Information on Harvesting Hemp – Part 1

Inspiration

I am currently living with an inspiring notion that we will (1) be able to grow the hemp needed to build our future home and (2) that we will have enough land to grow a houses-worth of hemp every year so that someone else will be able to do the same.

Introduction

Though I have to say that the more I explore the world of Hemp the more doubts about this being a feasible goal. At the end of this post you will find some links and PDF’s I read and that led to my current understanding.

Hemp seems to be a relatively easy crop to grow. It’s strong, it doesn’t require pesticides, it grows pretty fast (~4 months) and it even renews the land in which it is grown. The more substantial challenge is harvesting and processing it.

Three Parts of Hemp

There are three parts to the hemp plant – each with it’s own uses:

  1. The seeds can be used for all kinds of food products, oils and other medicinal by-products.
  2. The fibers have all kinds of industrial uses (from clothes to cars) – they are the middle layers of the stalk covered by a thin protective layer.
  3. The hurd – the wooden core that is left over after the fibers have been extracted – which is the part popularly used (together with lime) for construction (although I have come across information that indicates that it is possible to use the fibers and curd together for construction – which means that they don’t need to be separated).

Some Hemp Harvesting Facts

  1. Seeds and stalk don’t mature together – they are (or at least should be) harvested at different times. Both the seeds and the fibers have (different) optimal times for harvesting – beyond which both lose some of the potency and qualities.
  2. The seeds don’t mature all at once – they tend to mature in two cycles. Harvesting time is when you think you can harvest the most mature crop (when some of the seeds may have decayed or lost their potency and others still not quite matured).
  3. Hemp is a tough plant – so you need resilient and strong harvesting tools. The strength of the fiber means it’s hard to cut down and the length of the stalk means it will catch on to and jam any moving part it finds (for example – combine machinery) – which means that you either need powerful harvesting machines – or that harvesting may be slow and tedious.
  4. Hemp is a tall plant (much taller then wheat or barley) – which means you need harvesting equipment that can reach up high.
  5. When the stalk is cut, it is useful to do it in such a way that it is then easy to collect into bales – if I understood correctly what this means is that the harvester needs to leave the cut stalks uniformly oriented on the ground.
  6. The stalks should be cut as long as possible – long fibers are generally better and more useful then shorter ones.
  7. It is possible to harvest both seed and stalk. Seeds go first (duh!) – but then you not only need tall harvesting equipment but it also needs to be sharp and fast spinning – so that the stalk is cut cleanly – leaving long fibers in tact.
  8. The primary processing for seeds is removing them from their shells – I still don’t have information on how that is done.
  9. The primary processing for stalk is separating the fibers from the wooden sheathe (this is called “decortication”- whichI am guessing comes from the idea of removing the core and, apparently, originates from a medical surgical process of separation). There are numerous methods for this – but generally they seem to be divided in two: industrial processes and organic/natural processes. I am less interested in the industrial aspect so I focused a bit more on the natural processes. Apparently the idea is to use water to cause decomposition of a kind of “glue” that keeps the fiber and curd attached. Usually natural dampness like dew will do the trick. You need to keep an eye out on the crop until separation begins – then you need to let it dry for a few days. I am not yet clear on all the details of this process.

All these facts seem to eminate from an industrial/financial view point. They are focused on creating optimal yields and financial returns. If harvesting and processing hemp can only be done using heavy and expensive machinery – that means that growing just a few acres or a hectare of hemp isn’t feasible.  I was somewhat discouraged by this. But …

Since hemp has been grown for hundreds of years (if not thousands) I am sure there is much knowledge on how to do it on a smaller scale – for home needs but I haven’t been able to find any information on this yet. It may require more manual labour but I am confident it is possible. Our needs are humble – maybe to build another small structure for meditation, enough seeds for eating, making oils … the needs of a small family.

I’ll continue to look for more home-oriented information on this – I promise to share it here when I do find it.

Resources and Further Reading

Links:

PDF’s:

Advantages – Hemp in Timisoara

Andreea came across Advantages a local manufacturer of hemp products. There isn’t too much information about them online – but we will be contacting them to see if they know something about building with hemp.

