Hops. Oh bitter cones that give bite to balance malt, oh crazy-arse vines that grow so quickly they could be a Hitchcock movie!
This year marked the fourth year our Sterling hops have been in the ground, and the third harvest. Granted, our 2010 hops harvest yielded 12 cones, but it was a young plant and trying hard.
In 2011 we got an excellent harvest (and brewed some fine Majic Wet Hop Pale Apricot Ale). Of the 3 lbs. of Sterling hops picked, 4 oz. went straight from vine to brewpot, and I dried the remaining hops.
Why the smaller yield this year?
The 2012 harvest has been smaller, only about a pound of fresh hops. This year I dried the entire harvest, which yielded 9 oz. dried hops. We were out of town during part of the end of August, but had we been home, I would have picked the hops then; by the time I did pick, it seemed late.
I’ve been pondering why this is, and have 3 ideas:
- Conditions: The 2011 harvest was ready to pick in October, but when I got to hop picking in early September this year, the hops were well primed. The difference in growing season this year may have factored into a lower yield.
- Nutrition: Tending a crop of new baby definitely distracted me from keeping up nutrients on the hop vines, such as adding compost and fertilizer to the soil at intervals. Next year I’ll do a better job keeping both hops and baby fed and watered.
- Trellis Space: I need a better, sturdier, taller, more spacious way for the prolific, fast-growing hop vines to climb and twine. This year I made do with a 5-foot orchard ladder snagged in a thrift store, but next year I need to have something better in place. What that will be, Jodie and I are sussing out.
However, I’m happy with this year’s yield, and will work on doing a better job next year. That starts now: this year I’ll need to dig down to the hop rhizome and do some cutting up, so it doesn’t spread too crazily. I’ll also start fertilizing the soil now, for better nutrition come spring.
From picking and weighing, the hops went straight into a paper grocery bag for drying. I rolled the top of the bag closed and set the bag in the backyard.
Our backyard gets excellent southern and western sun, and the hops sat in the bag, in the sun, for about a week. The bag allows moisture to escape, but the hops don’t lose their volatile oils. Every now and again I’d shake the bag, to mix up the hops so they’d dry more evenly.
Now everything is weighed and bagged, and 9 oz. of Sterling hops sit in the fridge, awaiting their first brew session.
Only question is, which beers to make?