I spent some time the last couple of days weeding my hop yard. Mind you, this is a 5-foot by 25-foot parcel of land on one side of my home that mostly serves as access to the gas meters. Over the years, I have managed to create plots for hop vines that get trellised both up against the house and, on the opposing side, up against a fence along the property line that is sadly leaning and needs some support.
There are weedy grasses (which could also be thought of as grassy weeds) that tend to overgrow the hop beds during the winter dormancy season, so I spent some time the last two days first knocking down the overgrowth with a weed whacker and then hand-weeding the actual hop beds. While there are soil-level plastic barriers that prevent rhizome incursions from the weeds, they will seed themselves over that barrier which then requires some hand-weeding to remove them from the actual hop beds. This is an annual exercise that reminds me of what gardening is all about: creating tilth! That's a great word, and a unique one. Tilth is the quintessential word signifying fertile soil. Soil with good tilth is fertile.
Next after the weeding, some fertilization is called for once a bit of soil cultivation had been done to give it some access to below-surface levels. Hops are heavy feeders! Last year, they got a good layer of bone meal, which supplies phosphorus about twice the level of nitrogen and tends to stay available in the soil for a few years -- phosphorus has the dual advantage of promoting root growth (and hops have extensive roots) whle also promoting flowering (which is what we're after, the flowers!).
This year, they got a liberal addition of greensand: This is a mined sandstone high in potassium and with some trace elements; it is also a soil conditioner that absorbs and re-releases moisture, perfect for maintaining even soil moisture for the hop roots. And it turns out that hops really like potassium. On top of that, the annual top-dressing of dried blood (aka blood meal), which is all nitrogen, and a liberal layer of compost on top of it all. Yes, this is an organic hop garden -- no synthetic fertilizers, and no pesticides whatsoever. Then a good deep watering, and pretty soon I'll need to run the trellis strings! The drip watering system will help keep things copacetic during the remainder of the growing season, run overnight about twice a week. I have a couple of vacant plots that I may fill with a cutting from one of the vigorous varieties.
I'll look forward to seeing the hop shoots launch themselves skyward over the next few weeks, sometimes at the rate of several inches a day: Cascade, Nugget, Santiam, Crystal, Columbus, Chinook, and, for sentimental reasons, Fuggle, although it never yields more than a handful of flower cones. The Fuggle is very pretty early in the season, with its deep red stems. Time to sip a beer and sit in the midst of the hop yard, to feel the growth!