Monday, February 01, 2010

How high does hemp grow, is a question I am often asked. One answer to this is: up to 30'. Which of course is the exception, rather than the rule, as most of it grows nowadays 8-10'. The other answer is 7,000' or more, that is in altitude. This is covered on pp. 6-8 of Hemp for Victory, where 19th century authors J. Forbes Royle and Major Heber Drury noted its growth in India and Nepal. The former wrote:
The plant I have seen in a very luxuriant state at least ten or twelve feet high, in the Himalayas, at elevations of 6000 and 7000 feet, especially in the neighbourhood of buffalo sheds.
The latter, quoting an 1840 account of Capt. H. Huddlestone, adds:
The real Hemp, or cultivated kind, is chiefly grown on high lands, and principally on the northern faces of the mountains, in well prepared and abundantly manured soils close to villages, or in recently cleared lands by burning the primeval forests, the soil of which, from the accumulated decomposed vegetable matter of several years, is rich enough to ensure the superior growth of the plant and an abundant crop without any manure for one season. No irrigation is ever resorted to, and very little is produced under an elevation of 3000 feet, the heat of the valley being detrimental to its quality, and the plant appears to flourish best at elevations of from between 4000 to 7000 feet.
Drury notes of its growth in Katmandoo, and further quotes an anonymous source as to its growth in mountainous regions:
All along the Himalayas - that is in Nepaul, in Kemaon, in Gurwhal, and up to the newly acquired hills of the Punjab, at elevations of from 3,000 to 4,000 to 7,000 feet - Hemp is cultivated by the Hillmen, though chiefly for their own use, at some say, the plants growing to 8 to 10, or some say, 12 or 14 feet.
India continued to produce hemp into the 20th century, with 11,000 tons produced in 1904 and 36,000 tons in 1919. A german agriculural tract from 1916 shows hemp growing 20' tall in Nepal.
Chinese practice for small landowners in Southwest China has been to use the level land for crops such as rice, and the sloping land, that is not as conducive to rice, for hemp. With hemp's affinities for growth at high altitudes, of a mile or more, and its ability to grow on sloping terrain, it is ideal for mountainous countries, such as Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. It could well provide a new fibre, and reduce the dependency of these countries on imported fibres such as jute and cotton, both of which use much water. In addition, the nutritious seeds could provide a valuable export, the by-product of which, the cake, could be used to feed cattle and fish. The inner fibre, not useful for fabric, could be used for paper, most of which is imported into these countries from Southeast Asia, where its production threatens the rain forests.
Presently some hemp is still grown in the Himalayas, but new laws in Nepal make it technically illegal, save for wild grown hemp, which villagers still harvest to make textiles and press for seeds (see related posts on this blog).
Hopefully it will continue to be grown in the 'Indies' and find a new home in the Andies....

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