A Simple Step-by-Step Guide on How to Grow Hemp
Hemp has a multitude of uses, both medicinally and industrially. And because it’s also an easy-to-grow plant, that is simple to maintain and harvest, it is becoming an increasingly popular crop for farmers to grow. But many individuals are also interested in growing their own hemp. For some, it’s a way to ensure that they know exactly where their CBD comes from. For others, it’s simply an interesting experiment in cultivation. Here is an easy, step-by-step guide to help you on the road to growing hemp from seeds outdoors, whether doing it at home, or on a larger scale.
Step 1: Soil, Sun & Water
Hemp prefers well-aerated, loamy soil rich in organic matter and fertile. Hemp also prefers a soil with a pH of 6-7.5. If you get these conditions right, it will help ensure that the plants have all they need to get them through the growing season.
The first thing you want to do is check the condition of the soil you plan on planting the hemp seeds. You can either buy a soil test at your local hardware store, nursery or online. Alternatively, take a soil sample to your local agricultural center for testing. Once you know what you are dealing with, supplement your soil with the recommended minerals.
Hemp plants love sun, and should be planted where they receive the maximum amount of sunlight available. With that said, hemp can, and does, grow in as little as six hours of sunlight per day, but to thrive, full sun is better. Think of 12 or more hours of sunlight per day.
If you’re growing your hemp outside, it’s important to know that hemp needs at least 20 to 30 inches (50 to 75 cm) of rainfall during its growth cycle. Ideally you don’t want soil moisture to go below 80% the total moisture capacity. This is especially true during germination, with water absorption increasing each day until the flowering stage begins.
If the area you are growing your hemp in doesn’t receive this much rain, consider installing an irrigation system or growing the hemp
Step 2: The Seeds
Deciding on the type of seeds you want to grow and where to get them from is essential before you even consider sowing a single seed.
THC-rich cannabis is still considered an illegal substance within the European Union (EU). Similarly, most European countries also have stringent, but also different, regulations around cannabis cultivation, selling and usage.
When it comes to legal cannabis or hemp cultivation, EU regulations impose a THC level of less than 0.2% so that the final product does not produce intoxicating effects. It is therefore vital that you buy and grow only certified hemp seeds, of which you need to keep the documentation for one year, or at least as long as it’s harvested.
Standard vs Feminized vs Auto-Flowering Seeds
Standard hemp seeds
As the name suggests, standard hemp seeds are exactly that: bog-standard hemp seeds the way nature intended them to be. That means that when you buy a packet of standard hemp seeds, you will probably get a mix of male and female plants, which is not always a good thing. When your mature male hemp plants release pollen and pollinate your female hemp plants produce seeds, causing them to focus their energy on creating the next generation of hemp plants instead of the hemp flowers most people are looking for.
Feminized hemp seeds
Feminized hemp seeds by-passes this issue as they are seeds that only grow female plants by carefully stressing female plants. When mature female hemp plants are stressed, they produce seeds that preserve their genetic line, containing the same genetic makeup as their mother, including only female chromosomes. Feminized hemp seeds are larger and sturdier, though their most significant advantage is their lack of pollen.
Autoflowering hemp seeds
Auto-flowering seeds are typically strains that automatically switches from the vegetative stage to the flowering stage without requiring closely timed hours of light and dark. This means that unlike photoperiod seeds that the only flower after the summer solstice, auto-flowering seeds start blooming once they reach the right size. Despite producing lower yields, auto-flowering seeds are great if you want multiple harvests per year, want to stagger plants and/or are new to growing hemp.
As mentioned, in the EU, cannabis is considered hemp when it has a THC-content of less than 0.2% (although local laws and regulations might be different). That means that you can pick from different strains that have been specifically cultivated to adhere to these regulatory guidelines for European production.
Among the strains most chosen by producers are the Cannabis Sativa strains called Carmagnola, Eletta Campana, Finola, Felina 34 and Future 75, all of which are regularly selected by professional cultivators within the CBD market as they contain high levels of cannabidiol and other microcannabinoids and terpenes.
Step 3: Growing Hemp
When to plant hemp seeds
Seeds should be planted after the last danger of frost has passed. In northern Europe this is typically in early to mid-spring, or from April/June onwards. But it in the end, conditions are more important than calendar dates and you need to make sure that you have a stable soil temperature of at least 10°C and above. You also need to make sure that there are at least 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight and deep watering for germination to occur.
How to plant hemp seeds
Once you’re sure conditions are ready, plant the seeds, spaced most commonly 1 meter by 2 meters apart, if space allows. This leaves sufficient space for the hemp plant to grow and reach full maturity while also giving enough room for walking between, inspecting and harvesting the plants. But although this amount of space keeps the field manageable, it’s not always necessary. If you are growing on a smaller scale, hemp can be planted very densely with no issues as well, and you can leave less growing room between plants.
