Tuesday, December 8, 2009

First Year Wrap-up

This was my first attempt at growing hops and it was a great experience. Many people I talked to or chatted with on various online forums basically said hops wouldn't grow in Texas. Unfortunately, a lot of the information available in books and online regarding sunlight, moisture, nutrients and soil are written for growing hops up in the Northwest and isn't necessarily relevant when growing hops this far south. Luckily, I had recently read an article about growing hops in pots by Chris Colby of Brew Your Magazine (who has been growing hops in pots in central Texas for years) so at least I knew it could be done.

The ground soil is terrible here and our yard does not have very good drainage. I knew hop plants need a lot of direct sunlight, but I had a feeling they would need some shade during the hottest parts of the summer. That was true more then ever this past summer as it was the hottest and driest summer ever for the first half and then almost constant rain for the second half. Growing hops in pots seemed like the best option as it allowed me to provide good soil with adequate drainage and the ability to move the plants to different areas of the yard to adjust for sunlight.

Monitoring the soil conditions turned out to be a lot more crucial then I had anticipated. Although I thought I had drilled enough drain holes in the pots, it apparently wasn't as the soil started to remain too wet in the lower half of the pots which started to affect the plants. I was able to remedy that by simply drilling more holes and purchasing an inexpensive soil moisture meter allowed me to check the moisture at different levels in the pots and adjust the drip irrigation system.

The types, amounts and frequency of fertilizer and nutrients to provide is almost impossible to determine. Most of the information I found online was very vague and often contradicted information that I found elsewhere. Arguments would almost break out over it on one of the hop growing forums that I would check often. Basically, the growing conditions for everyone will be different, so there's not going to be any blanket advice that covers all options. I just watched the plants and tried to adequately adjust the water, light and nutrients as the plants grew.

Once the hops starting to grow, they really took off fast. A lot faster and longer then I anticipated. I ended up modifying the original hop trellis design by Chris Colby as I didn't like the idea of the loose bines hanging on the ground and flapping around in the wind. I'll definitely give some thought to the trellis design this winter and see how I can improve on it.

Overall I'd have to say that the first year of my first attempt to grow hops was quite successful as I did get hops from both plants (although not enough for a batch of beer). The fact that I got any was a great sign that I did something right. Most hop plants don't produce very many hop cones (if at all) the first year and given the weather conditions that I had to contend with, I consider myself lucky that I got what I did.

The bines are almost completely dead now and I'll probably cut them off at the surface level this weekend. This will probably be the last post for this season. I'll start posting again as I begin preparations for next season.

I've received a few email messages from readers asking questions and I'm happy to continue to reply to any email messages that I receive.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Picking a few cones

I picked some of the larger Cascade hop cones that were ready this weekend, vacu-sealed them and put them in the freezer. I'll just keep picking them as they become ready and seal them as well. While picking these, I noticed there's one bine on the Nugget plant that has a nice bunch of pretty large cones as well. Those are basically the first cones that the Nugget has produced this year.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Still alive and well

Unfortunately, despite my best efforst, I've continued to neglect this blog, but both hop plants have continued to grow and produce hop cones. The bines have actually got a little out of hand as I've pretty much left them to do what they want. The latest round of new cones produced by the Cascade plant are actually pretty big. Its a good indication of the potential for next year. There probably still isn't enough for a full batch of beer, but I'll pick and vacu-seal the cones that are ready and maybe use them in a batch this fall. Here's a few recent photos:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Neglected but not forgotten

I've been neglecting this blog, but not my hop plants. In fact, there's been a resurgence of growth over the past few weeks. The plants are clearly enjoying the much cooler weather and they're looking much bushier and happier. When we returned from our trip to the Pacific Northwest, I could see over a foot or two of new growth on multiple bines and side arms which I had to detangle and get wrapped around the twine properly. And along with the new growth came a bunch of new hops! Some of them are looking quite large and better the then hops that developed earlier.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A few small cones are ready

