It’s Harvest Time! What Now?
Obviously you want to harvest to use in a batch of beer so you want to do that in the fall when the hop cones start to feel dry and papery. Pay close attention though because here in the Piedmont some varieties can be harvested as early as July! It all depends on the weather. It’s fine if the cones get a little light in color but you absolutely must harvest before they turn brown. The cones should be nice and light and remain compressed when squeezed.
Most hop bines will grow so high that cones will be out of reach, to be safe – cut the bines at the base along with the strings and lay the bines flat on the ground to pull off the cones. It’s a good idea to lay them on a tarp or plastic to keep bugs and moisture off.
Drying & Storing
Your freshly grown hops need to be dried properly before storing or using them. Of course there are many expensive tools available to get this done but the average home brewer usually prefers a low tech and inexpensive approach if possible.
Place your new hops on a flat surface so they are layered a single cone deep. Turn on a fan to a low setting and let it blow across the hops for about 3 hours then flip them over in order to dry the other side. Continue this process until there is no notable moisture in the hop cones. Typically it takes about 24 hours but sometimes could take a bit longer depending on your yield.
Storing your hops is the same as any other store bought hop. If you have a food sealer, you can protect them in airtight bags. If not, place them in ziploc bags and make sure to push out as much air as you possibly can. Once they are sealed you can toss them in the freezer for future use. The amount of time hops will keep will vary according to the specific variety, but they can be kept for at least a year until the following growing season. It also not necessary to dispose of old hops as they can be used for aging sour beers if you are interested in brewing those styles.
If you’re ready to give it a shot you can purchase rhizomes from the following local vendors here in NC
Hop Growing Books