When we first started this project we decided to start by growing six test plots to determine which variety of hops would grow best in our soil conditions. We chose to go with the traditional method of using a center pole to support the trellis for the hops to climb up when they start to grow vigorously..
Laying out the hop circles
The hop circles were laid out using a trimmer tied to a string which was tied to a stake in the middle of the circle.
Digging the holes
After we had laid out the hop circles it was time to dig the holes for the center poles. For this task we borrowed a PTO driven post hole auger from a neigbour to dig the 4 foot deep holes in our clay loam soil. Much faster then trying to dig them by hand.
Preparing and putting up the poles
Once the holes were dug it was time to put up the 20 foot cedar poles. The trusty Land Rover came in handy to bring the poles to the site on the trailer. Because the center poles are 16 feet tall we were determined not to use a ladder to attach the trellis so we designed a pulley system at the top of the pole which is used to raise and lower a "hops wheel" with 6 spokes to which the twine will be tied as a trellis for the hop vines.
Preparing the soil for planting
Time to prepare the soil for planting the hops. Our dependable 30-year old Troy rototiller comes in handy to till a 4 ft wide bed around the circle. Our soil test indicated that the soil was a little too acidic for growing hops so we sweetened the soli by applying dolomitic lime. We also applied our own organic compost to the hole that we dug into which the hop rhizome was planted.
Planting the hops
We decided to experiment with an organic paper mulch to cover the 3 foot area around the hops plant and mulch the rest of the circle with straw mulch.. We quickly discovered that the paper mulch was not compatible with the straw mulch as it quickly decomposed where it touched the mulch. It is supposed to last for at least 6 months before it biodegrades into the soil, but here it was happening much sooner.
Raising the hops wheel
It didn't take long for some of the hops to start looking for a trellis to climb up so we needed to add the twines and try raising the wheel.. We decided to try using short 18 inch cedar stakes, driven a foot into the ground, to secure the twine at ground level and then just knot the twine at the top spoke of the wheel. Once the 6 twines were secured to the spokes the wheel was raised into position and then we secured the twines to the stakes.
Training and pruning the vines
Once the hops vines are about 3 feet long they need to be trained to grow up the trellis twine. Each crown can produce dozens of shoots so we needed to be ruthless to pick the 2 or 3 strongest ones to reach maturity and prune the rest off at soil level.