Welcome to Book of the Week – offering you a glimpse between the pages! Get the Book of the Week email newsletter delivered directly to your in box! This week’s Book of the Week feature, produced by Chelsea Green Publishing, is American Hemp Farmer, by Doug Fine. The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Adventures in Hemp Planting: Planning Is Easy, But Getting Farm Equipment to Cooperate Is Another Story
The easiest part of hemp planting is figuring out your seed depth, plant spacing, and watering protocol. The hardest part of hemp planting is getting your farm equipment to implement those instructions.
In fact, I’ll tell you right here to plant at a half-inch depth in moist soil that allows for good seed-to-soil contact and thus maximum germination. Doing that with the 7-to-15-inch spacing we discussed will occupy 47 minutes of your 20-hour planting day. The other 19 hours and 13 minutes will mostly be spent under a terrible device called a seed drill. By, say, 11:00 a.m., generally the emotional nadir of a planting day, you’ll be dirty, bloody, very hungry, and thinking, Huh, I would’ve thought my first hemp-planting day would involve more actual planting of hemp. By lunch you should consider yourself in very good shape if you’re even sinking the first seeds in the ground. In case it helps you remember that you’re not alone, this diary of my group’s three-acre 2018 planting of the dioecious Samurai cultivar in Oregon’s Emerald Triangle reflects how planting day usually goes.
7:05 a.m.: Survey of Field, Yoga, Return to Child Mind. The ideal date range for sowing hemp is a latitude-factored-on-climate-change issue. It’ll vary from late March to mid-June depending on your spring weather forecast and cultivar. In 2018, it is at the end of May for our field above the Rogue River. By this point we’ve cultivated billions of microbial communities before the seed even hits soil — mostly by leaving it alone for 20 years.
Not long after sunrise I set my coffee on the tree stump that marks our snack stockpile and tool dump near the gate to the field. After a few Sun Salutations, the whole thing looks so doable. I’m sure we’ll have our 50 pounds of seed in the soil in no time and I’ll be tubing the river by midafternoon.
I should know better. By 2018, I am aware — as I wake in the farmhouse of my mentors and partners Edgar and Margaret up in the hills of southern Oregon’s famous cannabis-cultivation region — that before noon we’ll have basked in two dozen nerve-curdling delays. This is not my first hemp rodeo. I’ve chased goats, woodchucks, and one determined family of wild pigs out of hemp fields.
After a baker’s dozen plantings, I have learned that the only certainty will be joys and hassles we can’t dream up. For instance, the Pacific Northwest version of the — ho hum — Anthropocene epoch’s annual millennial wildfires won’t start for a few weeks in Oregon, and they will last for more than five weeks. But as always, I am willfully forgetting the coming realities of planting day. Spring has sprung. So right off the bat, I’d probably be happy in the DMV.
Being outside sets up a struggle between logic and endorphins, between deadlines and love, where the right brain wins every time. As you stretch, you’re smelling forsythia and raspberry blossoms. Working in the dirt. Your office has no walls. Courting hawks land in nearby limbs. Nothing else exists. For those unused to the feeling I’m describing, it’s called sanity.
From a practical perspective, this “child mind” is what makes you forget last season’s planting nightmares. It is probably some chemical wafting out of healthy soil that casts an indisputable spell of forgetting. This is, really, the essential component of childhood—you don’t know, or don’t care, what’s coming next.
It’s not only last year’s seed drill delays that you forget. Your product’s bottle caps don’t quite fit the bottles? Your state’s regulators are sticking with the absurd “field out of view from road” requirements for another season? Whatever, that was yesterday. Today is planting day. The ultimate now.
7:19 a.m.: Return to Barn for First Human Error–Caused Tractor Breakdown. The wise farmer approaches planting day very much the way a pro ballplayer approaches spring training. It’s intended to get the cobwebs out. But Major League Baseball is smart enough to have 37 days of practice games. We farmers have to wake up, get dressed, and immediately pour lubricants into the wrong reservoirs in tractors.
Terrible sounds and smells alert the group to the problem. In 2018, our perpetrator (not mentioning names, he is just playing an assigned role) avoids eye contact by checking irrelevant tanks with a dipstick. Then the tractor expires into a profound quiet. Our planting day stops before it starts.
This, of course, happens when the temperature is still frosty, and the last thing anyone wants to be doing is unscrewing metal plugs. The next 27 minutes are spent draining one disgusting fluid, pouring in a second, and remembering that we meant to run to town yesterday to pick up a third.
7:46 a.m.: Talking Big. This important phase of planting day commences when, already three-quarters of an hour behind schedule and clustered around the stalled tractor and seed drill, your whole team is now on-site. Just seeing a bag of hempseed unleashes passion. The infectious excitement about the season opening in front of you all results in conversation that goes something like this:
“We can probably do two hundred fifty thousand units,” your partner gushes, pouring a bit of test seed into the seed drill reservoir from a 25-pound bag balanced precariously on his shoulder. “These babies look like they’re ready for it.”
Before you can decipher that remark, the tractor-fluid situation gets straightened out and the engine turns over, leading to a group cheer. The ice is broken.
The aged diesel motor is loud. You shout louder. The hawks scatter. You and your team continue crunching numbers, visualizing the killing the enterprise is going to make when this superlative crop finds itself on shelves.
“Gonna be a great season,” you agree, ignoring the fact that implementing your colleague’s 250,000-unit suggestion would mean 25 times the storage you have dialed in for the flower harvest alone.
As the seed drill is attached to the tractor in a sort of awkward Iwo Jima re-creation, you spend some moments wondering if they award prizes for Most Righteous Farmer of the Year. Before getting a seed in the ground, you tend to put the cart before the oxen.
In the business cycle, planting time represents what you might call the R and D retreat, or the spitballing phase. Some good ideas do come from these field meetings. But really what unfolds represents the primate love of daydreaming. It’s pleasant to visualize that “lying on the beach with an umbrella drink” moment that provides the final scene in 73 percent of movies produced in the 1980s. Everything is ahead of you.
About the Author:
Doug Fine is an investigative journalist and pioneer voice in cannabis/hemp and regenerative farming. He’s an award-winning culture and climate correspondent for NPR, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others. His previous books include Hemp Bound, Too High to Fail, and Farewell, My Subaru (a Boston Globe bestseller). Find him online at www.dougfine.com and @organiccowboy.
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