What I love about this hobby is that you can expend as much energy and money as you want. Or as little as you want. Or, you can start simple, and get more complex over the years. If you’re thinking about growing hops, here’s my advice: Get your favorite hop rhizome, put it in the dirt, and let it grow. Around September or so, when the hop is big and slightly dry but not brown, pick them, and throw them in a beer you’re making. That’s called a ‘harvest’ ale. Or, dry them out, and store them in airtight bags in the freezer. That’s pretty much my hop growing and harvesting process. It’s easy, fun, and saves significant money (hops are the most expensive ingredient).
The hop plant, it’s important to remember, is essentially an invasive vine. It will grow all by itself, thank you very much. It will not only grow, but will grow vigorously and fast, and get bigger each year. So I don’t feed them special stuff, or worry too much about watering them (although I occasionally do). I did build a simple little box for them, which keeps the plant and soil contained. But a pile of dirt would work just as well. They also like to climb up strings, but that’s also optional. I’ve heard of people letting them grow like a giant bush. As you can tell from the picture, I train them to climb up strings, first vertical strings and then horizontal.
When September rolls along, and feel them with my fingers. If they are slightly dry, and have a subtle newspaper crunch when I squeeze them, I go ahead and pick (it’s tempting to pick them too soon, so that’s something to worry about). If you want to save them for later, I dry them in a food dehydrator for a few hours or so. Although a similar method is to place them on a screen of some sort (like a window screen), and let them naturally dry out for a few days. I have done that in my garage with success.
Because you don’t know the alpha acids in your homegrown hops, it might be a good idea to dry hop with them. That way you get all the flavor and aroma without the bitterness. When it comes to DIY projects that make sense, this one is a no-brainer.