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I Found Dr. Greenthumb

Back in the beginning of June, during our Hopinions series, I asked Pete for some help with my hop vines which didn’t want to grow too much. While my hops have decided to stay small, and are essentially a failure, Bill Velek stepped up and provided some very useful information.  You can follow the link I provided before, or just read below. 

I just happened across your blog, so I hope I’m not too late to help. I have 24 plants, most of which are thriving. I don’t know if “Dr. Greenthumb” is a member of my Yahoo ‘Grow-Hops’ group, but I’m pretty sure that the professors who taught him are. ;-) Our current membership of 3,046 members includes many commercial growers, as well as home-growers who have grown hops for many years. If you can’t get nearly immediately responses to urgent questions that you post on our forum, we have a searchable archive of 9,054 messages. We have hundreds of links to excellent hop-growing articles, files, photos, etc. If you join and don’t want the heavy email traffic, you have the option of receiving a single daily digest or to not receive any emails at all. To join us, please visit my website for more info.

Now, before commenting upon your question about watering, my first reaction is a question about the picture of your hops; you appear to have mulched with wood chips, or perhaps bedding material for hamsters and such. Is that redwood? … cedar? … or perhaps pine that has just been dyed? The reason I ask is that I’m wondering if it has affected the pH of your soil. I don’t know how long it would take to do that, if ever, but it strikes me as a possibility. One of the recent posts in our group discusses how to test your own soil pH, which you can do with a regular brewing pH meter, and I _suppose_ that you ought to also be able to use pH paper that you can get from a brew shop. Or you could submit a soil sample to your county cooperative extension office. I will also comment that wood, as it decomposes, draws nitrogen out of your soil — although the hops in your picture do not show any signs of nitrogen deficiency; I do not recommend using wood-chips as mulch, but using well-rotted compost instead. The ‘fabric’ that is made for use as a weed barrier is also good, although you probably already have that underneath your wood chips.

It does not look — in the picture — like you have formed a mound for your rhizome. This is _recommended_ although probably not absolutely necessary, considering that no one builds mounds for wild hops. The purpose of the mound is to facilitate draining after watering, which will happen in the wild without mounds so long as it is the right type of soil on enough of a slope to naturally provide the same effect for typical rainfall. Without mounds or those conditions, it is possible that your rhizomes are rotting from too much moisture.

It is also possible that the variety of hops you’ve selected will not grow well in your particular area. For instance, my Fuggles and Cascade do very well here in Arkansas and are huge and loaded with cones; my Centennial do marginally okay; my Magnums struggle — and I’ve had one die — and I will probably replace them with something else next year. All varieties grow under the exact same conditions, but obviously the Magnums don’t like it in Arkansas.

Now for the watering; until the past couple of days, we have been having a drought in my area. Temperatures usually in the mid to high 90’s, sometimes over 100 degrees, practically no rain for close to a month — and substantially less than normal since early spring. I water twice per week, but with good long, _DEEP_ waterings, and of course all of my plants are in mounds. That has worked well for me. Some growers use drip irrigation; I have wanted to do that, but have never found the time or money. I also apply some Miracle Grow every couple of weeks; be careful to not over do it with fertilizer because too much nitrogen will cause a lot of leaf growth but reduce your yield of cones.

I hope that helps a little.


Bill Velek

Bill is apparently a wealth of knowledge when it comes to growing hops and I have to give out a link to his site.  Everyone who homebrews and wants a source for hops growing information (and other homegrown brewing items), visit Bill’s website:

Grow Hops…and Brewing-Herbs and Barley

By the way Bill, Dr Greenthumb is a Cypress Hill reference, but I don’t think they were growing hops.  And if you’re ever in Santa Rosa, I owe you a beer.

The little hop that couldn't. Not dead, but not doing well. The other one vine looks very similar.