There was a time when there were only a few options for beer. Then, the craft beer industry skyrocketed and the next logical step was to brew your own beer.
Suddenly beer enthusiasts were going so far as to plant the necessary ingredients, such as hops. If you have hops in your garden, be sure to read on and discover when the right time is to harvest them as well as the proper technique.
The hops plant is a voracious grower and doesn’t need much attention to keep going. The part of the plant that interests gardeners is the biers, which are cone-shaped and grow from the female hops plants.
When to Harvest Hops? These cones are ready for harvest in late summer depending on your climate. They may be ready as early as June. Monitor the biers for signs they are ready, which include an odor of grass and citrus and a firm texture that springs back into its form.
Furthermore, when squeezed a yellow powder will emerge. You can either remove the plants from their trellises or even cut down most of the plants as they will continue to grow the following year.
Wearing a long sleeve shirt and gloves for protection, go through the plant and find all your biers. It takes a bit of time but will be well worth it. If you’re lucky, you may even have a second, smaller harvest in a few weeks.
How do you know when your hops are ready to harvest?
First, let’s discuss what exactly are Hops so you know what to look for. The hops plant is a vine that grows fairly easily in your garden.
The part of the hops plant that is used for the production of beer actually comes from the flower, which looks a bit like a green pinecone. Interestingly, hops plants have both male and female plants but only the female ones are used for harvest.
You can harvest hops in the late part of the summer, around August and September. On your plants, which can grow quite large over the hot summer months, you will start to see green parts, called bines.
These bines will start to grow in size and will look puffed-up and full. However, the bines need to be absolutely ready before you pick them.
If you pick them too early, the bines will lack the characteristic bitter and pungent flavoring. Yes, it may seem counterintuitive but picking biers too early means less bitter of a taste.
If you are worried about letting the biers stay on the plant too long, here’s some information to put you at ease. There’s a larger picking window than you realize and it is much better to wait longer to pick them.
If you have been monitoring your hops biers and think they are ready for harvest, gently squeeze them. You’re looking for biers that return to their original shape. They should also have a light and dry quality to them.
Those biers that are not ready for harvest will have a compressed form to them after you squeeze them.
Another sign hops are ready to harvest is their smell. You’re looking for notes of citrus, onion, pine, and grass. These are pretty potent smells so it should be obvious whether you smell them or not.
If these smells are present, then you are ready to pick them. If not, let the hops grow a few more days before smelling again.
Finally, pick a bier and roll it gently in the palm of your hand. If ready, the bier will release a yellow powder that has a sticky texture to it. If no substance comes out, they are not ready yet.
What happens if you don’t harvest hops?
The hops plant is pretty versatile. It loves to grow and given the chance, it will do just that. The part of the hops plant that is edible is the bier, and if not harvested they will simply continue to grow before dropping off.
As for the rest of the plant, it likes to grow up and around. The hops plant will scale fences, climb trees, and move along as it pleases. It has a hearty root system and will keep growing each year.
How to harvest hops?
Good things come to those who wait and growing hops is no different. The plant takes a few years to establish itself, so try not to be disappointed the first year with a small crop.
In fact, in your first year, you will only get a small bucket of hops whereas after three years the plant will produce an abundance of hops.
Harvesting hops really depends on how many plants you have. With one plant, harvesting is easy and can be done on your own. Multiple mature plants, however, may benefit from more help.
Unfortunately, the hops plant has a lot of natural defenses. You will want to protect yourself with gardening gloves and a long sleeve shirt. One harvest without this protection will quickly have you realizing why we suggest them.
Another consideration with harvesting is how old your plants are. Young plants should remain intact so in order to get to all the bines, you will want to gently pull down on the vines to reach the top branches.
As for mature plants, you can actually chop the whole plant down for better access. Just leave two to three feet of the plant so it can grow again the following year.
Now that you have access to all the biers, it’s time to start picking. While still wearing gloves, go through the plant and find your biers.
Gently pull and twist them off their branches. If they are ready, it should be an easy process.
Once you pick your biers, place them in a paper bag or basket.
Depending on how many hops you want to harvest, go slowly so you can spot all of the biers. However, if you have a lot of them on a mature plant, you can be a bit more specific and leave the smaller biers. They might grow bigger and you can check again in a few days.
For those that remove the plant from a structure, you can now re-string the plant for optimal support.
Be sure to check the plants again in a few weeks to see if more biers have sprouted. You just might get a second, bonus harvest.
Can you harvest hops twice a year?
We mentioned earlier about cutting down your established hops plants. This is recommended because their root structure is so secure and wide.
However, some climates have an early hops harvesting season, around June. If this is the case, don’t cut down your hops plant.
Instead, leave it intact because there is a good chance you will get a second harvest in the fall, around September or October.
Once this second harvest occurs, or even if it doesn’t, you can then go ahead and cut back the plant. This is useful as hops will spread rapidly and cutting it back each year maintains its current size.
Should you wash hops after harvesting?
Hops do not need to be washed but they do need to be dried. In fact, for proper storage, be sure to adequately dry them.
Drying can happen in a cool, dry place as long as there is proper airflow. Place the hops on a screen or filter and leave them to dry for a few days. They are ready when the stem breaks in half and you can see the inside yellow powder.
Alternatively, you can dry hops in the oven. Set the temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, place the hops on a baking sheet, and leave them in for a few hours.
Keep the oven door open and check on the hops every 20 minutes.
An interesting, if not slightly creepy, fact about hops is that the inside of the cones can have quite a few bugs in them. Don’t be alarmed if a bunch of critters starts crawling out while you dry them.
Fort those who are bug-squeamish, or who want to use fresh hops, invest in some ladybugs. Place them on the hops a few days before harvesting and they will eat the aphids living inside, leaving you with a bug-free plant.
Can you eat hops immediately after harvesting?
Hops are not consumed on their own but rather added to other substances, most popularly beer, but also medicine and other beverages. Most beer uses dried hops but you can also experiment with fresh hops, which produces wet-hopped beer.
For those that are using fresh hops in their beer, it’s important to change the amount needed. If your recipe calls for 1 ounce of dried hops, you want 4 ounces of fresh hops.
True beer enthusiasts will know that the secret in their recipe is the hops. It makes sense to grow your own and once late summer comes along, they are ready for harvest.
As long as you wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt, it is easy to remove the hops biers and begin to process them for your latest concoctions.