Do It Yourself Windows

I found this inspiring post on do-it-yourself windows – I found it inspiring because it shows how far you can get on your own with only basic carpentry skills. The price from a professional craftsman was $5500 but in the end they were built in 4 days using $540 worth of materials!

Though I am wondering though if (1) this approach can be scaled up to a larger home and (2) if, with a reasonable investment in time and materials, it is possible to create longer-lasting and energy-efficient windows?

An Imaginary(?) Intergrated Heating System

This morning I walked into a cool Yoga room (we usually have in our house one room which is dedicated to Yoga, Meditation, etc.). It’s the coolest of the rooms in the apartment because it’s a corner room and extremely exposed to the elements (and probably not well insulated). This launched us into a conversation about options to optimize the heat in the apartment and that conversation led us into a wider exploration of heating solutions.

Local vs. Network

One quality of a heating solution is whether it is local to the space in which it is installed and operating or whether it effects other spaces in the house. For example:

  • A local system would be an electric heater that effects primarily the space in which it is activated.
  • A network system is the central gas heater installed in our rented apartment – it heats up water to  a set temperature and that water flows through a network of pipes that lead into radiators ain all the rooms of the apartment. A single mobile wireless thermostat can be placed in any room and it trigger the central heater into operation. If it is placed in a cold room it activates the central heater until the designated temperature is reached – but it’s effect is felt everywhere as other rooms heat up as well (potentially beyond the designated temperature – as is the case with the poorly insulated Yoga room).

Energy Source

Any heating system requires an energy source. These can be gas,electric, fire wood, solar, infrared, geothermal … and there may be others.

The preferred source can be a function of:

  • Availability – gas pipelines are an established infrastructure in Romanian cities, less so in villages where you have to rely on refillable pressured-gas containers. There are relatively new technologies that make it possible to manufacture gas from animal feces (we hope to find more information on this).
  • Price
  • Ecological effects (we don’t know enough about this yet)

Function

To the best of our current knowledge there are three application for heat in a home:

  1. Environmental heat.
  2. Hot water.
  3. Cooking

Efficiency

We are not experts on heat and efficiency but common-sense indicates that efficiency is worth noting and can potentially be optimized. Some examples:

  1. When the water heating source is far from the hot water faucet – there is some waster of flowing water until water is heated and reaches the faucet.
  2. When the faucet is opened briefly (for example – rinsing the hands while cooking) and the faucet demands hot water – water doesn’t arrive in time but the heater is activated pointlessly – a pure waste of energy.
  3. Pipes that connect radiators to a central heating system also radiate heat – probably not as effectively as the radiator.

Requirements of an Ideal Heating System

An ideal heating system for us would be a system that:

  • Can effectively heat any single space in the house (local)
  • Can effectively heat other spaces in the house (network).
  • Relies on an available and affordable (ideally – self generated) energy source.
  • Is multi-functional so that a single heat source can be utilized for other needs. For example, if cooking in the kitchen, that same energy can used to heat the kitchen and optionally other rooms in the house.
  • Can be targeted effectively depending on the need. For example, if cooking and there is no need to heat other rooms, do not let hot water escape unnecessaritly to other radiators in the house.

An Imaginary(?) Integrated Heating System

Please note:

  1. This potential system (imaginary is there because we have not yet encountered such a system) is designed for a village house in Romania. So if you live in a different climate with different needs it may not be ideal for you.
  2. It is based on our common-sense understanding of how heating system work and our needs.
  3. It is based on an aspiration to live in a self-sustaining how – which means as independent as possible in everything including its energy sources.

Heat Sources

  1. The primary heat source is fire wood. Fire-places are installed in every room which we want to be able to heat individually. Ideally this is an every room – though there can be joint-fire-places that are installed on shared walls.
  2. A small gas-based central heater is used for hot water when only hot water is needed or during summer months when there is no need for environmental heating.
  3. Solar panels are used for an alternative hot water source during sunny days.

