Sunday, October 2, 2016

Treasure Valley Hop Harvest

So it was near the end of Hop Harvest here in the Treasure Valley.  I had never really been around hops at this stage of the growing operation, so I thought I would share how it's done.  Idaho ranks third for hop growing states behind Washington and Oregon.  Near as I can tell there are over 3000 acres of hops in the Treasure Valley West of Boise.  There are another 1700 or so in far Northern Idaho.  The first hops were grown here in 1934 just after the end of prohibition.  (Woo Hoo!)

Hops are grown in Hop Yards as they are called.  The perennial plant grows up strings attached to wires which are suspended by these poles.  At harvest time, a machine cuts the vines and piles them in a truck that is following the harvester.  Unfortunately, as it was the end of harvest, we were never able to get close to a harvester, and were too impatient to wait for the one we did see to make a round and get close to where we were.  But you can kind of see it in the background of the picture, with the unharvested vines growing up to the top of the string.
 Here is a close up of a vine laden with hops ready for harvest.

The harvest trucks are actually just a small flat bed with panels on the sides that hold a pile of hop vines.  Then they drive back to the processing plant for unloading.  The vines are attached to hooks on cables that carry the vine up and then over into the moving chain that sheds the hops.  (I'm sure there are correct terms for all of this, but I skipped that part of the lesson.  So bear with me.)  Not sure of the age, but this place looked pretty old, as did the other hop processor places we saw.  
This chain roller is moving really fast and knocks the hops off of the vine as it goes through.  The hops fall below onto a conveyor that takes them to the drying room.  After the vines are free of hops, they go into some sort of grinder that chops them up.  More on that shortly.
 Here are Bruce and Gary in the building that has that de-hopper apparatus.  It is really loud.  Ear plugs are a must, although unfortunately the workers there didn't seem to have any.  We were only there for not even a minute which was long enough.
Here is the big drying room.  There are a series of bays where the conveyor distributes hops onto the floor.  There is air being blown through a screen in the floor that dries them.  I don't know the drying content to finish the operation.  But when dry they are somehow pushed through those doors on the right and wrapped into bales for delivery to some brewery somewhere.
Here is one of the drying bays loaded with hops.  There is a woman who diligently spreads them out as they come off the conveyor.  Now that's a job.
 Here are some of the hops from the drying pile.  They really don't smell that great and don't know who was the first person that looked at those and said "Hey, I'll bet those would make beer taste good."
 That pile over there is from the chopped up vines, and they are loaded into trucks who haul them off to be spread someplace.  Not sure if they go back into the hop yard.  Didn't see any of that, but they are going somewhere, one after another.
Business must be good as here is a newly built hop yard that will begin growth next year.  Maybe by then we will get some AgroLiquid positioned for that.
I understand that there is some AgroLiquid used on hops somewhere.  Will have to learn more about that.  But glad I was in the right place at the right time to see how the hops go from vine to ready for brewing.