Hops Harvest 2013

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As some of you know, Maria’s folks have an acre of hops that they put in three years ago, and we help them out with that from time to time. One of those times is when the hops need to be harvested. Actually, three of those times since there are three varieties that they’re growing (Cascade, Columbus and Nugget). It’s year 3 of the hops operation, so the plants are well on their way to maximizing their potential. Given the drought last year though, we may have to wait for year 5. We’ll see.

In any case, harvesting hops can be quite the ordeal. Year 1, we picked everything we harvested by hand. We also helped a friend down the road with their hops, and they had a lot to pick by hand. If you’ve never picked hops by hand, you won’t appreciate the videos posted below as much as someone who has. Why? Probably because you didn’t realize that picking ONE hops bine can take up to 45 minutes. On an acre of hops, you’re looking at around 1400 plants. That gets labor intensive in a hurry!

Needless to say, we no longer pick by hand. Instead, we cut the bines (not vines) off of the top and bottom cables and stack them onto our hay wagon. Then, once we have our full load we drive that down to our previously mentioned friend’s farm. There, we are lucky enough to be able to use their Wolf Harvester, which can strip up to 100 bines per hour.

HopsPicked

Once we’re at our friend’s farm (Bronk Family Hops Farm), we each take our positions and the fun begins. Usually there are two people unloading bines from the hay wagon and loading them onto the harvester. The harvester then pulls the bine inside where there are a series of choppers and ‘filters’ that separate the hops cones from the bine and then ultimately spit the (mostly) clean cones out of the bottom and onto an elevator. The elevator runs them up into the barn where they fall into some sort of container, usually a small tub. As they move along the elevator, a couple of us are grabbing any leaves, stems or other ‘trash’ to make sure that what gets to the container is only hops.

In the videos below, we’re helping the Bronks harvest their hops. They’ve got us and a small army helping out, and that is ALWAYS a major plus 🙂

Once we have the hops cones, we head back home where they are placed into the oast. The oast is what dries the hops down to the appropriate moisture content.

Oast

In order to ensure that you have the right moisture content, you have to do a lot of sampling, heating/cooking of the hops and…math. Once you have everything at the right place, you bag it up and place it into some sort of humidity-controlled environment until you transport the hops to the brewery, the hops exchange or some other end user.

HopsDrying

Hops are an interesting plant to grow, as they are very vigorous once they’re established. They also require a lot of nitrogen when they’re in their big growth stages. It’s said that some days you can see the hops growing. They do require a lot of work, but if you enjoy a good beer it’s hard to complain too much about what all goes into it. There’s a lot more one could say about hops too, but this–at the very least–gives you an idea of what we’re doing when we say we’re harvesting hops.