Growing Tip Number 141: Location is Key

We’ve already talked about how outdoor and greenhouse grows are the best in so many ways, but an important factor in both outdoor and greenhouse cultivation is the choice of location. Location, location, location. Yes, we all know those famous words about real estate and they also apply to cultivating cannabis if it’s an outdoor or greenhouse grow. Humboldt County, California, is a great location for growing marijuana, no doubt, it is part of the legendary Emerald Triangle that encompasses three northern counties in California, Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity. People have been cultivating cannabis there since the 1960s and it is, according to the Field Guide to California Agriculture, “likely the largest value crop (by far) in the state’s lineup.” In 2013, Emerald Triangle cannabis was estimated to be worth over $30 billion, and that was just the outdoor product, indoor grows weren’t even included in that figure. The monetary value of all that pot was worth more than the top 10 legal crops that California farms produce and California is the top agricultural producer in the United States.

A couple of years ago some growers bought some land in Humboldt County along the Eel River about thirty miles south of Eureka. It was beautiful country surrounded by Redwoods and only 500 feet from the river. They laid out the property for several RVs, a urt and growing space for two-hundred cannabis plants. 140 of those would be strictly outdoor plants and the remaining 60 would be tended to in homemade greenhouses. Clones were potted, fertilized, watered and re-potted as they got larger and the greenhouses had fans at either end to control airflow. The weather was perfect and after a while all that was needed to maintain the thriving herbs was watering on a regular basis.

The greenhouse plants grew at just about the same rate of speed and girth and height as the outdoor ones and as the growers walked through their wondrous garden admiring their very healthy trees, they couldn’t help but smile at each other because of the success of their endeavor. The buds started to form and the gardeners started to get ready for the harvest, which would come fast once the buds reached a certain size. They readied the drying racks and the dehumidifiers, along with calling friends who would be the trimmers for that particular harvest, which was going to be huge. Two plants matured before all the others and the limbs were cut off and the branches were dried and the buds were trimmed. They were perfect and they yielded high-quality cannabis with better than average levels of THC. They each gave up two pounds of high-grade trimmed pot.

One morning the growers were sleeping dreamily when they were awakened by loud shouts to “Get Up! Come out Here!” by one of the partners. They all came rushing outside to see that he had two branches in his hand that apparently had just been cut off of one of the trees. “Look at this,” he said solemnly. As they gardeners all leaned in to look, they saw black mold covering some of the buds. “It’s mold,” he said. “It’s mold.”

One of the guys jumped to action and yelled, “What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” Everyone knew what he meant and ran to catch up with him as he bolted to the two hundred plants. He told everybody to go to different groups of trees and start checking them out. If they found mold on any of them they were to cut the whole tree down and toss it over to an area that was far away from the other plants. One of the farmers started digging a hole where the moldy plants were being thrown and when it was deep enough he tossed the bad plants into it to keep them from infecting the good ones. The other partners were frantically rushing from plant to plant to see if any of them could be saved. It was like firefighters trying to fight an unbeatable, fast-spreading wildfire.

Two hours later saw the gardeners sitting down for a breather and none of them looked very happy. There were only about ten or twelve plants standing and the rest filled the several new holes that were dug to isolate the bad from the good. As they drank their coffee, one of them got up and walked over to inspect the still upright plants. He walked from tree to tree, looking carefully at each branch before moving on to another one. When he came back, he slowly brought his coffee cup to his lips and quietly said, “They all have mold.”

The growers had a good start with their two hundred plants and initially, it looked as though they had everything going for them – good source material (the clones), terrific weather and a great piece of land for their legal grow. The constant moisture from the river, however, popped their happy balloon and gave them one of the major disappointments of their lives. There was just too much humidity in the air. They did have the four pounds from the first two plants they harvested, though. But after selling those, the only thing the money was able to cover was the cost of the clones, the fertilizer, water, and the plastic sheeting for the greenhouses. The idea that mold could poison their harvest so quickly and so overwhelmingly never even occurred to them. While it’s difficult to approach people and ask them if marijuana can grow in an area, perhaps a bit more research into humidity, growing next to a river, etc. may have provided some much-needed information for these growers and saved them not only heartbreak but also financial loss.

