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Seed to Shelf: Growing, Harvesting, and Processing Hemp

December 28, 2020
Hemp Co. Admin

It’s no wonder that it’s taking people time to catch on with so many different uses of hemp!  But what people are saying is true:  You can use hemp for almost anything.  The most incredible part about this plant is that it positively impacts everything it touches from the moment you plant the seed to consuming the product.

The moment that seed is germinated, a beautiful process begins.  By the end of the 3-5 month growth cycle, the plant will be as high as 5m tall and be ready to be cut down for processing into any of a wide range of products.  

In this article, we will take a look over the different stages that a hemp field goes through; From Seed to Shelf. 

Step 1: Planting your hemp crop

“Make the most of the Indian Hemp Seed, sow it everywhere!”- George Washington.

Hemp plants are a breed of cannabis Sativa, and just like many plants, the overall production will be affected if they do not receive enough sun and warmth throughout the

growing season. These requirements often mean that winter harvests will not yield as high quality of a crop.

Hemp also requires more water than Australia’s summer rainfall, so you will have to take irrigation measures in free-draining soil, especially once the plant enters its flowering stage. 

Hemp has a long taproot structure that can be favourable in clay soil. However, for best quality fibre yield in the Australian climate, it would be wise to use a mixture of sand and clay loam soil, the sowing density for which could range from 50-750 plants/m2-  but some experts recommend opting for no less than 250 plants/m2.

Step 2: Seedlings sprout from Hemp seeds

Provided soil conditions are optimal (soil temperature is 47-50 degree F in 6-8 hours of sunlight and there is enough moisture), Hemp seeds germinate within 24 to 48 hours and can emerge to become seedlings in 5 to 7 days. It’s also important to remember that hemp seedlings do not require excessive water – it should be kept to a minimum to not interfere with growth.

Depending on how much rainfall your crop receives, watering it every three days is enough to keep your seedlings moist and healthy. The seedlings vigorously take up nitrogen for the first 6-8 weeks, so if you plan on adding fertiliser, this would be a great starting point!

Step 3: Hemp Vegetation Phase 

The vegetative phase of the growing cycle is the stage between germination and flowering. As you would expect, a plant’s thirst grows proportionately with its size. Hemp plants do not, however, require excess water even at this stage. The Hemp should be moist but not too wet. You only need to water it to ensure it isn’t dry from the inside, but you’ll still usually have to set up a watering cycle on your own based on your plant’s growing conditions.  Generally, you won’t need to do this more frequently than once every 2-3 days. As growth takes off, the plant continues taking up nitrogen rapidly.

The vegetation stage starts around three weeks after sowing the seeds, and can continue up to its 16th week!

Step 4: Flowering/Seeding 

During the peak of the growing season, you will need to give your hemp crop a fair amount of water to sustain their health. How much water you use depends on the soil conditions and your irrigation plan. Hemp plants also start taking up phosphorus during the flowering stage, but contrary to popular belief, hemp uses half the amount of nutrients once it enters the flowering phase. 

What else might you need to grow quality hemp?  With all the effort you’ve put in, you wouldn’t want to take any risks. Just to make sure you’ve done everything you can to give your plants a healthy life, you should provide your crop calcium, micronutrients, sulphate, sulphur and even compost. 

Step 5: Harvesting your Crop

Harvesting for Hemp can occur at different times depending on what you’re growing it for (Hurd, Seeds or Fiber)

The optimal age to harvest Hemp Fibre is at the time of male flowering, which takes place 70-90 days after sowing the seeds. This timeframe for growth ensures high-quality fibre yield to harvest it with general foraging/harvesting equipment. You can differentiate between male and female plants at the time of the pre-flowering stage (4-6 weeks after sowing the seeds). Male plants begin growing small round balls as nodes, and the female plants have tiny bract nodes. 

The optimal age to harvest for hemp hurd

Hemp Hurd gets extracted from the stem/stalk of mature hemp plants. Harvesting for high-quality Hemp hurd usually occurs at the point that the last pollen is shed, which is about four months after sowing the seeds. When processing for hemp hurd, the hemp stalk gets broken into small fragments, and the Hurd is separated from the fibres and purified through a process called scutching. 

To harvest for Hemp Seed, you will have to pay attention to the female plants. At the stage where:

  •  75% of all seed heads (buds) are green while few leaves on the seed heads have become relatively brown; 
  • The seeds at the base of the stem are turning grey;
  • The stem fibres have shed most of their leaves, but are not completely mature. 

You should know it’s time to harvest!

Step 6: Processing Your Harvest

Processing Hemp for Fibre

Fibre and Hurd are both extracted from the stem/stalk of the hemp plant. After you harvest the stems, they are usually left in open fields to decompose. Over this 4-6 week period of retting, microbes and bacteria break down the chemical bonds holding the hemp stem together.


You can perform retting through the following methods:

1. Enzyme Action

2. Water Retting

The only difference between Fibre and hurd is that fibre is extracted from the stem’s outer part, while Hemp hurd comes from the inner woody part. Hemp Hurd is processed through scutching, which can either be done by hand (small scale) or by machines (commercial/large scale). Hemp stalks get broken into small fragments, and then impurities are removed through a process called Scutching.

Public interest in Hemp Seed has witnessed steady growth over the past few years.  Hemp seed is a nutrition-packed, dense plant-based protein source and has multiple benefits for the heart, brain, muscles, digestive system and skin. They are often added to meals and are regularly used to extract oil with a wide range of uses.

Once harvested, hemp seeds can be sterilised, dehulled, and packaged for dietary consumption.  Hemp seeds can also make hemp seed oil through a process called the cold press method. The cold press method gives higher quality end products but results in less yield. C02 Extraction is another way to process Hemp Seeds into hemp seed oil.  You can also process Hemp Seed Oil into ‘Refined Hemp Seed Oil’ by exposing it to heat. Refined Hemp Seed Oil has no nutritional value, but a wide range of commercial applications.

Hemp seeds are easily damaged, resulting in decreased seed quality. Hemp seed must be properly dried, stored and monitored to preserve grain quality. 

What can you make from these Hemp-derived ingredients?

Uses for Hemp Fibre

Hemp Fiber, the outer part of the Hemp stalk has several commercial uses, including manufacturing of products such as:

  • Textile
  • Ropes
  • Canvases
  • Biofuel (as an alternative to fossil fuels)
  • Bioplastic
  • Insulation

Uses for Hemp Hurd

Often overshadowed by Hemp Fibres, Hemp Hurd also has a lot of uses, like making:

  • Hemp bedding for animals (most often horses).
  • Hempcrete 
  • Acoustic ceilings
  • Wall tiles
  • Hemp pellets (renewable source of indoor heating)

Uses For Hemp Seeds

Finally, hemp seeds also have a highly diverse range of applications based on how they’re processed.

  • Dietary products
  • Commercial paints, oils, lubricants, and varnishes
  • Biodiesel

Conclusion:

Have you ever grown hemp for any of these purposes?  Maybe you’ve used some of the final products or even had the exciting opportunity pop up to go and visit a real-life hemp farm?  If so, you’ve seen at least one part of this process with your very own eyes, and you’ll understand precisely how magical it is!  If you haven’t, don’t worry, the time is coming very soon!  The way things are going now, it’s not too long until you’ll be driving out in your closest country town and encounter that classic smell along the side of the highway – except, it won’t be marijuana.

Australia has high hopes for a hemp revolution, and it’s up to consumers, farmers, and processors to decide to move in a more sustainable direction.  This year, we expect to see a lot more movement in Australia when growing, processing, and manufacturing our very own Australian Hemp Products.

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