Once your seeds are in the ground, they should be deeply watered once a week, early in the morning, or at dusk to prevent evaporation. Seed-sprouts should start emerging anywhere from between 5-10 days, although some seeds can take as long as two weeks.
Should you use any chemicals?
Growing hemp organically is more than just a fad, or a good thing to do for the environment. While every plant absorbs nutrients from the soil, hemp is also a powerful “bioaccumulator.” This means that hemp is good at absorbing other substances from the ground as well, including toxins, heavy metals, and other potentially harmful chemicals.
That’s splendid news if you want to use hemp to clean your soil. But it’s not such great news if you want to use your hemp harvest for ingestion, inhalation or making your own CBD extracts. So, we recommend growing your hemp organically will ensure that you don’t risk ingesting harmful toxins along with your CBD.
Step 4: Harvesting and Curing
If hemp is grown for CBD extraction, it is typically harvested in early to mid-autumn (think early to late October). This is when cannabinoid levels are at their peak and the hemp flowers are ripe and full, ready for drying and optimal curing.
Harvesting is a simple process in which you cleanly cut the lowest seed pod off just below the stalk. The best tool to use is a set of shears, snips or scissors. If you didn’t use feminized seeds, we also recommend holding the cutting over a tarp to thrash the clipping with a stick, club, or bat to knock all the seeds off onto the tarp or bin.
Drying needs to happen immediately, before the quality of the hemp reduces, spoil and/or grow mold. The easiest way to do this is to blow air directly underneath the freshly harvested hemp so you can push air into it while it’s fresh from the field. And while the hemp is drying, try to keep it in a dry, constantly ventilated area.
Trimming hemp flowers
Once dried, you can hand trim the hemp flowers and stop there. However, we recommend going taking the hemp flowers through a curing process as well, ensuring improved cannabinoid profiles, aroma, and flavor.
For the curing process, place the dried hemp plant material into separate ceramic, metal, wood, and glass containers that have wide openings and air-tight seals. Fill the container up without compressing the plant material and secure the lid, ensuring that zero air penetrates the interior. By doing this, it allows some internal moisture from the hemp to rehydrate the exterior leaves.
Storing hemp flowers
Set aside the containers in a cool, dark, dry area away from direct heat, moisture, and light. After a week, remove the lids and allow a few minutes for oxygen levels to get back to normal inside the containers. Also check for mold: if you detect the smell of ammonia, mold has probably started to grow, rendering it unusable. Continue to open the jars once per day for the next two to four weeks, or until the plant material is sticky, spongy, aromatic and break apart easily without crumbling.
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What is the Best Climate to Grow Hemp?
From the river valleys of Virginia to the lush hills of Oregon, hemp is making an American comeback. It is a hardy, versatile, crop that can adapt to some of the harshest conditions on the planet. With more and more farmers looking to grow hemp it begs the question, where is the best place to grow hemp?
What are the Ideal Conditions for Growing Hemp
What are Ideal Soil Conditions for Growing Hemp?
Let’s start at the bottom. Hemp prefers a balanced (pH 6-7), well drained, loamy soil. Soil that is well aerated and allows for adequate water retention. Although it can grow in a wide variety of soil types, sandy soil is often the most difficult. This is due to compaction and poor water delivery to the roots. Having dry roots due to inadequate moisture, or excess water remaining on the surface, will lead to crop damage.
What are Ideal Planting Conditions for Growing Hemp?
Once the soil is prepared for planting seeds, dig a well at a depth less than 2 inches. Planting at 1 inch lets the seeds sprout in uniformity. This allows for a more profitable field because taller plants will not shade newly emerging sprouts. This also is helpful when harvest time rolls around. The height of blooms, seed areas, and stalk height will be at close to uniform.
What are Ideal Light Conditions for Growing Hemp?
Hemp does well in full sun when the outdoor temperatures are around 60°F and preferably 2-3 weeks after the last chance of frost has past.
[PRO-TIP] If an unexpected frost does occur the young plants can be protected if they are covered by a film or cloth and are watered 24-48 hours before the frost. Well watered soil retains heat more so than dry soil giving the plants a better chance of survival.
What are Ideal Temperature Conditions for Growing Hemp?
Once established, hemp is quite drought tolerant. Through the early stages of seed germination, air temperatures should be between 50-80°F. This will give the roots enough time to become fully established before the heat of summer is in full effect. Seeds can be started when soil temperatures are between 42-46°F.
What are Ideal Moisture Conditions for Growing Hemp?
When planting seeds directly into the field they require more water over the first 4 weeks. Watering a freshly planted field 1-2 times a day to allow the seedlings proper moisture for healthy germination. Once the plants are about 2 inches in height, the water can be adjusted as necessary to provide slightly moist soil throughout the rest of the growing season. Once the plants reach a height of 3-4 feet water can be further reduced depending on how hot outdoor temperatures become.
