“Is that the Master?” says one friend to another, sitting in a living room somewhere in Mendonesia.
“You bet,” his friend replies, as he begins breaking down a sticky bud into tiny crumbles.
“It smells a little on the immature side, a little more on the Bubba Side,” remarks the first.
“I like to harvest it when it’s real silvery, when it’s white-frosty instead of amber-frosty. If you let it go longer, it’s becomes deep, nighttime medicine.”
“Yes, then it’s your late night, sedative Kush,” the first replies.
Deep aroma Master Kush. Three weeks into the drying cure. The favorite of cannabis connoisseurs.
The batch the two were examining was harvested September 20th. Friend One places some of the sticky weed into a modified water pipe used in conjunction with a heat gun, creating a vaporized smoke, free of burnt leaf matter. Flame destroys essential cannabinoids — the CBD’s which provide the user with health, not high. True cannabists are “all about the vape.”
On goes the heat gun, with hair dryer noise that evokes teen girls in the bathroom primping for the prom. The visual image is rather strange. The heat gun head is placed atop its metal reducer — now servicing as a makeshift bowl for the glass bong. Friend Two begins slowly inhaling.
Initially, nothing happens. Then an aroma begins to permeate the room. It is not the traditional smell of burning pot, but something far more fragrant. Pungent, yes, with hints of a smell that evokes camel journeys across the Silk Road. This is the smell of Afghanistan — heady and earthy, the olfactory summation of a culture and a people who have worked with this plant for uncounted generations. Literally thousands of years of human-cannabis relationship are culminating right here in Mendo, as farmers begin to settle down, sample their wares and begin the long process of finding responsible and reputable buyers and mules (the human kind) to make the dangerous journey out of the county to waiting consumers.
“I’ve never seen so much cannabis,” marvels Tim Blake, proprietor of Laytonville’s iconic Area 101 and one of just over a dozen legally sanctioned medical marijuana farmers who successfully obtained a permit from Mendocino County to grow up to 99 plants per parcel.
The large harvests were grown in nail-biting weather conditions. A particularly rainy spring wreaked havoc on starts. “Many plants that usually show sex in March and April went into full flowering and never came out,” notes Marv Levin, president of the Mendocino Farmers Collective, a grower-based, Clean Green certified cannabis cooperative located in northern Mendocino County. Early bird farmers who had plants in the ground in late spring watched helplessly as their baby plants got snowed upon two times in May, with additional rains continuing into June. “The plants freaked out a little bit. They flowered early but it all came back together,” Blake notes.
“More new people grew this year. Seasoned growers planted more,” says Blake. “Trinity County had hillsides of cannabis,” notes one activist. “Every inch of Ruth Lake was plastered. The whole Triangle’s plastered and the Siskyous were off the faheezie this year,” he smiles. “It’s a smorgasbord out there.”
“The challenge this year was with our early harvest strains like the Purple Dragons. The weather was very hard on those strains,” Blake notes. He planted more than 20 different strains in his permitted garden. “We had to apply different techniques to each strain, but smelling the bouquets of all the plants has been fantastic,” he notes. Blake is pleased with his Maui Diesel Crosses, Cherry Pie Kush, White Romulan and of course, his Master OG.
Early weather problems were forgotten when the October sun kept shining for three weeks — enough good weather to allow flowers to mature in full sun. Those growing the more exotic, sativa-dominant Diesel and Kush strains gambled, as always, with how long to keep the plants in the ground. The week of rain in late October was followed by enough sun to allow for full ripening and the potential, following the rigors of curing and drying for a harvest producing pounds and pounds of highly coveted “A-Grade” material.
Cannabis activist Bud Greene observes more and more farmers turning away from fertilizers and using soil inoculants such as the fungus-like mycelia. “Inoculants increase the plant’s uptake ability,” says Greene. With damp weather and cool autumnal temperatures, the challenge is always preventing mildew while bringing plants to maturity. Greene says inoculants helped many farmers weather the storms. “Symbiotic beneficial organisms always beat out harmful ones. Powdery mildew starts in the root zone. Colonizing with microbials makes it harder for the plant to harbor pathogens. They correct imbalances. Pathogens are opportunistic, They’re looking for the weak link. It could be as simple as the moisture-to-air ratio,” he notes.
