Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, the government has officially legalized hemp farming across the country. Now, if you desire, you can apply for a state department agriculture license and get to work — growing hemp as an industrial product.
The key word in the new hemp legislation is "industrial." If you’re imagining a residential grow operation, similar to an in-house weed growing hobby, it's time to squash that dream. The new law applies to commercial operations, and does not account for home use.
However, if your interest in hemp is on the farm-side, the question remains: is growing hemp indoors possible? Is it a thing you can do? After all, not everyone has access to acres of land and all the equipment to grow the crop outside.
Can hemp be grown indoors? Here's the answer: maybe. Successful growing comes down to the right climate, a high density, and having the correct genetics. So, technically, indoor-grown hemp can be done in a huge enclosed greenhouse space. But should it be done? Probably not.
Brief Review: What is Hemp?
Hemp is a strain type from the cannabis plant that is used specifically for industrial uses, as a fiber. A distinguishing factor between what we think of as cannabis and what we think of as hemp is that the plant has to contain very little THC in order to be considered industrial and maintain widespread legality.
The crop has been grown for thousands of years, and is credited as one of the very first plants to be spun into a usable fiber. Since then, hemp has been used to create several different products spanning different industries, such as paper products, fiberboard, clothing, plastic alternatives, and non-toxic fuel, ink, and detergent, as well as a key ingredient in food items (hemp seed oils, bread, flours).
The act of growing hemp comes with a wealth of benefits. A single acre of hemp is able to produce as much fiber as nearly two or three acres of cotton; on the growing side, the plant requires less water, doesn't mildew, can survive frost, can grow across the U.S., and doesn't necessarily need pesticides or herbicides.
While those factors make hemp easier to grow as a crop, that does not necessarily make it accessible as an indoor plant. Even in states like Colorado, where you could cultivate hemp under the legal cannabis plant count, it would be hard to do. According to Westword, it would meet the same requirements as growing the THC-rich version of the plant: "a private, enclosed space and lots of money to set it up."
How is Hemp Grown?
Here's another key difference between growing cannabis and hemp: cannabis is harvested for its cannabinoid-packed flowers, while industrial hemp is harvested for its seeds and straw. The power of industrial hemp is found in the stalks and leaves, which makes it a completely different growing process, with its own methods.
Here's the basic breakdown of growing hemp:
- Space is Key
Typically, hemp takes about four months to cultivate and harvest. The end result is plants with long and lanky stalks with deeply seeded roots. Because of this, there needs to be space and the depth for the hemp to thrive. Growing hemp indoors would short-change the space that the plant requires, especially downward.
- Figure out Genetics
There are various different ways to grow hemp, all of which are different from growing cannabis. It all comes down to which part of the plant is being harvested — seeds, stalks, or oils? Growing outdoors allows diversity and room to experiment and figure out which method is best, with space and area to grow. Indoor-grown hemp would be restricted in a trial-and-error industry.
- Climate Counts
Hemp is an agricultural crop that thrives across many different environments, which is what makes it such a great opportunity — it can be grown in dry Colorado as well as moisture-laden areas, because it can find water that has been sequestered in the ground. So the ground part of the equation is pretty important.
While you can control the climate easily in an enclosed space, it doesn't make sense financially to do so. Growing hemp indoors goes against the idea of hemp agriculture and the premise of ease — it's supposed to be grown on a significant scale for low costs. Indoors, money will be spent to the point where the value of the yield is less than the amount spent.
- Density Matters
It's important to plant the hemp seeds close together, which will result in a dense grow. This will create a large field with anywhere between hundreds and thousands hemp plants that are a single stalk. It will be more akin to a wheat or corn field, which is a pretty tough thing to accomplish with an indoor yield.
The Best Way to Grow Hemp
Bottom-line, the best way to grow hemp is outdoors. In a huge greenhouse or on a farm. For industrial purposes, as the Farm Bill states. Even if you live in a state where cultivating your own cannabis plants is legal, it's important to remember that marijuana and hemp are not the same, and are not grown using the same methods. Indoor-grown hemp isn't a thing, and that's okay.
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