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Vines? No, Bines! Who knew?

Hops bines climbing trellises behind the barn

I saw these trellised plants from the road beyond the barn repeatedly before I finally stopped and talked with the farmer at the Rhizome Republic. These are hops bines in upstate New York in early June. Apparently, a hops plant can grow six inches or more in a single day.

Hops taught me that climbing beans don’t grow on vines.

While working on my dad’s house in Ithaca, I repeatedly drove past The Rhizome Republic, a farm that specializes in growing hops. Fascinated by the layout, I stopped one day when I saw a woman in the yard. She was friendly, and encouraged me to return when her son would be home; the son manages the hops-farming operation.

Overview of hops farming

The Rhizome Republic is the brainchild of Josh Grazul. He’s building production gradually, financing expansion with profits from what he has already established. Grazul explained that there are dozens of breweries in New York State, but most buy hops from growers in the Pacific Northwest. Why not grow hops locally to supply the local brewers?

Hops bine with a clockwise twist

A young hops bine twists clockwise around its supporting trellis.

In early spring, a hops field seems no more than row upon row of sturdy wooden poles sticking out of the ground. The 18 foot poles support strong wire from which the hops farmer will hang heavy twine for the hops plants to climb.

Hops plants emerge from rhizomes that winter over happily in hardiness zones 3 through 8. To keep the plants from outgrowing a farm, the farmer cultivates between the rows, exposing rhizomes that formed in the preceding season. These the farmer can harvest and plant in new rows to expand the farm… or sell to other growers starting their own hops production.

In any case, hops plants reach for the sky and as they grow too heavy to support their own weight, the farmer hangs stings from the overhead wires and clips the plants to the stings. That’s all the encouragement the plants need. As they continue to grow, they wrap tightly around the strings and climb to the tops. Typically they top out before the season ends and they droop earthward, cascading back on themselves.

Hops: critical beer ingredient

The dried flower of a hops bine looks a bit like a small pine cone. Peel apart the scales, and you expose tiny beads of lupulin, a sticky nectar-like substance that holds the flavor so important to beer brewers.

Hops flowers look somewhat like little pine cones. A farmer may harvest entire plants when they’re covered in cones that have loosened up and started to dry out. In a small operation, the farmer hand picks the cones from the vines, but a larger operation may employ a machine to strip cones from the plants.

Pea tendrils grab a trellis for support

Peas grow on vines, not bines. Here, tendrils grip a trellis, supporting stems that are relatively brittle and prone to rotting if they lie on the ground.

After drying, a single hops cone is feathery-light and, perhaps, a bit sticky. The stickiness comes from lupulin which is a nectar-like compound that holds the distinctive hoppy flavor. A brewer can use the hops cones to make beer, but it’s more common for the hops farmer to pelletize the cones; pellets are easier to package and ship, and brewers are more accustomed to seeing hops in that form.

Wasn’t this story about bines?

Hops grow on bines. Bines, I was told at the farm, are just like vines except that they twist clockwise around whatever they’re climbing while vines twist counterclockwise. Being unfamiliar with the word, I looked it up and discovered that being a bine has nothing to do with the direction you twist as you grow. It’s better than that!

Winter squash tendrils support the vine

Many types of cucurbits are vines, not bines. This winter squash vine has a death grip on an azalea branch. The tendrils weren’t strong enough to support the squash as it developed. Once the fruit was the size of a basketball, the tendrils broke and the squash dragged the vine to the ground.

A VINE is a plant that uses tendrils to hold onto stuff and support its weight. A BINE is a plant that wraps its stem around stuff to support its weight. I had no idea there were words to distinguish these climbing strategies!

Some of the photos in this post provide glimpses of the Rhizome Republic hops farm. I hope you find them as remarkable as I did. Other photos in this post illustrate the difference between vines and bines. As a vegetable gardener, you probably grow both. I expect to add a few hops plants to my small kitchen garden and tip the balance further in the bine category.

Bean plants are bines, not vines

Climbing beans are bines, not vines. These have run about twelve feet up the string trellises and are seeking further support. Bean plants produce no tendrils (if they did they’d be vines); they hold on by wrapping tightly around more-or-less vertical supports.

Cucumber vine grips bining bean

When a vine meets a bine… I included this photo not because it illustrates anything useful, but because it shows a happy accident in my garden: a cucumber vine grabbed a young wax bean on a climbing bean plant—a bine. As the bean matured, the cucumber tendril held tight. This started well over a month ago and the plants are still interacting.


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