After a summer of sunny days, you should now be staring at an overgrowth of hop bines. Hop Bine: Unlike vines which use suckers, and other appendages for attaching themselves, bines have stout stems with stiff hairs to aid in climbing. Hopefully, you’re elbows deep in hops that are exploding with aroma. That aroma will soon be captured in a harvest ale for the ages!
If this is your first year of growing hops, the first year doesn’t always yield much of a harvest. However, next year's growth will be even better. Just keep calm, don’t worry, have a homebrew.
When is the Hop Cone Ready to Harvest?
If you’re like us, when those first hop buds form, your first instinct is to bust out a brew kettle and start recklessly throwing in hops buds. Hopefully, you resist this urge and wait until the cones are at the peak of perfection. So, when exactly is that? The short answer is when the cones are dry and aromatic.
Here are some signs to watch for:
- The cone starts to fan out and bulge.
- The edges of the hop cone start to dry out and brown slightly.
- When you bend/break a cone you see what looks like pollen. That pollen-like substance is called lupulin (aka. The good stuff).
- The cones should have a nice bounce when you squeeze them, and your fingers should be sticky after touching one.
- Test the aroma by breaking the cone into a few pieces, rolling it back and forth between your hands, and giving them a good sniff. Your nose knows the rest.
Prior to harvesting your hop crop, it’s important to keep them well watered. This will prevent premature browning, and allow for maximum aroma development. We like to hold off on harvesting as long as we dare. When you start to see the signs listed above, you’ll know it’s time. Call your brew buddy, your neighbor, or maybe a willing significant other, and get to harvesting.
Pro Tip: Do yourself a favor and wear long sleeves, a hat, and preferably gloves. Microscopic barbs designed to help the bine climb will irritate your skin after prolonged exposure.
Harvesting Your Hops
You’ve got two options for harvesting that work well:
- Pick the hops off the bine.
- Remove the bine from the trellis, and pick later.
Pick the Hops Off the Bine
In our opinion, this is the best option. Since not all the cones come to maturity at the same time, you might as well grab the best cones and let the others come to maturity. The hops you harvest later could be used as a dry-hop addition to a hop-bursted IPA made on harvest day.
Note: Picking the hops directly off of the bine also gives you the benefit of leaving the actual bine behind. After harvesting all of the hop cones, just pull the remaining bine off of the trellis, and the nutrients will be reabsorbed into the roots. If the bine breaks just add it to your compost.
Removing the Bine from the Trellis
This is the method preferred by hop farms as it allows for harvest to be completed quickly, and drying to begin before spoilage can take place. Cut the bines off of the trellis supports, and hang the whole bine up to dry. Use a line to suspend the hop bines off of the ground in a dry location. Drying times range from 24-48 hours. Drying time can be reduced by using a fan, or even better a dehumidifier.
How to Dry Your Hops
- Lay your hops out on a screen and use a fan to help speed up the drying process.
- Use a food dehydrator: This is the quickest option. Hops can dry out in just a few hours with this method.
- Use an oven. Set the oven to its lowest temperature setting and monitor closely. This process works well, but if you are not attentive you can end up “baking” the hops driving off a great deal of flavor and aroma. Because of this, we do not recommend this method.
Storing Your Hops
Light, heat, and oxygen will try to speed up the degradation of your new hop crop. In order to help fight these factors, we recommend the following for storing your hops.
- A Vacuum Sealer: Vacuum sealing will help protect your hops from oxygen and subsequent oxidation (Enemy #1 of Hop Freshness).
- Store them in the freezer. A cold dark place is perfect for hop storage once all of the oxygen has been removed.
If you successfully dry your hops and reduce their exposure to light, heat, and oxygen, they should remain in peak freshness for 6 months to a year. But fresher is better so you better get busy brewing.
Brewing with Your Freshly Harvested Hops
We recommend using 4 ounces of fresh hops for every ounce of dry hops.Once drying is complete they can be used normally, but we recommend making a hop tea prior to going all in to determine the bittering power of your homegrown hops. This varies more than you might expect, so we recommend saving fresh hops for late boil additions, dry hops, randalizing, first wort hopping, throw them right in the mash and more. It’s not the bitterness we want out of these epicly awesome hops, it’s the fresh flavors and aromas!
What else can You do with Harvested Hops
If you find yourself with too many hops all at once, relax, there are so many things you can do with them. Try your hand at cider and add some as a dry hop. Or, pack some cones into a mason jar filled with 40-50% ABV vodka and you’ve just made a tincture. A tincture is where the alcohol acts as a solvent extracting the oils and resins from the hops and it’s perfect for cooking! Try adding a drop of the hop tincture in place of bitters in a cocktail recipe, or use it in any number of other crafts or hobbies you may have. Hopped beard oils? That’s on our list this year.
Read More about Growing Hops:
How to Grow Hops - Our step-by-step guide
Growing Hops - Diary of first-time hop grower
Growing a Hop Garden - A family's history of growing hops and 'how-to'
How to Harvest Your Hops - Scientificly determining when to pick hops
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