There is actually quite a lot of hop cones on the Cascade and some are looking like they're probably ready to harvest, but unfortunately, they're all pretty small. I had hoped to at least get enough to add to a batch of beer for flavour and aroma but at this point, that would be purely ceremonial. Oh well, it was just the first year and wasn't really expecting to get much. I also blame the weather. This was the hottest summer on record and also one of the driest, so not the best year to attempt to grow hops. Chris Colby at BYO Magazine had problems with his hop production this year that he attributed to the heat as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nice Cones

Above 100F temperatures have returned for this week. We've received a few scattered heavy storms over the past week or two, one of which brought an extremely close lightning strike that fried the motherboard on my PC. Gave both pots a thorough watering with fertilizer today at noon. The Cascade plant is continuing to develop more hop cones while the Nugget appears all but given up on them. Both plants have been putting some effort into growing side shoots again and I've been torn between pinching them off and letting them grow. In the end I've let them grow and wound them around the twine. I figured I'd let it do what it wants during the first year of growth and be more selective about pruning next year. More hope cone goodness:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cones continuing to develop nicely

A few more photos of the hop cones developing on the Cascade. I've pretty much given up on getting anything off the Nugget this year.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Scattered showers keep temps cooler

More frequent cloud cover and a few scattered showers have helped to keep the heat down a little and occasionally provide some much needed moisture.

The Cascade has really been sprouting out the hop burrs recently. The Nugget, on the other hand, appears to be a little lazy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Growth slowing; fertilized

The overall growth of the main bines on both plants appears to be slowing, if not completely stopped. There are still some side shoots that are continuing to grow longer, but both plants seem to be concentrating on produce side arms and hop burrs. The cascade plant is pretty loaded with hop burrs, but the Nugget has considerably less.

Fertilized with Miracle-Gro Liquid All Purpose Plant Food at lunch time and manually water until water seen dripping out the bottom of the pots.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Continued growth and never-ending heat

Its been very hot... the hottest June on record, actually. I'm very happy and surprised that that both hop plants are still alive. We did get a nice heavy rain and thunderstorm last Monday evening though, first time in over two months and this week is looking like we may get a sprinkle or two. But, its still really damn hot.

The Cascade is looking really good, lots of new growth after the main big vine appeared to have gotten pinched and died. Lots of side arms with burrs starting to form into little hop cones.

Some of the older big leaves on the Nugget, however, are getting brownish, crusty spots. Perhaps the direct Texas sun is too much for its leaves? And the bine is showing more and more colouration of a bruised banana.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Watered and fertilized

Fertilized with the same amount of Miracle-Gro Liquid All Purpose Plant Food today and manually water until water seen dripping out the bottom of the pots. Hottest temperatures of the year so far are forecasted for this week.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Disappointing Discovery

The main bine on the Cascade plant is dieing. While checking the growth of the hop cones, I noticed a small section of the bine near the soil that was essentially withering and dieing. I don't know if the bine got pinched at that spot (I don't know how since its part of a straight section that never moved), was eaten by bugs (never noticed any) or just died for unknown reasons. Although the bine still appears healthy and alive, everything past that point will obviously soon be dead, including the developing hop cones that I had just recently discovered. Although there are lots of other bines on the plant, this was the first one out of the soil, the first one to reach the top of the trellis and the first one to develop hop cones.

I checked the other bines on both plants for dead sections like this and didn't see any, but noticed that some bines have brownish blotches that basically look like the bruised areas of a banana. Hopefully this isn't indicative of some sort of infection or disease.

Monday, June 22, 2009

First Hop Cones

Some of the first few burrs on the Cascade have developed into what looks like actual hop cones! I hadn't noticed them until a few days ago as they were hidden under the leaves. If you look at the closeup, you can even seen the lupulin, the fine yellow resinous powder which is responsible for the flavour and aroma characteristics. There's about half a dozen cones so far but a lot more burrs are still forming.

The Nugget doesn't have anything that resembles a cone yet, but there are a lot of sidearms and burrs still growing and developing as well. Its interesting that the sidearms on the Cascade plant have just one burr per arm whereas the sidearms on the Nugget appear to grow clusters of burrs.