What is the Ideal Air Flow for Growing Hemp?
Air flow between the plants is necessary to keep mold and mildew at bay. This can be accomplished outdoors by spacing plants adequate distances apart. Four to seven inches between each plant in a row is ideal. Spacing rows two to four feet apart is adequate depending on the end harvest goals. Traditionally hemp has been planted like a grain, as that has been the primary end harvest goal, but now more and more farmers are planting hemp like a vegetable or orchard, due to the desire to maintain the plants at higher quality and harvest for a different end goal.
What is the Ideal Nutrition for Growing Hemp?
Hemp grows very large, very quickly. To allow for this vigorous growth, the plants will need proper feedings. As a general rule, the soil should contain twice as many nutrients at seeding, as the plant will absorb in an entire harvest season. This is a good starting point for a healthy field, but the plants will need to be fed at leastonce during the growing season. The plants will have distinct two stages of growth during their life-cycle: Vegitativeand Flowering.
The vegetative stage is when the plant grows tall and wide, filling out with leaves, branches, and overall size.
The flowering stage, as the name suggests, is when blooms or flowing buds, that are rich in CBD, begin to form. This flowering location is also where seeds/grain is formed.
In each stage, the plant requires a different mineral food source for optimum growth.
In the vegetive stage, the plants will use primarily Nitrogen to expand and grow in size. A good fertilizer for this stage would be one rich in Nitrogen such as an NPK 10-6-6.
Once flowering has begun, the plants will switch over to using more phosphorus and potassium. So once signs of flowering are noticed, it would be a good time to give a feeding of an NPK 6-12-8 fertilizer. The number of the NPK’s (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) here do not have to match the numbers above. Today there are so many different blends of feed to choose from, that selecting the “right” one for your crop may seem overwhelming. Not to worry, the main thing to remember is that the numbers should be higher in Nitrogen for the vegetative stage, and higher in phosphorus in the flowering stage. To find what out what minerals your soil has already, you can perform a simple test.
How to Treat Hemp Plants for Weeds
Hemp is naturally effective at suppressing weeds. No chemicals are needed to ward off encroaching neighbors. There are no approved or registered chemicals for hemp field weed suppression and given the end harvest goals of CBD extraction, fibre for textiles, and grain for food, chemical additions would do more harm than good. Not only for the plants and products, but also to the soil. Keeping soil healthy and dynamic will yield not only great harvests today, but assure abundant future harvests for generations to come.
When to Seed Hemp Plants
Hemp can be seeded in the early spring through early summer and plants reach maturity in as quick as 60 days for some species. More commonly hemp is allowed to grow for 90-120 days allowing the plant to complete it’s full life cycle. The timing of the harvest is based on the end harvesting goals. Most recently hemp has been grown primarily for grain in North America (Canada) and the leftover stalks were viewed as a nuisance. But now with the ever growing market for hemp based products, more and more farmers are letting the plants grow 60+ days to harvest the flowers for CBD extraction, leave a section to continue growing to 90+ days for seeds, and once both are harvested, cutting down all the stalks for fibre harvest production. Making a three distinct harvests from one plant. Getting the most out of their time, land, and money.
When to Rotate Hemp Crops
Hemp can be grown year after year on thhee same section of land, but good crop rotation is key to the sustainability of any good farm. Rotating the hemp plot with buckwheat (phosphorus regeneration), legumes (nitrogen regeneration), and alfalfa (nitrogen regeneration) are all good solutions to maintaining the soil.
The soils health is key to keeping a great operation alive and well, so taking the time to plant a cover crop, replenishing the soil with nutrients and minerals can make the difference in growing healthy crops for years to come. A 4-year rotation is recommended.
The Best Soil to Grow Hemp: Everything You Need to Know
As with any crop, the soil you grow your plants in can make the difference between having a bumper harvest and a total bust. Thankfully, having the best soil to grow hemp in has a lot more to do with knowing what to add to your soil than starting with perfect soil.
If you’re a farmer looking to add industrial hemp into your crop rotation, you’re in luck when it comes to establishing the best soil to grow hemp. Overall, hemp’s needs aren’t that different from a lot of vegetable crops.
In many ways, you can approach your soil for industrial hemp like you would for corn, tomatoes, and garlic.
Basic Needs for Hemp Soil
Though hemp is often touted as having a resilience that will allow it to grow anywhere, that’s simply not the case. And, even if it could grow anywhere, there would, of course, be environments where it thrived instead of survived.
Your hemp crop will produce the best results if grown on loose, well-aerated loam soil. You’ll want to ensure that the soil also has high fertility and an abundance of organic matter. Additionally, the soil for your hemp crops should be slightly alkaline. Ideally, it will have a pH level of between 7 and 7.5 — it must be above 6.
