It’s that time of year again, when our farmers start watching the weather closely, looking for the perfect conditions to start our harvesting the mature sun-grown hemp plants. Picking the exact time to start the harvesting process is part science and part art. Generally speaking, hemp plants grown in Washington and Colorado hit their peak CBD content near the 3rd week of September, but this date can vary wildly based on several factors.
The #1 factor that sets our harvest date is the weather. Harvest must be done during a block of time of 3 or 4 days with no rain in the forecast. Rain is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it’s hard for the farm crew to work in the mud and rain, equipment breaks down, people get cold, water weighs down the plant and slows down the entire process. More importantly, the presence of moisture is bad for harvested hemp, which needs to dry and cure properly. Excess water that soaks in when harvested wet slows down the drying time considerably, and introduces the risk of mold if not handled correctly. Our boutique family farms are much smaller than large-scale agricultural commodity farms, so much more work is done by hand, over the course of several days, so harvesting during a window of time with no rain (preferably right after at least a week of sunny weather, which perks up the hemp plants coming into the harvest) is key to producing the best results from the harvest.The second factor affecting harvest date is plant genetics. At Whole Leaf Health, we use two primary strains of high-CBD, ultra-low-THC, and these strains have particular characteristics when properly germinated and raised. Since we do not use any genetically-modified crops, a lot of trial and error took place to achieve the proper germination of our crops, which are hand-planted slightly later in the season than most cannabis plants. These plants are sensitive to too much sun early in their growth cycle, and get more sensitive to rain and nutrient levels as they get closer to harvest time. We watch the plants carefully to see how they are progressing, and set our harvest window based on how we see the plants growing. The plant height can vary greatly in the course of just a few weeks, and from season to season, so we primarily pay attention to the leaf size and color to determine when the plant is getting close to its optimum harvest time. When we think the plant is at or near the height of its CBD production, we take pre-harvest samples and send them to the approved state labs for cannabinoid testing. In addition to testing for the optimal CBD content, care must also be taken to ensure the plants are harvested prior to reaching their theoretical highest THC content, in order to guarantee that our crops comply with all federal and state laws requiring <0.3% THC when the actual harvest takes place, approximately 3 weeks after the pre-harvest tests are completed.
Once harvested, the hemp plants must be carefully dried. Depending on the weather, we may hang them to dry in covered areas for a few days, to let the fresh air flow cure the plants more slowly, preserving more of the native terpenes of the plant. If the weather is not cooperating, or the harvest is too large, we use large air dryers as well to speed the process along. With both methods, care is taken to handle the drying plants as minimally as possible, and make sure the entire plants is dried uniformly to prevent any mold from occurring.
The drying process typically takes about 8 days when done manually. Once the plants moisture content is reduced down to about 8%, the vegetative material is put in large sacks, and transported to our C02 extraction facility, to be changed into the newest batch of CBD oil and softgels that our customers have come to expect after 4 seasons of making the best CBD we can!