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.

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