Network

  1. All of the rooms (except maybe the living-room?) are equipped with water-based radiators that are hooked into a central house-wide network.
  2. All of the hot-water faucets are connected to a separate (from the central network) one-way (no returning water) hot-water channel.
  3. Each of the fire-places is:
    • Connected to (installed with?) an adjacent boiler which is connected to the central heating pipe-network.
    • Connected to the central house network with an open-close control mechanism.
    • Connected to the hot-water channgel with an open-close control mechanism.
  4. A gas-based central heater is connected to the hot-water channel.
  5. A solar panel water heating system is connected with open-close controls to both the hot-water and central house network.

What this creates is an effective heating system in which:

  1. Any of the fire-places can optionally take the role of a central heating system.
  2. The fire-places can work together for greater power and efficiency when they are used for heating.
  3. Alternative heating sources can be hooked up to complement and support the system.

Such an ideal system is probably prohibitive to install (lots of piping, numerous boilers, etc.). A specific house-design can probably help to whittle the size of the system down by reducing the number of elements. But more importantly – with a good and accessible infrastructure in place it may be possible to gradually expand the system as needed or as if financially possible. It feels like one of those cases where a bit more thinking and design can lead to a better system with very little overhead expenses.

Are we crazy or does this sound feasible to you?

Framing Windows

Framing (as I have recently learned) is a term that describes the wooden infrastructure of a house. I’ve started searching around – and this is the first simple  and useful post I found on framing – at least for someone like me who knows nothing about it. It’s not much – but a simple illustration, component names and the basic logic of framing are all in this concise post.

Another useful post in this friendly website is book recommendations for framing.

Ghee is Preserved Butter

Years ago my Yoga teachers introduced me to Ghee – which is purified butter. It is supposedly healthier then butter, in my opion it is also tastier but more to the Bhudeva-point it lasts longer (much longer) without spoiling. During theh first few weeks here we went with what was familiar to us and got butter and milk from the supermarket. Then we discovered the dairy-room in the market (lapte, lapte, lapte …)  and since then we’ve been getting fresh milk and butter.These tend to spoil faster then their industrial counterparts. So Ghee it is.

First – this is what real butter looks like – white, not yellowish. You place in it a pot on a small burner – too large flame will burn it.

As it begins to melt, a foamy later appears which you can skim off with a spoon and throw away.

It will continue to boil for a few minutes and then the boiling will reside a bit. This is the time to keep your eyes on the pot – soon the butter will become clear.

When it does, turn off the heat completely. Though you can pour out directly from the pot, we filter it through a cloth, preferrably into a glass jar or container.

Be careful when you squeeze it – it’s still boiling hot.

After a few hours of cooling – you are left with Ghee. You will lose approximately 1/3 of the volume of butter you had when you started.

It’s not mandatory to keep it in the fridge but we do. It will keep for weeks – supposedly even months (thoughwe never made enough to verify that theory!).

oh and … if you add water and some soap to the pot, throw the cloth into it and boil it all again … it makes for an easy cleanup.

Bhudeva: House

How to go about planning a house? We have so many ideas and questions – small and big details that pass through our attention. How can we collect them? How can we arrange them to give them direction? How can we share them with other people that will help us transform thoughts and words into a physical reality? …

Today we started answering these questions by launching a mini-site within Bhudeva – Bhudeva: House. This site is dedicated to the physical house we are going to build. In it we are collecting all of our thoughts, wishes, ideas, questions, inspirations … whatever comes to mind to explore and describe the house we wish to create for ourselves. It is a first concrete movement to create a specific flow of energy that will eventually manifest as a physical house.

We expect to change the arrangement of the website as we progress in our exploration – for now these are the few simple guidelines that we are using:

  1. Though there is a timeline which describes the order in which thoughts came to us – we don’t believe it to be an important or particularly informative aspect of the site. Posts are created when we approach a new idea and we may go back and edit them as more thoughts or information appears on that idea.  So if you reading this as a blog please keep in mind that posts may change long after they were first published. To us the site is more like a notepad.
  2. Categories are used to group together ideas around central functional needs – such as kitchen, living, sleeping, work, meditation, etc. By clicking a category you will see a list of posts that relate to that specific function.
  3. Tags are used to indicate recurring themes. For example we often relate to themes like space and privacy which are added as tags. By clicking on a tag you will see a list of posts in which a theme was mentioned.

