It’s All in the Soil

Understanding Bioaccumulation and Growing Organic Hemp

Written by Maryanna Phinn

After the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) passed the 2018 Farm Bill that greatly expanded the original 2014 pilot program, interest in growing hemp in the United States has exploded.  Hemp is an excellent resource for thousands of common necessities, from clothing, fuel and paper, to food, supplements, proteins, oils and industrial products.  

Hemp grows successfully in many different weather conditions and regions around the country and requires little additional fertilizer or agricultural inputs. Hemp is diverse in its varieties and strains. But anyone growing or purchasing hemp products for food or medicinal purposes must understand hemp’s other natural property that may not be as well known or understood. 

Hemp is a “bio-accumulator” which means it will absorb or intake chemicals, contaminants, heavy metals, pesticides, nuclear waste and other toxic materials present in the soil. In other words, hemp acts as a natural decontaminate and cleans up toxic soils.   This may be viewed as an excellent and sustainable approach to healing toxic soils exposed to pesticides, herbicides, radioactive elements and other chemical agents. But the plant now has those toxic compounds in it. The plant retains the toxins and does not expel it as waste. Hemp plants grown in toxic soil are generally not problematic for products such as fuel, paper, clothing and many other items that are not consumed by humans or animals.

But, if you are growing or purchasing hemp products to feed or administer health products made from the plant to a horse, dog or a person, it’s imperative that the hemp is grown in healthy organic soil.

Focus on the Soil for Growing Hemp

Farmers or hemp entrepreneurs investing in the crop, especially for food or supplemental purposes, should become well-educated on the best soil for successfully growing hemp.  Ideally, hemp grows well in deep and loose soil rich in organic matter such as dead and living plant parts, compost, fish emulsion, kelp, microbes and soil animals such as insects and earthworms. The soil should be well-drained, friable or crumbly in texture and loamy which means it has equal mixtures of sand and silt and smaller portions of clay. Again, because hemp acts as a bio-accumulator, it is of utmost importance that the soil does not contain any dangerous substances for animal or human consumption.

One way to determine the health of the soil is to test it. Soil testing is one of several tools farmers use to determine the soil’s composition, specifically its pH balance. Soil pH indicates the level of acidity or alkalinity of the soil and determines the balance of nutrients in the soil or where there are deficiencies. Soil tests serve as a guide for nitrogen levels. Hemp requires high levels of nitrogen. It also requires medium to high levels of phosphorous, and moderate levels of sulfur, calcium, potassium and boron.  Testing also helps farmers plan for irrigating the crop because hemp plants need soil that is well-drained and not overwatered.

Wherever hemp is planted, it will take in any good or bad components that are part of that soil. In fact, scientists and investigators planted hemp in the 1990s near the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster site of 1986 because of its ability to absorb toxic waste. They determined that hemp plants significantly reduced radioactive soil toxicity planted in that area! Hemp is a remarkable plant with countless nutritional and healthy uses for humans, horses and dogs.  Remember to “dig down deep” and investigate the soil before planting hemp to establish a healthy home for this incredible plant to grow, flourish and prosper.

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