29 July 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Though you may never brew beer, the hops bine, a twining, slender climber will add a delightful green curve of textural interest to your vertical landscape. Its annual growth, from over-wintering rootstock, will occupy space similar to clematis and Akebia quinata but climb faster, longer, to greater heights.
Virginia was once hops capital of the American colonies. In 1794 Jefferson planted hops in his Monticello garden, but 40 years earlier, his wife Martha brewed small beer from hops bought locally. Today, hops grow in the Monticello vegetable garden, as well as hobbyists plots and the Blue Mountain Brewery and Hop Farm in Afton, Virginias only commercial hops farm.
The Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA) online forum at http://www.cvillebrewing.com/, while not always attributing their discussions to research, take hops growing seriously, not eager to waste time and money on unproven practices. Their no-nonsense, Growing Hops forum provides practical advice from "buying the rhizome to harvest and storage." They informally endorse Freshops at http://www.freshops.com/ by referring to it as a reliable source for hops rhizomes.
The horticulture departments at Purdue, Vermont and Oregon State universities lead U.S. research in hops farming. In 1964 the Oregon Hop Commission formed, to finance OSUs studies. For their efforts, OSU developed Humulus lupulus, Nugget in 1970, the hop resistant to downy mildew, verticillium wilt and all major hop viruses. Along with Cascade and Magnum, Nugget is recommended for beginners.
Soil and garden bed preparation for hops rhizomes and roots is similar to that for peonies. Hops thrive in a deep, well-drained, sandy loam with a pH of 6 to 7.5.
In piedmont clay I achieve those conditions, with a three-year program of soil building using a 50/50 mix, by volume, of clay and compost to a depth of 24" where schist does not intrude, with a continuous 3" top dressing of compost. Hops will also need an airy southwestern aspect with direct sun.
As with peonies, plant the hop rhizomes vertically with the bud pointing up or horizontally covered with 1inch soil at least 3 feet apart. March is the best time to order and plant the rhizomes.
Create a strong structure for the vines to entwine with a thick hemp string tied to the railing on your deck, over a long 6' high fence, a pergola or arbor. Let them ramble during the first year. At a foot high, gently train a two-year-old plants 2-3 most vigorous leaders clockwise up the twine.
Pests and Disease
Check the vines daily for aphids and spider mites as they multiply rapidly. Knock them off with a sharp stream of water.
Disease resistant varieties and good sanitation will provide the most consistently effective barrier against microbial intruders.
Papery feeling cones are ready to pick. Commercial harvesters cut the vine at its base then remove the cones, because they lie at the uppermost levels of the plant. You may also bend the vine to you or pick from a ladder.
Dry the cones on a screen in a single layer. Like herb drying, the cones are ready for freezer-bag storage when all parts are brittle. Expect an ample harvest by the second year.
Consider, also, sharing your harvest with local hobbyist brewers, or leave the cones on the vine until the first heavy frost when the entire plant should be cut to the ground and composted.
Tip of the Week
Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, Urban Horticulturist at Washington State U. says, "There is no evidence that milk sprays are effective in controlling black spot on roses or any other ornamental plant species." However, milk sprays may decrease surface area for powdery mildew and aphid attack, making them a worthy alternative to conventional pesticides.