Last year I saw some smaller cones on my Columbus around the time I harvested. I had hoped they would turn into a second harvest but had to move them and that stopped that dead. I have seen them again this year:
Doing some reading this year I found this piece that clearly states that these are in fact male flowers. I had known previously that hops are dioecious, that is they have two sexes. What we think of hop cones are the flowers found on the female plant. The presence of male plants nearby is not desirable as there is a chance of pollination and subsequent formation of seeds within the female flowers which are not something we want in our beer. What I had not know was that some strains of hops are "triploid" and can thus have both male and female flowers. The above article specifically names Columbs (as well as Zeus) as an example of a "triploid" hop variety.
"Triploid" means that the plant has three copies of each chromosome, in contrast to us humans who normally have just two copies in most of our cells ("diploid"). The exception to this rule being our gametes, which have half the normal number (ie one of each, that is referred to as haploid). In contrast, plant genetics can get very weird and complicated very easily. Some crops (such as strawberries and sugar cane) can be up to octoploid (8 copies of each chromosomes).
The above article is written by the head hop grower at Great Lakes Hops and she says that male flowers in Columbus appear when the plant is severely stressed. This year has been a bit dryer and hotter than last year but I don't think they could be described as "severely stressed". Certainly last year it did not appear to be stressed at all and there were a good number of male flowers. However, last year they did only appear after all of the female cones had developed. This year, with a bit more stress, I have seen them appear much earlier. Perhaps this is sign to make sure I water them more regularly. I have mostly been relying on our weather so far this year, which has provided plenty of rain but not at regular intervals.
Although there are some signs of stress this year, it doesn't seem to have affected the production of cones much. I have already started harvesting some from the Columbus:
And Cascade, with plenty more to come:
The cones on the Willamette are not yet ready to pick but there are plenty of them:
This is just one lateral arm. If you remember last year, this is a plant that gave me a whopping total of three cones. I'm particularly pleased with this as the plant itself does not look overly happy in comparison to the others:
I am hopeful that I will be able to continue picking hop cones for several months to come. If I'm very lucky I might even get an increase in production in relation to last year. The Willamette is certainly set to give me a lot more than its first year.