Closeup photo of leaves of a hemp plant, for E1011's page on how to grow hemp and its historical uses.

How Does Hemp Grow?

E1011 Labs 101 on growing hemp


What is Hemp?

Hemp, also known as industrial hemp, is a part of the Cannabaceae family of plants much like marijuana. However, contrary to the popular belief, hemp is not marijuana. Despite belonging to the same species of the plant and containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces psychoactive effects, hemp and marijuana are different from each other. Their major difference resides in the quantity of THC.

Hemp contains far less THC but greater cannabidiol (CBD) content than marijuana which kills off its psychoactive effect making it useful for products such as ropes, textiles, shoes, biofuel, paper, and even food.

How to Identify the Hemp Plant?

 

The hemp plant is an aromatic, stout, and erect herb. Its flowers are greenish-yellow and leaves are palm-shaped and compound. The pollen-producing flowers form many-branched clusters. The seed-producing flowers, however, form elongated spike-like clusters.

A Walk-Through the Hemp Plant Growth throughout History

Hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants and has been cultivated for as long as 50,000 years. This crop came to Europe back in 1200 BC and from there onwards, it started growing in popularity throughout the world. It was most certainly one of the oldest crops to ever be used as textile fiber and this is proven by the fact that archeologists have unearthed remains of hemp cloth from an ancient Mesopotamian village that dates back to 8000 BC.

Chinese have been using this crop for well over 6000 years and it was a major part of their folk remedies and primordial medication. They used the leaves, seeds, roots, and flowers of the hemp plants to make medicine for convulsion, arthritis, and rheumatism, labor, dysentery, and even insomnia. The Chinese also pioneered manufacture of hemp paperback in 150 BC.

The Middle Ages was particularly the period when the usage of hemp was at its peak. It was fulfilling the world's need for fiber, food, and much more, so much so that Henry VIII of the United Kingdom ordered his farmers to grow hemp on one-fourth of their land or face hefty fines. Until the 1920s, hemp was responsible for fulfilling 80% of the world’s total clothing demand.

Why Do We Feel The Need to Grow Hemp in Current Times?

Hemp is a crop that grows more vigorously than corn and requires a lesser amount of water, pesticide, fertilizer, and herbicide. At the moment, science has come with at least 25,000 uses for the crop by using its various parts like seeds, stalk, and flowers. It offers a potentially eco-friendly alternative for other crops produced on an industrial scale. The amount of biomass produced by this crop is used as a raw material for livestock feed, biofuel, textiles, and paper. Its stalk can be used as an alternative building material called hempcrete, while its seeds and the oil have many culinary and industrial uses.  

Perhaps, one of the most important reasons why there's such a need for growing hemp is because there's a colossal industry for CBD oil that is produced from these plants.

What are the Ideal Conditions for hemp farming?

Hemp farming generally works well in most parts of the world; however it can’t be cultivated at high altitudes or in areas with extreme desert-like conditions. These plants grow best in warm conditions where the soil is well-drained and rich in organic content. The ideal time for sowing hemp seeds is between April and July but it depends more on the conditions rather than the specific date. These conditions are:

  •   Soil temperature – It should be >50°F with sunlight period of at least 6-8 hours every day.
  •   Proper irrigation - Hemp is a drought-tolerant plant but the seedlings require proper irrigation.

How Is Hemp Grown and Cultivated? 

First off, some basic conditions must be met for hemp harvest, such as:

  •   The careful selection of hemp seeds - hemp seeds must be suitable for that particular region
  •   Planting supplies
  •   Well-drained soil with a pH value of 6-7.5

1.  Getting Started

The first and foremost thing that must be done before planting any crop is to check the soil where the hemp seeds are to be planted. A simple soil test will suffice. When that is done, if everything checks out and the soil contains the favorable amount of minerals, then you should move on to the next step of making a proper plan for soil rotation.

Like any other plant, it is essential to feed the soil rather than feeding the crop and to do that, you need a proper soil rotation cycle:

  •   Year 1: Plant hemp seeds for harvesting.
  •   Year 2: Plant common buckwheat; it helps in regenerating soil phosphorous.
  •   Year 3: Plant hemp seeds for harvesting.
  •   Year 4: Plant alfalfa to regenerate soil nitrogen.

This cycle is to be followed for better and healthier soil which in turn will give a better and healthier produce.

2.  Sowing Hemp Seeds

  •   Outdoor Plantation: Hemp seeds require the soil temperature of 50°F with a full sun cover of at least 6-8 hours every day and a well-drained soil. This should be followed by deep watering to promote germination. Visible weed sprouts can be expected within 8-10 days, however, some seeds can even take up to 2 weeks.

The seeds should be watered at least once a week during a time when the sun isn't on the horizon to prevent evaporation. A proper irrigation is essential in first 6 weeks so that the seedlings become drought-tolerant.

  •   Indoor Plantation: If you plant the seeds indoor, we recommend that it be done at the start of May so that the seeds get an ample time to grow indoor (three weeks or so) before being transported outside. Water the seedlings daily while ensuring the room is warm at almost 70°F or above with 6-8 hours of direct to indirect sunlight. When the stem near the base starts to become woody, it’s time for the plant to be transported outside.

The spacing between each seed should be 4’x6’ because of how big the plants will grow once they have matured. This excess space can also help you in creating a more orderly and easily manageable field with easy access to inspection. However, hemp plants can also be planted very densely without any issue.

3.  How to Harvest Hemp Plants

Hemp is mainly cultivated for its fiber and seeds. As soon as the seeds develop, which is usually in 4-8 weeks, the fiber can be harvested. The durability of the fiber depends on how late the stalk was harvested. The later it is harvested, the better the fiber will be.

For CBD seeds, a little more patience is required as they may take up to 12-16 weeks. The seeds on the lower side may be harder and the ones on top softer and greener. This means that the seeds are not yet ready to be harvested, so wait till all the seeds are hard.


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