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how to harvest hemp for cbd oil

How to Harvest Hemp for CBD Production – A Step-by-Step Guide

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Dating back to thousands of years ago, hemp has always been one of the most useful and versatile crops a farmer can grow. From fiber, fuel, medicine, rope, paper, hempcrete, and biodegradable plastics, the list of products that can be made from hemp is indeed a long one.

According to archaeological research, the earliest evidence of industrial hemp usage was found in a Mesopotamian city, which is now in Turkey – excavation found hemp fabric from 8000 B.C wrapped around a skeleton of a baby.

Further, in a Chinese work of the Sung dynasty called Lu shi (500 AD), we find a reference to the Emperor Shen Nung, who lived during the 28th century BC and taught his people how to harvest hemp for cloth.

It was also found that Shen Nung prescribed marijuana tea for treating ailments such as malaria, rheumatism, gout, and also poor memory. After this, the usage of cannabis in medicine spread throughout the Asian continent, with physicians administering it for curing earaches to easing childbirth. From there, it became popular throughout the world.

In 1839, Irish doctor and medical researcher, William B. O’Shaughnessy studied the plant’s therapeutic effects in medicine. As a physician with the British East India Company, he found that it worked as a relief drug for pain caused by rheumatism and was also helpful against some symptoms of rabies, cholera, and tetanus. This was the earliest study of the benefits of cannabinoids in cannabis.

Following this, it was popularized across Europe and America. However, the American market began to wane at the start of the 20th century due to the Pure Food, and Drug Act’s introduction in 1906, which was put in place after 2-5% of the population got unknowingly addicted to morphine used in many medicines. Around 30 years later, possession of cannabis was made illegal across the United States under federal law, except for medical and industrial uses, which were taxed heavily.

The decades that followed saw several policies and acts revolving around controlling cannabis use in America until medical marijuana was finally legalized in the state of California in 1996. Many other states have since followed, and the plant seems to be heading in the direction of relaxed usage across North America.

The U.S passed the 2014 Farm Bill, which permitted farmers to grow hemp crops for only research purposes. Four years later, the 2018 Farm Bill further expanded the law, making hemp cultivation officially legal as long as farmers comply with their state rules.

The medicinal oils and extracts derived from cannabis are one of its most profitable and widely used byproducts. They are available in both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) varieties, though most medical research has been conducted on CBD compounds. THC and CBD come from the same Cannabis sativa plant, but their chemical makeup, properties, harvesting process, and uses are different.

bottle of cbd drops hemp oil on white table

They have more or less similar medical benefits, but CBD does not cause intoxication, making it more preferable for regular usage. Intoxication is caused when the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain bind with THC, but these receptors bind very weakly to CBD. THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis that causes intoxication, so by law, all hemp products are required to have less than 0.3% THC for legal sale.

Since this level of THC in hemp does not cause any sedation or euphoric effects, the plant has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still classify CBD as a Schedule I drug.

So What Exactly Is This Famed CBD And How Does It Work?

Cannabidiol or CBD, which is more commonly referred to, is a compound found in the cannabis plant, as you know. It is one of 113 identified compounds in the plant and is a major player (along with THC), accounting for up to 40% of its extract. It has been known to help with anxiety, pain, movement, etc., and a number of clinical trials have been conducted to efficiently prove this.

In one randomized trial conducted in 16 dogs, CBD infused oil’s efficiency and safety (2 mg per kg every 12 hours) in relieving pain caused by osteoarthritis was studied compared to a nonsteroidal efficiency anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or placebo treatment.

The trial lasted four weeks, with a two-week washout period. Scores showed that CBD treatment resulted in a significant decrease in pain and an increase in activity. The NSAIDs were also effective to a certain extent but did not provide adequate pain relief. So at the end of the trial, it was suggested that 2 mg per kg of CBD oil administered two times a day can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with osteoarthritis.

In one other human trial, around 60 men were given either oral CBD or a placebo one and a half hours before taking a public speaking test. The results found that a 300-mg dose of CBD was the most effective at significantly reducing anxiety during the test. The placebo has little or no effect on the test subjects.

