June 4, 2013

Hop Garden Reload 2013

For the past three years or so I've been trying to grow hops with disastrous results. In 2011 we had one of the hottest summers on record and between the insane heat and a stroll-through by locusts my plants were all decimated and ended up dying off. In 2012 it was less hot and while I actually had some good growth going on the locusts showed up with reinforcements and destroyed what solid growth I had. I also overwatered some of the rhizomes and killed them off.

This year I have growth from my two rhizomes from last year, sterling and mt. hood, and replaced two failed spots with nugget and cascade. I am working off of my same grow bag/raised box design from last year.
The rhizomes are buried in five gallon grow bags, which are basically thick five gallon trash bags with holes in the bottom, full of garden soil blended with manure compost. The grow bags are then put into a giant wood box that is filled in with wood mulch so it has the appearance of being a single raised bed but the grow bags keep the moisture around the hops and prevent both the roots from strangling each other and the other plants in the box and I can prevent runners from getting out of control. In a few years I plan on moving so this will allow me to take the plants with me and I can plant them in wine barrel planters because it's very difficult to grow things in the soil here.

One concern with intentionally limiting the growth of the root system is limiting the plant's ability to grow up and produce a good yield. While I don't like the idea of giving up part of a potential harvest the trade off of being able to grow several varieties in a compact area makes up for losing some of the potential yield out of each plant. I don't use so much of any one or two hops that it would make sense to commit the space I have in this box to one or two varieties and let the crown grow as large as it wants. In the coming years when I move to a new house I may reconsider.

I'm growing other plants with the hops in the same space to make the most out of the space and provide a mutually beneficial relationship. I grow rosemary and a few vegetables in their own grow bags. These other plants help provide some shade over the base of the hops to keep the roots cool. As the hop bines grow they will (hopefully) grow into a canopy over the vegetables and keep everything from getting too hot in the blazing summer sun. One problem I am having is that my tomato plants are forming a thick bush (but no tomatoes) and doing a little too good of a job blocking off the mt. hood sitting behind the tomato. Perhaps even worse, the squash plant is an aphid magnet and they are not only demolishing the squash plant but also spreading to the hops. I am fighting them off with organic pesticides and water. Fortunately, the destructive locusts have not appeared. Yet.

I meant to get some pictures of the bines as they were growing along the way but I have been busy with work and too lazy to take pictures so I only have some very recent pictures. Fortunately I am getting good growth this year so at least the pictures are slightly more interesting than last year where I had a couple bines with a few feet of stunted growth.

These are my second year mount hood hops. They have been doing ok so far, they are about five feet tall. The growth has started to slow so I hit it with some fertilizer today. There's two main bines with several smaller bines trying to grow up.

This is my second year sterling. As you can sort of see, it's not doing great. It's only about three feet tall. The tip died back after getting chewed on by a caterpillar. I also added fertilizer so I am hoping that will give it a boost to start growing quickly.

In this crappy picture you can see the twine trellis and that is cascade that is growing horizontally. The bine sort of in the middle is nugget and there is another nugget bine hiding out next to the cascade bine. The rightmost bine is the cascade and there is another smaller cascade bine I didn't get in the picture.

Overall, these are not very interesting pictures but it's exciting to me because I've never gotten this much growth. I'll update some pictures as the burrs start to develop.

Seeing how bushy the bines are I'm thinking next year I will probably limit the other vegetation around the hops to a few small pepper plants. The squash and tomato plants seem to be covering too much of the hops and I think it's having a negative effect on the mount hood and the cascade I didn't get in the picture. Plus, I'm not getting any edible growth out of the squash or tomatoes, so it's sort of a lose-lose right now.


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