Growing Challenger Hops

So the hops have been growing since the end of February which I think was a bit late to plant them but they have done really well all things considered. Had a few problems with them being attacked by slugs and bugs along the way but I’ve ended up with a good crop.  Pics on this entry aren’t too good by the way. I got a new HTC phone a few months ago so I’ve been lazy and used that, pics aren’t bad but not a scratch on an SLR. I’ll get back to using my SLR next time for decent pics.

The slugs had a right go at them to start with, you could see trails all the way up the walls but after I’d put down some pellets and the plant got going it was off. I used tomoto feed and occationally some seaweed fertilizer on them. Watered every day when they were in full swing. I reckon they were growing 6 inches a day at one point! Amazing rate. The cones themselves started off looking like this…

I thought they looked a bit weird at this point. Having never really grown anything before I didn’t have a clue how the hop cones would start to develop. It’s a bit of a strange plant all in all. I had some issues with white fly attacking it too but managed to keep on top of that with some insecticide. Then when the ladybirds came along they seemed to keep them at bay. Spiders seemed to build a few webs around the plant too.

End of August / beginning of September and I’ve got quite a lot of cones. Some are still developing, some have mostly grown – depends what sunlight they’ve been exposed to I think. It’s done well so far and it’s looking like I’ll have more than I thought after all…

Towards the end of September and some of them are just starting to get that light papery feeling. It was quite tricky knowing exactly when to harvest them but I think I got them about right. Some of the cones towards the top started to get brown edges where they’d had the most sunlight.

I think there are key things to look for when harvesting – papery-ness, when they are still green, fresh and supple they aren’t ready.  The Lupulin glands, you can see these under the leaves of each cone full of powdery yellow stuff. This is what we’re after to give us bitterness, flavour and aroma. This stuff contains the alpha acids. There should be plenty of this and you should get a good whiff of it when you smell a cone. If the cone still smells “green”, kind of like cut grass, then it’s not ready. After you’ve picked a few hops your hands should be sticky and have that awesome smell of hops too.

I spent about 1 hr 30 mins harvesting hops. I did the first lot after work one night so I had to stop because it got dark. I picked a carrier bag full the first time round though, that was a lot! I was pretty surprised that I got so many, especially since I’d read not to expect many at all from a first year hop plant, excellent. I got a good few hand fulls on the second go too.

I had originally planned on building a dryer for them but the weather turned after I picked them and it was pretty warm so I ended up laying them out on some news paper with a fan blowing over them gently. Left them for about 3 days and they were dried out nicely.

I repeated the same with the second lot and measured the weight afterwards, 320g of hops! That’s enough for at least two brews and would have cost me nearly 15 quid if I’d bought them from a shop. I’ve already lined up one brew using purely challenger hops (quite a lot!) so I can get a really good idea of the flavour. The only problem with homegrown hops is that I don’t know what the alpha acid content is so I can’t really accurately calulate bitterness. I’m not that bothered though so with all my homegrown hops, I’ll just use the average for that variety. Challenger ranges from about 6.5%-8.5%AA so I’ll just make recipes using them at 7.5%.

Next year I plan to grow two more varieties – thanks to my girlfriend Karis who is letting me use some space at her house! I’ll need to put a wooden post in for these and I plan on putting a pulley system in so I can lower the plant at harvest time. Should be interesting around harvest time, with 3 plants to harvest. The challenger plant should have even more cones than this year. Once I’m getting more than I can use straight away I’ll invest in a vacuum packaging machine to keep them fresh for use later on in the year. Until then I’ll keep them in the freezer.

More updates on thier way for the next brew using my own homegrown hops! Woop!

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