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Posts Tagged ‘hops’

This year’s hop harvest may have seemed a lot of fiddly work at the time and a hot slog on a sunny September weekend, but it proved well worth it in the end. And at an average price to homebrewers of around a fiver per 100g for new crop hops this year, ‘growing yer own’ is fast becoming an essential boost for those Winter milds, poters and stouts.

The hops had been drying in the makeshift ‘loft oast’ for around ten days when we ventured up to retrieve them. It took a little while as its best to handle fresh hops as delicately as possible in order to retain as much lupulin as possible. All three varieties were nice and dry and just needed packing in bags for storage. I say just….

Now, packing hops is a massive pain in the backside. We don’t have a vacuum sealer and perhaps one of those might be a good idea next year, but even so. Our method is to cram hops into zip lock bags so tightly that there is very little air inside. The bags we use are heavy duty 10″ by 7″ jobs bought in bulk from eBay a while back. If you work and work at it, you can get 100g inside each one, dry weight after taking the bag itself into account. I can’t lie, it’s not easy, but it is very effective and each big is literally ram-packed.

Anyway, check out our efforts below. It took a while, and our fingers were pretty stained and bitter for a day or two afterwards, but it was quite a haul for just three small plants. We now have 400g WGV, 300g Fuggles and 133g Bramling Cross from the 2009 harvest. Not bad at all and perfect for seasonal milds and that all important batch of Christmas Dry Stout!

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A free September weekend following several days of dry, windy weather billowing through the Boxshed garden, seemed as good a time as any to bring in this year’s hop harvest.

We finally got stuck in at lunchtime on Saturday, and were still at it on Sunday afternoon. Be warned that harvesting hops with any degree of care takes a lot longer than you might think, particularly when you only have a couple of plants and they feel a little precious after months of bine twiddling, feeding and watering.

Just to remind you, we have just three varieties here, which are each grown along wires stretched across two fence panels apiece. These plants are now in their second year, and the difference in the number of hop cones on all plants compared to year one was obvious from the early Summer months. The WGV Goldings went crazy once again, tangling themselves up with all manner of other plants and even managing to grow across the other side of the fence and across the roof of our neighbours’ garage. The Fuggles were perhaps the most impressive this year though, with fewer but impressively larger cones than the WGV. Particularly pleasing was the improvement in the Bramling Cross, which struggled to produce any cones last year but looked really attractive this time round and offered up plenty of bunches of good looking green hops to pick.

We aim to harvest our hops in early September after several days of dry weather and just before the cones start to turn brown. This year all the hops seemed to mature earlier than in 2008. I wouldn’t say they were all ‘papery’, but they were certainly full of orange-yellow lupulin (the good stuff) and would have certainly gone past their best if another week of rain had set in. So down they came.

Our harvesting technique isn’t particularly refined, but seems to work just fine. We use chunky kitchen scissors to cut down manageable chunks of bine from the wires in lengths of about a metre at a time. We then snip each cone at its base into a bin liner stretched over a fermenting bucket and throw spent bines and leaves into the compost or brown bin. We have ripped off the cones by hand in the past, which can be quicker, but I worry that we lose a lot of lupulin this way, so probably waste a lot of time with all the over-careful snipping.

We managed to harvest an overflowing 25 litre fermenter bin full of WGV, nearly as much Fuggles, and around half a bin of Bramling. We were really pleased with this, as well as the quality of most of the cones. Frankly, as you’ll see in the photos, we couldn’t really handle many more hops using our current drying technique (but piles of newspaper pockets would work just fine, no doubt).

The next step was get the things drying, and we decided to use the technique that worked best last year – the loft oast! The idea is that a combination of scattering hops at a single depth on a dry absorbent surface, warmth from the house below and a hot airy loft gets the hops dry quickly and without any fear of mould or rotting. It worked a treat in 2008, so was a no-brainer this year. Of course the increased volume of hops made it a trickier operation. We ‘carpeted’ all available loft space with cardboard removal boxes stored for the purpose, then began scattering from the far end, leaving obvious gaps between the three varieties. Once we were done and ‘painted into a corner’ back by the loft hatch, we surveyed our green pungent crop like hydroponic drugs barons before retreating back to the house below for a week or two.

So all-in-all, a successful and very satisfying Harvest ’09 so far, with plenty of hops drying away happily above our heads. Take a look at the gallery below if you’d like to see for yourself how it all went, and feel free to drop us a line if you want to share your own hop harvest tales or ask anything at all. We’ll post an update soon once all the cones are dry and we put them in storage.

