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.
I have been tied up in other projects but figured I better get a hops update out to you all. The Nugget and Cascade bines have lots of hop burrs on them. The Magnum has pretty sizable hop cone strobile already. We have been colder and rainier than normal until July. Right now the temps have been hitting mid to high eighties. We are way behind on 90+ degree days this year.
So the hops are about where they should be despite cold, cloudy, rainy first half of the season. I am hoping for a month of sun and high temps for my hops and my tomatoes and the rest of my vegetable garden. My veggies are all way behind because of the weather. Not to mention the deer have decimated about a third of my plants (they don’t touch the hops).
The June hops update as well as a couple intermediate updates is late as I have been busy this this year. Anyway, so far not a stellar year as we had a long winter, late spring and colder than normal temperatures. The sprouts were buried in snow a couple times – 8 inches in one snowfall! This is year 6 and the Magnum seems to be the most prolific of the 3. The Cascade is falling behind as the fullest bines as in the first few years.
In addition to the cold temps, we are having record rainfalls last month and this month – 7 inches of rain in the last 5 days! All this rain, colder than normal temperatures and cloudy days are holding the hops back. They did make my minimum benchmark of topping their ropes by June 1st (by 2 days), so plenty of time to catch up and fill out like they should. The center peak is 15 feet tall and the 2 side ropes top out at 13 feet. They actually topped out May 30th.
After all this rain, I will have to top dress the soil with compost and maybe some fish emulsion to replenish the nutrients in the soil that are being leeched out from all the rain. See Hops Boron Deficiency for my previous experience from deficient soil – the Magnum plant almost died from it.
I also shot a video I will add to this post later. This blogging takes time (especially when you make a major edit and FORGET TO SAVE your work!). I wasted a good hour on that one F up alone. Anyway, enough whining and I will get the video edited and posted this weekend I hope. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know how your hops are doing.