Hops, along with water, grains, and yeast, are the main ingredients in beer. Hops are small, cone-like flowers that add bitterness and aroma to beer. Although many different types and varieties of hops exist -- each of which imparts a distinct flavor or aroma -- they can all be grown in the same types of climates. Be warned, however, that your own local soil and growing practices will influence the quality of the hops grown.
Hop plants can be grown in any moderate climate. The major requirements for being able to grow hop plants are a minimum of 120 consecutive days without frost, significant rainfall (can be approximated via watering or irrigation) and an abundance of warm, sunny days. Hop plants can be grown throughout the continental U.S.
The hop shoots, which are similar to grape vines, can grow up to 25 feet long in their very first year, so it is important to give them space and something to grow around. A traditional wooden trellis can be used for this purpose, as can a pole, rope or a fence. Hop plants also require between six to eight hours of sunlight per day.Hops grow best in loose, well drained soil. Sand and peat moss can be blended to make quality soil in which to grow hops.
For the brewing hobbyist, hop plants are grown primarily using hop rhizomes. Hop rhizomes can be bought in early spring at most brewing supply stores. Once the threat of frost has passed, create a small mound of suitable soil, roughly one foot high, and plant your hop rhizome about 4 inches into this mound. The purpose of the mound is to help with drainage. When planting your rhizome, make sure to place the root side in the ground. Water your hops daily in warmer temperatures.
Your hops will be ready to be harvested in late summer. The hops will have a strong odor, and the cones of the hops will be dry to the touch when they are ready to be harvested. If you are still not sure if your hops are ready to be harvested, pick a hop and tear it open. If it is filled with a yellow powder, the hops are ready to be harvested. Place the picked hops in a dark place for a week or two to dry out. Do not expose them to sunlight once they have been picked. Once hops are dried, they can be stored in a freezer until you are ready to use them.