Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
Hops are a wonderful addition to any homestead. It’s hard not to love this plant. Beware! Some consider this an invasive species, so research how this will work in your particular situation.
A quick word on invasive species: In many cases, “invasive species” are not really invasive at all but are simply a response from nature to our poor land-management practices. They are telling us something about the land. Is the soil compacted? Have minerals and nutrients been so depleted from the land that the invasive (pioneer) species are the only plants that will grow and contribute biomass and nutrient recycling back to the land?
In the case of hops, Humulus lupulus, there is too much goodness to not consider this addition to the homestead. The quick answer? Hops provide excellent shade, prolific forage for animals, superb medicinal benefits and, of course, they are great for home brewing beer and cider.
If you want a bit more detail and you like listening to podcasts check out Episode 112 of The Prepared Homestead Podcast.
Plant hops in a sunny location that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sun, more if possible. They prefer moist climates and do just fine in most soils. Hops are hardy down to USDA hardiness Zone 3.
However, pay particular attention to the microclimate when considering site placement. Once established, they are fairly drought-tolerant and can also stand lots of moisture. This is a hardy, easy to grow plant!
Reasons for Growing Hops
1. Hops make great shade! Hops can grow up to 25 feet long with thick heavy vines and broad leaves. If you have an area of over-exposure to sun and want to shade the space, hops work very well.
Once established, they start growing before summer arrives and are fully leafed out by peak heat in most locations. In the fall, when the weather is beginning to cool, they die back and allow the sun back in to the site.
Strategically placed hops can provide excellent shade over a pergola or trellis. Commercial trellis systems are 18 feet high, which gives the homesteader an indication as to how they could use them in certain areas.
2. Hops provide very good animal forage. The plant leaves and the hops (flower) themselves make a great animal feed supplement. I wouldn’t try to have animals subsist on hops alone, but they are a great addition that many believe improve growth performance, feed efficiency, rumen fermentation, efficiency of feed digestion, and anti-microbial activity against E. coli.
Our goats and rabbits love to snack on hops. Placed in the right area, periodic animal pressure could provide all the pruning required. This is how it works on our homestead. Our goats keep the hops from over-running the entrance to one of our gardens and this makes for a symbiotic relationship where the animals get great feed, the plant stays under control, and the humans don’t have to do as much work!
3. Hops have many traditional medicinal uses. Hops have been effectively used to help relieve nervousness (anti-anxiety), as a sleep aid, and as an aromatic bitter to aid in digestion and improve appetite.
It is not uncommon for us to grab some lemon balm, mint, and chamomile from the garden and add some dried hops to make an infusion before bed. Hops have been studied as a replacement for antibiotics in cattle with some success. Hops also display antibacterial properties, which is one of the reasons they are heavily used in brewing beer.
4. Hops are fantastic for use in home brewing of beer and cider. Keep in mind growing your own hops will take some experimentation regarding home brewing. It’s not going to be as scientific as buying hops pellets from brewing-supply companies, but it’s a lot of fun. It might be worth it to run an experiment using commercial hop pellets side by side with a batch of homegrown hops. Check out buying pellets here.
Hops are used as a preserving and flavoring agent. They are mainly used to provide bitterness and aroma to beer. In the hop flower, there are little yellow sacs called lupulin glands that hold alpha and beta acids and essential oils — the alpha compounds give brew its bitterness, the essential oils provide aroma and the beta acids are generally not desired.
In the end, growing hops is fun, easy and rewarding. Even if you have no desire to home brew, consider hops for the many other valuable reasons stated here. If you want to deep dive into growing hops, check out the Hop Grower’s Handbook by Laura Ten Eyck.
Photos by Linda Mitzel, P3 Photography
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