Hemp Harvesting And Drying For The Small Hemp Farm
It is one thing to plant ten or twenty thousand seedlings...
It is quite another thing to cut down and harvest the behemoths those plants become by late September. Each plant produces 4 to 8 pounds of green material. This is a huge task – one that is often overlooked when deciding to grow hemp.
We researched and experimented with many different methods. We settled on one that operates at a smooth and steady pace. More importantly, it produces a vastly superior final product. Our biomass flower is just that – flower. No stems, just clean high CBD material. By de-stemming the harvest we create consistent extraction material with maximum CBD content. If you do this your extractors will be repeat buyers. They love this stuff.
We also use this method for air-dried flower. Bucking flower after hang drying has been a bottleneck. This year we are bucking wet and air drying just flower. The videos included on our youtube channel include bucking and drying.
Two Different Drying Methods
Air Dried Flower vs. Biomass
We use Munch Machine’s Mother Buckers. We researched many alternatives. The Mother Bucker was the best we found. It is incredibly stout. The moving parts are high-performance and take virtually everything we throw at them. In operation we found the machines performed better than promised. Munch Machine sales folks instruct you to have someone prep stems before feeding them into the bucker. We found that to be not as necessary than indicated. Our operators fed very large stems into the buckers. If it was too large, they would rip off a few sub-branches and feed it again. MBs are stout.
Mother Buckers are not cheap. But we find again and again that you get what you pay for. We never had any downtime with the MB. Equipment failure is deadly during the harvest crunch. But to keep them going you do need to keep them clean. We keep 70% rubbing alcohol in spray bottles with each bucker. Operators spray a few shots on the stripper wheels every couple hours. The alcohol loosens sticky plant material and the action of the wheels removes it. We do a more thorough 20-30 minute cleaning at the end of each day.
I understand that $20K upfront is a big number. The math makes it work, and our ROI comes easily in one season. We have two machines on a flatbed trailer with a generator. Two operators stay on the trailer while two teams of two runners each gather stems from the field and stage them for the buckers. If an operator gets behind, one runner can jump in and feed the machine alongside the operator.
This method produced 2500 wet pounds of flower every 5-6 hours. So around 200 lbs per machine. We do that with two machines and 6 people. Speaking with other farms who used large crews to hand-strip I worked out metrics about 40 wet pounds of flower per worker per hour. We are doing about 75 lbs per worker per hour. The reason we stop at 6 hours is that by that time our dryer is full.
Hand stripping can be fast and we use that method for all smaller branches. Two additional factors tilt the scale to the MB machines. First, most hand strippers start out fast then slow over time. It is hard work. Using the machine keeps a steady pace. The team works consistently whereas an all-human crew ebbs and flows. Secondly, humans are complex. Some don’t show. Some show late. Some can’t work. If you do your harvest in waves you are hiring a bunch of unknown people, you must train them, sort out those who aren’t performing. It is inefficient. By using a team of 6 the workers can count on full employment every day from September 15 to November 1. They know their roles and get to it every morning.
This year we are buying another pair of buckers and another dryer. We are also using the buckers for air dried material which will be placed on screens. That will increase our hours of use per machine per day.
The dryer is covered more completely in another post. We source our dryers through Hops Harvester in New York. They build ‘oast floor panels’ which are perforated screen louvers. The louvers create three 2′ tall drying layers in a large plywood box. We place green flower on the top level, then when the second batch comes in from the field we open the louvers which drops the first batch to the second layer. in doing so the flower is turned for even drying. After three batches the dryer is full. When the first batch from the next day arrives, the original batch has been in the dryer 24 hours and is at 10% moisture and ready for storage.
Hops Harvester is a great company and very helpful. They worked with hemp farms to create an improved dryer design for hemp.
Louvers are now larger which should prevent bridging of material when dropping from one layer to the next. They use standard grain drying fans and burners. There are a few things I learned in the process of building the unit that will make your own build easier. For example, the equipment uses three phase power but can be rigged to work with a single phase. Electrical and gas connections take some skill but are not too complicated.
For air drying, we do both conventional methods of hanging stems on trellis webbing as well as placing flower on screens. Bucking dried flower off the stems was a choke point last year so we are working on solutions to wet buck more flower and dry without trellises. The downside of conventional air drying is the bottleneck of manually bucking flower. Costly and time-consuming.
With two Mother Buckers and a single kiln dryer we produced 450-500 dry pounds every day throughout harvest. I find that steady daily pace to be vastly preferable to inefficient and labor-intense pushes. It also keeps us a little more sane. As we ramp up we are adding buckers and dryers. So far this method is working quite well.