Another trial administered a dose of 600 mg of CBD oil to 9 men and found it reduced resting blood pressure, compared to a placebo. Stress tests that increase blood pressure were also given to these men, and further results found that the CBD caused a smaller blood pressure increase than usually expected.

CBD is also shown to cause cancer cell death in breast cancer patients and may reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

All cannabinoids affect the body and brain by interacting with cannabinoid receptors, which are a part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a neuromodulatory system that plays an important role in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.

It is known to regulate functions such as sleep, mood, appetite, cognition, etc. CBD works by stimulating the receptors so that the body produces its own cannabinoids called endocannabinoids.

From the above information, we know that CBD is an extremely beneficial compound with a number of uses. For this reason, CBD farming is steadily growing globally, with more and more farmers planting the crop each year.

cbd green plant closeup

Let’s look into how to harvest hemp for CBD production:

  • Hemp grown for CBD uses female plants as only these female flowers are rich in CBD. Plus, male and female plants grown together would increase seed production while decreasing CBD levels. The “hairs” of the cannabis bud, called cannabis pistils, can help one differentiate between male and female plants early on.

CBD biomass is grown outdoors in 4’ x 4’ rows with 6-8 feet between each one, depending on the type. For CBD flowers, indoor facilities are best as they provide more control over the growing environment.

  • Hemp is very easy to grow as it grows almost anywhere. Before you go ahead and plant your hemp crop, it is important to make sure your growing conditions are optimal. The soil needs to be loose, well-drained, and aerated with a pH of 6.0-7.0.

If pH is not correct, it may become too alkaline (above 7.5) or too acidic (below 5.5) and cause a deficiency in nutrients. In addition to this, the temperature needs to be semi-humid at 60-80 degrees F. It needs 15-20 inches of rainfall during its life cycle, so planting around May or June is best to avoid problems like excessive water or frost risk.

The plants require 3-4 months to mature – Nitrogen is favorable during the vegetative stage while phosphorus and potassium are effective during the flowering stage.

  • The plants are best-harvested mid-fall when the cannabinoid levels are at their peak. Russeting of the white hairs on the buds would indicate that the bud has matured. As you notice this change, look at trichomes (outgrowths), which can be observed with adequate magnification.

These trichomes, which look like tiny stalks with bulbous heads, will cover the bud and leaf’s surface. Throughout the maturation process, trichomes will range from clear to amber. The clear ones lack full resin development, so they are underdeveloped, but the amber ones are fully developed but may be close to degradation.

Make sure to assess them and harvest before maximum resin concentrations as plants grown outdoors can have amber trichomes due to more sun exposure.

  • If you are looking into how to harvest hemp for industrial purposes, you would want to invest in specially modified harvesting equipment such as combine harvesters that cut the hemp stalk at its base, cut off the flowering head for flower or seed processing, and then sort the stalk for fiber processing.

On the other hand, harvesting for medical CBD hemp is done thoroughly by hand. This is so that the flowers remain clean and fully intact, preventing mishandling and loss of trichomes rich in resin.

Farmers use machetes, shears, or tobacco knives to cut the stalks. If you plan to screen-dry hemp, you need to cut smaller sections, so it is easier to lay on screens. If you are going to screen-dry it, larger sections will work.

  • Drying the hemp properly after harvesting is an important step in determining the final quality of the product. Suppose the hemp is dried quickly, cleanly, and with minimal to no damage to the plant, the end product’s quality increases. If it is dried too slowly, it can get contaminated and spoil without proper ventilation and a clean environment, making it unfit for medical or food purposes.

Commercial dryers offer stable, controlled environments, though the maintenance and cost are higher. The drying process can take anywhere between 3-14 days to fully dry down, depending on factors such as humidity, temperature, and airflow. Ideal temperatures for drying efficiently range between 60-70 degrees F with 45-55% humidity.

