As summer passes the halfway mark, hemp farmers in Vermont begin to see the first signs of flowering and the talk at the General Store turns to plans and anticipation for the fall harvest.
When it comes to pulling off a successful crop of organic high-CBD hemp, being organized is half the battle. Let's begin by taking a look at what's happening in nature that signals Cannabis to begin reproduction and how we can use this time to plan and prioritize for the coming harvest.
What is Photoperiod?
Did you know that an increase in the period of continuous darkness is what activates hemp's magnificent floral display? Many plants, including Cannabis, contain light-sensitive proteins that detect seasonal changes in night length, or photoperiod, and these proteins communicate to the plant that it's time to begin flowering. I find that fascinating.
Cannabis sativa (hemp) is a short-day photoperiod plant, as in "short-day, long-nights." The length of the photoperiod varies among cultivars, and in general, the female flowers are mature and ready to capture pollen by the time the night lengths reach 10 to 11 hours (or sunrise-to-sunset of 13 to 14 hours).
Either way you look at it, whether you're counting the increase in night-time hours or the shorter day length, the organic hemp farmer needs to be sure they have a solid plan in place to harvest and dry their crop.
Preparation for harvest
In the planning stages of late winter or early spring, you took into account the land you had, calculated how many female plants you wanted to grow, and averaged out the projected yield at harvest. We do the best we can, but rarely does nature grant us the outcomes we anticipate.
By the third week in August, the overall health, vigor, and size of each plant are pretty much established. The plants will stop adding branches and nodes as they transition from "Vege" stage to the flowering stage because of the photoperiod response. They will "stretch" during flowering, growing taller and adding mass, but at this point, you should have a good sense of the size of your plants at maturity and the potential yield.
Stand back and take stock as you survey your fields. Now is the time you want to ask yourself, "What's it going to take to bring this harvest home?"
Is that voice in your head telling you, "No problem, we got this."
Or, did it sound more like, "Holy S***, how are we possibly going to handle it?" PS - you're not alone.
If this is your first year, or maybe you held a harvest and purchase contract that fell through, chances are you're still in various stages of putting your plan together. The bigger the crop, the more daunting this can seem.
We'll try to help those who are feeling overwhelmed by breaking it down into bite-size chunks. Starting with "the end in mind," the major components of your harvest, drying and storage plan should be organized around these five questions:
- What (or who) is your market, and what is their specification? Are you growing for smokeable flower? Or does the buyer want all bucked and dried tops with little or no leaves and stems? Or do you plan to sell loose or ground biomass (i.e., the floral material, stems and some leaves)? Maybe you plan to sell into multiple markets?
- What scale are you growing at, how big are your plants, and how big is your crew? Are you growing an acre or two? In that case, maybe you and a small crew can do most of the work "by hand." But if you're looking out onto a green sea of 10-, 20-, 40-acres or more of high-CBD hemp, then you need to be mostly or fully mechanized. One option at this scale is to contract for the harvest and post-harvest processing services (see below).
- How do you plan to dry your crop? Your drying plan is in many ways the make or break decision and should be tailored to support the anticipated size and volume of plants you'll be harvesting. Do you intend to cut whole plants or branches and hang them to dry? Or have you lined up a high volume drier or vacuum evaporator? Are you planning to buck your flowers from the branches (green or dry)? Have you thought about how you can maximize space and reduce drying time by installing high volume blowers or adding some heat? You need a plan that's efficient, affordable, and preserves the value of the crop.
- Where and how will you store the floral material or biomass? Unless you're fortunate enough to sell everything off the farm before the end of the year, we don't recommend bulk storage in the back of the barn; it's unsanitary and puts your crop at higher risk of exposure to pests, mold, and temperature and humidity fluctuations. Exposed to these conditions, the value of the crop can easily decrease in potency and purity by the time you sell it.
- Do you have a "Plan B" (C & D)? Be sure that you have a backup plan in mind. Even if you are in the late stages of being ready to harvest, dry, and store your crop, you can save your butt by having alternatives in case something falls through.
Anyone who's grown a hemp crop will tell you that proper planning and having the right equipment, people, and enough space lined up are critical to your success. If you think we might be able to help with your hemp harvest, please click here and tell us about your needs.
We'll be back next week with suggestions for different ways to address each of the five planning questions above.
As always, we love hearing from you! Please join in or start a conversation in the comments section below.