Grow your own hops with tips from Michigan Fresh

Michigan State University Extension’s Michigan Fresh fact sheet on Growing Hops provides advice for budding growers.

Hop plant

Hop plant

One could make the argument that local beer is a pretty big deal in Michigan. Michigan ranks sixth in the nation for craft breweries, and, according to Brewers Association, Michigan’s brewers produce 769,897 barrels of craft beer each year. Michigan is also leading the way in the farm-to-glass movement with increasing production and research on locally-grown hops and malting barley. A recent study by Michigan State University Extension found that Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for hop production, and a significant portion of those hops are sold directly to brewers.

Hops are the flowers, usually called cones, of female hop plants which have the Latin name Humulus lupulus. Hop plants are dioecious, which means that male and female flowers grow on separate plants. Only the female cones are used in brewing. In the past, people used hop cones to make paper and medicine. They also added it to salads. Most notably though, hops was used to make beer. Whether you are a farmer, a homebrewer or a curious gardener, growing hops can be rewarding and delicious.

Hop plants have a perennial root system called a crown, so once planted they come back year after year. The above ground portions of a hop plant dies back each year. To properly flower and produce the most cones, hop plants need long days and short nights during the growing season. Hops also require winter temperatures below 40 degree Fahrenheit for one to two months— definitely not a problem here in the Great Lakes State. Hop cones grow on bines—no, that’s not a typo for “vine”. Bines are long twining stems that grow up from the hop plant’s crown. Hop plants can be started by purchasing root cuttings, called rhizomes, or propagated plants. New hops should be planted in the spring, late April to early May in most of Michigan, though some growers have experimented with planting in the early fall and had success.

Hop plants grow incredibly fast. Given the right conditions, bines can grow 4 to 10 inches a day. A trellis system is required to support this growth. To grow well, hops require supplemental irrigation and regular nitrogen applications. MSU Extension recommends 4 to 6 gallons per plant per day during June and July when the plants are growing rapidly. Each plant also requires about 4 ounces of actual nitrogen, which should be applied as 4 split applications from the time of emergence in April until vegetative growth ends and reproductive growth beings in early July.

In late June, hop plants develop sideways branches and produce clusters of 0.5-inch to 4-inch papery green cones. The hops harvest in Michigan generally happens between late August and the end of September. 

Hops are generally ready for harvest when:

  • The outside scales feel papery and dry.
  • The lupulin, or powde, found inside the cone is dark yellow.
  • A cone that is crushed by hand stays compressed when the pressure is removed and leaves behind a sticky residue and a strong aroma.

If you want to try growing hops, the four-page Michigan Fresh Growing Hops fact sheet has many more tips, including choosing hop varieties, siting a hop yard, ideal growing conditions, growing process, managing diseases and pests, and harvesting and drying the cones. For additional information, visit the Hops page at MSU Extension’s website.

Michigan Fresh helps people explore the state’s bounty of fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats and more. Find factsheets plus much more information on our website. You can also find and follow Michigan Fresh on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

MSU Extension’s Community Food Systems Work Team supports the development of local food systems in Michigan. For more information connect with your local community food systems educator by visiting http://www.msue.anr.msu.edu or calling 1-888-678-3464.