GROWING AND HARVESTING
A one-acre, high density hop yard typically contains 75-85 poles and about 1200 plants. Individual strands of twine are suspended from the trellis wires, and hop bines are trained to spiral up the twine to the top of the trellis. Hop flowers form on these bines and when fully mature, a single hop plant can contain up to 8 pounds of fresh flowers (1-2 pounds dry). Depending upon the varieties being planted, an acre of hops will thus yield 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of dry hops. From constructing the trellis to planting the rhizomes to harvesting the hop cones, cultivating hops is labor intensive.
Harvesting is the most labor intensive aspect, as it can take one person up to 30 minutes to hand harvest just one bine. Small-scale mechanized solutions for harvesting and sorting are not yet commercially available, but we are optimistic that this will change over the next few years. For instance, our partners at Gorst Valley Hops are already fabricating harvest equipment to address these issues for small-scale hop growers.
Because hops are flowers, they must be dried immediately after harvest to avoid spoilage and thereby preserve their aroma and structure. For the small scale grower, this generally requires on-farm drying. Hops are dried in a hop house, or oast, which in the modern era is typically an enclosed series of screened beds with air forced through to remove the moisture. The size of the oast will vary with the needs of each individual grower. Likewise, drying times will also vary by grower, being influenced by factors such as oast design and site variability.
Heat drives off the hops aromatic oils and causes pre-mature resin oxidation, so Atlantic Hops recommends that hops be dried under ambient temperatures with no heat added to speed up the drying process. Once hops are dried to the appropriate moisture content, growers can ship them to our regional processing facility. The importance of properly drying hops cannot be overstated, and it is a critical area of cooperation with growers who participate in the Atlantic Grower Program.