The late fall and winter make for a great chance for the outdoor hemp farmer to get ahead on soil preparation for your spring crop. There are many methods for growing hemp outdoors, and each region is going to have its winter challenges and climate factors. That being said, your soil will more than likely need some preparation before your next crop. Waiting too long to do certain soil preparations can even decrease your yields! It is easy for new farmers to assume that outdoor activities go dormant after the last fields of hemp have been harvested, but it has been proven time and time again that fall and winter soil nurturing can make the difference for the following spring and summer seasons. Here are some ways that you can make use of the winter to prepare your fields and soil. 


Sampling and Nutrients

Before you do anything to your fields in preparation for the next crop, it is always best to start by testing your soil for pH and Nutrients. This will help you understand how your field has changed over the growing season and will allow you to know what you will need to do for a healthy balance next year. If your nutrient levels are low, that could mean you under-fed your plants. You may find that you need to lime your fields or add rock fertilizer of some sort. Some tests will show the organic matter percentage of the soil, and that can also be nurtured over winter by adding compost.

 

Tilling, Spading, or Crimping

For those that have dead late summer or fall cover crops, early winter presents a great time to till those in. For those that do no-till, you can still “crimp” aka knock down and roll over the plants by machine or by hand so they can be a natural mulch for the soil. Many farmers agree that if you till in the fall/winter rather than spring it will produce a better hemp crop (even without cover crops). This extra time allows for the soil to breathe and break down large clumps. You can also do a light till in the early winter to prepare your beds or fields for early spring cover crops! Many farmers have preferred to spade or till their fields in the winter months.

 

Apply Rock Fertilizers/Lime

It has been proven that many rock fertilizers perform best when they are given a few months to sit in the soil and become worked in. The best known case of this is rock lime, which has been applied in the cold seasons for many other crops in America. These work the same way with hemp production, and if you are trying to balance the pH of your field the winter presents a 3-6 month window to do so! If you use a tillage program, that can be done immediately after adding lime or fertilizers. 


Add Mulch/Compost

I would argue that adding compost to your soil in the fall or winter is one of the most beneficial things you can do for preparation. Whether you choose to till or not, adding that organic matter and carbon in the soil to sit throughout the winter gives the microbes a chance to begin breaking down the compost and working it naturally into the soil. Even just adding something simple like straw or pine as a mulch can go a long way in adding organic matter to your soil. Just make sure to keep an eye on your soil test results before doing this and test your soil again in the spring!


Dig Swales/Terraces/Etc

Lastly, winter presents a great opportunity to prepare your fields or gardens for water retention and drainage. When the soil is not too wet, you can dig swales or terraces to use for your hemp plants next season. It can help a significant amount to do this sooner than later as you will be able to see how well rain flows through the field and the soil will already be prepared for spring. You can also use this opportunity to install/replace irrigation lines or do any other activities that require digging or layering soil.

 

Soil is different for every farm, and each farmer treats their soil differently. That being said, there is always going to be more or less of a “winter” season for hemp farmers and this makes a great chance to get ahead on tasks and even save money by making your fields more productive. Things like nutrient testing, tilling or spading, adding fertilizer or lime, applying compost or mulch, or even digging drainage ditches or terraces make for great opportunities to get ahead and make for a better crop next season.

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