Hops, the aromatic and bittering agents used in brewing beer, are an essential ingredient in the production of many beer styles. While the majority of hops are traditionally grown in countries like the United States, Germany, and Czechia, hop cultivation is gaining popularity among enthusiasts in the United Kingdom. In this article, we’ll explore the process of growing hops in the UK and share valuable tips for a successful hop harvest.
Selecting the Right Varieties
The first step in hop cultivation is selecting the right hop varieties to grow. In the UK, several hop varieties have proven to be successful due to the country’s climate and soil conditions. Some popular UK hop varieties include:
- Fuggle: Known for its earthy, woody, and slightly floral aroma, Fuggle hops are versatile and well-suited to a variety of beer styles.
- Goldings: East Kent Goldings and other Goldings varieties are celebrated for their delicate, floral, and mildly citrusy aroma, making them a staple in traditional English ales.
- Cascade: While originally from the United States, Cascade hops can thrive in the UK climate. They impart a distinct citrus and floral aroma to beers.
- Challenger: Challenger hops are known for their well-balanced bitterness and herbal, spicy aroma, making them ideal for both traditional English ales and modern craft beers.
Preparing the Soil
Hops require well-drained soil with good fertility and a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5. Soil testing is essential to determine the soil’s nutrient levels and pH, allowing you to make any necessary adjustments. Adding organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, can improve soil structure and fertility.
Hops are typically planted in the spring, ideally in April or early May when the soil has warmed up. Here’s how to get started:
- Choose a sunny location: Hops thrive in full sun, so select a spot that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day.
- Prepare a hop hill: Hops are typically grown vertically on trellises. Create a mound of well-drained soil and plant the hop rhizomes (root cuttings) horizontally, about 2 inches deep. Space each rhizome at least 3-5 feet apart to allow for growth.
- Install trellises: Hops require a sturdy trellis system to support their vertical growth. Install trellises that reach a height of 15-20 feet, ensuring they can withstand strong winds.
Caring for Hops
Hops are vigorous climbers that can grow several inches per day during the growing season. Here are some care tips to ensure a healthy hop crop:
- Watering: Hops require consistent moisture but should not be waterlogged. Provide regular, deep watering, especially during dry periods.
- Fertilization: Hops are heavy feeders. Apply balanced fertilizer with a higher potassium content during the growing season to support flower development.
- Pruning: Prune hop plants to remove excess leaves and encourage airflow, which helps prevent disease. Remove lateral shoots (side branches) to focus plant energy on the main bines.
- Pest and Disease Control: Keep an eye out for pests like aphids and spider mites. Proper pruning and good airflow can help prevent disease, but be prepared to address issues if they arise.
Hops are typically ready for harvest in late summer or early autumn, depending on the variety. Harvest when the hop cones are papery to the touch and aromatic. Carefully cut down the bines, collect the cones, and dry them in a well-ventilated area, ideally using a food dehydrator.
Growing hops in the UK is an exciting endeavor that allows beer enthusiasts to connect with the brewing process on a deeper level. With the right hop varieties, suitable soil preparation, and proper care, you can cultivate your own hop crop and contribute unique flavors and aromas to your homebrewed beers. So, roll up your sleeves, plant those rhizomes, and embark on a hoppy adventure in your own backyard!
Discover the art of brewing beer in another article.