Growing Hemp in Colorado: From Seed to CBD
The Journey of the All-Mighty Hemp Seed
The hemp season here in Colorado starts with planting in June. This means that clones (genetic copies from a “mother plant”) or seedlings must be started in May.
In most locations in the state, May is still subject to a foot or more of snow, so its very important to have a way of extending the season with weather-proof structures such as a green house, hoop house, or indoor cultivation space.
If growing from a clone, supplementary lighting must be used through mid-May to prevent these plants from triggering into flower early.
Historically, most CBD has been propagated from clones. It's quite an effort to produce so many copies, but when you're in the business of CBD, predictability and uniformity are seemingly invaluable.
However, there are downsides of using clones:
- Pests and disease carried over from mother stock will exacerbate in the field if left unchecked. Many of these pests and diseases can migrate to neighboring fields, so great care and control must be taken to be a good steward of your neighbors. The final drawback to clones is that
- The more shallow root system requires more and frequent watering to keep from drying out, especially in arid climates like Colorado.
From the title, you may have already guessed that at Deep Rooted, we prefer to start our plants from seeds.
Seedlings are the result of crossing to make hybrids.
You do this by selecting phenotypes, or slight genetic expression variations, and then crossing and inbreeding them stabilize traits.
By 2020 much work has been done to find hybrid crosses that perform well utilizing “Hybrid vigor” to ensure a sturdy stand and more evolved breeders have been working on inbreeding for traits to find uniform, predictable, and high-quality varietals that perform very well from seed.
The benefits of production from hemp seed:
- Disease and pest carryover is extremely rare. “Start Clean, Stay Clean” is the mantra from a peer of ours, Charlie McKenzie of the CropTalk Podcast.
- Seedlings put down a tap root, which stabilizing the plant structure immensely. This reduces water needs, and improves overall reducing water requirements and improving overall vigor and plant establishment.
- Epigenetic potential, which is a fancy way of saying the plants ability to generationally adapt to the region, improving the genetic make up over time.
Hemp Season: From Seed to Harvest
A typical hemp season from seed to harvest goes like this in Colorado (Differing latitudes will dictate slight variations to timing due to day length that causes the triggering of plants into “flower”):
- Growers will start seeding May 1 to May 15th in trays under protection from elements
- No supplemental lighting is needed for seedlings (in most cases, and indoors always require lighting). Seedlings take 4 to 5 weeks to reach sexual maturity, like plant adolescence, before they can trigger into flower.
- Hemp seeds will germinate in a few days and take 3 to 4 weeks until they are rooted and ready to transplant.
- Seedlings can be transplanted between June 1 to 15th.
- Direct seeding can go in between June 15th and July 1st. These plants will catch up to transplanted seedlings in the field due to uninterrupted root and shoot development. Much care must be taken to mitigate weed pressure during establishment.
- Plants will be in the vegetative mode which when they focus on leaf and shoot development.
- Around the first week of August (variety dependent), plants will begin to trigger into flower.
- Testing of CBD: THC ratios should begin around September 1st and continue to monitor for compliant levels of THC before the crop goes “hot”.
Hemp Harvest Time!
This is where processes start to vary depending on end-use goals:
Smokable hemp is hand-picked from the best in the field, machine or hand trimmed, cured to retain best terpenes and moisture content that provide flavor and more pleasant smoking experience.
Hand-shucked biomass is when plants are hand-harvested, hung to dry to certain moisture content, then all the flower material is stripped from the plants by hand into totes for transport to extraction facilities. This provides the highest, intact cannabinoids and is how Deep Rooted Hemp Company’s products are all handled.
Mechanical harvest is for large scale agriculture methods and large acreage. Specialized harvesters and combines are used to cut the plant, grind it and move it to a drying facility, usually a conveyor tobacco style dryer. There are lots of environmental and carbon inputs using these methods to harvest and force dry. The resulting biomass is of lower percentages of CBD or other cannabinoids and 10 percent or more of the crop can be left wasted in the field.
Processing and Extracting CBD
Most purists and processors in Colorado will not work with biomass that is less than 10 percent CBD or CBG etc. Our processor is included in this club!
They also only extract 90 percent of available cannabinoids. Overtaxing the biomass results in high pigment and lipid content in the “crude” oil.
We believe in getting it right the first time and our “primary extraction” (because crude is a crude word), hits purity targets of 65% CBD or more in the first pass. This enhances the quality of our products and reduces our energy input for our product’s life cycle.
Extraction is typically done with Ethanol. Lipids aka fats dissolve in alcohol leaving behind the plant material. This mixture is evaporated off leaving behind the primary extracted crude oil full of waxes, lipids, and cannabinoids that all work together holistically in the human body for true “full-spectrum” extract.
CBD Quality Control and Purity Testing
All biomass must be tested for percentages of CBD or otherwise coming in the door.
After primary extraction, we test for contamination by insecticides, heavy metals or other impurities.
The oil is also tested for purity(usually 65 percent or better).
Oil purity testing metrics are used to dilute product formulations, using MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides derived from coconut oil) as the carrier oil.
Other Paths to Market
Many brands will have to reprocess their crude/primary extract to distillate to get it pure enough to blend without an overbearing taste. This step removes some of the synergistic compounds and adds to the carbon footprint of your products.
The least effective (shortest lasting and highest tolerance building) is using pure CBD isolate. Without the other compounds to encourage the entourage effect, and the risk of saturating the endocannabinoid system receptors for CBD, isolate is the “white powder” form. Compare this to bleached powder sugar to honey, or cocaine to coca leaves. The effect has a tall bell response curve and shorter efficacy with higher risk of building a tolerance.
Deep Rooted Does not need to or use either of these secondary “purification” steps, so we can say we are aware of and advocate for impact reduction while providing the highest level of purity, consistency and quality of product.
Shorten the Distance
Our goal is to provide the shortest and most transparent distance from the plant to the consumer. While we do source from other quality Colorado farmers, our rigorous testing standards are applied all the way through and we give credit to high caliber farmers and handpick every batch of oil that goes into our products.
Products grown on our farm will be sold as our “special reserve” moving forward and in the fall of 2020, we will be able to start offering a certified organic line.
All products have a QR code that links you to all the testing data of what’s in the bottle or product you have in your hand.
We will also have small batch and limited release flavors using the best plant oils available on the market.
Stay in touch for content on social and YouTube where we will continue to educate throughout the season on all things hemp including food and fiber and how you can incorporate hemp into your everyday life!