To source hops for its RVA IPA, Hardywood Park gets by with a little help from its friends. Those friends are regular residents of the Richmond, Va. area, who receive hop rhizomes (rootstocks) from the brewery, take them home to plant, and then return the hops at harvest time to the brewery. This is the fifth year for the brewery’s Community Hop Project, which kicks off annually in April.
Beginning this week, the brewery encourages interested people to swing by and pick up rhizomes (up to three varieties: Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial), then plant them at home. Brewer Brian Nelson says hop growing at home is doable, even for newbies.
“If you have a good sunny place with a south-facing wall or tree for them to climb on, that’s the best place for them to grow,” Nelson says. “As long as you train them up a trellis or rope, they’ll do their own thing and grow to about 20 feet tall. They need nitrogen rich soil with not too much water, but enough to get through the hot end of the Virginia summer.”
Hardywood hopes the Community Hop Project really does involve many members of the community; a Facebook page set up for the project allows home growers to share what conditions are working for them. Commercial growers including Piedmont Hops and Huegenot Hops chime in, too, to offer tips.
After hop vines spend the summer in the sun, Hardywood puts out a call in August or September asking growers to harvest them and return the fresh hops to the brewery.
“The first year you don’t expect too much. You’ll grow maybe a few ounces, but the third year is pretty good if you really take care of them,” Nelson says. “Last year, we took in 70 pounds total. Some people bring them in in five gallon buckets, some bring just a few in Ziploc bags.”
Because the harvest is variable, Hardywood brewers never know exactly which and how many hops they’ll end up with.
“We sort of have to play the brewing of this beer by ear and schedule it depending on the weather. Everyone who has the hops brings them in on Saturday or Sunday and we brew on Monday morning. We don’t know exactly how much we’re getting of each hop varietal, so it’s up to us to figure out where they enter in the boil. It’s fun in that respect.”
To sign up to participate, fill out the Community Hop Project form.