If you’re a home brewer and a gardener, growing your own hops is a natural progression. Hops are the female flower cones of the hops plant, a long, climbing vine. They are also one of the main ingredients in beer – added during the brewing process to help preserve the beer and give it its classic bitter flavor. With enough space, you can grow your own hops and put an extra personalized spin on your homebrewed beer. Keep reading to learn more about how and when to harvest hops.
Hops Plant Harvesting
Hops plants grow from rhizomes, fleshy underground stems that can be separated to grow new plants. You can dig up these rhizomes from existing plants or buy them from brew supply websites. You should plant your rhizomes in very early spring, and over the course of the summer, they will grow into 20- or 30-foot long vines.
Eventually, the vines will produce flower cones. This is what you want to harvest. Hops plant harvesting doesn’t take place as soon as the flowers appear, however. Hops harvest season is when the cones have had some time to dry out on the vine, usually August or September.
To figure out when to harvest hops, squeeze the cone gently with your fingers. You want it to feel light and springy, with a sticky sap coming out of it. If it feels damp and squishy, it’s not ready.
How to Harvest Hops in Gardens
There are two ways to go about harvesting hops plants. One way is to pick the cones off the living plant as they mature. If you do this, you should be able to extend your hops harvest season and get more hops overall. The big problem with harvesting hops plants while they’re living is that they’re so tall. If your vine is 30 feet high, it may not be possible to pick all its cones.
That’s why many people do their hops plant harvesting in one go, by cutting down the whole vine and picking the cones at ground level. To do this, cut your vine at about 3 feet above the ground and pull the severed vine down off its trellis or support structure.
After harvesting hops plants, the flowers will start to rot right away if you don’t dry them. The best way to dry hops flowers is to lay them out on a window screen in a dark, ventilated place for a few days, turning them over every now and again. You can also dry your hops out in the oven, but make sure not to let them get hotter than 140 F. (60 C.).
Once your hops are dried, put them in a sealable bag, squish out as much air as possible and store them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.