March is the month of the hop harvest in Nelson, when the fields that were curtained in green lose their flavour-laden curtain – until next year. At Kentishman Hops in Upper Moutere, the hop harvest rekindles images from my past, when tractors were smaller and closer to the ground and farmers still wore straw hats (yeah!)
The harvesting process here is very low-tech. A wooden-handled slasher-type blade allows the guy on the back of the trailer to cut the string in one clean cut, and soon the trailer is loaded with vines.
In the processing shed, the serenity of the fields gives way to rotating drums and clanking conveyers, as the flowers and leaves are separated forever, with the hop flowers eventually finding their way into the peace and quiet of the drying kiln where the smell is amazing.
It’s only the flowers that make it down the chute to cascade gently onto the drying floor. Spreading the hops evenly on the mesh floor is essential to effective drying.Hops can be rejected by the processors if the drying is not within the critical range, so great care must be taken to get it right.
It’s an intensive time for farmer Guy Coddington, managing the harvest and monitoring the kiln boiler day and night while the drying is in process. Guys’ kiln is a functional iron affair, with a coal boiler doing all the hard work.
This group of gentle cyclists were lucky to be in the garden at harvest time so got the full hoppy experience, topped off with the beer at the end.
Pretty damned good!