I started growing organic hops in 2007. This year I realized that if I was going to continue growing hops, I would need a better trellis. Since there is a big hop shortage right now, I decided to plant even more hops this year, and I really wanted to do it right (I know the market will be flooded by the time mine are producing bigtime, haha, but seriously I can't buy organic hops anywhere, so I kind of have to grow my own if I want them at all). So anyway I built three different types of trellises on different parts of my property ranging from simple and almost free to huge and elaborate (and also inexpensive). I will describe all three. First the biggest and most elaborate:
Like most hop trellises, this one starts with a very long support pole. I've seen many designs using wood or PVC supports, but metal is far superior all else being equal, however it is normally cost prohibitive. I solved that problem when I found dozens of metal poles being thrown away - they had been cleared with a bull dozer, and all of them were bent, I managed to pull out about 5 that were reasonably straight and I've been using them in various projects. In this case I had to weld three of these poles together in order to achieve the optimal height. Relax, I don't actually weld in a t-shirt, just posing for a photo there! Although I wanted to make a point of showing that I wore a respirator - very important when welding galvanized steel (also used good ventilation, and careful surface preparation). Anyway, the trash picked metal poles have proven to be extremely useful once again. These were all 8 foot poles, but I cut some badly damaged ends off of two of them, and then welded all three together to create a single somewhat straight pole that was a little over 20 feet long. I used a Lincoln pro-MIG 175 welder for this job.
Next I had to determine the ideal spot for the pole, and then dig a very deep, narrow hole for the pole. A post hole digger and digging bar are essential in my clay soil!
The hole should be at least 3 feet deep. I put some concrete in the bottom for drainage (could use sand or gravel but I didn't have any).
This is the concrete I used (cable tensioner and eye bolt can also be seen on the right).
I put some in the pole too, to make it virtually indestructible. The dirt cheap reject bags of concrete from Home Depot have also proven extremely useful to me, but you aren't supposed to store the stuff for more than about a year - this project used up about 3 bags.
I drilled a hole near the top (but below the cap!) and inserted a 2000 lb. rated eye bolt (closed loop - purchased from Tractor Supply). The pole cap strengthens the pole.
Ready to hoist!
Leveling it (check all sides). Note that some people intentionally lean their poles to various degrees and run the cable down to an anchor point beyond the pole - I thought about this but it just seems like extra work to create a separate anchor point, and leaning the pole would lower my total height.
Add lots of concrete until the hole is filled - don't forget the water.
It seems huge to me! Basically commercial height and maybe 35 feet wide. I don't have pictures of the process of running the aircraft cable, and adding the strings. But they are pretty self explanatory. I wrapped one end of the cable around a tree (see picture) attached with u-bolt wire clamps, ran it right through the crotch of another tree, then over to my pole, through the eye bolt, down to a cable tensioner at the bottom (hooked onto another heavy duty bolt that goes though a hole drilled into the pole near the bottom). The tensioner looks similar to these:
I can tighten or loosen the cable at the bottom of the pole, and I can lower the cable to harvest the hops (not sure yet what the easiest approach will be for harvesting). The actual hop twine was hung on the aircraft cable using inexpensive but heavy duty S-hooks from Home Depot, the twine is sisal twine which also came from Home Depot, they sell a 2250 foot spool for $9.99 with a 75 lb. rated strength. From what I've read many hop growers use it, and from what I've seen so far it works very well (the vines grip to it like velcro!). It is made from all natural fibers and is completely biodegradable so that I can throw the twine along with the vines right into my compost pile after harvest.
Ahhh yes, a very hard days work finally pays off. I staked the twine and trained the vines up it shortly after this picture was taken. I should probably also mention that site preparation was actually the most time consuming and difficult task of this project. I had to clear the area - lots and lots of big bad poison vines, brush, and some tree limbs that all had to be removed. I also painted the pole (used a self-etching primer for metal sold at most automotive parts stores) so that it would blend in with the woods better. I will try to update this page with lessons learned and progress on growing and harvesting my organic hops. Right now I am growing 11 cascade, 11 fuggles, 1 Brewers Gold, 1 Centennial and 1 Nugget. I believe there is room to add more to this trellis if I stagger the plants and move in front of and behind the plants directly below the trellis but for now this is plenty.
Here's a shot of the trellis with a little more growth on it. The 2nd year Cascades reached the top on June 7th this year (2008).
Lets take a look at an extremely simple trellis that can be made for the cost of the twine alone.
This is nothing more than some sisal twine staked to the ground and run up and through a window. The string is tied to a fixed object next to the window in the room on the other side of the window.
This works OK, but obviously the height is limited to whatever distance you have between the ground and a window. Also there is not much separation between the hops and the actual house unless you can figure out a way to add some kind of boom sticking out your window.
A better idea is to hang something off the eaves of your roof:
As you can see in this close up, I mounted a metal bracket directly to the house, at the attic space level. You could use an eyebolt here, I just happened to have this thick metal bracket laying around which looked like a good fit. The two bolts going though this bracket go right into the attic, I attached the nuts from inside the attic and used large washers for extra support. I thought about using lag bolts but decided regular bolts would be more secure and that's all I had on hand at the time anyway. A small pulley with hook attached is hung from the bracket. Again there are many ways to do this, you can buy very inexpensive pulleys from the hardware store and mount them to your bracket or eyebolt in any way that works (the hardware stores sell carabiners for example which might work - just make sure its rated for the weight you need it to hold). Anyway the pulley has a metal cable going though it, with a loop at the end and two metal rings in the loop. I tied my sisal twine to the metal rings. The purpose of the metal rings is simply to give you more room for tying the twine.
The other end of the metal line is secured to a heavy duty metal utility fixture. I can loosen these nuts and lower the entire trellis for harvesting.
This gets you full commercial height, all in a nice compact growing spot that doesn't look that bad (for the wife and neighbors, haha).
Looking up from below.