By Albert Makendenge
Hemp is a hardy plant used for textiles, paper, animal feed and so much more. While hemp is usually grown for industrial purposes, it can also be grown for subsistence use of its fibers and seeds, provided it is legal to do so. Zimbabwe recently gave the go ahead to grow this highly rated plant and thus farmers would be interested to know, as laid out below, the tips and tricks to growing it right.
- Hemp grows best when the outdoor temperature is between 16 degrees Celsius to 27 degrees Celsius and should be planted after the last days of frost.
- Moist, well drained and aerated soils of pH 6 – 7.5 are best.
- Put the seeds 2cm to 3cm into the ground. Keep the seeds closer together if growing hemp for fibers since this will make them grow up rather than branch out and spread the seeds further apart if one wants to harvest the seeds.
Caring for the crops
- Water the hemp 30cm to 38cm throughout the growing season. Watering is especially important within the first 6 weeks of growth while the plant is still young and after that, hemp is drought-resistant can survive without water for a few days.
- Nitrogen rich fertilizer has to be applied once the seeds have germinated on a warm, dry day so that it does not stick to the plants. Water the hemp immediately after fertilizer application to allow absorption into the soil.
- Pre-emergent herbicides are recommended for protection against weeds while the plants are growing.
Harvesting hemp fibers
- Collect the stalks with a sickle when the seeds start to develop
- Pile and leave the stalks in the filed for 5 weeks to allow for a process of rotting known as retting.
- Separate and dry out the stalks in a cool, dry area until they have a moisture level of 15% (below which the fiber can then be harvested) as determined by a moisture meter.
- Use a decorator (a machine with 2 rollers that break off the exterior pieces of the hemp stalk) to separate the fibers
Collecting hemp seeds
- Harvest the seeds with a sickle after 16 weeks when the leaves have fallen off and the seeds pods near the flowers feel dry and hard.
- Hold the top of the stalk and cut just below the lowest seed pod with a sickle.Leave any fallen leaves in the soil to use as compost for the next year.
- Thresh the seeds and winnow to remove any residue. Keep the seeds in an area between 0 degrees Celsius to 4 degrees Celsius so that they do not germinate. Seeds can be kept in a sack if moisture level is below 12%