Smaller buds dry within five days while a larger one may require an extra four days. Keep in mind that drying at higher temperatures may help speed the process, but you also risk the product’s degradation by doing this.

cbd oil drop close up

The Drying Process for Each End Product Is Different

  1. The first step in how to harvest hemp for fiber production is called retting. This process involves using microbes and moisture to dissolve the tough cellular tissue of the hemp stalk. The pectin or chemical bonds holding the stem together are basically broken down to enable easier separation of the bast from the plant’s core. There are different types of retting, such as field retting, water retting, and chemical retting.
  1. In seed production, the seeds are harvested with a combine harvester around six weeks after flowering or when the seeds have ripened. Flower heads and seeds must be handled with care to avoid damage. Farmers use conveyors and other low-impact transfer mechanisms for efficient processing. Ensure each batch is sampled so you can keep tabs on appropriate maturity, quality, and moisture content.
  1. High-quality hemp is handled extremely carefully for the production of medicinal extracts. Each process, especially drying, needs to be done optimally to avoid any type of quality compromise as this can pose potential health concerns. Drying is done ideally inside large, ventilated barns or specialized drying chambers with specific equipment. Floors should be very clean, and the facility must be regularly checked for any infestation. Larger plants may need additional training, staking, or supports in order to aid the process.
  1. Components such as leaves and flower heads are extracted at separate facilities. Hemp biomass is a waste product from hemp fiber and seed production and can be used for animal feed, bedding, or as an absorbent.

After the drying process, CBD products, especially those used for food and medicine, must be stored appropriately in facilities that allow control of temperature, humidity, light, and hygiene to maintain potency, purity, efficacy, and cleanliness of the end product before packaging.

After this entire process is complete, the CBD product can then be transported to another facility for specialized extraction of the CBD oil from the flower buds and biomass. The materials undergo multiple refining processes before being made into tinctures, capsules, and other retail products.

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If you are looking into how to harvest hemp for industrial purposes, you would want to invest in harvesting equipment combine harvesters.

When to Harvest Hemp for Optimal CBD Potency

Knowing when to harvest hemp for optimal CBD potency could be the difference of a few thousand dollars per pound of biomass. According to North Carolina State University’s Agricultural Extension program , a one percent difference in CBD content among 1,000 pounds of biomass equals a crop value difference of roughly $20,000 on the open market. Therefore, to reap the most return on your hemp seed investment, it’s essential to harvest hemp for optimal CBD potency on an exact schedule.

When to Harvest Hemp for Optimal CBD Potency

Hemp Trichomes Magnified

There are some visual cues to indicate when a hemp CBD crop is nearing harvest time. Most notably, the trichomes, or tiny mushroom-like resin glands that coat hemp flowers, will change from crystal clear to a milky white color. Though this method to determine harvest time may be sufficient for small-scale grow operations, extensive, commercial cultivation facilities will find better results by testing their crops for potency.

To be clear, test facilities look for more than cannabinoid levels including pests, mildew, and other contaminants – but it is the cannabinoid content that determines if a crop is ready for harvest (or the garbage can if its THC content is too high). Some states require lab tests before harvest anyway; check local legislation for proper hemp harvesting practices. Generally, most outdoor hemp CBD crops are ready to harvest in mid- to late-August through some strains won’t reach full potency until mid-September.

Harvest Schedule Limits

Regardless of what tests indicate, if an outdoor growing season approaches its end, it may be time to harvest. Though hemp plants are resilient, they cannot withstand harsh weather conditions. A hard frost will surely kill the crop and make it nearly impossible to collect CBD from its buds. Likewise, hemp CBD should be harvested before hurricane season to avoid damaging or washing away valuable terpenes and prevent the plant from becoming too saturated to cure correctly.

Harvesting Hemp For High CBD Levels – Fortuna

Finally, consider labor time when determining when to h arvest hemp for optimal CBD potency. Remember that CBD content drops drastically after reaching its peak. This includes the time it takes for the product to cure before selling or extracting from it. Also, note that CBD hemp is usually harvested by hand to reduce contaminants and potency loss. There are no machines available to collect CBD hemp efficiently yet. Therefore, the more abundant the staff, the more timely the harvest. Small-scale operations should maintain crops of 2 acres or less. Alternatively, they can stagger crop planting schedules to allow for an extended harvest season.

