We're Into the Heart of Harvest / by Kathy Dunbar

We are now deep in the heart of the hop harvest at Freestyle Farms.  We began harvesting Nelson Sauvin yesterday and the modifications to the picker are working exactly as we hoped (yay!).  We now have our harvest processes dialed in, and the speeds of the picker and cleaning lines are tuned to each varietal and for differing weather conditions.  The Nelson is picking cleanly at normal machine speeds and smells amazing!  Kilned hop moisture is consistently coming out between 9.5% and 10% and the new baler continues to perform flawlessly, churning out perfectly consistent bales.

Data is pouring in from our two big fertigation trials (Wakatu in Block 18 and Rakau in Blocks TS/TN) and the results have been fantastic.  The fertigated Wakatu has produced ~35% more cones by weight, and came in at 8.5% alpha acid vs 7.1% alpha acid for the non-fert. side of the block.  Our qualitative assessment of the aroma is that the fertigated side had slightly stronger and more pleasant lime/mojito aromas.  The Rakau trial will be harvested soon, but as of right now the fertigated side visually looks much healthier and denser, with a nicer cone structure.  The dry matter data strongly supports our qualitative assessment, with the non-fert. side having a 100 cone sample weight of 57.6 g vs 98.1 g for the fertigated side.  Since neither side has reached maturity we will reserve final judgment for now, however our qualitative assessment and the feedback we have received from visiting brewers is that the fertigated side has much nicer aroma characteristics. 

This season we have been on a quest to identify what leads to the intermittent off aromas that have been reported in past years Nelson Sauvin and Motueka pellets.  After much study, we feel confident that we have found the major source of these off aromas and have developed a solution to avoid them going forward.  We believe that a large portion of these undesirable aromas is coming from cones that are extremely oxidized, caused by being picked too late or wind damage or from plant health issues.  All three of these seem to consistently result in the same garlic, diesel, sulfury, or generally bad aromas.  Fortunately, all of these issues are easily identifiable visually and can be avoided by not harvesting bines exhibiting those characteristics in the future. We strongly believe that a small number of problematic bines are having an outsized effect on quality and consistency.

Below are a few photos of the first of the Nelson in the kilns, checking the kiln moisture, double checking bale moisture, the baler in action, the Wakatu fertigation trial hops heading into the kiln, the Rakau fertigation trial block, and first year Nelson Sauvin in front of the mustard cover crop sown in block 26.