Harvesting is the most labor-intensive and less uniformly stage of hemp cultivation. One thing is to grow hemp, and another is to harvest it. Hemp is a very versatile plant that can be processed for its fibers, nutritious seeds, or both purposes. When growing hemp, the best approach is harvesting the threads while the seeds develop. Hemp fibers and germs don’t mature simultaneously, so gathering these elements together is challenging. However, it’s possible if you do it carefully.
The hemp harvesting process begins when the seed starts to shatter, conditioned by hemp maturity, which can take between 90 to 120 days, depending on the temperatures and variety. Let’s dig deeper into how to harvest hemp based on the two types described above.
Harvesting Hemp Fiber
Harvesting fiber is a troubleshooting process, not impossible but intensive given no pesticides are currently labeled for pest management. Traditionally, hemp fiber has been used to produce paper, fuel, textiles, etc. Hemp fiber is ready to harvest when the maximum fiber volume and quality are reached and the first seeds appear. If the fiber overpasses the desired maturity time, it will become coarse, which would be suitable for fiberboard and other products due to being stronger than younger fiber. Hemp fiber is commonly produced on a large scale.
The Hemp Fiber Harvesting Process
When harvesting hemp fiber, it’s essential to define if you prefer lighter or stronger fibers to decide when is the best moment for collecting the threads from the stalks. When the fibers are collected, it’s always necessary to cut the stalks right near the base of the plant using a sickle or a sickle bar-mower. It can be done individually or in a group. The sickle-bar equipment needed depends on the size of the crops that need to be cut.
Afterward, it comes to the retting process, where the stalks have to stay for around five more weeks in the field – when the stalks are slightly rotted, separating the fibers is easier. Then, the stalks should be separated for the drying process until the moisture level is 15% or lower; getting a moisture meter to measure the water levels is quite helpful. If the method mentioned above is finished, it’s time to break the stalks with a decorticator to separate the fibers. The decorticator roller will separate the woody pieces and collect the threads on the other side.
Harvesting Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds or grains are one of the most nutritional foods that exist. Harvesting timing for grain is tricky, delicate, and challenging because hemp has indeterminate growth, and the seeds don’t continuously mature at the same rate or time, even when they are on the same plant. Usually, the maturation process starts near the bottom of the seed and moves upwards, which means that the upper side doesn’t mature simultaneously. The grower needs to be careful to lose a minimal amount of sources. The hemp seed harvesting process is a combined use of the tractor and a cleaning process to remove any remaining immature seeds or leaves.
The Hemp Seed Harvesting Process
The first thing to remember is that the crops need to be 16 weeks old for harvesting hemp seeds. Looking for seeds that don’t have split open will help you determine when to harvest the plants for maximum yield. Don’t forget some of them would be mature on the lower side while the upper side won’t be ready yet. During the sunny and dry season, it’s the perfect moment to harvest the top of the plants with a sickle or a combined dual-beam cutter; it will all depend on the size of your crops.
The next step will be to break off the seeds from the stem using a hemp harvesting machine thresher and separate them into two large buckets where it will be possible to remove the remaining residues. This process should be done between 6 to 10 times until residues disappear. Winnowers are the best tool to finish this process. Then, store the seeds in sacks with less than 12% moisture, so they don’t germinate.
Types of Hemp Harvesting Equipment Available
Growing a hemp crop involves choosing the correct method and hemp harvesting equipment. Let’s take a brief look at the common ones.
Straight Sickle Mower Harvesters
Sicker and mowers are yesterday’s tractors, but they are still used. They show a good performance harvesting hemp grown for fiber. They can cut, facilitate the drying process and move the fiber. Their working capacity is not too large and is still very manual. Therefore, it’s not recommended for larger acres.
Forage Hemp Harvester
Mowers and windrower power the forage harvester. They are 100% manual hemp harvesting machines that need an operator on the tractor but can be used for multiple purposes such as PTO, cutting process, gathering reels, and crop transportation. It is commonly used for growers dealing with hemp fiber harvesting.
Swathing and straight are the best way to reduce shattering loss and manage the moisture grain easily. Swathers perform very well in high winds but represent a high risk and increase levels of microbial contamination if rain flattens the swath on the ground. Additionally, only some swather models are large enough to allow hemp to go out.
Most Recommended Hemp Harvesting Machine: The Combine Harvester
Combine hemp harvesters are capable of doing the whole harvesting process automatically. From cut, thresh, and clean, a combined harvester is fully equipped using rotating blades, wheels, an elevator, and so on to harvest hemp while saving time successfully. It’s an expensive method but worth harvesting 5+ acres. It improves all the negative aspects of the previous techniques and has a purity standard ranked at 99.9%. The best part is that the operator needs to drive them through a field of crops, and the process will be done automatically. This kind of harvester can do all the functions that in the past were manually done to gather, transport, and carry the crops.
However, they are some special requirements when using combined harvesters, such as light wind, with a humidity of 50% or less, while temperatures should be between 65-90° F. The most common harvester under this category is the draper header. For most hemp seed growers, this is the best alternative.
CBD Hemp Harvester
Capable of harvesting up to 30+ acres of hemp, CBD harvester replaces 99% of the labor force with equipment giving the growers more control over the hemp harvesting process and reducing most of the risks of traditional harvesting solutions.
Harvesting is a crucial process for your hemp, which should be done using the proper technique so you can get the most of your fibers or seeds. A wide range of hemp harvesters availablecould be used for growers according to the acres they are planning to grow. If you wish to harvest your hemp, we hope the above information has given you some light on the process and the hemp harvesting equipment available so you can face this challenging process.
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