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.