Wimpy Hops Harvest 2014By
Another not so good hops (humulus lupulus) growing season for me here in Minnesota. Cold / late spring, very wet in the beginning and dry during summer and fall. If there is global warming, there is no sign of it here in Minnesota. Hops like lots of sun and moderate to warm temperatures and this year was less than optimal (again). Same issue for the rest of my garden – worst year I have had for tomatoes and cucumbers ever.
The trick to capture the most aromatic and/or bittering qualities of hop cones is to pick them at just the right moment. Unfortunately the cones do not all mature at the same time. You have to choose a time when the majority of them are ripe and ready for harvest. Generally between mid August and mid September depending upon the variety and weather conditions. If you have the time and patience, you can do multiple harvests to gather them at there peak.
The basic test for telling when it is time for harvesting is – the hop cones will feel dry, papery and easily squeeze almost flat and spring back to shape. If they are not ripe, they will feel cool (moist), when squeezed, will not compress almost flat. You want them to be green, not brown but will have to compromise a bit to get the majority ready to pick – some will be brown.
I have rigged my hop bines (not hop vines) on a nylon rope and pulley system so I can
harvest from the ground. Doing so from a ladder is dangerous and hard on your feet, ankles and calves. I am not a fan of heights and enjoy a leisurely harvest with a cigar and craft beer or ale at my disposal (hard to do on a ladder). I can pick the ripe cones and leave the unripened ones for a later date when they are ready – just raise them up again until ready.
This year when I lowered the Magnum hop bines, I discovered this squatter’s bird nest. No harm to the harvest and I am glad to help the homeless. With the egg shell remnant, it looks like at least one more bird in our world. Earlier in the year, there was a large Orb spider web between the Nugget and Magnum bines. This nest looks small but maybe the inhabitants ate the spider? I am not a spider fan although I do have a pet tarantula (a birthday gift to me from my twisted family). I would rather not have to deal with a large spider while harvesting – just saying.
Once picked, you can make a fresh hopped beer/ale immediately or dry the hops to preserve them. If not used immediately in a wet hop brew or dryed, they will mold and/or mildew like any other vegetation not allowed to dry out.
As I grow hops small time (currently 3 varieties of hop crowns or root stock growing ), I can easily lay out my hops to dry in my basement on large screens. You can dry them outside in a garage or shed if the humidity is low enough or at least start drying them outside. I lay mine out on large screens under a ceiling fan and with dry, air conditioned air flowing for about 3 days and they are dry and ready to package.
You can tell when they are dry enough when you bend the cone in the middle and you feel the strig (stem) running through the center of the cone snap. Vacuum sealed, frozen and protected from light will preserve your hops the longest. Myself, I do not have a vacuum sealer and just stuff large zip lock baggies and squeeze as much air out as possible and seal them and stick in the freezer. Make sure to write the variety and weight on the packages so you know what you are working with. They will get you through a year of homebrewing assuming you have enough hops.
My yield was not impressive this year. I averaged about a kilo wet per plant (3 crowns / varieties) – between 8 to 12 ounces dry per variety. If you grew hops this year, let us know how your season / yield was.