Ramble On

Monday, August 17, 2015

The 2015 Hops Harvest @hawksbillhops - Part 1

Here's a row of Cascades, ready for harvest.
All season long, as we watched those hops bines we planted last May grow, I was planning to take a week off for the harvest.  And even though I knew that as first year plants, the yields wouldn't be as much as they will be in a couple of years, it's fair to say that we were pleasantly surprised by how well the crop did - and I needed just about every hour of the six days I took off to get the crop in.

Our plan for oasting.
So on Wednesday morning I got up early enough to drive out from Alexandria to Luray - a drive that was surprisingly pleasant, heading out in the opposite direction of most DC area commuters.  I enjoyed the early morning views of my short cut from I-66 to Shenandoah National Park, then up and over the mountain into Luray, arriving in just about two hours flat.  When I got to the farm, I quickly found David and we began discussing what needed to be done about these hops - we could get started as soon as the CSA shares were put together.

The first thing on my mind was building an oast - the heated air dryer that is used to dry the hops.  We'd talked about this process a number of times over the growing season, but now the rubber was hitting the road and we needed to get out there and actually do it.  David sketched out a straightforward design on the CSA board, and we headed over to the co-op for the lumber and materials we needed.

The finished oast - the HOP-N-ATOR 4000!
We built a simple frame and then fit some shelves with bins into it.  It is modeled somewhat on the design the University of Vermont extension has on their website, although we did make some changes - for example, theirs is an eight-shelf design, while ours is a four-shelf design, and theirs conducts the air downward through the hops, while ours draws it upwards through them.

We were able to accomplish all this with only one trip to the co-op - no return trips because of some failure of design or bill of materials slip up.  David entrusted me with the use of some of the power tools as well - I didn't hurt myself or him in the process - and we got most of the unit done without any major mistakes.  And plenty of laughs.  

The unit is covered on all four sides with a small opening at the bottom to ensure that the air is drawn in consistently through all of the hop cones resting in the bins.  We recycled four barn fans for the air power, and eventually added a space heater as a heat source.

Additional details - powered by four barn fans.

When all was said and done, we had our oast.  We turned those fans on and watch how the powerful breeze drew through the machine.

It's a good machine, good enough to deserve a name, so we christened it the HOP-N-ATOR 4000, which is named after another utilitarian item that was in use at the farm a few years ago when I was on my internship.

Next year, we may need an upgrade to an eight-shelf unit - the HOP-N-ATOR 8000, and ultimately we could have both of them in operation for the duration of the harvest.  But for now, our first day's work was done - we had our machine, and picking could begin on Thursday morning...as soon as I got to the farm.

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