Getting Started with Hemp: The Hemp Plant 101
The first thing we must ask ourselves whenever embarking on any new undertaking is, "what do I need to know before I begin?" That is to say what are the fundamental non-negotiable facts of which I must be aware in order to complete the process efficiently and effectively.
While it is certainly true that some areas of human endeavor lend themselves nicely to the process of learning by accidental discovery, farming and crop cultivation is not such an area. Much like the seeds we sew, we cannot succeed if we proceed in darkness.
Know The Hemp Plant
Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is an herbaceous, annual plant that has a slender stem. It ranges in diameter from 1/4-inch to 3/4-inch, and in height from 4 feet to 15 feet. The pith is the innermost layer of the plant, which is surrounded by a woody material which is called hurds. The growing tissue is on the outside of the layer. On the outside, it develops into bast fibers, and on the inside into hurds.
Depending on the density of the crop, the stem will be branched, more or less. However, the stems will not branch when the plant is sown thickly. The plant features a palmate type of leaf with each leaf having 7 to 11 leaflets that feature serrated edges. The hemp plant features a strong taproot that penetrates deep inside of the soil. However, if there are unfavorable soil conditions the lateral roots will overdevelop and the main root will stay short.
The Three Species of Cannabis
Cannabis Sativa L.
This is the subspecies of Cannabis that is referred to as hemp. The THC content of these varieties is under 0.3%. Hemp is a non-psychoactive type of cannabis. In general, Cannabis sativa L. is randomly branched, tall, and high in grain and fiber, while very low in THC. Hemp, or Cannabis sativa L., has many industrial uses and is used in many grain and fiber products.
The fiber quality of Cannabis indica is poor and is used for making drugs for medicine and recreation. The plant is densely branched, conical, and fairly short. Cannabis indica has a lower Cannabidiol (CBD) and higher Δ9-THC compared to C. sativa L. In contrast to hemp, marijuana, depending on the strain, will have THC concentrations ranging from 18-38%.
This species is not commonly found in North America. It produces flowers that are based on the plant's age instead of the light cycle (photoperiod). This type of flowering also is referred to as auto-flowering.
Characteristics of the Plant Breed
Generally speaking, hemp plants are dioecious plants. There are three variety classifications:
1. Female predominant varieties, which are using monoecious pollen to pollinate dioecious females
2. Dioecious varieties, that have distinct female and male plants
3. Monoecious varieties, when female and males both develop on the same plant.
Types of Hemp Cultivars
There are two different industrial hemp-based cultivar types that are based on their use:
1. Seed cultivars with large seed heads, shorter stalks, and potentially with many branches (seeds that contain 30% to 35% oil)
2. Fiber cultivars - with little branching and long stalks.
Both cultivar types have low THC content that is under 0.3%.
High CBD Hemp Cultivars
These cultivars contain the most desirable characteristics for producing cannabinoid medicines derived from hemp. In general, the plants smell, look and grow more like marijuana plants than they do a crop of industrial hemp.
The high CBD hemp strains are bred to select for low THC and high CBD potency but other therapeutic compounds as well like minor terpenes and cannabinoids.
Most of the cultivars are bred from industrial hemp with higher CBD varieties, decent resin and flower production. Then they are crossed with varieties of high CBD medical cannabis to boost the drug type phenotype and potency characteristics. These plants sometimes retain good fiber and seed characteristics but often these components are thrown out during the manufacturing process or are not up to the standard of dual-purpose and dedicated fiber and seed hemp cultivars.
Ideal CBD hemp cultivars produce large crops containing abundant flower heads and high CBD resin production. They grow well outside in a range of weather events including drought, frost, hail, and wind.
The outdoor flower crops should have a quality that is comparable to recreational cannabis, medical marijuana, or a food crop since they will be used for manufacturing medicine. Where they are not comparable,though, is the THC content. The hemp will not get you high because it does not include high amounts of THC which create the psychoactive feelings when smoking marijuana.
There is a significant demand for high-quality CBD flower. They are used for producing products like smoking products and herbal teas. In Switzerland, for example, there is a big demand for cigarettes with high CBD hemp levels (and to a maximum of 1% THC). There are also similar markets that are developing in other places. Premium grades of high CBD hemp flowers can cost 5 to 10 times more compared to most other hemp flowers that are used only for extraction.
Growth Stages of the Hemp Plant
The amount of time generally required for a female plant to proceed from seed to maturity will vary from cultivar to cultivar, though the entire process generally takes 90-120 days. The growth stages are as follows:
1. Germination - Seeds pop in 5-10 days. Roots and leaves begin forming
2. Seedling - Root system becomes more complex and fan leaves start to show
3. Vegetation - Fan leaves become large and full with many blades
4. Flowering - Flowers appear with large buds containing resin