Homebrewing is a hobby that many enjoy. For those who also enjoy gardening, it is a natural progression to grow one's own crops for brewing, known as "scratch brewing." While hops (Humulus lupulus) are a very popular ingredient for the home-brewer, many other brewing crops can be grown at home, including grains and flavorful herbs.
When growing hops, it is important to start small. Since the plants are perennial, your good gardening practice will carry over to next season. It may be helpful to experiment with a few varieties in your first year to get a sense of what will work well for your garden. In terms of selecting herbs for homebrewing, you can be creative! Many plants found in herb gardens can be incorporated into beer recipes.
For a fantastic list of hops varieties, herb suggestions and recipes, please refer to the wonderful book by Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher--The Homebrewer's Garden (listed to the right). Here are some of the hops varities you will find.
"Select an area with plenty of sun. Hops need at least 6 - 8 hours of direct sun a day, so the south facing side of your home or an exposed site is a good location. Hop vines (called bines) can grow to over 25 feet and weigh over 20 pounds, so vertical space for a trellis is important as well.
"Hops prefer well-aerated soil that is rich in nutrients and has good drainage. If you are going to plant several varieties, keep them well separated in your garden. Hop roots will spread quickly and take over the garden unless you separate them and trim the roots each season.
"Hops should be planted in the spring, late enough to avoid a frost. Fertilize liberally before planting. Plant your hops in a mound and aerate the ground by turning it over several times to aid drainage, enhance growth and prevent disease. Place the rhizomes about 4 inches deep, and make your mound of soil about a foot high to aid drainage. Place the root side of the rhizome down. Cover the mound with some straw or light mulch to inhibit the weeds.
"The hop bines grow vertically and require some kind of trellis. Your trellis could be some heavy rope or twine going from ground level to your roof, or a few poles securely mounted in the ground. If using rope, select rough twine-like rope so the bines can grab onto it. Keep in mind that the hop bines can be 25+ feet long and weigh 20+ pounds. The trellis should be strong and secure.
"Hops also enjoy lots of water and sunlight. In the dry climates or the heat of summer, they may need to be watered daily. Once the hops begins to grow, select the best bines and wrap them around your trellis to train them. You will need to train the hops for a few days, but eventually they will begin growing in a clockwise direction from east to west around your trellis. Train the best shoots and trim the rest off."
There are many different herbs that can be used for homebrewing. The herb you use should be known to be edible, but with that caveat, variety is certainly the spice of life. For a wonderful list of brewing herbs, please refer to The Homebrewer's Garden. For some common herb garden plants, please visit our Herbal Delights Guide.
(1) Growing Hops in the Garden-How to Grow Beer Hops. (n.d.). From https://www.scribd.com/document/2515852/Growing-Hops-in-the-Garden-How-to-Grow-Beer-Hops