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Grow Hops the Homesteader's Way

Growing hops isn't just for big breweries. For us who till the soil and cherish the land, hops can add a new dimension to our homesteads. They're great for crafting your own beer, sure, but there's so much more to these versatile plants. You can incorporate hops into almost any diversified farming enterprise - as food for livestock, food for humans, or as an addition to value-added products. In the spirit of self-sufficiency, let's explore why hops deserve a spot on your land and how to cultivate them for more than just their brewing potential.

Hops: Not Just for Beer Anymore

Hops love the same basic things all plants do: plenty of sunshine, a good feed from the soil, and enough water to keep them happy. They have a main root that goes deep for water and nutrients and side roots that help stabilize and feed the plant. The bines, which are like vines, will need a strong to climb as they can get quite tall. But hops are versatile climbers; they can grow horizontally or diagonally - not just vertically - to achieve the height needed for maturity and old bones left in place will create natural trellises for next years growth.

Hops are not just a one-trick pony offering cones for beer. They have a lot more to offer your homestead. Hops can be used in herbal remedies for their calming properties, and their vigorous growth can provide quick green cover for trellises or unsightly areas, making them both useful and ornamental.

The First Year is Key

Remember, the first year you plant hops is not about getting a big yield of cones. It's about letting those roots get settled and strong to support the plant for many seasons. Water them well, especially as they get established, and feed them a good fertilizer to encourage that root growth. Think of it like investing in the foundation of a house – what you do now will determine the strength and productivity of the plant for years to come. It’s this first year that sets up your hops to produce well, resist pests and diseases, and withstand drought if it comes.

What type of fertilizer works for hops? The fertilizer produced on your farm is the best fertilizer for the hops on your farm. Homesteaders and small farmers have become champions of sustainable agriculture that regenerates the soil and places humans as one component of complex ecosystems. Hops love compost, manure tea, and other types of natural fertilizers just as much as other garden plants.

Picking the Right Spot

Choosing the right spot for your hops is crucial. Full sun is best, and well-drained soil is essential to prevent root rot. But you've also got to be strategic about your space. Hops can grow to be 20 feet tall or more, so they can form a natural canopy over a seating area or alongside a porch where you could use some shade in the summer. Not only does this create a cool spot to relax, but the hops themselves benefit from the air circulation that open spaces provide, which can help keep disease at bay.

Hops also thrive on the edges and boundary areas. In the wild, hops are commonly found along roadsides and railroad tracks. Planting a hops plant on the far edge of your planting area is a great way to test the plant while giving it space to thrive.

Hops on the Homestead

On a homestead, hops can do more than just grow; they can work for you. By planting them next to brambles, you're creating a symbiotic relationship. The brambles help to aerate the soil and provide a prickly natural barrier against predation, while the hops can help shade the brambles from intense summer sun.

Benefits for the Critters

Not only can hops be a boon for your garden, but they can also be a treat for your livestock. Animals like chickens and goats may enjoy the leaves as part of a varied diet. Some farmers believe that the natural compounds in hops can help keep their livestock calm and healthy, though you should always check which parts of the hop plant are safe for the specific animals on your farm. Integrating hops into your animal husbandry practices can help reduce waste, as you can use more parts of the plant and provide some variety for your livestock.

Learn More Tips and Tricks

Sure, we've touched on the basics, but there's a whole heap more to know about growing hops. For those who want to get into the nitty-gritty of hop cultivation, our eBook "Every Homestead Needs a Hops Plant" is chock-full of practical advice to jumpstart your hops journey.

There are hundreds of books on hops and thousands of blog articles. Check out our reading list for the books we found most helpful. There are books like the Hop Grower's Handbook that describe everything from trellises to signs of nutrient deficiency. There are books that discuss the various aromas of cones or how to integrate hops with other botanicals in cooking and cocktails. You can buy those books from Amazon but none of them cover the material found in our eBook "Every Homestead Needs a Hops Plant." Everything in the eBook is a finding from our own research and hops growing operations.

Curious about the eBook? Click here to learn more. Whether you’ve been farming for years or you’re just starting to turn over your first patch of soil, hops are a fantastic addition to any homestead, and our guide can help you make the most of them.

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