Hops and harvest at Scotney Castle

As the home to the National Trust's only working hop farm, September is the perfect time to visit Scotney Castle to see the hop harvest coming in at Little Scotney farm.

The Scotney Castle estate consists of 780 acres of woodland, parkland and pasture. Little Scotney farm is situated on the eastern side of the estate and concentrates on the rearing of sheep, a herd of Sussex cattle and the cultivation of hops. 

See for yourself 

During September we run a guided walks programme where one of our estate guides will take you to visit the farm and allow you an opportunity to see inside the Oast, stripping shed and walk amongst the growing hops in the gardens. We will even finish your tour off with a taster of ale brewed from hops at Little Scotney Farm. Each tour takes approximately 1.5 hours and does including walking to the farm and back. The Oast does include going up and down stairs. Tours run from 1 to 30 September 2018, 11:00am and 2pm and cost £3 per person. 

The hop gardens at Little Scotney farm
Hop gardens at Little Scotney farm
The hop gardens at Little Scotney farm

What are hops?

Hops are flowers which are added to beer during brewing. They give the beer its bitter taste and smell, and are also used for the preservation of beer. 

They grow on tall stems known as bines and can grow to over 5 meters tall. The flowers appear in July and then mature until around September. Hop plants themselves can last for up to 20 years and grow fresh stems each spring. 

Hops started to be used widely in British brewing in about 1520 when techniques were brought in to Kent. It was decided to call the areas where hops are grown gardens, to avoid a tax imposed on farming land. 

The hop gardens at Scotney Castle
Hop gardens at Little Scotney farm
The hop gardens at Scotney Castle

Processing hops 

In the past hops were handpicked from the bines and collected in baskets. This required a very large workforce and an annual migration of hop pickers came from London and the surrounding areas at harvest times. 

Now the bines are cut at the top and taken back to the stripping shed, situated next to the oasts, where the hops are separated from the leaves, stem and string. 

They are stored in re-used hessian sacks known as 'pokes'. They are then emptied in to the conical drying tower within the oast. It takes 8 hours to reduce the moisture content from 80% to 10%.

Once dry they are compressed into a new large sack called a 'pocket'. Each filled pocket weighs approximately 85 kilograms and makes it way to Westerham Brewery to be used in ale and bitter. 

Hops ready to be dried at Little Scotney farm
Hops ready to be dried
Hops ready to be dried at Little Scotney farm

Its not all about hops, we've got honey too 

On Saturday 8 & Sunday 9 September 2018 we will be hosting our Hops and Honey weekend, 10am-4pm. The garden will be awash with autumnal treats, including sweet honey and stalls selling our produce. Pick up your favourites to take home, then tuck into a hearty hog roast washed down with a pint of ale to experience the true delights of the season.