hop harvest times
I have several varieties of hops in my yard. Two of them, Cascade and Columbus, appear to have ready-to-harvest cones with many others on the same plant that are not. Could they be ready this early? The weather has been pretty cool and wet this year here in Aurora. None of them were this far along last year in mid-July. I'm thinking about harvesting the ones that are ready and leaving the followers for later. Any advice?
Arapahoe County Colorado
It is not likely that your hops are ready this early unless you did not cut the first (of three) sets of shoots. Typically, we cut the first set to the ground when they are 10-12 inches tall and train the second set of shoots onto cords when they are 12-18 inches, although weather does play a part in when they get cut and trained.
To test for readiness of the hops for picking and drying there are several ways:
1. Check for dry matter content (you would need an accurate scale that measures grams to 2 decimal places) you weigh about 20 cones, dry them in a microwave (1 minute at a time until no more weight loss) and reweigh and determine dry matter content, if dry matter is above 20% you are close if not ready, more below. You could also feel the cones, if they are getting less water, getting light and papery they are close. If the cone is opening up, bracts are getting papery and curling out from cone stem you are getting close.
2. Split a cone in half with your hands, rub it between your hands and smell it. If you smell grassy, alfalfa, onion, garlic type smells (any not hops smells) they are not ready. Once the off smell is completely gone the beginning of your picking window is 3-4 days away (typically, picking window for each variety is 7-10 days) If you are picking aroma hops, such as Cascade you want to wait until the end of the window as that is when essential oil are highest (which is the aroma/flavor part of the hops) and Alpha Acids are lower (which you do not need in an aroma/flavor hop). If you are planning to use the hops for bittering you want to pick close to the beginning of the window when AA are highest.
3. If you have a microscope or strong magnifying glass (20x is good), break open a cone and look at the lupins inside (little yellow oil balls inside the cone). They will look like water balloons, if most are flat the hops are not ready, once the "ballons" appear full except for a small dimple, they are ready, the lupulins fill as cones ripen.
4. Color change. The color of the lupulins inside the cone will change from whitish yellow to golden yellow, if they are not golden yellow they are not ready.
There are another 4 or 5 ways to determine ripeness but this should get you close. Please call or email if you would like more details.