The real challenge will be keeping these guys alive during the next few weeks. The forecasted highs for later this week is 103F and there's still no chance of rain. My Jalapeno plant is loving this weather but I don't think the hop plants are going to be too happy about it. I manually watered both pots on Saturday until I saw water running out of the holes on the bottom and set the drip irrigation to run for 30 mins every morning. This should provide adequate water, but I'm worried the heat and sun (even though its only morning sunlight) will damage the plants.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Approaching drought conditions

Its been hot and dry around here... REALLY hot and dry and with no end in sight. Houston is fast approaching official drought conditions if we don't get any rain within the next 10 days. Running the drip irrigation for 15 ~ 20 minutes a day kept the soil in the top of pots moist for a while, but now the moisture meter barely even registers when I probe various areas from top to bottom. So, I turned the drip irrigation on and let it run for two hours this afternoon to try and thoroughly soak the entire pot. Even though their in the shade during the afternoon, I really hope this heat isn't too much for them.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Adjusted twines; tiny hops beginning to form; temperature rising

Last week, I made some modifications to the trellis and added some cross bars. This week I realigned the hop twines on the Cascade plant to take advantage of the new design. As you can see, the twines from the left and right sides of the pot criss-cross and are loosely attached to the ends of crossbars. I'll add third and fourth cross bar as needed. I'll probably need to add a third crossbar to the nugget plant as that bine is about to reach the top again.

A few of the burrs on the Cascade are actually starting to resemble tiny little hops.

While the Nugget is starting to grow some pretty cool looking side arms.

The official forecast for the next 10 days is 98F with no chances of rain. The shaded thermometer in my backyard has been topping 100F, so keeping the plants out of the direct afternoon rays is definitely looking like it was a good idea.

Monday, June 8, 2009


While reviewing my previous posts today, I realized that I hadn't fertilized the plants since May 10th. Since both plants have been producing a lot of new growth lately, its probably time to feed them some extra nutrients. I added a quarter of a cap of Miracle-Gro Liquid All Purpose Plant Food (12-4-8) to a gallon of water and split that between the two pots. I came up with that precise amount to use after reviewing the limited directions on the bottle and essentially, guessing. Unfortunately, "some" and "as often as the plants needs it" seems to be the only information I've been able to find regarding the amount of fertilizer to use and how often to use it.

Finding new growth after being gone for a day

I went up to Austin on Saturday for our monthly Tour and Tasting Day at Independence Brewing and I love coming back to see all the new growth that has occurred while I'm gone, even if it was only for a day.

The longest bine on the Cascade that I broke the tip off has really starting develop a lot of burrs all along it. The growth rate of three bines growing up the twine on the left side of the pot has really taken off and they're only a foot from the top now. Some bines that I started on the third twine from the front of the pot have also done well and are about a third of the way up.

The growth rate of the main Nugget bine on the right-side has slowed and has not yet reached back up to the top since I last lowered the twine on Thursday. However, the plant has been busy growing lots of side shoots off the lower parts of the main bines and some have started climbing the other twines pretty quickly.

I've currently still got the drip irrigation set to turn on at 9:15am for 15mins every 24 hours. The temperature is starting to creep into the upper 90's during the day with no rain and little cloud cover in the forecast for this week. I may have to adjust that water again if the pots start drying out.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Adjusted the watering schedule

On Tuesday, I had switched the drip irrigation back on and set it to run for 20 mins every 48 hours. Both plants received a watering yesterday at around noon but this morning the moisture level in the soil indicated that it was already pretty dry again. So, I went ahead and turned the drip irrigation on for 15 mins and then set it to run for 15 mins every 24 hours. I know, I'm fidgeting with the watering schedule a lot lately, but I'm trying to ensure the plants receive adequate water without causing an over-saturation of the soil again.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My modifications to the adjustable trellis