If you don’t have access to well-aerated loam soil, tiled, or well-drained clay soils, will suffice. Sandy soils can also produce quality hemp if you can manage to balance your checkbook when dealing with the increased costs of irrigation and fertilization that come with using such soil.
Word of caution: planting your hemp in poorly structured soils or poorly drained clay will most likely fail — it’s not worth the risk.
A Basic Fertility Program for Hemp
Even if you have the best soil to grow hemp, you’ll need to establish a fertility program. Keeping your soil happy is the same as keeping your plants happy. By paying close attention to your nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and boron levels, you will be able to ensure your industrial hemp crop is getting the nutrients it needs.
Though there are currently ballpark numbers and plenty of theories floating around about creating the best soil for growing hemp, there is also a lot of experimentation underway.
“We’ve seen hemp’s fertilizer needs parallel corn, but I have to emphasize three years of data is not solid,” explains Joseph Sisk, a Kentucky hemp farmer. “Murray State University and the University of Kentucky are both looking hot and heavy at fertilizer use. Who knows the right amount? Nobody, yet”.
Nitrogen for Hemp Soil
Like many crops, hemp needs lots of nitrogen. The amount of nitrogen you’ll want to add to your field before planting will be hugely impacted by the results of your soil samples. However, under ideal circumstances, Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension recommends about 150 pounds of nitrogen for a crop expected to produce 1,500 pounds of yield.
Another way of thinking about it is adding about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre — 120 pounds if your soil is particularly nitrogen deficient.
Phosphorus for Hemp Soil
One misconception about growing hemp for CBD oil is that there needs to be an excessive amount of phosphorus because a healthy harvest relies on producing lots of flowers. Hemp does need more potassium than most crops, but that’s no reason to go over the top.
A standard amount of phosphorus per acre, about 50 pounds, would be just fine. However, if you want to bump that up to 80 pounds per acre, it’ll be even better for your crops.
Sulfur for Hemp Soil
While the amount of sulfur you need is tiny compared to the amount of nitrogen needed to get the max yield from your hemp crops, it’s still an essential addition to your soil.
Sulfur is used in several protein enzymes that regulate nitrogen fixation and photosynthesis. Because of this, having a non-limiting amount of sulfur in your soil at the right time is vital for maximizing your yield.
Similar to garlic, your hemp crop will need about 20 pounds of sulfate sulfur per acre.
Boron for Hemp Soil
Unlike beets or brassica, boron isn’t so crucial for hemp. Nonetheless, you can do a mid-season leaf analysis to see if you have any issues. Given that boron levels walk a fine line between deficiency and toxicity, it’s best to avoid prophylactically applying it.
Adding Fertilizer to Hemp Soil
Though you can get away with doing all your fertilizing ahead of planting industrial hemp, setting up a system to fertilize and irrigate at the same time is preferable.
In this case, you can rely heavily on fish emulsion and kelp extract. You’ll get some nitrogen from the fish emulsion and plenty of potassium, micronutrients, and amino acids from the kelp extract.
The amount you’ll want to use per acre will depend on the exact product you’re using. But, no matter how much is required, you’ll want to add fertilizer to your crops about once a week.
Don’t Go Crazy with Compost
Compost is a great way to introduce life into your soil, as well as build soil structure and organic matter. However, compost often adds extremely high levels of potassium and salt. Your potassium application via composting — or however you want to do it — is going to be dependent on your cation exchange capacity.
The higher your cation exchange capacity, the more potassium you need.
The primary issue you might run into with putting too much compost on your field is that the potassium can block your hemp’s access to the calcium it needs.
Whoever you’re getting your compost from should be able to provide a detailed analysis of their product. Ask for that, then base your application rate on that information.
A Common Mistake in Hemp Soil Preparation
One mistake you’ll want to avoid when preparing your soil is adding phosphorous at the same time as your calcium.
When you do this, you end up liming, which reduces the acidity of your soil. Given that hemp has a sweet spot with regards to the soil being slightly acidic, you don’t want to accidentally make it more base.
Additionally, when you add your phosphorous and calcium at the same time, they can lock together, becoming calcium phosphate, which is super tightly bound and more difficult for your hemp crops to access.
Final Thoughts: The Best Soil to Grow Hemp
The basics for what soil you’ll need in order to maximize your industrial hemp yield is pretty straight forward. However, even with the best soil to grow hemp, you’ll want to do everything possible to ensure that it remains nutrient rich in a way that is most beneficial for your crops.
Though much is still unknown with regards to the best fertilizer programs for hemp, following a similar system to that used for corn is a good rule of thumb. However, no matter what fertilizer program you settle on, having the best seeds and clones to plant in your soil is essential.
Talk to the experts at Bonafide Seeds about what plants will allow you to tap into the rapidly growing, lucrative hemp industry.