Madship Brewing

Growing Cascade hops in South Africa


I imported a few Cascade hop rhizomes, and tried growing them in this rather unsuitable climate.  We have hot summer days 27°C - 35°C maximum, 15-20°C minimum, and frost (-5°C to 5°C minimum) in winter.  I imagine this is not too much of a problem.  The problem is that the summer days are short (about 14 hours of light) because we are at a low latitude (26° south).  The tropic of Capricorn is only 200 km away.  I understand that hops plants need a latitude of 35° - 55° to flower successfully in natural light.

After decimating my plants after the first season (by trying incorrectly to propagate them), I had only one plant that survived.  It was recovering for the whole of the 2005-2006 season, and eventually grew well in the 2006-2007 season.  I built a 6m trellis for it, and it quickly reached that height.  I put up a floodlight with two 20W energy-saver globes.  When I got no flowers by the summer solstice in December, I put up a 150W mercury lamp, and THIS seemed to do the trick - I got flowers for the first time this (2007) season.

The 2007/2008 season

Here is a picture of my (single) hop plant, taken mid-November:


The 150W mercury lamp is mounted on the roof of the cottage, about 3m from the hop plant.  I use a horizontal trellis.  The light is on a day/night switch, and also on an electronic timer.  This is wired so that the light will not come on in the day time, even if the timer says it should.  (I used an electronic timer so that a power cut would not influence its clock)

I started in mid-August by setting the timer to switch on at 4am.  I left the switch-off time at 7am - by that time it would always be light enough for the day-night switch to have switched off the lamp.  I then adjusted the switch-on time 1 hour earlier every 14 days until mid-November or so.  I now leave it on overnight (Dec-Jan).

The results have been fantastic.  I have a very healthy crop, and unlike last year, this year has a prominent Cascade aroma.  Here is a picture of one of my bines:


I visited George (the hop-growing area in SA) mid-December.  They are also at a marginal latitude (34°S), and they have developed their own species that will bear flowers with less summer light.  In fact, one of my brew buddies successfully grows a plant that that bears flowers here, in Pretoria, at 25°S.  Unfortunately, this is purely a bittering hop.  It doesn't produce pleasant beers when used for aroma and flavor.

Some of these farmers also have lighting.  Luckily one of the farm workers was there when I stopped to look and take pics.  He reckoned they use 250W and 400W globes, about 5 per pole.


But these poles are very far apart - I would estimate 300 meters apart.  So it doesn't take much light to help a hop plant along.  On the other hand, I used two 20W fluorescent globes last year from September to December, and I only had burrs by mid-December.  This year I had burrs mid-November, and took my 1st harvest last week.  I noted with interest that the commercial farmers' plants had not even developed lateral shoots by mid-Dec, so maybe I'm being picky.

I've relegated last year's hops pages to a different link (2006/7 growing season news).