Chris Colby from Brew Your Own Magazine came up with a great idea for an adjustable hop trellis when growing hops in pots (or in the ground, for that matter). As the bines grow up the twine, you simply let out more of the twine from the top of the pole and let the bines loop and droop down. This design has been working great so far, but I've felt uncomfortable with the bines just hanging down without any support, particularly when one of our severe summer storms come through with heavy rains and high winds. I've been thinking about how to modify the existing design to provide the additional support I'm looking for and this is what I came up with:
I simply added 32 inch cross bars with eyebolts on the ends to the main pole every 18 inches. I can now attach the loops of bines to the ends of the cross bars as I let out more twine from the top so they not just left hanging loose. I played around with different ways to hang and loop the bines and found that criss-crossing the twines from one side of the trellis to the other will provide the longest lengths of twine (over three feet for each diagonal cross) on which to climb. The twine is then also kept in a generally upward direction as you follow along its length which will make it easier to keep the new bines growing along it. I found it could be a little difficult to train the new bines to keep following along the twine that was drooping and hanging down since they always want to keep growing up and not down. This design should also helps to keep the most amount of leaves in the direct sunlight. And, the entire planters are still self-contained which will allow me to move them into the garage should another Ike head this way.

I've already come up with a few improvements and other ideas as I was putting these together, but I think I'll save them until next near. Perhaps I'll try a different design for each pot and see which works bets.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Leaf Discolouration Improving

The photos below were taken on the dates indicated of the same leaves experiencing the odd mottled discolouration. If you compare the amount of yellow discolouration between the photos, you can see that their condition looks like it is improving.

I'm still not sure of the exact cause of it though. The leading candidate is over-watering, but I don't why that would only affect certain leaves.

A loss, but not necessarily a bad one

I mild tragedy struck the Cascade plant this morning. The longest bine had grown up past the top of the twine again and while lowering the hop twine to allow more growth, I accidentally broke the tip off. D'oh!!! Unfortunately, a hop bine will not continue to grow once the tip is damaged, so it's as long as its going to get (it reached about 11 feet). Although, it certainly could grow a side shoot near the top which would then carry on up the twin. It will also still grow side arms which will hopefully develop into hops. Fortunately, there are plenty more bines and this will probably help them to really take off since the plant won't be putting a lot of its energy into growing that main one anymore.

After the tragic event with the Cascade, I was a lot more careful while lowering the twine for the Nugget bine which had also reached the top. That's another 18 inches of growth for both plants since Saturday. I also added a third twine to the Nugget pot to accommodate the new growth.

Up until now, both plants have really only had one main bine that was doing the majority of fast climbing up the twine with the other bines growing much slower. The Nugget also hasn't had nearly as many side shoots develop as the Cascade. However, over the past few days, the other bines on both plants appear to be in a growth spurt and the Nugget has started developing quite a few side shoots off the main bines near the bottom.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Drip irrigation turned back on

To get a better idea of how much I'm actually watering the plants, I decided to measure the amount of water that's released by the drip irrigation system. Each pot has two inline drippers so I put two of them in a juice jug that has fluid levels marked on it and ran the irrigation system for 20 mins. The total amount of water that was collect from both drippers was about 32 ounces. That means each dripper puts out about 48 ounces or a 1/3 of a gallon of water an hour.

The highs for the remainder of this week are in the low 90's, so its definitely going to be a hot week. I tured the drip irrigation system on for both plants for 15 mins on Sunday morning and now the soil in both pots is registering as being pretty dry (3 ~ 5) on the moisture meter. After my water test, I watered both plants using the irrigation system for 20 mins and then set it to run for 20 mins every 48 hours. This will supply each pot with a 1/4 of a gallon of water ever second day. I'll monitor the moisture level and see if this is an appropriate amount and adjust if necessary.

One additional thing I'll note for my own info is that I changed the batteries (two AA) in the drip irrigation control as they had apparently just died.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

First watering in a week

According to the moisture meter, the moisture level of the soil in the pots has been slowly dropping, yet some areas still (oddly enough) register as Wet. I'm finding that hard to believe so I've decided to drop the highest and lowest moisture readings when trying to determine how moist the soil is. Since the temperature is supposed to reach into the low 90's today and neither plant has been given any water for about a week, I turned on the drip irrigation for 15mins for both plants this morning.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Three feet of growth in five days

I lowered the hop twine on both plants on Monday and Wednesday and this morning they were back up to the top again. That's about three feet of growth in five days! Here they are after lowering the twine... again.

