With our greenhouse harvest behind us, we’ve been busy with the main event: Cedar Valley’s first outdoor harvest. Last week we had a team of 15 to 20 people (including some mighty kind neighbors and friends of the farm) working 12-hour days.  Everyone went above and beyond and we were able to successfully harvest just over 25,000 of our 50,000 outdoor plants.

This week is the home stretch. While last week went well, we are always looking at ways to make things more efficient with hemp farming – and with that in mind – we’ve got some notes to share.

A big lesson we learned so far came from not putting mulch down on the field before we planted. This decision, made in March, ended up causing a string of unexpected events that arose during our harvesting work that could have been detrimental to our final yield.

The original piece of harvesting equipment we planned on using, called a CleanCut, was designed specifically for hemp and cannabis harvesting. It worked great…in the sections of the field where the vegetation around the hemp plants had been mowed. The sections that weren’t mowed proved a bit more problematic. When the hemp plants came up with the CleanCut harvester, so did a lot other vegetation on the ground. This made for an extra step as our crew then needed to sort through what was hemp and what wasn’t before we could bring it into the barn to dry. Hemp begins to biodegrade immediately after it’s cut, so the moisture the plants have from being out on the field must be dealt with as quickly as possible. The longer you wait on drying plants, the bigger the potential for mildew issues.

Luckily, we were able to remedy this by using a sickle-bar mower, also called a reciprocating mower or a bar mower. These pieces of equipment have a long (typically six to seven and a half feet) bar on which are mounted fingers with stationary guard plates. The sickle bar is driven back and forth along the channel cutting the hemp off at the ground level, leaving the rest of the vegetation on the ground and not mixed in with what is needed to get into the barn to be dried.

It was a great lesson in planning ahead. What seemed like a minor, inconsequential decision to not use mulch at the beginning of our growing season, came back at harvest to haunt us. Almost causing a significant threat to our bottom line. Needless to say, we will be adding mulch into our list of “must haves” for our next growing season. We will also be keeping our eyes wide open for any other hiccups that we may encounter as we finish out harvest. Mistakes are inevitable but can also be invaluable tools that improve efficiency.