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Hop Picking is in Full Swing on the Farm!

 

When does Hop Picking Season Start?

Traditionally, September signals the start of hop-picking season at Wyer Croft - our family farm - although in recent years, we've found ourselves commencing the harvest in the last week of August.

We grow four varieties of hops here at Wyer Croft:  Progress, Target, Goldings and the traditional Fuggle hop. 

Hop growing goes hand-in-hand with apple growing, and just like our apples, our hop yards, which follow the curve of the river, are lucky to benefit from the rich, nutritious soil of the Frome Valley. Perhaps this is why our hops win so many local and national awards!

Hops can be pretty high maintenance and hop growing is not for the faint-hearted! The crop requires a great degree of attention throughout the year, particularly during growing season. And it's not just the hops that thrive in our bionic soil; the weeds love it too! And although they compete with the hops for nutrients from the soil, they also play their part in supporting our crop, by offering a habitat to insects such as aphid and predator-eating bugs that keep the hops in top form!

How are Hops Grown?

The 18ft high wire frames - built by our great-grandfather - are all strung with coconut yarn which is pegged in the ground, then hooks to the top of the frame allowing the hops to climb up the string as they grow. The hop bines grow clockwise, twisting up the yarn. Each hop root will last 20-30 years.

How are Hops Harvested?

The hops are grown in rows and are picked using a tractor and a trailer with a long ladder at the back featuring a platform at the top known as the crows nest. The long hop bines are cut with a scythe which drop down into the trailer.

Hop picking is very labour intensive with 4 people manning each tractor and trailer, per row!

Once the trailer is full, the team make their way to the hop picking machine. The hop picking machine runs from 07:30 in the morning to 17:30 in the evening, with a couple of tea breaks - it's a full-on day!

On arriving at the machine, the team unload the hop bines. The bines are securely clamped onto an overhead conveyor system using a device called a box. A number of people work to separate the bines. Any small loose sprays of hops are manually picked up and put onto the conveyor belt, feeding the spray pickers. 

The bines descend into a plucker and come out stripped of hops and leaves. 

What remains is chopped by guillotine and moved off as waste. The loose hops go by various belts, rollers and a blower which removes any petals and leaves. On the final conveyor belt, any last leaves are removed by hand and the hops bagged into sacks - greens sacks as they are known - because they contain green hops.

A Short History of Hop Picking  

Picking hops by machine started in the 1950s. Originally local people as well as people from Birmingham, South Wales and the Romany community came to pick hops fo the month of September. Today we still have a few locals helping with hop picking, but most of our staff are Eastern European. 

All hop picking machines are different but most of the tradition machines in the UK were made by a local company - Bruff Engineering in Suckley. Our machine when installed in the 1950s was a small one. It has been modified and enlarged by the family over the years to make it more economic and less labour intensive. 

The hops are then transported to the main farm by tractor and trailer for drying. This occurs two or three times a day. The sacks are then moved off the trailer by conveyor belt up into the kiln - which is a Herefordshire term - in Kent they are called Oast Houses.

Having the Kilns on the fist floor allows the hop dryers underneath. These can then blow air up through the hops.

The hops are tipped from the sack and tipped onto the hop kiln floor and levelled to a certain depth. 

Once the kiln is full, cold air is blown through the hops for a couple of hours to remove any moisture. 

The dryers are ignited at the end of the day and the hops are dried at a temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit through the night and then turned up at about 6am to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Hop picking is a costly exercise. The burners which dry the hops are constantly fed with a jet of diesel.

Later in the morning the dryers are switched off and the hops cooled with cool air. The dry hops are then dragged off the kiln and put into the bagging room. 

What is a Hop Pocket?

We have three electric hop pressing machines for bagging the hops into 'pockets'. A 'hop pocket' is made from rectangular cloth - either plastic or sack cloth. The two bottom corners are stuffed with hops and the top corners are tied to aid in moving them around. It is often said that the smell of dried hops aids restful sleep. We're sure the staff at the farm sleep well at the end of each day!!

There were at one time around 800-900 growers of hops in the UK, but now there are probably only 30-40 that remain. 

Once pressed full with hops, the hop pocket is sewn up by hand. Filled hop pockets weigh approx 75kg. They are stored until collection.

Hops are used for the flavouring of beer - and we supply many national breweries with our hops.

Watch

Watch our hop picking team in action!

 

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