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Hops have been grown here at Stocks Farm for over 100 years. The hop plant is perennial and grows back from the rootstock every year. Depending on the warmth of Spring, this usually starts in early April when the first shoots start to emerge. We start to string our hopyards in March, using biodegradable Natural Coir string sourced from Sri Lanka. We create this string framework for the hops to climb, supported by the permanent structure of the poles and wirework. We use different patterns of stringing for different varieties, to optimise yield and ease harvesting later in the year.
In April, we tie two or three hop shoots onto each string in a clockwise motion by hand. If tied anti-clockwise the hops will fall off, and if it is a windy spring we will repeat this process again and again!
Through the rest of the Spring, we spray our hops and regularly monitor the crop. By June the plants are starting to establish on the string.
By the middle of July our hops should have reached their full height and the laterals will begin to grow out. Hops come into ‘burr’ first and then the flower or cone develops. Broadly speaking the plant is three weeks in burr and three weeks in hop before reaching maturity.
The harvest at Stocks Farm usually starts in early September and may continue into early October. Tall hops are harvested by cutting the whole bine, including the string, and taking it to the hop-picking machine where the hop is separated from the bine, laterals and leaf.
Arguably the most important aspect of hop farming is the drying. Once clean of leaf, the hops are distributed into baskets and put into the hop kiln or oast to dry. Hops contain over 80% moisture when picked and in order to make them store, we reduce this down to about 10%. We then bale them into packages of 60kg in weight and vacuum pack smaller packs for Homebrewers.