Tom and I had a long discussion last night about growing hops.
As you know, Tom has been making beer. And it looks like he'll continue and make it a regular every three-month project. He's really enjoying trying different hops for different flavors, and he'd like to grow his own hops.
I'm ok with that. In fact I have researched it. But hops require a good deal of growing space - they are vines and grow quite tall - and also they tend to spread underneath the ground via their rhizomes. So I never could think of a good place to put them in our (already packed) small yard.
As we were talking, I wondered out loud if you could grow hops horizontally somehow rather than vertically. So we searched that, and lo and behold, there are lots of people growing hops sideways on trellises. Then we wondered if they could be grown in containers, and sure enough, they can be. Which made us think more about our backyard patio.
We have a shade 'sail' over our outdoor table that was very economical but that has never worked perfectly. It needs to attach in all four corners, and we don't really have anything tall enough in our back yard to attach it to. Our house is one story, and two of the corners are attached there. The only trees we have in this particular spot are fruit trees and one large privet that we've allowed to grow because it provides nice shade back there (plus the bees love the flowers). So one corner is attached to the privet and one to our peach tree, which tends to lean over quite a bit when leashed to the sail. Hence, the sail is quite low, causing Tom (and Adam, and anyone over 5'5") to have to duck under. Not a perfect solution.
What if we could make sort of container/trellis for the patio? The hops could grow up to say, ten feet, then across, making a living canopy for us to picnic under? The vines would get full sun all summer and provide shade for us, then would be cut back in the winter, allowing more sun to reach the patio when we are chilled. It's kind of the perfect solution.
I'm envisioning three half-barrels, like old wine barrels, something with heft, on each side. Maybe even on four sides. With a tall post going up from each container, and then forming a sort of "T" at the top. Then heavy twine or wire going across to the other side. If we did four sides, it would form a sort of cross-hatch in the middle. It could be very pretty, or it could be very rickety. Seems like this would be a good project to design using Sketch Up.
Then I wondered if hop flowers would be good for the bees. It seems that the flowers are wind-pollinated, and do not produce nectar, but do produce pollen, which of course the bees collect as their protein source. Then, upon further research, I found a scientific article from the Yale Environmental Review about the positive effects of hops on destroying varroa mite! Here's a link to the article - but to sum up: "The use of HBA (hop beta acids) to combat varroa mites may aid in drastically improving the health, vitality, and robustness of honey bee populations." This sealed the deal for me!
So, this is yet another project slated for President's Day weekend, along with building and planting the raised beds for perennial veg and herbs over in the Understory Garden. We're trying to find a reputable place to buy hop rhizomes, and here's where you come in: We'd love a local California source, preferably organic. So far, I can only find out-of-state rhizomes and most wouldn't be shipped until April. We'd very much like to get started earlier than that!
Plus, if any of you grow hops, and/or keep bees along with those hops, we'd love to benefit from your experience. Please share with us!