Friday, April 11, 2014

What a difference a day makes

I wanted to quickly demonstrate just how quickly hops can grow when they put their minds to it. Here are three pics of the Columbus on three consecutive days. 

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:


As you can see, I am going to have to keep on top of them right now to make sure I can start to train them up the corners of the tomato cage and then onto some twine above that.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

You turn your back for a couple of weeks....

Have been off in Oregan and Washington tasting beer and wine for the last couple of weeks. There was some walking through rainforests and along beaches, so it was healthy too. Came back to find my hops have definitely decided it's spring. Just like last year, the Columbus is way out in front:

There are at least a dozen shoots with leaves growing out of them. The other two may not be this prolific but they've definitely started. Here's the Cascade:

Not as many shoots or leaves yet but a very promising start. The Willamette is on a similar footing:

Too early to say if this means the Willamette will be as healthy and productive as the Cascade. If you remember last year during harvest, the Willamette gave me a grand total of three cones versus 2oz from the Cascade. I will be very happy if these two give me increased yield.

The other thing I will have to consider is whether to prune. Standard hop growing advice is to prune back all but the most vigorous bines so that growth is concentrated in them. It's too early to start worrying about that just yet. I might well do something along these lines for the Columbus, but the Cascade and Willamette seem as if they could perhaps do with another year of unrestricted growth. Will decide on this when there's more in the way of growth. Bring on spring!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shaking off winter

The new year has brought plenty of abysmal weather. We have had snow dumped on us several times now. Here is just one example:

The table on the right gives you and idea of just how much fell, and this wasn't even our biggest snow fall by any means. There's more falling as I write this, hopefully the last of the year. It's been a funny year so you never know. I'm hoping spring will be with us soon. In between snow falls I was able to spot these very early signs of spring in my hops. Here are shoots on the Columbus:

The second picture is particularly encouraging as the shoot is growing out of an end that tore when I was transplanting them back in September. The Cascade also has signs of new growth:

Not quite as advanced as the Columbus but encouraging nonetheless. Even the Willamette, which struggled a little last year, is getting ready for spring:

Consistent with it struggling in comparison to the other two, there are fewer shoots on the Willamette. There are still plenty to make me hopeful enough that it will flourish shortly. There is also no sign of the tomato plant that tried to overtake the Willamette after I transplanted them. I will just have to hope that the current snow coming down won't set them back too much. Everything I've read or heard about hops leads me to think that this is unlikely, so I'm quietly confident that there will be greater growth this year and hopefully an increase in harvest too. As a consequence I've decided to not try replacing the Galena that was so savagely taken from us last year.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The dead of winter

Thought I would sneak in one more post for this year. Hope everyone has had an excellent Christmas. I also wanted to show just how dormant hops become over the winter. The weather has been pretty dreich recently which has done a very good job of finishing off any of the the above ground growth. I took some pics about a month ago and today for comparison. Here's the Columbus:

The before and after are from different angles but it should be very clear just how little life there is here. I'm hoping that sufficient life has been stored in the roots for spring. Only time will tell.

The same can be seen with the Cascade:

All of the greenery has gone now. Although the Cascade had shown some signs of recovery from the move they were not exactly overwhelming. I'm still hopeful that I will see it again in a few months time.

The Willamette is the plant I'm most worried about. There was very little evidence of regrowth following the move. It has also suffered from having its space being taken over by a random tomato plant:

The tomato has gone the same way as the hops as a consequence of the cold. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that the hops are better at regrowing after the cold than the tomato. Given its perilous state I am seriously considering buying another rhizome or two for the coming year. In part to replace the Galena which met such a sad violent end. I intentionally left a space between the Columbus and the Cascade (where the Galena had been) when I moved them with a mind to adding another rhizome next year. How well it might do in between two established plants will be interesting to see. The stress of the move might be sufficient to put a new plant on an even footing. With any luck they will all start growing again before rhizomes become available for online ordering from Austin Homebrew so I can decide whether I really need to order more and if so how many.

Overall, this year has had its ups and downs. The hops were clearly not happy about being moved, even if it was only down the road. There were sufficient signs of recovery (particularly from the Columbus) that I'm hopeful that I'll see them again in 2014. On the positive side, this happened:

This is the first time I have managed to produce a beer with some of my own, home-grown hops. For me this is what it's all about, there really isn't anything quite like the flavour of fresh hops in beer. I've noticed a couple of breweries this year have also made beers with fresh hops available, namely Deschutes' Hop Trip and this year's Sierra Nevada Celebration. The downside to using fresh hops is that they're only available for a limited period. I'll just have to stick to pellets for the rest of the year. It does mean that there is good reason for looking forward to Autumn/Winter beers though, particularly if you've made them yourself with your own hops!
Have a great Hogmanay.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Winding down

The weather has definitely gotten colder. There hasn't yet been a freeze but we've been pretty close. In the meantime there has been very little observable growth of what remains of the three hop plants. They are at least still predominantly green, so I'm hoping that they are building up reserves in their rhizomes for spring. Here's the Columbus:

You'll notice that I've pruned the dead stuff, making what's left easier to see. It does make them look kind of bare and scraggly. If you look closely you can see some newer growth, as evidenced by the slightly lighter colour of the leaves (they're smaller too).