Good luck next time.

INDOOR VS. SUNGROWN

When I first started looking into the comparisons of indoor grows vs. outdoor and greenhouse grows I was surprised at all the differing opinions that were out there. Many of them felt one type of growth was better than the other because of the quality of the end product and others were convinced that the most natural way was the only method for a self-sustaining industry to continue in a sane business manner. Once I started digging into the subject (no pun intended) I began discovering some interesting information. By the way, we are not talking about or including in this conversation the destructiveness of illegal outdoor grows on public lands. In order to keep those illegal grows hidden from the view of sheriff deputies in helicopters and Fish and Game officers, along with the DEA, the uncaring and greedy growers destroy water resources, local creeks and the toxic fertilizers and pesticides they use completely destroy the environment. We are concerned with legal grows and in seeing which is ecologically better: greenhouses and outdoor grows or indoor cultivation.

If you drive on certain little-used roads in several counties in Northern California, Oregon and Washington State you will see more than a fair share of legal grows standing right out in the open air for everyone to notice. The first two or three grows you glance at will leave your mouth open with surprise because there are so many healthy cannabis plants concentrated in one area. But then as you cruise along and see even more of those beautiful green trees, the novelty will soon wear off. You’ll also notice greenhouses all along those back streets that are made of PVC plastic pipe covered with plastic and shaped like Quonset huts.

These growers, if they have all the required paperwork that allows them to be legal state marijuana growers don’t really have to worry about helicopters spying on them. Once they show their documents to the officials who ask for them they can go back to being cannabis farmers again. The DEA will generally only bother growers if they have more than several hundred plants on their site because they just don’t want to be bothered with small busts anymore – they don’t have the time or the manpower. The local cops are only concerned if you have more plants than your paperwork says you should have – otherwise, they will pretty much leave you alone.

What I learned about indoor grows, and you won’t see any of those while you’re driving on any road or in any state, is that they leave an enormous carbon footprint. Cultivating marijuana indoors takes a lot of energy; high voltage lights, large fans, which control air regulation, and temperature and humidity monitors all use up monstrous energy loads. Legal outdoor grows, on the other hand, don’t use any electricity because they don’t need heavy-duty lighting equipment – they use free energy from the sun. They also depend on the natural air circulation that nature provides and once the shoots are planted (with natural, organic and safe fertilizer and pesticides) little care is needed except for regular watering.

It has been said recently that as much as 10% of Denver’s electricity is going toward indoor grow operations, which continues to increase yearly. Ten percent may or may not sound like a lot for a population of over 700,000, but that means that electricity normally used by 70,000 people goes directly into producing indoor marijuana. To make this concept more understandable, some experts put the cost of electricity for large indoor grows at around $750 per pound of cannabis produced, which, when extended out to a minimum of 100 pounds per growing season, and indoor grows can have several harvests each year, comes to $75,000 spent just on electricity for each harvest. That represents a colossal expenditure of natural resources such as coal and natural gas, which when burned, produces tons of carbon dioxide, which then creates greenhouse gasses and a large carbon footprint, which moves us closer toward global warming.

Carbon footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gasses caused by an individual, organization or event.

Greenhouse cultivators can cut that cost down by 50 to 75% depending on the size of the greenhouse and yet their strains are every bit as good if not better than the indoor brands. They can produce great cannabis at a fraction of the cost of production of the indoor process and create a much smaller carbon footprint, which is better for the environment. Outdoor grows cut the electricity costs by 100% and if done conscientiously, they leave little to no carbon footprint behind. And the quality of legal outdoor grows has never been challenged because the end product is so organically satisfying. Plus, as an incidental bonus, outdoor and greenhouse cultivators’ profit margins shoot way up in comparison to indoor productions cannabis because of their negligible electricity consumption.

Caveat emptor = buyer beware. Since it’s not practical for each end user of cannabis to witness the process of their marijuana supplier, he or she should at least ask basic questions about their product. “How was this grown? Is this product from an indoor grow or was it grown outdoors or in a greenhouse?” This should be standard procedure when purchasing marijuana if you care about the environment. Dispensaries with integrity will welcome these questions because they have nothing to hide and their outdoor and greenhouse grows are not hurting their environment – or yours.