Growing clean hemp for a sustainable environment

Watering in new transplants (all photos courtesy of C. Maffey.)

Hemp is one of the oldest crops cultivated by man. It has been cultivated since 8000 BC, at the very beginning of human agriculture. Archaeologists have found traces of hemp in what is now Taiwan and China.

As for the history of hemp in the United States, the plant is as American as apple pie. It was first cultivated in the United States in Jamestown, Virginia, and was a crop that settlers had to cultivate. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp. Pioneers used hemp to make railcar linings.

Hemp uses less water, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides than many other crops. It is effective at sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making it a smaller crop than many others. One acre of hemp will absorb 10 to 15 tons of CO2 over the course of a growing season, which is equivalent to the average amount of CO2 brought in by a person per year.

When it comes to environmentally friendly fibers and fabrics, hemp tops the list along with organic jute and cotton, flax (linen) and bamboo. Hemp seed can be used for animal feed and stem fiber as insulation and animal bedding.

Hemp is also good for the soil. A farmer will get more corn yield from a field if it was first planted with hemp. Wheat and barley are also good crops to plant after a hemp harvest. With all of its potential ecological benefits, some growers are looking to make inroads into organic certification for hemp and cannabis production.

Go organic
Cassandra Maffey is vice president of culture at Hava Gardens, an organic cannabis grow company in De Beque, Colorado and the state’s largest living soil cannabis cultivation. Although Hava Gardens is a new business (they bought their greenhouse and remodeled it in 2020 and harvested their first harvest in 2021), Maffey has 20 years of experience in regulated cannabis cultivation in the United States and the United States. Europe.

Cassandra Maffey, vice president of culture at Hava Gardens, said it was important not to let pests take hold in organic production.

Maffey said she learned about organic farming through trial and error. “I tried the synthetic. I have tried aeroponics and a few different styles of hydroponics. I have never been more satisfied with the quality than when I went organic.

Hava Gardens grows her plants in a greenhouse, but even in the shelter, Maffey is still a firm believer in growing plants in soil teeming with life.

“Living soil is rich in organic matter and probiotic microorganisms. Living soil only mimics what exists in nature. Soil is not meant to be used once for a crop and then thrown away, ”Maffey said.

The soil for new transplants in Hava includes peat moss and worm casts to create a biodynamic environment for young plants.

She prefers to create an environment that will slowly consume what she puts in the ground. “At Hava Gardens, we create a great ecosystem in the soil for organisms to thrive. “
Maffey enjoys using organic kelp and alfalfa meal, along with various ground minerals, periodically testing the soil for nutrients and micronutrients. She uses dry bulk materials, such as dried kelp, instead of kelp extract. Kelp meal is minimally processed. It naturally acts as a slow release fertilizer in the soil. With kelp meal, the fermentation process can be carried out through the soil. With kelp extract, fermentation is done by the nutrient maker. By purchasing kelp meal, a grower doesn’t pay to ship a lot of water, Maffey noted.

Living soil produces less waste
“If you use your soil once and then throw it away, that’s several tons of waste that will go straight to landfill in a lot of cases,” Maffey said.

The plants are transplanted into living soil at Hava Gardens.

At best, the soil used goes into an industrial composting facility, but it takes fossil fuels to get there, Maffey points out, and could mean additional trips up to five to six times a year.

Maffey begins with a soil mix that includes materials such as peat moss and worm droppings. So how do microorganisms get into the soil?

Organic production requires more “look at the plants”.

“Often there are mycorrhizal fungi in the soil mixture. Much of this soil food web is passively introduced, ”she said, citing nematodes as an example. “There are nematodes that cover everything all over the world. Our broad spectrum inoculant consists of worm droppings. Everything that the worms eat is introduced into the soil.

Sometimes a little more stimulation of the microorganisms is warranted. “We have inoculants that we can use from time to time to make sure we have a fairly diverse microsystem,” Maffey said. “A lot of people have ended up spending a lot of money on microorganisms that maybe only live a few days.”

Growing in greenhouse
Growing plants in a greenhouse leaves a lower carbon footprint than growing indoors, Maffey said. When you grow in a greenhouse, you use less HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and lighting than you would in an indoor setup where growers must provide 100% of the light.

“Lights create heat, so you need to provide 50% to 80% more HVAC,” Maffey said. For cooling, Hava Gardens uses a wet wall to cool the growing environment with water. “We don’t use refrigerant.”

Prune a plant at Hava Gardens.

Growing cannabis in a greenhouse won’t work everywhere. “In western Pennsylvania or the Midwest, for example, where the weather is cloudy and humid for a month at a time, it can be very difficult to get a good crop of cannabis in a greenhouse in the winter,” he said. Maffey said. “You always have to compensate for the weather. “

It is important to choose the location of your greenhouse; a warm, dry place with lots of sun, notes Maffey.

Eyes on the plant
You can’t let the parasites take hold. Hiring more people will help with that.
“I think if you aspire to become an organic grower, one of the most important things is integrated pest management. You need more people, more eyes on plants, to look for pests. Plus size to allow air to flow through the canopy, ”Maffey said.
Employee training is also important. “In an organic facility, you have to make sure your staff are really well trained. Then they might say, “You have Pythium in the third bay.” As long as it hasn’t gone too far, you can fix it right away, ”Maffey said.
With synthetic methods, a grower can let a problem go on for too long and then try to correct it with large doses of chemical sprays.

Sustainable growth certifications
In the cannabis world, two California farms are the first to become OCal-certified cannabis farms. The certification comes from California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). OCal’s standards closely mirror the USDA’s National Organics Program (NOP). It is hailed as “comparable to organic”. Certification goes to Sensibolt Organics in Humboldt County and The Highland Canopy at Sonoma Hills Farm in Sonoma County. Sonoma Hills Farm’s pastures were also recently certified organic, along with their flower and vegetable crops.

Maffey enjoys using organic kelp and alfalfa meal, along with various ground minerals, periodically testing the soil for nutrients and micronutrients at Hava Gardens in Colorado.

The process to become OCal certified involves completing an application, review, inspection, compliance review and, finally, certification. OCal is a California-specific program, but if cannabis were to become legal federally, the USDA would likely offer similar organic certification to qualifying farms across the country.

Sonoma Hills Farm and Sensibolt Organics are also both Sun + Earth certified. This certification process is different from that of OCal. Sun + Earth is a non-profit certification for small family farmers regenerating organic hemp and cannabis who grow their crops outdoors in the sun. Sun + Earth not only examines a farm’s sustainable growth practices, but also considers how a farm treats its employees and how involved the farm is in the community. Examples of community involvement include helping organize farmers’ markets, participating in CFAs, or even collecting waste along rural roads.


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