Every crop has specific needs and conditions necessary to produce a most successful harvest. These may include soil condition, irrigation methods, nutrition and fertilizers, crop planning, maintenance, and many more. Hemp is no different, and may have some requirements you have not considered.
Here we share some tips to help you understand hemp’s specific needs and requirements for preparation prior to planting.
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Determine Your Soil Type
To determine your soil type you can begin with a simple field test, or squeeze test, in which you will simply squeeze a handful of soil and study the effect.
The number one rule of thumb when growing industrial hemp is hemp does not like “wet feet”. This means you will want a well-drained, moist, sandy loam soil.
In a squeeze test, sandy loam soil will hold together for the most part but be somewhat crumbly. If the soil is very crumbly and does not hold together, it is sandy soil, if the soil is rubbery, has a shine and can be molded, you have clay soil.
Have Your Soil and Water Tested
Understanding the state of your soil is critical to knowing how to amend it for growing hemp. You should have a laboratory soil test done to determine soil pH and fertility requirements at a minimum.
Fertility needs and nutrient requirements will be determined by your soil test as well as the cultivar you are planting and can be amended by additives to your soil or through fertigation via drip tape. The pH levels of your soil should be above 6.0 and below 7.5 and ideally be in the range of 7.2-7.4. In addition to a soil test, you will also want to have a water test done to understand and control the pH and possible heavy metal content of your water. This testing will also reveal iron bacteria or algae in your water system, which will need to be filtered or titrated out.
Develop a Crop Plan
Once you know your soil type and have amended your soil as recommended by your soil sampling test, such as adjusting soil pH or adding organic matter, it is time to develop your crop plan.
A long term crop plan is needed for ideal soil preparation. Hemp should not be grown every year on the same plot of land. This means you will need to use crop rotation and cover crops when not growing hemp in order to protect your soil from long term compaction created from bare soil being exposed to the elements.
In preparing soil for hemp, you will most often use a disc harrow to lightly turn the soil, ideally discing in the fall and turning in needed amendments and planting a cover crop.
It is important to remember you do not want to over-till the soil. The goal is to implement a minimal amount of tilling in order to prepare the soil for planting while not over-tilling and damaging the soil. You will also need to address drainage in relation to farm geography and soil conservation by way of row contouring, terracing and spacing of your crop. The USDA has created excellent resources to help you in your drainage and soil conservation plan.
Your row spacing will be determined by your region, soil type and what cultivar you will be planting. You will want to determine your row spacing needs early in your crop planning as it will affect how many plants per acre you will require as well as your weed control and irrigation strategies. Typical spacing in most regions is either 4’ or 5’ for the high-CBD, industrial hemp varieties. Some of the early or late season plantings of autoflower types can be on closer spacing. Please consult your sales representative for exact recommendations.
Depending on your soil type and environment best results are experienced by irrigation of this crop. Hemp does not like “wet feet” and will need to dry down a bit between waterings, especially just after transplant. If you have sloping land, you should contour your beds and crop layout by terracing your crop layout to follow the shape of the land. This will conserve water and soil by preventing fast flowing water moving down your rows.
Hemp requires irrigation close to the base of the plant to avoid standing water on the flowers and foliage of the plant. If you are using a center pivot or overhead irrigation system, you will need to make adjustments. Adjustments may include using drop down nozzles to irrigate close to the base of the plant. We recommend drip tape coupled with biodegradable plastic mulch for good plant base irrigation as well as fertigation and minimal weed management.
Weed Control Plan
Weed control and management is tied to your row spacing and cultivar choices. You will want to determine early whether you will be using biodegradable plastic mulch, hand weeding or machine cultivation. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. For now, biodegradable plastic mulch coupled with double drip tape is often the preferred option.
Develop a Harvest Plan
Plan how you will harvest your hemp crop and prepare your equipment well ahead of time as hemp can present challenges at harvest. This should include planing how to remove and harvest the material as well as drying and curing the finished product.
Create a Plan for your Marketing
Ideally, you will want to have your hemp crop sold well in advance of harvest. Know your industry and market your crop early in order to streamline your harvest and transportation needs.
All of these factors are important to know before you plant any crop. Theses considerations are especially important in planning for industrial hemp due to the many factors unique to growing harvesting and curing along with the fact that there are not many pesticides labeled for use on hemp at this time.