About this time your hop plant should be getting to its full height, soon it will start growing cones and before you know it they’ll be ready to pick. But what is the proper way to pick hops?
Most importantly you have to find the right time, though this changes depending on your location and hop variety August-September is usually a safe bet. Don’t worry if you feel the hops aren’t ready straight away, you are best to wait and pick them when they are most ripe. There are multiple ways to test for ripeness
The hop cone should feel dry to the touch
When squeezed the hops should expand back to its original shape
A yellow substance called Lupulin should be visible, but if it turns orange the hops have gone off.
Most of the hops will pull off the plant with relative ease
You can also tell ripeness from smell, but age of the plant variety and other factors can change what exactly that smell is and strength. If you can smell the hops then you can use it to judge but without that it is still fairly easy to tell what is the right time to pick, even for a new hop grower. It is best to simply have patience and check often.
When you are sure they are ready to be picked it is best to cut back the plant. This means you won’t be stuck in a tree or up a wall while picking, plus you will need to cut back the plant eventually as it is best for the it in winter. Make sure you have clearly labelled containers for each variety you collect as distinguishing on look and smell alone can be very difficult.
Once picked the hops will need to be dried and then stored. The easiest way to dry hops is with a food dehydrator, due to the small size of hops any will do so you don’t have to buy expensive equipment. You can dry hops without this though it will take longer, you will also want to keep them covered with netting or breathable fabric while doing so. It is best to keep the hops in very small layers, no more than two rows high while drying them, this will make it much easier for them to dry out.
Once dried it is preferable to keep them in a sealed bag, a zipped sandwich bag will do but the best way to do it is a vacuum sealer. If you have neither the hops won’t last as long, but either way when kept in the fridge they should stay fresh for some time. How long depends on the variety, but the same points mentioned earlier will help inform you if they have gone off.
Picking your hops should not be a stressful activity, you should get friends and family around to help and have a fun time doing so. But it is still important to do it right.