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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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