Harvest Timing and Dry Matter by Kathy Dunbar

Harvest is in full swing at Freestyle Farms, with the Motueka coming in smelling strongly of tropical fruit (and awesomeness!!!).

Harvest timing has a significant impact on flavour, aroma, acids, and HSI.  Beginning with next year’s harvest, picking times for each varietal will be selected to maximize the naturally strong tropical fruit, citrus, floral and pine flavours common to the hops we grow, with a clear objective to maximize flavour and aroma.  We believe that maximizing aroma and flavour, rather than weight, acids or HSI, is crucial to producing an exceptional hop.  That said, we are quite open to harvesting objectives that meet specific goals.  We plan to further explore optimization around harvest timing and the intended hot side, cold side or dry hopping use of the hops.

To plan harvest timing, we use a combination of dry matter measurement, in-field sensory analysis, visual indicators, historical harvest data, plant condition, location (soil type) and experience.  After exhaustive research we have concluded that dry matter analysis and in-field sensory analysis (systematically gathering rubbing impressions) are the most accurate predictors of flavour and aroma in processed hops.

Dry matter analysis is simply a measure of the average moisture content of the sampled hop cones.  This moisture content is highly predictive of the state of cone maturity, and by extension the state of all the acids and aromatic compounds in the hops.  Generally, we will target ~23% dry matter for harvested hops, although this varies based on varietal from ~22% to ~26%.  The variation is primarily driven by cone structure, with particularly dense hops like Cascade or Green Bullet picked at the high end of the range.  Below I've pasted the dry matter results from our sampling earlier this week to give you a better sense of the numbers.  Block 7 was picked today and Block 13, 9 and 12 will follow shortly.

To systematically gather in-field sensory analysis, we have developed an app that allows us to gather frequent and standardized data about aroma impressions.  We are planning to use everyone who visits us this year to help build a broader sample of impressions and make improvements to our process prior to next year’s harvest.  The primary use of sensory data will be to avoid prematurely harvesting hops that still exhibit strong grass or herbal notes (unless that’s what you’re after :-)).  As we gather data, and gain experience with our blocks, the hope is that we can extract additional insights from the in-field sensory data.

We look forward to working with all of our partners to continue improving our harvest timing.  Below are some photos of the harvest action, some Motueka bursting with lupulin, our new equipment chucking out leaves, and dried hops conditioning before going into bales.


Harvest Is Here! by Kathy Dunbar

Harvest is finally upon us here in New Zealand.  This morning we started up the picker and tested out all of our fancy new improvements on the Pacifica in Block 2, that has surprisingly gone from green to really aromatic over the last two weeks.  The Pacifica (and our Motueka) has had a huge boost in lupulin over that time from a string of hot sunny days.  We stopped the picker a few times throughout the day to make adjustments and fix minor issues, but luckily we had all the wrenches and swear words needed to get things running again quickly.

I've included a link below to a google map of the farm, so that you can better see exactly where the hops come from.  We'll keep adding informative data to this map as we collect it (click on the individual blocks to see the applicable info).


Below are a few photos of today's action, our lovingly tended nursery plants and one photo of the morning fog and marine layer burning off a few days ago.

To start getting you a more data-driven sense of this growing season I have included the graphs below showing cumulative growing degree days and precipitation.  It has been one of the coolest and wettest seasons of the last 25 years.



Hops season in the southern hemisphere by Kathy Dunbar

It's hops season in the Southern Hemisphere and we're looking forward to harvest!  I wanted to start giving everyone a regular update and hopefully some useful insights into what's happening on the farm through the growing season and harvest.  My hope and intention is to, over time, provide the understanding needed to foster meaningful feedback on our efforts, in small digestible bits.  To this end, a brief note and a few captioned photos follows.   As harvest fast approaches, the sheep are still out in the fields nibbling off he bases we’ll be pulling them out in a week or so.  Milder temperatures this year combined with rainfall means a later start date to our harvest (we are currently forecasting a March 3rd start).  At this point in the season, the varietals are at different stages of growth, with our Motueka looking nice and big, with lots of lupulin, while our Nelson Sauvin is still forming buds.  I’ve included some photos of the farm (below) which is looking great and some interesting ones of cool new equipment we have installed.  This year we custom built a mini arm picker and stick walker; the only one in the world!  This creation eliminates the recycling of almost clean hops back to the start of the picking line (and finishes their cleaning with a much gentler process), ensuring the hops are super clean but still allowing us to get through tough to pick varietals like Nelson Sauvin in their narrow picking windows.