All the stars aligned last weekend and suddenly the hop harvest was underway. The flowers are not supposed to be ready for another ten days, but the weather gods smiled and the hops ripened fast. Fortunately it was Easter and those of us with other jobs were free. The plans I had for a quiet holiday were shelved. The hops had to be picked fast, so the call went out — HELP! And, luckily for us, people responded.
Hops are an interesting crop — and an experimental one for our farm. You see, according to the experts, hops won’t thrive this far south in New Zealand. It’s too cold; too windy; too far down at the bottom of the world. But the experts hadn’t seen the vine Cousin Matt had been quietly nurturing in a sheltered corner of his garden down the road. We knew that one hop plant would grow, but could they grow on a larger scale? We decided to find out.
It didn’t take long to identify the perfect hop-growing-spot on our farm. We call it the “Tree Surrounded Paddock.” Sheltered from the wind in every direction, flat as a pancake, beautiful soil… a southern paradise for hops we felt. And, two years down the track, the hops seem to agree.
Hops seedlings may start out small, but in just a few months they shoot up about three meters. Everyone in the family helped to build the frames needed to support such tall plants.
Hops need plenty of water and fertilizer, so we put in a small automatic watering system. Last year the timer worked perfectly. This year it didn’t. But, with the drought sucking every drop of moisture out of the farm for months, the hops had to get by on short rations, just like the rest of us. They got watered each week, but not on the ideal daily basis
Interestingly, the hops don’t seem to have worried too much. I mean, just look at all the flowers!
To harvest the flowers we cut the vines at the top and bottom, and carted the whole plant to the picking room aka my brother-in-law’s carport. On a large hop farm with a huge volume of flowers, this is all mechanised but we must pick and sort every flower by hand. Again friends and family and even the brewers rallied round and we got the whole crop done in two days. It’s not hard work, but it can be tedious. Fortunately there was lots of good conversation, music and huge home-cooked meals to keep us all going.
Hops are used for making beer. The flowers contain a yellow resin which is used to flavour the beer. Different varieties offer different tastes and a brewer will blend them to get a distinctive flavour in the beer. Normally the flowers would be dried and made into pellets, to be stored and used when needed. But this year our hops are heading straight to Queenstown’s Altitude Brewing, who plan to make a special green-hop brew. Time is of the essence: the flowers must arrive fresh. There is a very short window of opportunity when making this sort of beer.
In New Zealand, and indeed worldwide, there is a burgeoning interest in craft beer. Home brewing is on the rise and micro-breweries seem to be springing up all over the place. More and more people are becoming interested in beer as a drink to savour and appreciate. I think it’s all part of the slow living, back to our roots movement that’s happening all over the world.
Our aim is to support our local micro-breweries by providing them with naturally produced, locally grown hops. Minimal food miles and maximum goodness. Sounds perfect to me. Cheers!