Half Hill Farm among Tennessee’s first to grow hemp

Industrial hemp grows on Half Hill Farm in Woodbury, TN

(Woodbury, TN) — Half Hill Farm is the first USDA certified organic farm in Tennessee to grow legal hemp. The state legalized hemp last year despite decades of federal prohibition under the Controlled Substance Act. Growing hemp requires a background check and permit from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Half Hill Farm grows several hundred plants in a pilot partnership with a co-op of farms under Tennessee Hemp Farm. Using various farm methods, participating farms hope to learn how much seed and fiber production they can expect from a plant not grown legally in the United States since the 1950s.

“My guess is hemp will grow just fine here in Cannon County,” said Half Hill Farm’s Christian Grantham. “The exciting part for us is what can be done with it.”

While industrial hemp contains little to none of the psychoactive ingredient THC, hemp seeds produce the highest omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids of any grain. Milled seed is an excellent source of oil and plant protein, and hemp is one of the world’s most renewable sources of industrial fiber.

“It won’t be long before you start seeing several Tennessee products made with hemp grown and processed right here,” Grantham said. ”As part of our farm’s mission, we can’t wait to share the health benefits of hemp through value added products.”

In the mid 1800s, Tennessee farms reported growing over 2,200 tons of cannabis using it to make rope and industrial canvas used in boat sails and to bag cotton harvests. According to state records, production fell with competition from other states.

Growing commercial hemp is still illegal under federal law. Permitted farms in Tennessee work closely with state and federal authorities under new farm rules for states that legalize hemp or recreational & medical marijuana.

Under state law, farms growing hemp can sell hemp fiber or viable hemp seed to a manufacturer and value added products direct to consumers. The first hemp crops in Tennessee will harvest in late September.

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Spring planting 2014: farming by the numbers

We spent most of the beautiful weekend (ahead of predicted rains) getting everything planted. Due to the frost two weeks ago, we are about a month behind on everything we had to start over from seed. Of course, the dandelions made it just fine!

Based on having produced a little over 600 lbs. of food last year (our first year), it looks like we may do more than three times that much this year, and that doesn’t include mushrooms, apples and blueberries.

What we planted: (watermelons) Chelsea and Sugar Baby, (peppers) Anaheim, Poblano, Peperoncini, Beaver Dam, Cubanelle, Golden Treasure, (tomatoes) Roma and Lemon Drop, (herbs) Sage, Lavender, Basil, (cucumbers) Zimmerman, Sumter, and some Danver carrots.

Where and how to buy: You can find us this year at our local Saturday farmers market in Woodbury, Tennessee (located at the Arts Center of Cannon County) beginning July 5.

We will also have our 1 foot Shiitake, Reishi and Turkey Tail mushroom logs that should produce 10-15 pounds of mushrooms over 3-5 years. Look for our mushroom extract infused chocolates and other unique seasonal products hand-crafted with love on our farm at the market as well. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see when we’ll be there.

Saving seeds from last year’s crop

Seeds are pretty inexpensive, and you can find just about any variety of anything in the world online. But this year we selected seeds from some of our best organic plants that were left in the garden to fully mature and produce seeds well into Autumn.

I take small brown paper bags, place the seeds in them, label them with the variety and date and allow them to fully dry for a couple weeks. Since warm temps and humidity can ruin your seeds, place them in small airtight jars and then store in a cool place like your fridge.

Fermenting Seed: This year I went a step further with my tomato seeds by fermenting them. This removes the seed’s gel which contains a germination inhibitor and other potential disease. The entire process take about 5 days, but the steps are pretty easy.

 

Take a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of filtered water and place the freshly harvested tomato seeds in the water and sit in a cupboard for 3-5 days. Over time, the seeds will float and then sink. A film or mold will develop over the top and the water will become a little cloudy. It will also smell really bad. This is normal.

Close to the 5th day, or when all the seeds have sunk to the bottom, carefully remove the top film and then add water. What you are wanting to do is stir up the pulp and other sediment to slowly pour off until you can put the seeds in a sieve and rinse. Set them aside on a paper plate (seeds will stick to napkins) to dry. You should have fuzzy seeds ready to plant next year!

RECIPE: harvest, brine and roast organic sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are a great byproduct from flowers we plant to attract bees and other pollinators to the garden. Here’s how we harvest, brine and roast them to enjoy all year.

When to harvest (3 large flowers yield 1 lbs. of seeds):
First, it’s important to harvest them at the right time. Too soon and you might not have fully developed seeds. Too late and you might lose a lot to birds and squirrels. You will want to cut the flower heads when the seeds are plump, have dark stripes and the green leaves protecting the pedals start to slightly brown. If birds and squirrels are eating them early, you can cover the heads with a mesh bag until you are ready to cut them. You will also want the seeds to be dry enough that they fall out when you rub them. You can leave the heads in a protected place to dry more if you need to. To remove the seeds, simply rub them into a bowl and then rinse out the excess plant material.

Brine and roast:

  • Place your seeds in a salt brine (about 2 cups of salt per gallon of water) and let the seeds soak for 12-24 hours. Put a plate or bowl on top of them to fully submerge floating seeds.
  • Drain and remove the seeds. Lay them out on napkins to remove excess moisture. Do not rinse or remove the brine in anyway.
  • Evenly cover cookie sheets with the seeds and place in the oven at 300 degrees for 30-45 minutes until seeds are crisp. For more seasoning, you can lightly oil your seeds. I like mine very salty and add more salt to the brine step.

Expanding the barnyard garden

We removed an old barnyard fence that was originally designed to keep livestock out of the garden area. It added another 400 square feet to the garden.

I removed some old cedar posts that were used to keep the soil from washing away and replaced them with another short rock wall. This time we used a hand truck to move very large stones weighing over 100 lbs. each.

Vince went ahead and planted a lot more seeds to account for the extra space. We’ll now have space to start herbs this Spring.

UPDATE 3-12-13: The wall is now complete.

First organic seed starts for Half Hill Farm

Vince got our very first organic seed starts going in the greenhouse this weekend as the last of the snow melted. This first batch is:

  • Organic tomatoes: Roma, Lemon Drop, Kellogg’s Breakfast, and Giant Beef Steak
  • Organic peppers: Jalapeno, Peperoncini, Orange Bell, California Bell, and Sweet Pickle Peppers

After finding the temporary greenhouse temperature dropping below freezing, we decided to use this germination pad. It will keep the soil between 70-80 F degrees. We ordered a much larger 2ft x 4 ft pad for more starts we’ll plant later this week as well as for re-potted plants.

The soil we’re using consists of an OMRI-listed peat, soil from our orchard field and garden compost. We’re also using Jiffy peat cups for transfers.