I'm definitely going to have to think about a new trellis system or modify this one somehow. I like that its part of the pot which allows the entire plants to be moved with ease if necessary to adjust for sunlight (or hurricanes), but I'd like something that holds a bines a little more steady. I've got some ideas, I just need to actually try them.

The moisture meter is still indicating moisture levels of 5 ~ 9 in different areas and levels of the soil. I'm beginning to wonder how accurate it really is, but there must be some truth to it as I haven't watered the plants since Monday and they've obviously continued to grow. That would indicate there's been plenty of water for them in the soil, so I guess I had been over-watering without adequate drainage for the pots which is the most likely cause of the recent leaf discolouration.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Checked pH and Moisture level

I picked up a Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil pH Meter and the soil in both pots is at about 6.0. Hops grow best in soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5, so it is at the low end of what it should be. I drilled a few more holes in the bottom and sides of the pots and tested the moister level at various places and levels. The soil is still very moist in the lower half of both pots. I've left the irrigation system off since the weekend and there's no rain on the forecast, so I'll just continue to let the soil dry out for a few more days and see how the plants respond before watering or adding any additional nutrients.

On a good note, whatever the issue is, it hasn't appeared to really affect the growth of the main hop bines. The Cascade is once again nearing the top of the twine and the side arms on both plants are continuing to develop.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Strange leaf discolouration

Over the past couple of days, I've noticed this odd discolouration starting to affect some the young growth at the end of the bines and on the new side shoots. After doing research on some of the hop forums and general Internet searches, it sounds like a nitrogen deficiency, but I'm not sure. It could also be a sign of soil that is too wet. I've left the irrigation system off since the weekend and I'm going to let the soil dry out completely before turning it back on. I'm also going to drill some more holes into the bottom of the pots to ensure adequate drainage.

Cascade makes it to the top

The first Cascade bine reached the top of the twine this afternoon, only a few days after the Nugget. As I did with the Nugget, I lowered the twine and let the bines loop down, attaching them loosely to the pole to avoid any wind flappage. And, after lowering the twine at least a foot and a half three days ago, the Nugget bine had already reached back up to the top! If you check the photo in the post from a couple of days ago, you can see how much both bines grew over the past couple of days to reach the top.

These photos show the bines after I lowered both of them by 18" this evening. The Nugget on the left now has two loops hanging off the main pole. We'll see how quick they get back up to the top. Its great to see such fantastic growth rates.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A pest is laid to rest

I finally found what has been putting holes in the hop leafs lately. It alluded me for days, yet fresh leaf damage indicated something was still very active on the plant. I had even purchased a pesticide that's safe for plants and vegetables, but either it doesn't work or it has to be sprayed directly on the pest as the leaf damage continued. Finally, on Monday afternoon, I spotted the little bastard making his way up the twine, probably looking for new fresh leaves to eat. Hopefully it was the only one, but I'll keep my eye out for new leaf damage.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nugget touches the top and third twines the charm for the Cascade

One of the Nugget bines reached the top of the hop twine this weekend with the other bine on that same twine about a foot behind it. Thanks to the handy trellis design from BYO Editor Chris Colby, providing more growth space was easy. I simply untied the twine, fed out about a foot and a half through the eye bolt on top of the pole and the twine and bines on it simply just drooped down beside the pot. I then added another eye bolt to the side of the pole and loosely tied the twine to it so the bines wouldn't get damaged by flapping around in the wind. However, I have a couple of ideas for hanging the loops of twine that would be better then just letting it hang down and eventually lay on the ground.

The Cascade is also continuing to do well and a new main bine has sprout up from the root. This adds to the already dozen or so side shoots that are growing off the main original bines. I had to add a third hop twine to the pot and one of the new bines is already starting to wind its way up.

Some of the side arms are really starting to develop and are actually beginning to resemble tiny little hop flowers.

I drilled some holes in the sides of the pots to test for soil moisture and the soil in the lower half of the pot seems to be pretty wet. I decided to turn off the irrigation system for a day or two and see if the soil dries out as I don't want to lose the plant due to root rot.