After Harvesting Hemp: Drying and Curing at Fletcher Farms
In our last blog post, we talked about what harvest time is like at Fletcher Farms. We grow acres of hemp each, so there’s a lot to harvest when October comes around!
How much hemp we grow depends on the year, but we typically cultivate anywhere between three and 25 acres of hemp on our outdoor farm in Oregon. After harvesting the hemp plants, you might think our work is done: but we still have to dry and cure the flower! This is a lengthy process all its own, and a very important one.
Drying and curing hemp - just as important as harvest!
Before hemp can be processed into CBD gummies or made into CBD pre-rolls, the plants need to be dried and cured. If you don’t properly dry a hemp plant, it will be too wet to smoke. It can also grow pathogens like bacteria and fungus that can be harmful to your health, specifically your lungs, if the flower is smoked. Hemp plants typically only retain about 18% of their original weight after drying them, so they diminish in size quite a bit!
After the hemp flower is harvested and brought to the barn to dry, we will hang the plants to dry for about three weeks. Other farms may dry their plants for a different length of time, there are a lot of factors that go into it; like the climate where your farm is, the temperature of the drying room, and the overall size of the hemp. To effectively dry our top-shelf hemp flower, we hand cut the CBD flowers off the branches, strip the leaves by hand, and then put them into a super sack which is basically just a huge, extra durable bag for plant matter like hemp.
After the hemp plants are done drying, they will be taken down and placed in curing bins, where they will cure for 4-6 weeks until they’re ready. In order to cure cannabis and hemp plants, they are placed in jars with a sealed lid, or in our case: a curing bin.
Curing allows the terpene content to fully develop, so the flavor profile is robust, mature, and delicious. Cannabinoids are better retained when the flower is cured, too. Once hemp is harvested, it will begin to degrade because enzymes and aerobic bacteria break down those excess sugars and starches. Curing cannabis will, for lack of a better term, force the plant to use up those excess sugars before they dry out and get stuck in the plant.
If you’re a regular hemp flower or even marijuana consumer, you’ve probably noticed tasteless and flavorless batches from time to time. This is likely because the plant wasn’t cured properly or long enough for those flavors to evolve.
What is hemp’s role in regenerative agriculture?
At Fletcher Farms, we believe in the power of regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture (or regenerative soil, check out this blog post we wrote about it) basically means you’re repairing and restoring the ground using sustainable methods for bountiful and healthy crops to grow. In our case, lots of hemp!
Regenerative agriculture is not the same thing as organic, though organic growing methods are a huge part of the process. Regenerative agriculture focuses on restoration, repairing, and revitalizing the Earth’s natural ground, whereas organic simply means it wasn’t sprayed with pesticides and is far enough away from other farms who do use pesticides. Both are very important concepts, but they are not the same.
Things like adding good bacteria and fungi to the soil, planting nitrogen-fixers like beans, prohibiting pesticide use in the field, and even phytoremediators like hemp will encourage a healthy, regenerative ecosystem.
Here at Fletcher Farms, we directly sow every seed into the ground. We believe in the power of regenerative agriculture, from start to finish, and our seeds are the start. If you read the blog post about phytoremediation we linked above, you’ll learn hemp is a phytoremediator. This means it can clean the soil, and studies prove it! Hemp was actually planted at the toxic waste zone Chernobyl, where it cleaned up the ground. Planting hemp seeds directly in the ground begins the clean-up process of the space around it.
Other farmers take cuttings from their hemp plants and regrow the plant that way. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, but it might be doing a disservice to the important life cycle of the plant, even as a seed. Planting something from seed that’s as powerful as hemp, then keeping it there until it’s harvested, is a great way to encourage regeneration!
Testing the hemp
Because the 2018 Farm Bill requires hemp to contain less than 0.3% THC, we have to test our hemp plants before we harvest them. According to the federal government, any hemp plant with more than 0.3% THC is considered marijuana.
So if a hemp plant for some reason tests above 0.3% THC, we have to destroy it. Even though we’re in Oregon where marijuana is entirely legal, hemp-only producers are only licensed to grow hemp. We can’t just decide we want to grow marijuana one day and it’s no issue with any governing authorities. We’d need an entirely separate license for that, so “hot” crops (more than 0.3% THC) must be discarded completely if they come from a hemp-only farm like ours. It doesn’t take much for hemp plants to go “too hot” and test with more than 0.3% THC.
We aren’t just looking for THC content when we test, though. We are also analyzing CBD content, which is the whole reason you shop with us! We want to make sure the plant is at its peak potency and rich with CBD. Other cannabinoids like THC, CBG, CBN, and CBC will be present in most plants, too, because they contain the full-spectrum profile. Hemp testing labs typically also look for pesticide residue, heavy metal levels, and other contaminants. Different labs will test for different things, but they should all pretty much cover the basics we mentioned above.
Many companies claim hemp is THC free, and that is a lie. There are THC-free CBD extracts, like our broad-spectrum gummies, but hemp itself has naturally-occurring THC content. It’s just not enough to make you high, like the federal government specified in the Farm Bill. Remember, THC isn’t just for getting you high. It’s loaded with medicinal value, but the psychoactive effects aren’t always reasonable.
CBD and THC’s relationship with our body
Do you know how cannabinoids like THC and CBD work? They interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a biological system every human being has. It is made up of various receptors, specifically, the CB1 and CB2 receptors. So far, these are the only receptors scientists have discovered, but there might be more! There are over 100 known cannabinoids including CBD and THC, but experts are almost certain there’s more to be discovered!
THC interacts with the body’s CB1 receptor. The two components interact perfectly, the THC fitting the CB1 receptor like a key fits a lock. CB1 receptors are primarily located in the brain stem, the spinal cord, and the nervous system, but you’ll find them in other areas, too. Our body’s CB2 receptors can be found in vital organs like the spleen, the immune system, and the digestive system. You’ll find a little bit of both receptors pretty much everywhere in our body, but the places we mentioned are especially rich with those receptors.
CBD doesn’t interact with a receptor like THC does; the cannabinoid works a little differently. While CBD absolutely interacts with our body’s endocannabinoid system, it doesn’t have the same kind of relationship THC and CB1 receptors do. Rather, CBD works by reducing inflammation and loosely interacting with receptors to create positive change in the body. It also contributes to the entourage effect, the idea that cannabinoids work better together rather than separately.
Before consuming hemp-derived CBD products, consult with a CBD-educated physician who knows your medical history.