This is the first post in a series called “CBD from Start to Finish.” Over the next few months, we’ll walk you through our process and give you a behind-the-scenes look at how we create CBD products at our farm in rural Pennsylvania. We hope you enjoy the series. Feel free to send us your questions!
WHY START IN A GREENHOUSE?
Planting indoors gives our hemp plants a head start to grow. We want to produce the biggest plants possible in our fields, and the weather in Pennsylvania isn’t always optimal during Spring. And those of you who live in Pennsylvania know that Mother Nature can bring us quite a bit of rain and cold through April and May.
Two things hemp doesn’t like are excessively cold temperatures and having its roots in water all the time. Both can significantly stunt the plant’s growth, so we have to be extra careful to protect the plants early on.
The greenhouse offers us a controlled environment where we can plant our seeds in a systematic way, monitor their initial growth, and prepare the seedlings for their future lives in the field.
THE SEEDERMAN MACHINE
One of the coolest parts of the greenhouse phase, as you can see from the photo, is working with the Seederman machine.
This machine allows us to plant hemp seeds at scale. The seeds are loaded into the machine, and it uses tiny hollow needles to pick up a row of about 10 seeds at a time. It only takes a few minutes to plant thousands of seeds.
Then the needles place the seeds into small trays where the plants begin to grow. After the trays are prepared, they’re put under the grow lights in the greenhouse and they’re sprayed with misted water.
Talk about a cool machine, with a cool name.
THE FIRST FEW WEEKS
During the first few weeks, we try to keep the temperature in the mid-70s. We make sure the plants are fairly moist, but we’re careful not to overwater them.
For the first week, we keep the grow lights on 18 hours per day and place them just 6 inches off the hemp plants. They start growing pretty fast, and soon the small cells they’re in become a limiting factor in their growth. When the stem and roots are strong enough, we transfer the plants into bigger cells to allow the roots to continue to grow.
Over the next five weeks, we water the plants once per day and keep a close eye on them. We look to make sure that they stay a nice green color (vs. yellow or white) and that they aren’t wilting. At this stage in their growth, we usually don’t see any issues with nutrient deficiencies. Most problems are due to over- or underwatering.
Near the end of their time at the greenhouse, we check a sample of the plants by pulling them out of their cells and making sure that the root ball comes up with them. We look for the roots to trifurcate on any of the four bottom corners. This is an indicator that the plant is mature enough. It’s also important that when you pull a plant out of the cell, there are enough roots to hold onto all of the soil.
A NOTE ON NATURAL SUNLIGHT
Starting our hemp plants in the greenhouse is an essential part of the process due to the weather in our area, but sunlight is just as essential. Sunlight is much stronger than any light we can buy, and while grow lights emit a portion of the wavelength spectrum of light, the sun emits the full spectrum.
We want to use as much sunlight as possible while the plants are in the greenhouse to prepare them for their time in the field. In fact, exposing them to this natural light is a crucial piece of ensuring their survival when the sun is their only source of light.
GETTING THE TIMING JUST RIGHT
We keep the plants indoors for about six weeks, until the weather is warm enough to get the plants into our fields. We aim to move the plants to the field in early to mid-June, when the ground temperature will be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and we’ll start to see some nice sunny days without too much rain.
Last year, we planted a few acres of hemp right after Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, this was abruptly followed by a cold spell and a significant amount of rain, and our plants were stunted.
We waited a few more weeks to plant the rest of our hemp, and the second group ended up yielding a much better crop than the first. Experiences like these affect how we modify our approach moving forward and help us continuously improve our processes.
This year’s grow is underway, and we’re excited to get them into the fields!
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH, ER, FARM…
While the plants are getting their start at the greenhouse, it’s time for us to begin preparing our hemp fields back at Golden Farms. We’ll tell you all about it in our next post – stay tuned!