By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News
Throughout the year, the Multnomah County Library offers informational classes on a variety of subjects. The classes, which are free and focus on everything from basic computer skills to resume writing, are offered at various library branches throughout the system.
One such class, Grow Your Own Hops taught by Pat Leavy, was held in March at the Albina Library, 3605 N.E. 15th Ave. During the class, Leavy explained about plants, trellis requirements, fertility, common pests and harvest.
Leavy, a tall and easy going fellow with a pillow of silver-white hair, knows hops like the back of his hand. He’s been raising hops for the past 38 years on his family farm located south of Portland near Champoeg State Park. Leavy’s 200-acre farm has been in the family since 1912. He grows organic and non-organic hops, and he was the first person in Oregon to grow organic hops, receiving certification in 2007.
According to Leavy, as far as their root system, hops are perennial plants but hop bines, which grow above ground, die back to the ground every year. Bines refer to plants that climb by their shoots, growing in a helix around a support. Vines use tendrils or suckers to climb. Hops typically grow about 24 feet high. On a hot day, they can grow three or four inches.
“Basically, you’re growing a tree every year,” explained Leavy. “In order to get a good crop, you have to get each bine as tall as possible.”
You also need to plant them four feet apart from each other. Otherwise, one hops plant will shade the others. To support your fast-growing hops, a stout trellis system is needed. Leavy recommended trellises that are 18 feet tall. If that is not possible, the hops can be grown up to ten feet in height and then directed to grow horizontally on the trellis.
Each plant will send up two or three bines that wrap around a sturdy string.
“Hops like to grow clockwise,” Leavy said. “If you try to wrap it counter-clockwise, they will fall down.”
Each cutting needs to be planted in early April, which is when already established plants should be cut close to the ground. By late May, the hops plants will have grown to about ten feet in height.
“By the end of May, the length of the day is long enough to stop the plants from blooming,” said Leavy. “The plant will stay vegetative. That’s the key to growing hops. It’s all about matching up with the day length.”
As the days shorten, the plants dehydrate and die back. The harvest window of a month or so stretches from the middle of August to the end of September. The day length is more important than the amount of rain or sun. Some varieties of hops ripen earlier and some later but each variety will ripen at the same time every year like clockwork, determined by the length of the day.
At one point, Leavy broke open a hops cone, releasing a pungent, slightly bitter smell. Each hops plant can produce more than two pounds of hops cones, enough for a barrel of craft brew. A barrel contains 31 gallons, which equals two kegs of beer. The hops need to be dried, which can be done with a dehydrator. Ideally, the dried hops retain 10 percent moisture.
There’s a hop aphid that can be treated with a special soap. Downy mildew may also need to be dealt with.
In addition to making beer, hops also are used in herbal teas, shampoos and even pillows. Some people claim hops help you to sleep better.
For more information, see theoregonhophouse.com.