While writing Hemp for Victory, I was presented with stories about hemp growing 30′ tall. However, there is scant, if any, record of this. Not that it isn’t true, or entirely lacking witness thereof. One account of super tall hemp that I found was in a German language pamphlet on hemp cultivation in Nepal from 1914. From personal observation, I found that most grew 6-10′ tall. The Chameleon variety that I saw in England, and all the rest that grew there, and in Europe at the time of my writing, were at best 8′ tall.
Lyster Dewey of the US Department of Agriculture in 1913 wrote that it grew 1-5 meters. I noted all of this and gave 25′ as a possible height.
Last month I got a call from Mina Hegaard telling me that in California, Wade Atteberry stated that the team at the Riverdale Hemp Factory had surpassed such figures.
Talking to Atteberry, I was able to confirm that. They had measured some at 24′ 1 5/8”. He also had measurements for the stems, some of which were up to 2 ½” across. Similar records of thick stems exist from Berti’s 1657 La Coltivazzione delle Canape and an 1839 record from Rev. Daniel Smith. Berti gives a thickness of 3 7/8” while Smith writes that it was over 3”.
With a credible record to work with, I picked his brain to find out how
he they made a skyscraper out of Cannabis sativa. First, there was the variety:Yu Ma, a Chinese land race strain, that Larry Serbin of Hemp Traders had procured from his Asian trading partners.
Mike McGuire, Tom Pires, Patrick Flaherty and Tony de Veyra who were involved in this project, decided to use this as a learning experience; they sowed seed 4” apart in one plot, and 6” apart in another, then watched them shoot up in the San Joaquin heat. The thermometer there registered up to 108 degrees F, some days a constant of 106-108 degrees F. Irrigation did not exceed 17 inches of water per acre (note that cotton uses about 24-30” of water per acre).
The taller specimens were not however harvested at the end of the season, but left to continue their growth well after the season.
For some application, such as seed and CBD, this is counterproductive. The plant uses more energy, water and time to grow.
But for those selling the cellulose, this greatly multiplies the yield. The cellulose in the bast can be used for paper, cordage or textiles. I have been writing lately about paper, as this is a good start, giving the farmer a product that is not too demanding to grow, but for which there is constant demand. And not just bast, but hurds as well, in contrast to cordage and textiles, can be used for paper. Wade explained that the softer hurds are more absorbent, and while they might not make the best writing paper, they have applications in paper towels and art paper; and next time you squeeze the Charmin you just might be pressing on hurds. Dewey wrote about making hemp paper from hurds ca. 1917.
But Wade and the team at the Riverdale Hemp Factory were not selling this for pulp. They had higher ideals: textile production and building materials.
The bast that they got from these stalks received top grades. It will be shipped to China for processing, and we await more results.
This is a personal victory, or at least partial victory for me, as I have always been pushing for hemp to be grown and processed in the US. Minawear Hemp Clothing, which I founded with my sister in 1999, had to buy Chinese hemp, and I once complained about this to Serbin. Had the laws been different in the US at the time, he could have made these moves a long time ago. Now that the federal government gives each state the right to decide on the legality of hemp, we have made some headway.
With 25′ tall plants, we have much larger cellulose yields. For which I hope that we will have paper mills going full steam in the United States, and that the paper industry, which was in the last century much a part of the economy, employing over a million Americans, will be back in business.
Since Atteberry, Serbin, McGuire, Pires, Flaherty and de Veyra have focused on bast production for textiles, the hemp industry in the US has taken a step further than paper, which has been my focus in this and the two previous articles.
And while improving hemp’s market as a textile, they have at the same time improved hemp’s market as paper pulp, in that the hurds not made into shirts and trousers are in greater supply and more readily available to the paper mills.
Expect more jobs to be created as the Riverdale Hemp Factory and partners continue their research on industrial hemp. And no shortage of Charmin in the supermarket aisles