Along with taking on growing your own hops, comes the challenge of packaging them so that they stay fresh. The first 2 harvests, I just packaged in Zip Lock bags, compressing the hops as best I could. There was a recent thread on the Grow Hops Yahoo Group about Hop Pluggers and I decided to try and build one. In this post I will explain how to make a hop plugger, and hopefully prove that it's not that hard to do.
The picture below shows the pieces required to make the hop plugger. As you can see, not a lot to it, and in total your cost will be from $8-$10.
3ft length of 1.5 inch PVC pipe
6 inch length of 1.5 inch PVC pipe
1.5 inch PVC coupling/coupler
1.5 inch PVC end cap
Oak Compression Plug (or other hardwood)
There is no need for any glue or plastic cement as you want to be able to disassemble the plugger for cleaning and to make it easy to get the hop plug out.
There are only 2 real fabrication steps in putting this together, other than cutting the lengths of the PVC pipe. The first is making the oak compression plug (right). This is what I use to compress the hops once they are in the hop plugger. To make it, I grabbed a scrap piece of oak I had, approximately 3/4 inch thick and used a hole saw to make a round plug a little larger than the inside diameter of the pipe. I then used a bench grinder and a sander to slowly trim away the excess wood (you can see burn marks around the edges) to make semi-tight fit, as the plug still needs to be able to slide through the PVC easily.
The second step is to slim down the outer dimensions of tube that will hold the hop plug after compression. You want to do this so that the coupling and the end cap don't fit so tight that they are hard to get off. I took the 6 inch long piece of PVC pipe I had cut, and using the bench grinder, lightly ground the outside of the tube on each end (If you click on the picture to the left, and look closely at the enlarged picture, you can see where I have done the grinding). Test fit the pipe with the cap and coupling until it is easy to pull apart, but still holds itself together. After I got the fit I wanted, I used sand paper to smooth the area I had ground.
Now, just assemble the pieces. On one end of the 3ft length of 1.5 inch PVC pipe, attach the coupling. Insert the 6 inch length of 1.5 inch PVC pipe into the other side of the coupling, and then attach the end cap to the other end of the 6 inch length of PVC. The picture on the right shows what it looks like assembled.
To make hop plugs, turn it upright with the open end of the long tube at the top. Add the desired amount of hop cones for your plug (I was able to get about one ounce in at a time). Then drop in the oak compression plug on top of the hops and use a rod (I used a broomstick handle) to push the oak plug down. Once the hops are compressed, you can then remove the plug chamber (6 inch section, picture on left) from the bottom of the plugger and either turn it upside down to get out the hop plug, or take the end cap off to let it slide out. Being able to take this chamber off also will allow you to add compression to the plug via clamp if so desired, although you may want to make the chamber a little smaller. This chamber is big enough to hold a 2 oz hop plug.
I used it last night to make hop plugs (sorry don't have pictures) and it did really well. The only thing I may do is add a reducing coupler to the other end of the long PVC pipe where I add the hops, so it is easier to get them into the pipe.
Here are a few other pictures you may find handy if you choose to take on building your own Hop Plugger.