Here's the Cascade:

There's obviously a lot less of this, although there is some evidence of the new growth (lighter green colour towards the back) still struggling on. At least it doesn't seem to be getting worse.

The Willamette on the other hand:

Nearly all the greenery you can see here is from other plants, the catnip in the background in the pot and tomato plants that sprouted from our compost. You should just be able to see a couple of old looking leaves towards the top. Other than that there are almost no leaves over the rest of the plant. I will keep my fingers crossed for it but I don't have high hopes for its reappearance come spring. At least it hasn't given up completely.

On a much brighter note, I can report the outcome of using my hops in my own beer:

You of course can't tell just by looking that it was made using home grown hops. As a recap, this was made using the Austin Homebrew Kalamazoo IPA all-grain recipe and adding my own hops. The other thing you can't tell from the photo is the fantastic aroma and taste. The fresh hops have definitely lifted the original significantly. If you haven't tried growing your own hops to add to your own beer I can't recommend it more highly. What's the worst that could happen?

Friday, October 4, 2013

And now back to your regularly programmed schedule...

There are some signs of life in the hop plants still. It's October now but we're having some warm weather of late which I hope is helping. Remains to be seen how much longer they will last before dying off for the winter. The Columbus is looking the healthiest at the moment:

There is some evidence of new growth but it certainly is not vigorous:

Despite the damage done to the roots while I was transplanting it, the Columbus seem like the most likely to survive to sprout again in spring. Will just have to wait and see. I'm also not sure when I should expect the growing parts that are left to start dying off for winter. This would suggest that the first freeze will finish them off. That seems like a long way off with the unusual warmth we're having right now. These things can change quickly though.

The Cascade (with requisite lounging cat in the background) looks like it is still hanging on:

Some evidence of new growth that does not seem to be in much of a hurry:

The Willamette is looking very thin indeed:

Most of the greenery you can see in this picture is from the other plants. The pot at the back has catnip (thus the lounging cat) which is doing very well. The only sign of new growth I could find was this:

Hardly cause for celebration. Of the three plants, I am most worried about whether the Willamette will make a reappearance come spring. Depending on how growth looks for them between now and the first freeze, I may well get another rhizome or two next year to try and ensure that I have some new growth.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Brewing pt2

In this particular case I'm using a recipe kit from Austin Homebrew, their Kalamazoo IPA. This kits comes with pelleted Centennial hops which I will be using along with my own hops. The vast majority of the hops I have harvested are Columbus, which are normally used as a bittering hop as they have a high alpha acid content. However, it is unlikely that my own homegrown hops will have achieved such high levels of alpha acid, especially in their first year. I'm also not going to spring for a lab analysis. For these reasons I've decided to split them up, half (about half a pound, wet weight) going in at the start of the boil (as bittering hops would) and the other half going in 15 minutes before the end of the hour (along with the meagre offerings from the other two hops) to contribute to the flavour. Here's the first lot going in:

I poured them in straight from the freezer. This is what they looked like after a couple of minutes:
The smell at this point is amazing. I always enjoy brew day for the way it makes the house smell but using fresh wet hops always makes it that much more so. As I said earlier, I added the rest of the hops towards the end of the boil. All three Willamette cones (bless their hearts):

As well as 2oz of Cascade:

And the rest of the Columbus:

At this point the smell in the whole house is incredible, as long as you like hops as much as everyone in this house does. Once the boil is done it's time to cool the wort as quickly as possible. In our previous house I had done this by immersing it in the sink full of water with frozen cool packs and ice. As you can see in the photo below this isn't possible in our new place:

This is actually my first time using a cooling coil (also from Austin Homebrew). I should probably make it clear that I'm not affiliated with them in any way other than being a happy customer. Previously, wort cooling had taken up to 30 minutes. This coil brought it down to less than 15. I have read elsewhere that the quicker you can cool your wort the less haze you will get in the final beer, which is, unsurprisingly, referred to as chill haze. Everything I've read about it says that it doesn't affect the flavour of the beer so I hadn't worried about it much. We will see if this beer ends up with less in the way haze once bottled.
Once the wort has cooled and the gravity measured, the yeast starter culture is added. With the lid attached and air lock in place, the whole thing is placed in the basement to ferment:
The basement stays at a pretty constant 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) and I was rewarded the next day with plenty of activity in the airlock. I have high hopes for this beer. I once previously made a beer with fresh hops I bought from my local homebrew shop in Houston (DeFalco's). It was easily the best beer I had made up to that point. If you have never tried using fresh hops please do yourself a favour and try it soon.