A First-time Farmers Insight to Hemp: Considerations of Fun and Failure
Article by: Benny Blanchard, Commercial Real Estate Agent and Massage Therapist, UF/IFAS Industrial Hemp Pilot Project Advisory Committee
Edited by Zack Brym
This insights article is part of the blog series Perspectives from the Hemp Industry.
Why did I want to try growing hemp?
I’m a guy that has never officially lived on a farm except as a young kid and until recently, the beginning of 2021. I wanted to grow hemp and ended up in a situation with the correct zoning but not the best soil. Let’s be honest… the thrill of growing a once illegal plant is awesome. But seriously, what you do with what you grow can determine how you grow it and if you can make money or use it for personal needs. You don’t want a short bushy plant if you want to try your hand at making rope. Growing smokable flower outdoors is a huge challenge and not for the faint of heart. Perhaps you want some seeds for any number of its uses. Study the options and pick your purpose. And then grow a test crop! Since I had no particular goal but to experiment with genetics, I decided to have a little fun and experiment using general materials I had already on hand.
What are the basics to get started?
1. You need agricultural or industrial zoned land.
2. Read carefully through the hemp cultivation licensing program through FDACS and make sure you can meet those requirements for growing hemp.
3. Get fingerprinted at a local business, knowing you have no felonies on your record or that they are more than 10 years ago. I paid $80 for the fingerprinting.
4. Submit an application, with your fingerprint id, plot information, containment plan, and wait to be approved. The application doesn’t have a cost other than the fingerprinting. If your application was denied, be sure to reach out and ask why. FDACS is working hard to accommodate those who want to farm, and you may have missed something.
I got my license and set out to farm hemp!
My first idea was to grow hemp in felt containers and raised beds. I went to a reputable nursery and acquired 300 sprouted seedlings with a Georgia heritage. Cost me $400. Felt pots $30 for a set of 30 at different sizes. Let me tell you… digging holes in the hot summer heat to plant seedlings is no fun business. Some lucky souls have tractor equipment. But we hobby farmers have to work with what we have. I had a team of three volunteers help me plant 200 of the seedlings. I selected the best looking of the bunch and kept some for a Mother nursery for more clones. Two pots each of three cultivars. This is a great way to preserve some genetics, when things go wrong. I used an old Halogen lamp on a timer that could handle being outdoors to keep the mothers in veg state. I used composted mulch in the grow bags and around my plants in the ground.
A blend of fun and failure.
Each ground-based bed was lined with the composted mulch with fresh chip mulch placed on top to hold the moisture in. I hand watered twice a day while temps were 95 degrees plus until the rains came and flooded the sites. My plants never really flourished past the middle of the summer despite daily watering. The seedlings only grew 1.5 feet high and never really maintained vegetative growth. The daylight at summer solstice is still too short to maintain vegetative phase for many hemp genetics. Then, a careless truck driver backed over my remaining outdoor plants and destroyed them. So much for that experiment.
Come fall, I was left with a choice. Pay $200+ to have 20 fist sized low quality flowers tested to see if it was under 0.3% total THC or destroy the crop. I chose to destroy them. Sometimes it’s just not worth trying to keep a crop active. I cleared the land and spread tons of Spanish needle (Bidens alba) seeds on the plot to have a native plant out compete any potential hemp seeds produced. Spanish needle is a great way to boost the biosphere of the grow plot, attractive native pollinators, predator pests, and semi tills the soil, when you uproot it.
I haven’t given up. I’m taking advantage of the Florida “winter” to start over in pots with some new clones. Once they reach 2 feet high, I will flip them and see if they produce a reasonable quantity of seeds. All plants currently growing are female, so I will use 30ppm colloidal silver spray, on a 1 foot tall clone, to convert it to a male, hormonally. All pollen from this “male” will produce feminized seeds, which is more advantageous to my production goals and for invasive control purposes.
Good luck growing and remember to have some fun! Don’t forget to register your crop with FDACS.