Hop Production in Scotland
For the beer making fraternity the subject of hops and the merits of its various clones are of great importance. To gardeners, more bent towards ornamental plants, the growing practicalities of this climber under Scottish conditions are of more interest.
What is it? Humulus lupulus is a climber related to cannabis, and has twining stems and tiny little hooks to enable it to grip onto to any upright object it can find. It’s surprising how tough these stems are in mid season, I’m sure John Seymour would have recommended basket weaving with them!
It is a perennial, and would normally die back late in the year and send out new sprouts from a permanent root system every spring. It is a plant with purpose in several ways…the young emerging shoots can be eaten like asparagus. Professionally, four shoots are allowed to twine up from the clump of roots on 4 spaced coir strings to over 6 metres, creating a veritable vertical forest of growth by high summer.
Well cultivated ground between rows of Hops.
I have seen an organic hop farm in Kent, where the plants are grown on a little ‘hillock’ and carefully weeded by rotavator between all the plants. The height and width of a hop wiring structure is a truly impressive structure to see! I have also seen hop farms in Worcestershire, again on very good soil. Overall though, the acreage is a lot smaller in the UK than even decades ago. A good deep fertile soil is ideal, perhaps the Tay Valley is the place for a Scottish Crop? Wye college in Kent developed some dwarf varieties, so the risk of wind damage might be reduced.
In late June, on the female plants, side shoots develop from the main stems and subsequently these produce the flowers which are so prized ornamentally. You don’t want male plants or you will get seeds which are undesirable! Later the flowers form the ‘hops’ and all the stems are cut down to be taken indoors for extraction. The oast houses of Kent were once the drying rooms for the hop industry.
The hop damson aphid can be a big menace, and I’ve seen mildew on the leaves on our plant in wet summers. Apart from that we have few problems and every year our golden-leaved hop scrambles up against a sheltered shed wall and produces little hops for us.
Propagation can be by division of the whole clump of roots, or fertile seeds can be purchased if you want to have a go of growing your own. To get a particular variety of course you would need cuttings or divisions, or layer a shoot across the ground and slightly bury it to encourage rooting. There are some lovely named clones such as White Knight, Fuggles, Goldings; the RHS Plantfinder lists about 14 different sorts (page 365 ).
The golden leaved hop, Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’.
Seed grown plants can be supplied from plantswithpurpose, so what’s stopping you covering that horrible shed?
Ref: The RHS Plant Finder 2004-5, pub. By Dorling Kindersley.