Growing Hops in Sonoma County - Again
Hops once thrived in Sonoma County from about 1880 to 1960. They did well producing an average of 8 bales of dried hops – equivalent to about 5,000 lbs. of fresh hops per acre. The industry moved up north into Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, however, for several reasons. Primarily because low-cost land with plenty of water was available, more northern latitudes increased yields, disease pressure was lower there due to a drier climate, and mechanical harvest allowed large-scale farms to thrive.
Sonoma County’s advantage now would be to supply the trendy micro-brew market with freshly harvested hops that could go into specialty beers that tout local ingredients and sell for a higher price. Right now fresh hops are being purchased at $8.00 per pound and the beers they go into are bringing an additional $0.50-1.00 per glass. Fresh hops are very delicate and only keep for about 48-72 hours. They should be forced-air cooled immediately after harvest and stored at 33-34oF so they don’t start to mold.
Pictures are worth a thousand words. See hops through various stages; from young plant to finished pellets.
The perishability of fresh hops and their special ability to add powerful, complex, floral hop aromas will require the brewer and hop grower to work together developing a relationship that influences the choices of variety, growing methods, harvest dates, and handling procedures.
For good production:
- Hops require plenty of irrigation water and well-drained soil
- The hop vines are typically trained up onto twine hung from cables attached to 18 ft. tall poles spaced about 12 x 28 ft. apart
- The hop plants themselves are spaced about 3 ft. x 12 ft. apart, but can be spaced closer together when narrow tractors are used
- They are quite tolerant of a range of soil pH, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, and magnesium levels, but they like lots of nitrogen and can be grown organically with adequate supplies of compost and nitrogen fixing cover crops
A handful of local small-scale hop growers have formed an alliance to share information and to cooperatively manage the purchase and use of a harvesting machine. See Associations & Grower Groups below.
Costs & Feasibility
- Overview, History, Economics & Feasibility of Growing Hops on the North Coast of California by Paul Vossen, Specialty Crops Advisor, UCCE Sonoma County, 2016
- Estimated Cost of Producing Hops in Yakima, Washington by Washington State University, 2010
- Hop Harvest and Drying presentation by Jason Perrault, 2016
- Small Scale & Organic Hops Production Manual by Rebecca Kneen of Left Fields about her adventures planting and growing hops in BC, Canada 2004
- USDA Hop Production Manual an excellent historical perspective 1961
- North West Hop Quality Group presentation about hop usage and the goals of their group with members in Washington, Oregon & Idaho
- Hop Botany and Physiology presentation by Jason Perrault, 2016
- Hop Growers of America Variety Manual 2014
- Hop Culture in California 1985
Integrated Pest Management
- WSU Integrated Pest Management Improvements in Hops by USDA 2015
- Field Guide to Integrated Pest Management of Hops by Washington State University 2015
Associations & Grower Groups
- Master Brewers Association of the Americas
- NorCal Hop Growers Alliance - An organized collective to help with marketing, tool sharing, labor sharing, price control, and larger hop contract fulfillment. Working together to make Sonoma County a great hop growing region once again. Norcalhopgrowersalliance.org
- Purdue Extension Hops publications and videos
- Warm Spring Wind Hop Farm located west of Sebastopol, a member of the NorCal Hop Growers Alliance.
- USA Hop Growers Association
- B-Hoppy hop candy