One of the questions we get asked most is ‘how do I know when my hops are ready to pick?’ Unlike most things we grow in the garden, hop harvest time isn’t obvious. Hop cones are the plant’s flowers, so they don’t ripen like fruit and veg, and the good stuff for beer (the powdery yellow ‘lupulin’) is hidden beneath the petals.
Thankfully, there’s a relatively long window for hop picking if you’re growing for home consumption and don’t need to worry about maximising yields. As with most harvests, the flowers develop at different rates on the same plant so when some are beginning to fade, and others are just coming up to readiness, most of the flowers in between will be at their best.
To give you a few clues regarding the best picking time, here are a few tips…
Most hops in the UK are ready to pick towards the end of August and through September, so you can relax during peak summer and give up when cold weather becomes a bit more common.
As the hops swell they take on a vibrant, fresh green colour. When ready, the vividness begins to fade and you’ll start to see some browning around the edges.
Unripe cones contain quite a lot of moisture so they’ll feel damp and soft to touch. When you squeeze them, they’ll stay squished. Hops that are ready begin to feel drier and more papery – gently rub them between finger and thumb and the petals are more likely to break off and your digits will feel sticky and oily.
After a squeeze of a cone, give your fingers a sniff. If it’s predominantly a green, grassy, vegetal aroma you’re sensing then they’re not ready. If the smell of hoppy beer takes over then it’s time to pick.
Check for lupulin
Break up a cone and at the base of the petals you’ll see the powdery yellow lupulin dotted around. This contains those sticky oils that does the work so a ready hop needs a good smattering of this substance in order for it to produce the goods.
Overripe is better than underripe
If you’re still unsure then wait a little longer – overripe hops are better than underripe hops and, once you’ve seen how they look when they reach the overripe stage, it’ll be more obvious next year what an underripe hop looks like.
Unless you’re making a fresh ‘green hopped’ beer then you’ll need to dry the hops and store them. We’ll put up a separate post about this topic soon…
If you don’t currently have hops to harvest then you might like this short piece on how to grow hops
And here’s a post on how to take hop cuttings