|Hop Cones Ripening on the Bine|
An early spring and dry summer had caused the hops to sprout early and grow quickly. The harvest date came about two weeks sooner than expected. In our hopsyard, the Centennial variety is the first to bloom, and bloom they did. We estimated about 100 pounds of fresh-picked hops this year, mainly from the second-year Centennial and Cascades bines.
We had learned from other growers that large piles fresh (wet)
hops do not store well. A load of wet hops will actually start to compost
within hours of harvest. The pile will naturally start to heat up from that
reaction and spoil. The three enemies of hops (after they are picked) are heat,
air and sunlight. 1) Too much heat will evaporate the some 250 essential oil
compounds in the hop cones. 2) Air exposure can make them stale, and 3)
sunlight exposure after picking can impart an unfortunate ‘skunky’ flavor to
the cones. The best way to save hops is to dry them at low temperatures (under
100 degrees until they contain between 8-12% moisture), vacuum seal them and
place them in a dark freezer.
|Fresh Picked Hops|
Back in the day, hop farms had oasts, or barns especially made for drying hops. Nowadays, home growers use food dehydrators or air-dry a few pounds of hops. Modern commercial hop growers have million-dollar drying facilities and use jet engine-sized heaters to dry thousands of pounds. They deal in tons, we deal in pounds. We estimated about 200-400 pounds of wet hops in future years and needed a dryer that could accommodate those weights.
Back to early August. With harvest fast approaching, it was time to get to work and make that dryer. The resulting creation closely resembles a large, white Ikea wardrobe from the outside with surprising drying power capacity on the inside. We used melamine (coated particleboard) and drinking water-safe PVC in the construction, since they are easily cleaned and do not off-gas a smell or chemicals, like treated wood, which we did not want to transfer onto the hops.
|PVC - Easy and Clean to Work With|
Here is the DIY breakdown of our dryer:
- Constructed a large box and placed on coasters - dimensions 6’x4’x3’.
- Attached 18 PVC shelving brackets to each side of the box.
- Added 4 adjustable exhaust vents to the top and sides to control air flow.
- Attached 2 doors to the front that seal shut with piano hinges.
- Attached an air duct with a filter to the lower-side of the box. (The other end of the air duct attaches to the blower of a modified floor dryer.)
- Built 18 shelves with PVC frames and window screen mesh trays.
- Added wind baffles to the floor and sides to prevent air pockets.
- Sealed the whole box with silicone caulk
- Placed a small space heater in front of the air intake of the blower
- Turned it on, pressure tested it and sealed any remaining air leaks
|The Finished Product|
|First Tray for Testing|
|Partially Loaded Hops Dryer|
|Preparing the Century-old Apple Packing Shed for a New Life|