Breaking boundaries with indoor locally-grown hops

By Deidre Hughes

When you think of hydroponically grown crops, hops may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But innovators Corey and Laura Rickman have a dream, and Hort Americas is helping them along the way. With the craft beer industry growing all over the country there is a demand for wet hops in beer production. However, traditionally hops have been grown outdoors in the North Pacific region. Wet hops or fresh hops have a very short shelf life, and they need to be shipped overnight to make it to breweries across the US. This can be quite expensive. The Rickman’s started thinking, what if they could be the supplier to the numerous breweries that are local to the Dallas/ Fort Worth area? What if they could have multiple harvests a year by controlling the environment? That idea started Dallas HopWorks.

Originally located in the heart of Dallas, they had some setbacks when the place was burglarized and their plants were destroyed in the process. Instead of giving up, they took this opportunity to find a larger warehouse to try again. With the help of Hort Americas, they are growing faster than before.

Dallas HopWorks growing operation consists of 4 large rooms inside a warehouse with a recirculating dutch bucket system and very tall ceilings. When it came to lighting, they knew that because they were not using a greenhouse, they would have to rely on sole source lighting. This is beneficial because hops are photoperiodic plants, so complete control of light gives them an opportunity to control flowering and achieve multiple harvests a year. To figure out the best way to go about this they turned to Hort Americas for their lighting plan.

“We were very concerned about lighting as it is one of the keystones to a successful harvest. We wanted a design that provided both high functionality while at the same time keeping monthly operational costs low. Hort Americas did a site survey and provided several lighting designs for us to choose from based on our needs, then once all the lights were installed returned to ensure that the light intensity was what we expected. Our lighting is performing just as expected.”

– Corey Rickman, cofounder of Dallas HopWorks

They decided to go with a checkerboard pattern of 1000W HPS lamps along with GE Arize Element 200W balanced LEDs. The HPS lamps provide some small amounts of UV light (which is thought to be relevant in terpene production, but is still being researched), they have great intensity and are an economical option for a start-up. The LEDs provide additional red and blue spectrums which plants utilize in photosynthesis, and they have greater efficiency, less heat output, reduce cooling needs and overall electric cost.

Photos by Dallas HopWorks

The combination also reduces eye strain for workers compared to red and blue light alone, and enables them to spot pests or other problems with ease.

Hort Americas is also able to provide them with other supplies to make their lives easier such as the Bluelab ProController, substrates, dutch buckets, irrigation supplies and fertilizers.

Currently they are also testing the new Age Old Commercial fertilizers. This product line consists of Age Old® Commercial Grow (7-14-33), Age Old® Commercial Bloom (2-26-41), Age Old® Commercial Microbes, Age Old® Commercial Bio (1-0-1) along with Calcium Nitrate and Magnesium Sulfate. While geared towards Cannabis cultivation, it’s also said to work with hops as well as other vining crops, and will take the guesswork out of your fertilizer plan. Other than ease of use with minimal inputs, it offers some benefits not included in other lines. For instance, pH can be higher allowing for less additions of acids which can sometimes lead to imbalance over time of some nutrients such as phosphorus, depending on which type of acid you choose. This is a definite plus for Dallas HopWorks since their water source has a relatively high pH.

“Our primary concern when the (pH) increases above 6.5 is the precipitation of iron, followed swiftly by the precipitation of copper, manganese, and zinc. Our iron is chelated with EDDHA–which means it will stay in solution even if the pH is 9. The same is true for copper, manganese, and zinc, which are chelated by EDTA, and will remain in solution even when the pH is 9 or more. A pH greater than 6.5 and up to 7.5 will actually increase the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium uptake (theoretically), ” says George Murray, one of the scientists behind the Age Old line.

What is really interesting is the combination of the conventional fertilizers with organic based components. The Commercial Bio 1-0-1 is a product made with seaweed extract. The amino acids available in this product increase the overall nutrient availability to the plant. The Age Old Commercial Microbes have the added benefit of plant protection along with increased nutrient uptake.

Rickman says, “In the 2 years of being in business we have tried several different fertilizer formulas or products in our search for the optimum harvest yield. I was skeptical when Deidre (Hort Americas) suggested that I try Age Old Commercial Fertilizers, but so far in this relationship she has always provided me with thoughtful and well researched products. I truly believe that the Hort Americas team is more interested in my success than selling me products. So after she walked through the product and how it would benefit my specific crop, I agreed. In the time since we have made the change, we are seeing an increased growth rate and larger “greener” leaves.”

Hort Americas wants to see all of our customers succeed. Contact us today to see how we can help you!