With the passing of the farm bill in 2019, many farmers are wondering how to harvest hemp.
There are different ways to go about this, depending on if you use CBD hemp harvesting equipment or if you are going to be harvesting hemp by hand.
Regardless of what you do, we have your back here at Hydrobuilder and will help you get through this harvest season successfully.
Determine what you are going to harvest hemp for
The first step in figuring out how to harvest hemp starts before you plant any seeds. You need to know what your crop is going to be used for.
Hemp is one of the most versatile plants in the plant kingdom. It has a ton of potential uses, which can be broken down into three ways to harvest it:
The reason you need to know what part of the plant you are going to harvest before you even sow seeds is because it will affect how you grow your crop.
For example, growing hemp for CBD will require much more space between plants, with around 1,000 - 1,600 plants per acre. You’ll tend each plant individually, and grow them with serious care.
On the flip side, hemp grown for seed or fiber manufacturing is grown for quantity over quality. You can have up to 400,000 per acre, and they will be drilled in like wheat. You’ll grow it super tall and spindly, and these plants are likely what you think of when the term “hemp” comes to mind.
How do you know when to harvest hemp?
Hemp is a seasonal crop, and you’ll be harvesting it in the fall if you grow outdoors. It can be grown indoors year-round, especially if you are harvesting for CBD. However, we will be speaking in the context of an outdoor hemp crop for this article.
Again, though, the timing of your hemp harvest will differ depending on what you are growing for. Fibers, seeds, and CBD are all harvested at different times. That is why it's tough to harvest all three components of the plant, because they aren’t all ready at the same time.
You are also going to play to the weather, as the harvest season coincides with hurricane season. If you have the chance to harvest before a big storm comes in, do it, even if it may be a few days early. This will make drying your crop much easier, and will lower the chance of mold/mildew.
Above all, look at your plants. They will tell you when they are ready to harvest with certain signs. As we discuss each harvest method, we will tell you what to look for.
How is hemp fiber harvested?
One of the most profitable, low maintenance ways to grow hemp is for the fibers. These can be used for so many different applications in a variety of industries. As soon as you start to notice seeds developing, your fibers are likely ready for harvest.
Seeds will form in groups around the leaves of your plants, and fiber production stops once these start forming. If you wait too long to harvest your hemp fiber, it will become too rough, and gain a lower price. Waiting too long to harvest your hemp fiber is risky, because it starts to die once the plants pollinate. So, watch for seeds, and get to work!
The actual process for harvesting hemp fiber
If you are harvesting your hemp fiber by hand, cut down stalks with a sickle or machete. This is typically where you will start regardless of how you harvest. If you have hemp harvest equipment and machinery, such as a disc mower or sickle mower, even better!
Once you have your stalks chopped, you can begin the drying process. This can take up to five weeks, and finding space to hang your hemp crop can be a serious challenge. The exact process is known as retting. You should use a moisture meter to determine when they are done drying. We will get more into the actual drying process later on.
From there, you can go into processing the fibers with a decorticator or any hemp processing equipment.
Harvesting hemp for the seeds
Another reason hemp is grown is for the actual seeds itself. This started as a lucrative growing method, but seed prices are dropping year after year.
If its the seeds you are interested in, the hemp harvest process will look different. It will likely begin when your crop is around 16 weeks old. Look for seeds that have not split open near flowers in full bloom.
When the seed husks feel hard, they are ready to be harvested. To be more scientific, look for moisture content of 18-20%. Letting it drop any lower than this puts you at risk of losing seeds in the process, as they will begin dropping as the plants become drier.
If you are harvesting hemp by hand, start with using a sickle, shears, or any other suitable equipment. You need to chop the tops of your plant to separate the groupings of seeds from the stalk.
It is likely that you will have partnered with a processor who wants your seeds beforehand. While you await sale, store your seeds between 6-9%. If you have a large crop, consider a grain dryer.
How to harvest hemp for CBD
Growing hemp for CBD processing is one of the most profitable endeavors with this crop.
Since CBD is widely considered a medicine, and is going to be consumed, your CBD hemp harvesting process needs to be on point.
Weekly testing of CBD content can dictate exactly when you need to harvest, but there are also visual clues to guide you.
Watch your trichomes - when you noticed these little guys on your flowers turning from a solid white, to a milky white, it is time to harvest. Typically, you'll need to run tests to ensure THC is below .03% before harvest. This ensures your hemp is legal.
The actual harvest process will consist of de-stemming your hemp plants, and trimming the flowers. From there, you will dry and cure them.
How to dry your hemp crop
Hemp crops can be huge, and finding adequate space and time to dry your entire crop is a challenge in itself. Ideally, you’ll have an empty barn or warehouse on-site to dry the biomass.
Hang your plants upside down, or better yet, chop up individual branches to hang. This is more labor-intensive but yields better results and less risk of mold/mildew. If you are harvesting hemp for CBD, doing this is highly recommended.
Ideal temperatures for drying and curing are 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit and 60% humidity. Keep air flowing through to prevent mold or mildews from ruining your entire crop. If you want to learn more, check out our definitive guide on drying and curing.
Hemp harvesting equipment
You will need special hemp harvest equipment if you want the highest productivity and profitability possible. The extent to which you need this equipment will depend on the size of your crop.
If you have a small crop of just a few acres, you may be able to get away with harvesting hemp by hand. However, this is not sustainable or scalable.
There is a ton of hemp harvesting equipment that can make your life easier and eliminate much of the stress associated with a harvest. Here at Hydrobuilder, we have it all.
Bucking machines for de-stemming hemp plants
After you chop your plants down with either a sickle or hemp harvesting equipment, you’ll need to separate your CBD flower from the branches.
A bucking machine, or bucker, is the best way to do this at scale, and a must-have for commercial hemp farmers. You can process an entire crop in a day, as opposed to a few weeks doing it by hand!
This is an essential piece of hemp harvesting equipment and any hemp farmer will benefit from a bucker.
Using a trimming machine to harvest hemp flower
Using a trimming machine, like buckers, is essential for hemp growers looking for a productive, profitable harvest. These can manicure hundreds of pounds a day, as opposed to a few pounds per day by hand.
Using a shredder to dispose of hemp waste
After your harvest, you are going to have a ton of plant waste to dispose of. From root bulbs, to branches and stalks, what are you going to do with them?
There are certain regulations that make getting rid of these components tough.
The best way to take care of these fast is with a plant waste shredder, which can grind up everything quickly and efficiently and get you ready for your next crop.
Specifically, the Triminator ShredMaster is built for hemp waste removal. It can even help with processing, and is capable of shredding up to 2,000 pounds an hour!
Hemp CBD Extraction Equipment
We also have extraction equipment for pulling CBD from your plant. Whether you want to use a press for creating CBD rosin, or lab-grade distillation equipment, we have what you need for a profitable hemp CBD harvest.
Learning how to harvest hemp efficiently is key to a profitable grow. With the passing of the Farm Bill, hemp crops are becoming more and more lucrative, but competition is also rising.
Hemp is still a newly legalized crop, and we don't know a ton about best practices for growing it. The best way to perfect your hemp growing and harvesting processes is by planting a field and learning first hand.