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Plenty of East Anglian sunshine with the occasional traditional deluge of rain is literally suiting our hops down to the ground!

Apart from some help from the hose during drier spells, plus a bit of evening bine twiddling, they’ve pretty much been left to themselves this year, and we’re really pleased with progress, especially for the little Bramling, which was a late starter.

See for yourselves!

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An update on the progress of our three hop plants. Despite me clumsily butchering the roots of the WGV and Fuggles in order to take some quite simple plantable samples for my dear old bruv, all is going very well indeed. The WGV and Fuggles will be used in as many batches of Dark Garden as I can muster in the Autumn. The Bramling Cross is a rather more reserved old stick, and if we get any cones at all for use in aroma additions I’ll be very happy.

Here are some photos from lunchtime today:

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Right, this idea is not intended to be useful for anything other than a stopgap situation. I made mine because I had a brew planned and all my hops were suddenly only available in pellets. I use a standard looking drilled copper pipe filter in my copper – a Brupaks style gadget attached to my tap with tubing. It would have struggled to have handled all those Challenger, Mount Hood and Willamette pellets from Down Under.

I’m soon to have a new boiler and when I do I will ask a friend to help make a proper Hop Stopper, but if you get caught short – steal a 10″ stainless steel sieve from the kitchen or ironmongers, bend up the expensive looking handle at a right angle and squish on a flat surface until you have made the sieve sit square. Get a Dremel (or kitchen scissors, razor blades, welding torches, hangnails…) and cut a small hole with side slices, so you can shove a standard squished 12mm copper pipe hop filter through it.

Anyway, you can get the idea and the sieve is still usable.

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Well, Spring has definitely sprung and the purple budded hop bines in the Boxshed garden have braved the morning frosts, pushed themselves through the ground and started their mad journey towards the end of the fence.

We only grow three varieties of hops ourselves right now, and didn’t get around to planting any more rhyzomes this year. But we did harvest a pretty decent yield from our first year and we’re hoping for even better results from these second year bines. They’re not doted on in any special way, really. They get plenty of water everyday once they start growing, and are fed with any tomato or veggie food that happens to be around as the summer progresses. We then pick ’em, dry ’em and store ’em around September time.

The three varieties are WGV Goldings, Fuggles and Bramling Cross. The first two contributed to several Autumn and Winter brews, while the Bramling looked pretty enough but didn’t provide sufficient cones to bother processing this year. We’re also lucky enough to have plenty of hedgrow hops in the local area – including Boadicea and Sarah, probably – which I’ve also noticed surfacing recently.

Anyway, plenty more on hop growth as things progress, but for now, here are photos of the three plants’ first sighting above ground!

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Hmmm,  ‘Winter Hiatus’ – not a bad name for a nice brew actually – maybe a ruby porter? Must think on…

Hopefully I’m nearing the end of my self-imposed brewing hibernation. A combination of factors ganged up and stopped me posting for several weeks. Chief amongst these was of course laziness, but there was more to it than that. I think.

Before Christmas we filled all our kegs and went on a  brewing break. After Christmas the whole credit crunch malarkey really hit home, resulting in me spending every waking hour (and some not quite so awake) sitting in front of this here screen, typing for the man. Of course I’d rather be messing around with grain, hops, yeast and various bits of shiny stainless steel, but needs must, and money’s been too tight to mention.

However, I do hope to get back in the swing of things soon. I have grain, plenty of hops in the freezer and no mild on tap, for a start!

We’ve had snow then floods here in East Anglia, but this weekend I’m hoping to get into the garden to clear up the havoc and pile some compost on the hop bines. I may even buy a new plant this week – the year is rolling on and plenty of rhyzomes are back in stock.

As far as equipment goes, my immediate plans are to replace my boiler with a slightly larger capacity vessel and move my current boiler to become a heated HLT rather than the current insulated job. I’m looking forward to this project, but again it’s a question of getting money together here and there which isn’t needed for more pressing matters. Like food. And beer from the local.

Aaaanyway – expect to hear from the Boxshed a little more frequently from now on, at least. More frequently than not at all, anyway, eh?

 

ps. If you’re at a loose end between 13th and 22nd February and you happen to be in the area, why not visit the Edwardstone White Horse Winter Ale Festival?  The tied Mill Green Brewery is serving up five ales (including the excellent Good Ship Arbella APA) and there will be a further 16 ales on stillage over the week, plus the usual Adnams Bitter and Crouch Vale Brewers Gold on tap. Well worth checking out – you might even catch some live blues and folk while you’re sinking a few.

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