Posts Tagged ‘Cascade hops’

Just because I didn’t have enough to do in fall, I planted hops.  Actually, I planted them for other reasons, but in the middle of vegetable harvest, having to harvest hops turned into a two-day marathon that left me scratched, itching, and sticky from lupulin.  Hops ready for harvest

Growing the plant is easy, but knowing when to harvest is a trick – I went to the Brewing Techniques website, to a wonderful article by Stephanie Montell, entitled Hops in the Backyard: From Planting to Harvest and the Hazards in Between.

Montell’s article is a great resource for rookie hops growers, providing solid advice for getting those cones from the vine.  But applied to a life like mine, well, the results were mixed.

“Determine the readiness for picking by feel and smell. If the cone is too green, it feels slightly damp to the touch and has a softness to its scales. If you squeeze the cone, it will stay compressed in your hand. A ready cone will feel papery and light.”  A light tweak told me mine were ready.

We had a wet storm bearing down on us, and, never picking hops before, I assessed the vines and thought I could squeeze it in before making supper.  An hour and a half later, my spouse wandered over to check on progress.  I’d only gleaned cones from one-third of one plant, so he asked the only part of me he could see – my head and shoulders were inside the vine mass – if he should get dinner rolling.

Mumbling about giving up for the evening soon, I wriggled upwards to grasp a few more cones from the back.  “Do you need a headlamp?” he offered, and I knew that I’d need to return another day to finish.  Yellow Lupulin on hop

“If your hands quickly take up the smell and are slightly sticky due to the yellow powdery lupulin, that cone is ready for harvest.”  This advice is excellent, and very accurate.  At the beginning, I worried about not having sticky hands after handling a few hops; after a half-hour, my hands were pleasantly gummy and my spouse thought my new perfume very appealing.  Huge cone

But hops are a spiny vine, and my arms were getting badly scratched; I had to wear long sleeves to a florist event the next day just to cover the signs of those spines.  The next time I sallied out to finish picking – giving myself an entire day to get it done – I swaddled myself in long sleeves and sweats to protect my skin.

Once the plants were stripped, it was time to turn my attention to curing them for storage.

“The cones must be properly dried to optimize their qualities during storage. Although hops can be used fresh, the results will be unpredictable. Hops are 70% moisture when ripe, but only 10% when dried to the equivalent of commercial hops,” Montell instructed, “This can be done in a food dehydrator, homemade hop dryer, or well-vented oven.”

Hops harvest Staring at the two bushels of cones, I reflected on the size of the oven needed to dry these down.  The dehydrator was out – it couldn’t keep up with the tomatoes, much less enough hops to open my own brewpub.  Lacking any other options, I went low-tech, spreading the cones in a single layer to dry in the sheds.  The plural is deliberate here – I had enough hops to cover all available flat surfaces in two sheds.

“They are ready for storage when springy to the touch and the lupulin powder easily falls out. Another indicator is when the central stem breaks rather than bends. The stem takes much longer to dry than the petals, so you will know when the cones are ready for storage. This should take approximately three days.”  A week later and I’m still checking for dryness; my system is a bit slow.  But they’re getting close and I’ll bag and freeze them until my homebrewing friends make a few batches.

Or a few hundred batches, considering the amount I harvested.

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This spring has brought a new level of anticipation to the garden, one that has me impatient for fall.  No, it’s not the delectable tomatoes or sweet melons from the vegetable garden – though I’m looking forward to them, too.

 This year, the adventure lies in growing hops.  Cascade beer hops to be exact; not the ornamental Golden or native vines.  My garden is a working one, where few plants are allowed to just sit and look pretty.  Food, flowers for vases, shade for the seating area, or keeping beneficial insects around – everyone has a job in this landscape.  spring hops

 So do these vines. Early on they help screen the neighbors, rambling along fence tops and sides.  Later they’ll be picked, dried, and taken down to the local brewery where my buddy Mari has arranged to trade them for beer.

 Mari, a gardener, beekeeper, and dynamite photographer, connected with the local brewpub a few years ago when hops prices started soaring world-wide.  Having hops as a novelty in her garden, she hatched a brilliant plan.  The result is a few frosty bottles of brew after a summer of beauty in the yard.

 Gardeners swap all the time, so this barter of hops for beer fits perfectly with our lifestyle; Mari also shares cutting from her plant to get others started for low cost.  Yes, hops need water the first season to get established, but not in huge gulps.  Instead, frequent light watering and mulch to keep their roots consistently moist the first year is best.   young hops

 After that, a dripline to provide deep, infrequent water is all you need.  Mine are planted behind the roses and perennials they seem happy enough with no extra fuss.

But you have to trellis them or they’ll quickly run over the ground, wind around plants and start snatching small pets from the street – put a trellis (in my case a folded tomato cage) behind them and firmly direct them in their growth.  You need to thin them too, taking off weaker vines and keeping only the three most vigorous ones.  This pushes energy into the development of the best vines and a much better crop.

Watch out for aphids, a chronic problem on hops, but don’t worry about using more than a spritz or two of soapy water to control them.  You’ll soon find lady bugs and other predators working the plants to keep the aphids in check.   nearing ripenes

 Pick your hops from the top of the plant down; those growing highest ripen first.  You’ll know when they’re ripe by feel and smell. Green cones feel a little moist and soft, and stay compressed if you squeeze it. Ripe cones feel light and dry, and may look a little lighter in color. 

 Dry the hops on a mesh screen in the shade and out of wind for several days, turning the cones daily to keep drying even.  They’re perfect when the stem breaks easily if bent.  Then trot them down to your local brewpub to bargain for beer.  drying cones

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