I started growing hops at my parents’ home in Chicago in 2008. In the summer of 2011 we moved them to Michigan and I built this trellis:
Now that it’s time for the trellis to find a new home, I’m writing up my design for posterity. Notable aspects include that it can be harvested without ascending a ladder and that the top is mounted on a tree.
Each of the three hop plants (Cascade, Mt. Hood, Centennial) has its own starting frame. It runs up the yellow chain for 5 feet, then starts climbing a line up into the trees:
The frames are a 5 foot tall 4″ x 4″ vertical post with a short 2″ x 4″ crossbar at the bottom and a longer one at the top. The ends of the bottom and top crossbars are connected by chains, allowing the hops to spread laterally as they grow out and up to the top crossbar. The chains are attached to metal eyelets at the top and hammered in with large galvanized staples at the bottom:
From the eyelets on the top crossbar, six synthetic rope lines (two from each base frame) run up to a steel ring hoisted in a tree, where they clip on with carabiners:
A pulley wheel is tied around a fork in the tree, and the ring is on a long synthetic line that runs through this pulley wheel. At harvesting time, the ring can be lowered from the ground, using the pulley, and the carabiners unclipped for transporting the bines to a picking area. Then the carabiners are reattached and the lines are raised again, all without use of a ladder.
The good and the bad
With 7 years of experience, I can comment on how the design worked.
Ease of raising and lowering: not having to climb a ladder is great.
Longevity: the entire system has held up well, including the synthetic lines, which I never took in for the winter. I don’t think jute or a similar natural twine would have lasted. One wood staple came out from a frame, which is an easy fix.
Shallow climbing angle. I should have mounted the ring higher in a tree, kept the lines tighter, or planted the hops closer to the tree. As it was, the bottom of the climbing lines flattened out under the weight of the plant and the hops needed some help to grow in the right direction. Manual training of hop plants is not uncommon, but I think a steeper climb would have avoided this.
Mowing around the trellises was tricky, both around the bases and under the lines. This meant grass and other unwanted vegetation encroached on the hops.
I was afraid I’d get tangled in the lines while sledding in my yard; this never happened, but could have.
Separate from my particular growing setup: I lost interest in growing hops. I’ve stopped training or harvesting them. A fresh hop beer is fun to make, but not worth (to me) the hassle of training and maintaining the bines. And trying to preserve and package hops for use throughout the year is tedious. They won’t stay good as long as professionally-packed hops from the store (I know: in one season before I had kids, I spent hours and hours drying my hops and turning them into plugs). Once the charm of growing them wore off, it made no sense to spend my time on growing instead of buying pounds in bulk.
2018-08-23: kegged. I hadn’t stirred in the leaf hops and they had formed a thick layer on top, with the top half being dry. So the practical impact of the dry-hopping will be less than 4 oz for 5 days.
The cider itself was clean but dull before dry-hopping. To test the idea of dry-hopping, I’d pulled a 1 liter sample and added the equivalent of 4 oz Mosiac per 5 gallons. The result was fascinating, like a white wine with tropical fruit notes.
I’ve become inconsistent with taking final gravities, especially if the batch is many months old or is being stabilized. Here it’s both, and I never measured the FG. Let’s assume it’s 1.000 which would be an ABV of 6.5%.
Quick active fermentation. Racked about 16 gallons into the barrel a few weeks later, reserving one 5 gallon share to drink clean.
One participant in the barrel project wasn’t able to participate this round, so we covered his share by adding a carboy of 2-year-old Quadrupel ale I had lying around. It was too dull and boozy to drink and had become slightly oxidized. This will slightly boost the SRM of the combined beer and the other 90% of the fresh beer should cover up the oxidation notes.