Your are welcome to visit Bhudeva: House.

Must Read on Hemp

I recently came across this excellent and free eBook on Hemp Lime Construction. It is published by a UK organization called “National Non-Food Crops Centre” – a name that was a huge lesson to me in it’s own right. In my mind “crops” was obviously associated with farming and food. I now know that there is an entire domain of farming for non-food crops. Two prominent example of non-food crops used in construction are Strawbales and Hemp. I am looking forward to learn what other surprises crops hold in store for me 🙂

Back to the book – it is a must read for anyone (home makers, architects, engineers, farmers,governments … ) interested in working with the magical substance that is hemp.

Here is a summary, quotes from the book itself, on the advantages of Hemp construction – just to give you a motivating flavor:

  • A means of achieving energy efficiency
  • A way of providing thermal mass
  • A breathable material which can help to create healthy buildings
  • Use of a material which is renewable and does little environmental damage
  • No pollution and no problems at end-of-life disposal
  • 95 Crop-based material which helps farmers and is a good use of land
  • Helps to facilitate healthier buildings
  • Offers the possibility of sequestering carbon into building fabric
  • Hemp lime has the ability to make an impact on the future of sustainable building by reversing the damaging effects of greenhouse gases. It is claimed that hemp lime can lock up approximately 110 kg of CO2 per m3 of wall.

I am sure I will be referencing this book often here on Bhudeva 🙂

Eco

Words like “ecosystem” and “ecological” are so popular these days, they feel so specific and yet I challenge you to try and describe them with any specificity. I tried and failed. So I looked up just the first part – three letters “eco” and a little snooping around brought me to the greek word Oikos.

Originally the word Oikos meant “family” or “household” – a “basic unit of society”. But what I found to be even more interesting was that the use of the word morphed, I am guessing, together with society itself. It was later used to describe a larger unit of society – the city-state which was an independently governed area in ancient Greece. I am  guessing that this indicates that a core change took place in society – and that the single household lost some of its distinctive relevance in the overall view of society – something bigger was needed to make sense and bring social order.

As we begin this segment of our journey – which brings us closer then ever to creating a home – ideas such as ecology and sustainability are vibrating in our consciousness. The closer we move to the realities of a home the less obvious these ideas become. Though we are aiming to create a “self-sustaining” home – the reality of it is more complicated then it may seem. While it probably is possible to create a completely self-sustaining home – there seems to be a potential for a better life by creating a wider system that includes more people, skills and qualities. It is somewhere between a single family and an entire city 🙂

The wikipedia entry on Oikos indicates that the Greek Tragic form of theatre portrayed a conflict of values between the “family” and the “city-state” – a conflict that led to the decay of society. I can relate – I am writing these words living in an apartment in the city, looking forward to moving out to a village home. The city disturbs me – I have reservations about how well a city, as I have come to know it, actually supports life. I just finished spending some time in the kitchen – I made some carrot & apple juice and then cooked a vegetable soup. I was left with a pile of organic waste. Here in the city it becomes garbage, in the village it is food for the animals and compost to rejuvenate the land.

Browsing Cluj

Andreea is spending time with local newspapers looking for houses in villages in Cluj. We hope to fall in love with a place that is easily accessible from the main city of Cluj-Napoca (so that we can have access to the city when we need it and so that we remain accessible to others). Our plan is to go on daily excursions (we don’t have a car yet – so we will either rent a car when we need it or hire a taxi & driver to spend the day with us) to see places and get to know the area.

Andreea is using a couple of useful tools to get acquainted with the Cluj area. The first is a zoomable map of cluj. The second is a tool for estimating distances and travel time – there are two useful links for this that offer slightly differing estimates. One includes an illustrated path on a map and the other offers distance and time estimates via major locations.