Setting the stage for a successful industrial hemp crop harvest starts not in the spring but the winter before planting your hemp seeds. It can feel hectic, especially when you are still drying, sorting, trimming and processing the current years’ hemp crop, but setting aside the time to start preparing for the next year will pay off in future dividends.
Here are the five most important things to take care of this winter when you have a moment to get ahead of the hemp game, and before it’s mid-July again and you’re overwhelming busy with the day-to-day hemp farming tasks.
Identify what field you plan to plant into hemp the winter before you do so. If you’re converting a field that has been in an established perennial crop (like alfalfa) for many years, you’ll want to start in the winter disking and plowing to break up established roots and plant material.
If possible, plant a winter cover crop in your expected hemp field. What type of cover — a winter hardy grain like barley or rye, or a nitrogen-fixing winter legume like Austrian winter peas, hairy vetch, or Dutch white clover — will depend on your climate.
Whether you decide to till in your cover crop in the spring or plant no-till into a killed or crimped cover crop stand, the winter cover will help to condition the soil, keep “roots in the ground,” keep the soil covered, preventing erosion and generally improve the condition and fertility of your soil.
Last but not least, take a soil test to know what amendments you need to add to your soil for a healthy hemp crop.
When you’re in the midst of a busy hemp crop season, it is easy to think you’ll remember all the year’s problems and successes in the future. But then come next year, and it’s easy for those revelations to slip the mind! That’s why it is essential to review and debrief the current year’s crop while it’s fresh in your mind.
What planting and growing techniques worked? What problems did you face that you never entirely solved? Did you see the start of a bug or disease issue that could be worse the following year? What tools, equipment and facilities would have been helpful to have?
All these questions will help you have a better hemp harvest the following season.
After you have gone through a debriefing and reviewing process of your current year’s crop, it makes sense to move into a researching, networking and learning phase. Network with other hemp growers in your region. They might have the answers to problems you faced or be a source of help in the future.
Join hemp organizations and news outlets to stay up-to-date on the latest issues, politics and trends in the hemp industry. Reach out to potential suppliers (seeds, fertilizers, etc.) for your upcoming season and find out what they have in the works and coming out. Touch base with your state hemp department and make sure you’re up to speed with any changes in your state’s hemp growing regulations.
Using the off-season to fix and maintain equipment and work on building and organizational projects are typical winter-time projects for most farmers, whether growing hemp or not.
Winter is a good time for all the maintenance work. Change the oil on the tractors, sharpen and replace the blades on the plow and disc, inspect your equipment for wear and tear and replace parts before they break. Winter is also the time to take an inventory of what you have and what you need to replace (good for the book-keeper, too!).
Farming, whether your growing hemp or another hemp crop, is intense and stressful. When the high season is in swing, there is often no ability to take time off. Make sure to give yourself that time off when you can. Your mind and body will appreciate the extra rest now in a future six months!