Cultivation of hemp serves a dual purpose. They are used as both cash and cover crops. While the latter protects the soil from the forces of erosion and leaching, the latter can be a good source of income to the farmers. The use of hemp as cash and cover crops has brought several advantages to farmers when it comes to cultivation. The hemp plant is one of the plants that give back to the soil after taking its nutrient.
As the case use for hemp and its products increase all over the world, more farmers are showing interest in how they can add this wonderful plant to their cultivation and crop rotation plan. In this article, we shall discuss the characteristics of the hemp plant, and why adding hemp plant to your rotation plan is the best.
The Hemp Plant
Hemp is a hardy plant that can be used as cash and cover crop. Although more people are showing interest in the cultivation of the crops recently, it is pertinent to note that the cultivation of hemp is as old as humanity itself.
Hemp has been identified as one of the most enduring and productive crops for the last 12 000 years. It was widely utilized for the production of everyday products ranging from money, textiles, food sails, and more. The importance of hemp was so recognized that the colonial Americans were legally allowed to cultivate it, and past US presidents like Jefferson and Washington were enthusiastic hemp growers.
As we proceed, there is a need to understand the major differences between hemp and marijuana. These plants differ in their chemical content and growth pattern. One major difference between hemp and marijuana is the presence of THC, which is highly concentrated in marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound responsible for the feelings of high when taking marijuana.
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Just like the act of growing hemp, the process of crop rotation has been around for quite a long time now. It was born out of the need for farmers to increase the fertility of the field and its crop yield. Crop rotation utilizes the give, and takes mechanism of some plants to break the cycle of diseases, improve the soil structure and biomass due to the diverse rooting systems of the crops planted. It is a sustainable way of keeping the soil healthy with improved biomass, structure, fertility, resistance to diseases, and more without the use of toxic chemicals. The hemp plant is easy to grow and has nutritional needs that counterbalance many major crops.
Why you Should Add Hemp to your Crop Rotation System?
Before now, hemp was regarded as illegal in many parts of the world, including the US, thanks to the highly psychoactive nature of THC that tampers with brain activity. These factors and more led to placing a ban on the cultivation, use, and distribution of medical marijuana. Today, more farmers are showing a great interest in the once illegal plants and are wondering which benefits they stand to gain by including hemp in their crop rotation system. Some of these benefits have been discussed below;
Cultivation of Hemp Adds Nutrients to the Soil
The hemp plant is equipped with the right tools (root system, nutrient need, the shape of leaves, and more) to add nutrients like potassium and nitrates to the soil. These nutrients are fixed into the soil to increase its nutrient level and the yield on the field. To determine this effect of hemp on the soil, a group of researchers conducted a controlled study where the cultivation of wheat immediately after hemp showed a significant increase in yields.
Hemp Possesses a Strong Root-ball and Long Taproot
Hemp possesses an unusually long taproot system (growing up to 6 feet in depth). This enables the plant to search for water tables farther than where most other plants cannot reach thus, reducing the level of the competition for water and nutrients. This ability makes the hemp plant drought-resistant. The long taproot system also digs into the soil for nutrients, thus bringing them closer to the surface where other plants can easily utilize without stress.
Hemp Plants Improve the Soil Structure and Texture
The long taproot system in hemp plants digs deep into the soil, thus loosening the compacted soil structure to improve aeration and biomass. Information from research has shown that hemp produces high root biomass after harvest. This biomass tends to accumulate in soil areas where mineralization is limited and store carbon, thus contributing to a sustainable cropping system.
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Possession of Dense Canopy Cover
The serrated leaves of hemp form a broad canopy that chokes out other plants, thus leaving the land weed-free and reducing the use of herbicides.
Hemp as a phytoremediator
There is an increased interest in the use of plants to provide solutions to the challenges of land pollution. Plants used for phytoremediation can pull contaminants as well as nutrients and water. These plants then either store the contaminants in their leaves and shoots, or they metabolize and degrade them into harmless compounds.
There are three important reasons why adding hemp to your crop rotation system promotes overall soil health. First, hemp is a fast-growing crop and has the ability to absorb more contaminants and toxins in a shorter time than other crops. The possession of taproots allows the plant to reach deep soil depths, thus accessing more contaminants and toxins in the soil. While most plants are only able to decontaminate the few inches of the topsoil, hemp drills down to over 5 feet and provides one of the best results. Lastly, hemp is not in any way affected by the heavy metal toxins that it absorbs, thus meaning it can be cultivated in heavily contaminated soils.
There are reports on how hemp removed radioactive cesium and strontium from soils in a research conducted by Phytotech and the Ukrainian Academy of Agricultural sciences.
How To Plan Your Crop Rotation With Hemp?
Hemp intercrops perfectly with turnips, hops, nettles, lupine, Brussel sprouts broccoli, mustard, and corn. As friendly as may seem, it is not advisable to intercrop hemp with plants like vetch, pepperweed, cress, spinach, and tobacco.
Information from research has shown that hemp is not a nutrient demanding crop. It performs excellently when grown after grains, grasses, vegetables, and fruits. Please note that hemp does not provide an excellent prior crop for these plants due to its shady, tall, wide, and dense growth nature that strangles weed. Growing grains immediately after hemp allow them to grow well without any form of interruption.
Information from the USDA Farmers Bulleting No. 1935 reported how fields previously cropped with clover, alfalfa, and soybeans are excellent for hemp. A good crop rotation process is to follow corn with hemp or a fall cereal.
Introducing hemp in a crop rotation system can help to reduce the incidence of diseases and soil pathogens since hemp is resistant to their attack. Hemp also suppresses the growth of weed and improves soil structure. In a crop rotation system, you can choose to replace beans or oats with hemp.
When planning a rotation plan for your lands, always bear in mind that hemp responds well to preceding crops like peas, potatoes, or wheat but should not follow small grain or sod. Indian farmers plant hemp after coriander, tobacco, indigo, rice, or millet, and information from research has shown that hemp is excellent green manure for wheat.
To give you a clear example on how to include into your crop rotation system, here is a 5-year scheme of crop rotation for hemp as suggested by Lyster Dewey;
|Two||Hemp||Onion, potato or sugar beet||Wheat||Clover||Grass|
|Three||Corn||Beans, peas||Hemp||Oats, barley||clover|
The hemp plant grows well in alkaline soil and may not do well on lands previously overgrown with huckleberry or sedges bushes since these weeds are indicators of acidic soil. The hemp plant secrets chemicals like coumaric, benzoic, ferulic, and caffeic acids that suppress the growth of weeds. The cultivation of hemp requires no herbicides when the spacing is 16 inches or less. This is because the hemp plant will grow to suppress the weed. Wider spacing may require the addition of herbicides.
Including hemp in your crop rotation can protect potatoes from late blight. It also reduces the rate of infestation by stem nematode. Growing beans with hemp protect it from being infected with brown spot. Hemp serves to protect sugar beets from turnip fleas and cabbage from white cabbage butterflies.
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Adding hemp to your crop rotation process goes a long way to improve the soil health. Its taproot system drills into the soil to improve the structure, aeration, and concentration of nutrients. This means the cultivation of hemp promotes soil fertility while boosting the growth of other plants. When introducing hemp into a crop rotation system, adequate must be taken to choose the sequence of plants to be introduced before and after it.