Curing for Continued Cannabinoid Production

Whether the intention is to sell hemp flower or CBD extracts, the hemp curing process is vital for optimal product quality and potency. If plants are not adequately cured, they may turn moldy or trap harsh or unnecessary plant matter within the buds. Inadequate cures lower product quality and thus, the crop’s overall market value.

Hemp CBD requires more precise cultivation practices than industrial hemp. Indeed, when growing hemp for CBD, timing is everything.

Contact us to learn more about our selection of hemp seeds.

About Abby Hash

Abby is a freelance writer and the founder of Cannabis Content, a marketplace designed to connect cannabis writers and creatives with businesses in the industry. With over five years of experience writing and researching all things cannabis, Abby hopes to educate the world about cannabis, hemp, and the wonders of freelance writing. View all posts by Abby Hash →

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8 thoughts on “ When to Harvest Hemp for Optimal CBD Potency ”

Great topic! Thanks for your article but it is a little unclear…so you are saying to harvest as soon as the trikes turn milky? You want NO amber trichomes? I am guessing it is better to harvest early instead of late?

Thank you again!

Hi, Brooke. Thanks for the question.

Milky trichomes are the first visual cue indicating that hemp buds are reaching maturity. Some amber coloring is okay; it just means that the trichomes are beginning to degrade. Likewise, some clear trichs are okay; it just means they aren’t quite mature yet. A generous coat of milky trichomes suggests that the buds are at their prime for potency.

Hi Abby, great article!

Any tips for harvesting a high cbd strain so that we end up with the highest cbd level and lowest thc level?

Regarding the best time to harvest for high CBD and low THC, there really isn’t an easy solution other than to grow high-quality feminized seeds and to have your crops tested regularly for potency.

Bear in mind that cannabinoids like CBD and THC mature at roughly the same rate. Specifically, CBGa converts into either THCa, CBDa, or CBCa via an enzymatic conversion process as the plant grows. (This conversion only happens while the is alive; most of these enzymatic conversions cease within 10 minutes after harvest.) Whether CBGa converts into THCa, CBDa, or CBCa primarily depends on its genetics more so than its growing environment.

This brings me to my next point. Because feminized seeds are produced by stressing a female (thus omitting the need for a second parent), the seeds will only contain their mother’s genetics. As such, if the mother produces high-CBD/low-THC strains, so will her children (as opposed to the countless genetic variables that come with “regular” seeds). Thus, you can verify the cannabinoid content of a feminized hemp seed by viewing the Certificate of Analysis on the product page.

Having said that, there are a few things you can do to promote high CBD levels in your hemp crop. For example, studies suggest that high moisture levels and/or cool soil can stunt CBD production. To encourage better CBD production, we recommend using about 25-30 inches of water per growing season and maintaining temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees on most days if possible. Likewise, insufficient lighting can lower hemp CBD output, so make sure your girls have a sunny place to live.

I hope this helps. Let us know if you have any more questions.

Hi Abby.
I am currently growing Dinamed cbd+ to make high cbd oil. Can I send wet bud to the lab to be tested for potency. I thought that there would only be CBDa in bud which would first need to be decarbed into cbd.

Thanks for sharing this great information on harvesting hemp flower for optimal CBD potency! Check out Diet Dank for the best Smokable CBD Hemp Flower in the USA!

Thanks for sharing useful information.

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Thanks for this quick information!
I am a home grower, starting out with 90 ended up with 60 beautiful fun to watch grow plants. I am still confused when to harvest. I’ve seen the beautiful tricomes that when you enlarge them they look like fairy land, according to this article I should have harvested a couple weeks ago, but those tricomes are still there and the burgundy on the leaves and the lower larger leaves are yellowing.
I was told to wait until this happens but that little fairy land is dwindling. I’m afraid I’ve lost potency.
Its suppose to rain tomorrow and no hot days for a week, so I’m harvesting today.
Do you think i may have waited too long?

Knowing when to harvest hemp for optimal CBD potency requires careful planning, an eye for quality, and a knack for speedy precision. Buy Female Hemp Seeds