Saturday, September 12, 2009

DIY: Garden-Grown Hops

A quick how-to on growing your own hops

If you happen to homebrew and are worried that growing your own hops is too advanced, then think again. Below is a picture-heavy "how-to"on growing hops in your own backyard. It covers when to plant, when to harvest, and how to properly dry and store your very own home-grown hops.

The following pictures were taken over the course of this year's growing season. Rhizomes were purchased at a local farmers market here in Seattle. They were mislabeled, so instead of planting two different varieties, I ended up with two of the same - both Chinook hops. The rhizomes were planted in outdoor potting soil in mid-May next to a two-story shed. The area receives a lot of sun, which is great for hops. Twine was run up the side of a shed, reaching about 15 feet in height. The hops began growing as green vines. Once they reached about 1-2 feet long, the vines were wrapped around the twine in a clockwise fashion. In a couple of months, the vines reached the top of my twine.

In July, the vines began to flower, and by August they were plump and green (see pictures above and close-ups below)

The hops at this stage are moist and spongy. If you squeeze a flower between your fingers, it bounces back to its original shape - not ready to pick, yet. The flowers also have no characteristic smell to them.

By mid-September, the hop flowers were ready for harvest (pictured above). Now when flowers are squeezed, they feel dry and papery to the touch, and they hold their squished shape. Also, they smell amazing, or like hops for that matter. If you were to examine the flowers under each scale, you would also observe tiny yellow oil packets. This is lupulin, the wonderful product of hops that gives your beer its bitterness and aroma (detailed picture below - click for higher definition).

All the flowers were ready for harvesting. From the two vines, a 1 gallon bowl was filled with the bitter rewards.

The consistency of hops can be up to 70% water when picked from the vine. When weighing out your hops for recipes, this can be a problem since most recipes are set up for "dry hops." Using a food dehydrator is the quickest and best way to dry the hops out, in my opinion, as long as you don't use any excessive heat (>140 °F).

For normal air drying, hops can take anywhere between 24-48 hours to dry; however, using the food dehydrator on its lowest heat setting (95 °F), these hops were dried for 7 hours (pre-dried pictured above, dried pictured below). Once completed, the final harvest yield was a little over 5 ounces. Enough for a couple of batches.

Once dry, the hops should be stored in air-tight, moisture-free bags. If you don't plan on using them right away, you should definitely freeze these bags. If you happen to have access to a cryovac system, these work amazingly, too. Now all that's left with these Chinook hops is to brew some Arrogant Bastard clones...

I know there's plenty of literature out there that explains all of what I've covered, but I've come across a lot of conflicting advice. This was the way I did it, and it worked beautifully. Hopefully this post may help someone out there whose on the fence about growing their own hops.


Jeff said...

That's not bad for a first year harvest!