For some reason WordPress has been having problems with my pictures lately. Sorry about that, I’ll work on getting it fixed.
I am the proud owner of one vigorous Cascade hop plant. What you’re seeing is just a tiny fraction that has sprouted up through a hole in the landscaping fabric. I bought it about four years ago and put it at the south end of our gravel patio. Someday I hope to train it up over a pergola to shade one of the great goals in my life: a wood-fired outdoor oven. The oven has yet to appear, but the hop plant is doing its thing admirably.
If you’ve never been around hops, they have largish leaves that resemble serrated maple leaves. The leaves grow on bines (bines, not vines in this case) that can easily reach 30′ in length. They also grow fast, up to a foot a day in the heat of summer, so they make you feel like a really good gardener as well as provide a substantial amount of summer shade quickly if they’re trained upwards.
Last year the cones weren’t ready until mid-September, but this year most of them matured around late August. The bines are covered with microscopic barbed hairs, which give most people – including me, a rash. You can either wear gloves to pick them or just wash and slather on aloe when you’re done.
The cones are ready to pick when they feel light and papery. If you pull one apart inside you should large deposits of yellow powder. This is called lupulin, and it is what lends beer its hoppy flavors.
As I picked I packed the hops directly into freezer bags, about four oz. per bag. I squeezed all the air out, wrapped them in a black garbage bag and put them in the deep freeze surrounded by gallons of water. The idea is to keep a constant temperature around the hops, unaffected by light and the open/close of the freezer door. They will keep their brewability for about a year.
Since I’m not a microbrewer last year I gave my entire harvest to a friend, this year I thought I would try to sell some so I have listed them on my etsy page, put up a craigslist ad and a few bulletin boards. I have 12 four ounce bags – to date – from the one plant. It can be hard to find fresh local hops in the small amounts required by homebrewers, plus buying them locally saves the cost of shipping. I will also be dividing the mother plant and starting some smaller ones for sale in the spring.
If you are interested in trying a hop plant of your own it is worth asking around to find out what varieties do well in your area. Here in northern Michigan, most of the “C” hops do well, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, etc.