How the Hemp Harvest Works
From soap to rope, candle wicks to fabrics, “concrete” to things we eat… these things have more in common than just alliteration. Hemp. As one of the most versatile and useful plants on the planet, hemp can be used to make thousands of varieties of goods and textiles and is even edible. But how does the hemp harvest work? Is it like any other crop or are there specific precautions? Let’s dive into the details of how to harvest hemp.
Where Hemp Grows Best
Hemp is best grown in climates that aren’t extreme in nature – like hot and dry desserts or extreme mountainous elevations. Well-drained, but rich and nutrient-dense soil is best for cultivating hemp. Many Midwest, Central, and East Coast states have ideal climates, soil, and weather for hemp crops. States like Maine, Montana, Colorado, Oregon, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, and Wisconsin have rich soil with sufficient rain to produce hearty crops. Some of these states have the upper hand over the others due to long stretches of ideal weather without frost or snow. Keep in mind this detail says more about the quantity of output rather than the quality of the crops produced.
How long is a Hemp Harvest?
It takes approximately 108 to 120 days to harvest hemp from the sowing of seed to the cutting and shocking. Hemp plants go through several stages of development during this time including germination and sprouting, leaf development, the formation of lateral shoots, stem elongation, inflorescence emergence, flowering, development of fruit, the ripening of fruit, and senescence.
Soil Type & Precautions
The best soil to for growing hemp should be rich in organic matter, making it nutrient-dense. This nutrient-rich soil should be more alkaline than it is acidic, with a pH level between 7 and 7.5 to be ideal. Preliminary soil and water tests in late autumn or early spring should be done to ensure that the levels of heavy metals, elemental sulfur, potassium sulfate, and rock phosphate are low and in check.
Pesticides, Herbicides, and other Toxins
Hemp is a strong bio-accumulator. This means that it has a natural talent for absorbing toxins from the soil. Depending on what the crop’s purpose is, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. If it’s being grown as a food source, CBD source, or for products that will be used in soaps, tinctures, or other beauty products, proper soil testing and preparation is important to ensure the plant isn’t absorbing pesticides and toxins throughout the process.
Some farmers have utilized hemp specifically as a tool to clean the soil of toxins prior to planting other crops in their fields. This process is called bioremediation and even more specifically, phytoremediation. This is yet another way hemp can be extremely useful.
Harvesting for Fiber
When harvesting hemp for its fiber and biomass, it goes through several different steps. First, hemp is cut in the field and left in piles (or shocks) for approximately 5 weeks. During this 5-week period, a process called “retting” is taking place, which allows the plant to soften from moisture to separate the fiber from the stem. After retting is complete, the crop must be raked and kept in a cool, dry place to dry out – ensuring moisture does not remain over 15%. One of the final steps in the process is to decorticate the stalks. This breaks off the hard outer fibers (a.k.a. bast) from the softer woody inner part (a.k.a. hurd) of the stalk. Both the bast and the hurd can be utilized.
Harvesting Hemp Seeds
Harvesting seeds is a detailed process. Typically seeds on the plant are ready to be harvested at different times depending on if they are growing toward the top or bottom of the plant. If hemp seeds are being hand-harvested, they are cut from the plant and hit with a paddle above a tarp or sheet to remove and collect the seeds. Then, in an area with good airflow, the seeds are poured back and forth between large pails to allow the residue and fibers to fall away leaving only the seeds behind. With larger crops, a thresher is used to remove the seeds before being separated from the stem and husk in an industrial winnowing machine. Hemp seeds are then stored in a cool dry container with low humidity to avoid the germination process.
Hemp Harvest: An Intricate Relationship
Although hemp is hardy and can grow in a variety of conditions and still flourish, the best harvests are achieved by understanding the intricate relationships within mother nature’s interconnected systems on a deep level. To cultivate a great hemp harvest it involves a combination of the right climate and weather patterns, clean and balanced soil and water, and a detailed understanding of the lifecycle, growing, and harvesting conditions of the hemp plant.
Check out the Heirloom Hemp Co. store for all of our Maine-grown hemp products.