The days are getting shorter, the hemp fields are in flower, and if you're still working out the details of your harvest plan... you're not alone.
By early September, as the night hours increase your crop turns its full attention to flowering and dreams of being pollinated. Alas, no males in sight, the unfulfilled females boost flower formation to increase their prospects.
The path to a successful harvest can seem pretty daunting, especially with a large or first-time crop. In last week's post, we teed up a few of the fundamental questions you should be asking in preparation for harvest, drying, and storing your organic hemp crop.
Continuing in that vein, this article explores some of your options for the harvest stage. Each of the ideas presented below is just a taste designed to get you oriented in the right direction.
Start with the end in mind. In other words, plan your harvest to meet the needs of your buyer(s) or anticipated market(s). Working our way down from the highest-value opportunities, here are the three main markets organic hemp growers ought to consider:
- Smokeable flower. According to recent reports (here and here), demand for high quality, organic, high-CBD flower is skyrocketing, and buyers pay a premium for your best buds or colas (Spanish for "tails," i.e., colas de zorro or foxtails!). Harvest these from the main stem and major branches with pruners and care. Devise a system that can keep up with the picking crew, and minimize the number of times the colas are handled from the field to the drying area. Then, hang to dry, cure slowly and trim as you would for high-grade herb.
- Bucked flowers. Selectively harvest your best colas, then let the rest of the flowers finish while keeping an eye on potency by testing (see below). With the most prodigious tops getting special attention, you'll get the highest value from the rest of the plant by separating ("bucking" or stripping) the flowers and small leaves from the branches. Hemp processors pay a premium for bucked flowers over biomass, but watch your labor costs and plan a system that minimizes handling. We'll discuss drying options in the next article.
- Biomass. Are you managing a couple hundred thousand plants or more? Or even 50 acres or so? After you've harvested as many premium tops and done as much bucking as you're able, then, at this scale you're growing hemp for biomass.
That means cutting everything together that's still standing - the flowers, leaves, and stems. It's the only sane solution for large operations. What you sacrifice in price to the processor, due to the lower percentage of cannabinoids by weight, you make up in volume.
If you're growing an acre or less of organic hemp, you and a few friends are already doing most of the work with a small tractor and hand tools. Stay with the artisanal approach, harvest for the smokeable and bucked flower markets, and get lots of rest. You can do this.
However, if you're looking out onto a sea of green that is 10-, 20-, 50-acres or more of high-CBD hemp, then you need some level of mechanization.
The sun is just rising on the dawn of hemp farming innovation in this country. Enterprising farmers and engineers are at the forefront; inventing new or modifying traditional Ag equipment for large scale hemp production and processing.
We suggest researching options online or get to know the growers in your area to find out what's working. Or let us know in the comments section below, how do you plan to tackle a beast of a hemp harvest?
We've invested in a JD chopper and paired it with the Orkel baling system, made in Norway, and hemp-tested out west. Hands down this combo can handle anything you put in its path. If you think this method fits your size and needs, please contact us about our harvesting services.
Testing for potency
As a regulated crop, hemp in the field can't exceed .3% Delta-9 THC by dry weight to be compliant with State and Federal law. In Vermont (pending the final Hemp Program rules), total THC concentration (THC + THCA) cannot be more than 1%.
Take your first test several weeks before your anticipated harvest date and then test again a couple of weeks later. Of course, you want CBD levels as high as possible, but you can't afford to allow the flowers to ripen above .3% D9-THC (THC and CBD concentrations rise together, and plateau as the flowers mature). See below for a list of testing labs in Vermont and New England.
From the field to the drierHow well you design and execute your drying system is critical not only to your success but to your sanity. Your goal is to move as much as you can, as fast as you can through your system while you control for quality, temperature, humidity, and air circulation.
Next week, we'll tackle the drying process in detail and explore a variety of methods to suit different scales of operation. Here are a few Vermont and nearby labs to help with your potency and purity tests:
- CDX Analytics
- Northeast Processing
- Kria Botanicals
- Nutraceutical Science Laboratories
- ProVerde Labs
As always, we love hearing from you. How are you approaching the harvest? Start a conversation in the comments section below.
See you next time.