on­line from stores like Hops Dir­ect (hops­dir­ect.com) and Fresh Hops (freshops.com) or loc­ally from Home Sweet Homebrew (at 2008 Sansom St.). 

Some vari­et­ies do bet­ter in this re­gion than oth­ers - the con­stant heat and high hu­mid­ity take their toll on the plants. 

Yet, a few vari­et­ies do grow well in and around Phil­adelphia. 

The clas­sic Cas­cade hop, used in many pale ales and IPAs, grows very well. 

Vari­et­ies like Fuggles, Brew­er’s Gold Liberty and Nug­get also do well in this area.

Though the Mt. Hood and Wil­lamette hops vari­et­ies are in­con­sist­ent from my own ex­per­i­ence and re­ports from oth­ers.

One thing to know about hop plants is that they are a vine, so to get the best growth the plant should have room to grow ver­tic­ally. 

The easi­est way to ac­com­mod­ate this is to at­tach a string or line to part of your house or a pole. 

Hops need well drained soil, if your yard doesn’t have the best drain­age you can make an el­ev­ated cone out of the soil and plant the hop rhizome in that. 

This should al­low the wa­ter to run off.  Hops are sus­cept­ible to mil­dew, so also make sure they get as much sun as pos­sible.

When the hop be­gins to sprout, choose one to three of the strongest vines and be­gin to train them up your string, trel­lis or whatever else you will grow the hops on. 

The rest of the vines should be cut away.

In the first year the hop will have a min­im­al root sys­tem and re­quires fre­quent short wa­ter­ings. 

Try not to drown the plant or get the vine wet, this en­cour­ages plant dis­eases.  In fu­ture years the plant should re­quire less wa­ter. 

The first year the plant may grow few or no hop flowers, this is nor­mal and yield should im­prove over time.

Now that you’ve got­ten star­ted, I’ll fol­low up in the fu­ture with in­form­a­tion on main­tain­ing and har­vest­ing your hops.

One con­cern with grow­ing any­thing in the soil in the river­wards is the amount of lead and oth­er con­tam­in­ants in the soil.

I emailed Jack Kelly, Branch Chief and Su­per­vis­ory Re­search Eco­lo­gist with the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency, to dis­cuss this con­cern. 

Ac­cord­ing to him and his col­leagues, hops grown in our soil should be safe for a few reas­ons. 

“Since ac­cu­mu­la­tion of [lead] by leafy ve­get­ables is pretty low- I would not worry about re­com­mend­ing fruit­ing crops for these soils,” he wrote. 

Also, he said the “brew­ing pro­cess ef­fi­ciently re­moves metals”.

So, know you know, so you can grow – safely.

Event Alert: The second an­nu­al Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation Chili Cookoff will be held on Sunday March 25 from 1 to 4 p.m. in 2424 Stu­di­os (at 2424 E. York St.) There will be 20 dif­fer­ent types of chili.And what goes bet­ter with chili than beer? 

Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Com­pany beer will be served, as well as beer from start-ups Saint Ben­jamin Brew­ing Com­pany (owned by your humble Think Beer…Drink Beer colum­nist) and Bomb­shell Brew­ing. 

Tick­ets are $15 an­d­can be pur­chased at the door, or in ad­vance at fishtown.org.

Tim Pat­ton is a Fishtown res­id­ent, beer afi­cion­ado and brew­er. His column is ded­ic­ated to show­cas­ing everything that is great about en­joy­ing beer in the river­wards. He can be con­tac­ted at tim@stben­jamin­brew­ing.com••

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