Meanwhile, the price of cannabis, particularly outdoor, continues to be fickle. “The market in California has been really variable,” says Greene, noting that cannabis prices are currently higher in Humboldt County than in Los Angeles. “Out of state buyers come to the Emerald Triangle to buy herb,” he explains. “They’re not interested in going to LA. Everyone has much more supply than they have demand for. It’s completely changed the LA market. Illicit stores in Southern California are exploding, and legitimate dispensaries are disappearing,” says Greene. End user prices are higher because sellers are grappling with increasingly high risk factors.
Plant yield continues to grow. “Five to ten pound plants are not uncommon,” says Greene. “Now, 14-pound per plant growers are the rock stars,” laughs Blake, who recalls his 25-plus years carrying water to plants in a backpack, hiding water lines and curing and trimming his cannabis out in the bush. “Back then, just the fact that you accomplished bringing in a crop was an achievement.” Today, Blake pays to play, and the expenses incurred to qualify for his 99-plant permit quickly ballooned into tens of thousands of dollars. Along with application fees, Blake spent thousands installing heavy-duty gates and fencing. He paid for mandatory inspections and nearly $2,500 was given to the county for zip ties attached each plant. Even with the high setup costs, Blake is relieved to be part of the system, for real, in real time, working within the closed loop of the cooperative to provide medicine to eager collective members.
Despite public opinion to the contrary, most organic, outdoor cannabis farmers such as Blake do not reap significant profits. “Over ten years, you have a couple average years, a couple horrible years, you get ripped off and you have one outstanding crop. In the long run, it averages out,” he notes.
Many farmers don’t expect trimming to be completed until late January. Several mobile trimming businesses, some using equipment designed for processing hops, are making the rounds throughout the region. One vendor offers his equipment for $200 per hour, which sounds expensive, but he noted that at his last assignment, two workers processed 26 pounds of cannabis in six hours, costing the farmer about $1,400, a savings to the farmer of nearly $3400. Salaries for trimmers currently range from about $150 to $250 per pound, with a skilled trimmer working with forgiving product completing a pound of bud in approximately eight to ten hours.
There is a burgeoning interest in products utilizing trimmed leaf. Manufacturers of everything from topical analgesic sprays to gourmet “fortified” chocolates to premium hashish are combing the county for high-quality raw materials, and the cannabis “chaff” that once ended up in the compost pile is being turned into an array of products to tantalize a growing market. The interest in consuming juiced, fresh green leaves, as recommended by Dr. William Courtney, is skyrocketing. Continuing research demonstrating a diversity of health benefits from the consumption of the non-psychoactive cannabis leaves is intriguing boomer-aged populations disgusted with insurance premiums and pill popping. Some farmers gathered up their fan leaves, brought a juicer and a generator to their garden and juiced their leaves on site, downing a spicy “shot” of “ganja grass” juice. Some froze the juice for future addition to a smoothie.
Quality isn’t always on par with quantity, but this season appears to have produced excellent material still capable of commanding several thousand dollars per pound. “I believe the 2010 harvest will be remembered as one of the finest in years, and I believe medicine this good will help to remind California medical marijuana users of the origins of these flowers,” notes Levin.
As the friends continue their “vaping,” a small pile of toasted brown cannabis grows ever larger on the table. More people arrive, carrying with them a little jar of this or bag of that, and the vape goes on. And on. Talk of the weather, talk of soil, talk of strains, talk of yields, talk of the election. Around the room, men in farmer’s bibs with gnarled hands and leathery skin celebrate another successful harvest. If it wasn’t for the smell of that vaporized, dusky herb- native to the Hindu Kush and successfully relocated to Spy Rock, one could imagine these same gents chewing the fat at the local farm supply.