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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org••