UK’s first hydroponic hop farm moves to Ceredigion
Since the craft beer boom, the demand for hops has exploded. At one point, the average home brewer was faced with a limited choice of hops, as craft and commercial breweries were the first to claim the choice of the lot.
A beer lover decided to do something. But not in the way you would expect. Traditionally, hops are grown in fields, occupying large areas of land. Gareth Davies, Founder and Director of Dark Farm grows his hops in pots, indoors, using hydroponic growing methods – normally used for crops like salad leaves and herbs rather than a plant that can grow up to 7 , 5 m (25 ft) high.
Considered to be the UK’s first indoor hop park, Dark Farm offers a quarterly hop subscription to home brewers and recently moved to a disused warehouse near Lampeter. They want to prove that the benefits of hydroponics can revolutionize hop cultivation.
“Growing hops in a controlled environment and adjusting the nutrient supply according to their growth cycle saves a lot of water”, Davies said. “Growing indoors also protects hops from pests and diseases. We do not use any pesticides or fungicides on our hops. And the food we give them is organic.
Dark Farm currently has around 400 hop plants, made up of 12 different varieties.
Being able to regulate the water supply to the hops is a great advantage in these periods when one goes from prolonged dry periods to extremely rainy periods. Growing hops in this manner has been successfully practiced in the United States for several years, and it is estimated that this method of cultivation can produce the same yield using one-tenth of the area, compared to traditional methods.
Davies, whose background is in web development rather than farming, started his business in Devon in 2017. Today Davies and his wife, who grew up in Carmarthenshire, returned to Wales to continue their journey and build on their experience. “Homebrewing is becoming more and more popular, especially since the lockdown,” says Davies, “we had to supplement our hop subscription service with hops grown on other farms to keep up with demand. Our vision is to provide our members with hops that are fully grown on our indoor farm – with the exception of some varieties that we cannot produce on our own. ‘
In addition to hops, Dark Farm sells home brewing equipment. They also publish the homebrewing magazine, MASHED !, which provides a part-time job for Davies’ wife, Yohanna, a writer and graphic designer. Gareth has a clear vision of expanding operations to provide jobs for more local people, as well as serving as a hub to inspire other rural and urban businesses to embrace sustainability alongside community and business.
The Dark Farm Hop Club membership costs £ 60 per year and includes 500g of hops, four issues of MASHED! Magazine, a silkscreened T-shirt and a 10% member discount on any purchase of homebrew equipment.
Register today: www.darkfarm.co.uk
Follow on social media: @darkfarmhops