How you harvest your hemp crop will depend on how you plan to sell it.
So, before making any harvest decisions know what market you are growing for. Hemp grown for grain and fiber is harvested entirely different than hemp grown for its cannabinoids. And, even if you are growing hemp for cannabinoids, harvesting for smokable hemp is altogether different than harvesting for biomass you’re planning to send to the lab for extraction.
For this article, we’re going to assume you’re growing your hemp for its cannabinoids and planning to harvest either for smokable hemp flower or biomass.
When’s the Right Time to Harvest Hemp Crop?
Invariably, the right time to harvest your hemp crop will be when something else you can’t miss is scheduled to happen. Welcome to hemp farming!
But all jokes aside, plan to keep your schedule as free as possible when you get close to the hemp harvest time because you will need to be able to react quickly to weather conditions, access to labor, and harvest equipment. A season of hard work can be lost in just a few days with failure to harvest your crop at the right time.
In general, harvest windows start anywhere from August and are typically finished by mid-October. When you planted, what region you are growing in and what varietals you planted can make a difference in the actual harvest. As a general rule of thumb, hemp needs 100 to 120 days to mature, but auto flower varietals can finish as quickly as 75 days from transplant.
The other complicating factor in picking the right harvest time is the CBD to THC ratio. As your flowers mature, the cannabinoid percentages will rise. Typically starting first with CBD, CBG and the other desirable cannabinoids you’re growing for. At a certain point, however, the THC will quick in and start rising rapidly.
The trick to harvest is finding the time when you have the optimum level of CBD or CBG for the most value, but you are not over the .3 percent THC limit. Most hemp growers manage this by testing frequently, even daily, as they get close to harvest time.
The other factor in harvest is inclement weather. A nasty storm can wash and blow away many of your cannabinoids and terpenes and reduce the value of your crop. Plus, leave the flower wet and more prone to molding. Hemp is reasonably cold-resistant, but a severe enough cold snap will kill it and damage the flower buds. Bad wind storms can knock over and damage plants as well.
The perfect time to harvest is typically a dance between monitoring your cannabinoid levels and a close eye to weather predictions. You may have to harvest before you wanted to if a bad storm is predicted. No matter how it shakes out, being prepared to move quickly and start harvest when you finally say “go” is the most important thing.
How to Harvest Your Hemp
If you’re planning to harvest for a smokable flower, you will need to harvest by hand.
Hand-harvest is labor-intensive, especially when carefully handling premium smokable hemp flowers. Workers typically use machetes, shears, or tobacco knives and bring the cut stalks to waiting trailers where they are transported to a drying shed. It is essential to treat the hemp gently; rough handling can shake and leave resin (money) in the field.
You’ll have to figure out the system that works best for you, but typically smokable hemp is cut into smaller branching sections before hanging to dry. Whether you make those cuts in the field or bring in large sections of the plant and trim into smaller hangable branches will depend on your staffing, set-up, and often if you are in a rush to get the crop out of the field and undercover.
How fast you harvest depends on the skill of your labor and the state of your growth. But figure around five people per acre a day.
If you plan to send your hemp biomass for lab extraction, you can use either a machete to chop the plants at the stem’s base or use a combine. Either way works, but when extraction for biomass, you’ll want to bring in leaves and stems as well as they also contain cannabinoids (though much less than the flower).
Many hemp farmers used combines for grain or other crops to harvest their hemp. However, as the industry has advanced, there are now combines or combine attachments designed explicitly for hemp harvesting. Because a too rough process can result in many lost trichomes and resin in the field, it can be worth the money to invest in a hemp-specific combine or look to rent or contract with a harvesting service. However, if you rent or contract for harvest, make sure they will be able to get to you when it is harvest time. You, and all your hemp-growing neighbors, will need to be harvesting around the same time. In the last few years, many hemp growers lost their crops in the field because they couldn’t get a combine into their fields in time.
At Colorado Breeders Depot, we offer free farm consultation for any hemp grower that purchases our seeds. We can help you set up your harvest plan and make sure you have the right knowledge and equipment to do the job. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Helping our customers have an excellent hemp harvest is what we’re all about. Phone – (719) 275-7770. Email – Info@ColoradoBreedersDepot.com.