Beija Flor’s co-founder and head cultivator Jonathan Wentzel didn’t jump into cannabis cultivation on a whim. No, the Napa Valley native was born into the fifth generation of an agriculture family and was practically fluent in cannabis by the time he officially opened Beija Flor Farms (a roughly 1.5-acre outdoor grow in Mendocino, Calif.) in 2015. He cultivated his first cannabis plant years earlier, at the age of 13, with help from his southern Humboldt-based uncle.
Working in the fields and being around agriculture for most of his life has allowed Wentzel to form a strong connection with the land he farms, and he does everything within his power to protect it.
Here, Cannabis Business Times Senior Editor Scott Guthrie speaks with Wentzel about how his agriculture background has helped him with cannabis cultivation, why he prefers to make his own soil, his approach to outdoor pest management, the reasons behind Beija Flor’s decision to become a legal, licensed California grow and why he concentrates so much on terpene expression.
Scott Guthrie: Before transitioning to cannabis, you worked in the wine and vineyard industry. What did you do in that industry, and what takeaways have helped you the most with cannabis cultivation?
Jonathan Wentzel: That’s my family’s business, and we’ve been growing grapes since the ’80s. I think in general what it gave me is a respect for terroir and an innate trust in the soil. By terroir, I mean the culture and climate in which you plant. So, the topography that dictates what grows best is how we adapt to our terroir, and the same [applies to] cannabis varieties. That’s my takeaway from learning about the vineyards and how advanced they are, and how much [vintners] pride themselves on their sense of place and microclimate.
Guthrie: You create growing programs specifically for microclimates and elevation. What does that mean, and how do you do that?
Wentzel: As much as we can, we look at topography on a map. For example, a certain strain would grow in the mountains, and in the same topography it would grow here. Like Afghani, ... Afghani would grow in the mountains … and there will also be a variety that will grow in the valleys. Knowing the distinctive characteristics between those two cultivars can give you a real leg-up on your cultivation protocol because you can put things at a certain elevation. And using that knowledge, I’m excited to see the future of the industry and more people putting that kind of knowledge to work and really creating a terroir system where we’re able to isolate some of these cultivars and see what conditions they breed and grow best in.
Guthrie: What is Beija Flor’s ethos when it comes to cannabis cultivation?
Wentzel: My personal ethos is to put my heart and soul into it, but largely as a company we’re about sustainability, and [we have] a deep sense of place and ecology in our work, observing nature’s cycles and being a craft cannabis farm. So, linking those concepts: terroir [and] the history. Also [the name Beija Flor] has a history to it; [it] means ‘kiss the flower.’ It’s a property in Mendocino County that’s kind of well-known amongst people in the community.
Guthrie: 'Craft breeding' or 'craft breeder' are buzz terms in the industry. More cultivators and companies are jumping into that space. How does Beija Flor stand out and compete in this competitive market segment?
Wentzel: I think it’s great that more people are getting into that space. I highly encourage it, and I think that it’s a real boon for the whole industry, that it can create new varieties and cultivars. I also stress the importance of keeping a beginner’s mind with it and not getting too carried away. There’s a lot to learn, and I think that it’s a lifelong process, so I’m somewhat skeptical of a lot of these companies that have jumped into the space.
And I have found that the plant … wants to be bred, and it’s a really cool pastime. It’s a great way to develop and learn about the plant, too, and gather its characteristics. I’m not sure exactly how we will stand out. I’m not really trying to stand out; I’m just doing something that I’ve done for many years now and hope to continue doing it.
Guthrie: How have you seen cannabis agriculture and soil evolve over time?
Wentzel: I’m putting together many different diverse groups of manures. I’m doing things like gathering seaweed locally, tilling it into soil, and I’m depending largely on the synergy of getting the biology working. When I do that, I’m stepping back and letting that process take over. So, it’s a biologically intensive method, or as you call it, biointensive. … I … want the natural edge that using materials from a 50-mile radius or an 80-mile radius can give me. I find it much more interesting and kind of challenging in a really cool way.
Guthrie: What is your biggest challenge when developing your own soil and going through the process that you just described?
Wentzel: One of the biggest challenges, I think, is using soil as sort of a pest-management protocol. … So, I’m not getting any pest attacks on the [plants] that are in the ground; biological activity in the ground is keeping them healthy. It’s really quite phenomenal.
Guthrie: Diving deeper into that: What is Beija Flor’s approach to pest management?
Wentzel: The first line of defense is obviously a good soil, a deep, rich, organic soil that has a lot of things that could homeopathically combat stressors. The plant is so resilient.
The second thing I’m interested in right now is predatory mites, predatory nematodes … ladybugs, biological controls.
The third thing lately is people using and changing the pH [level] of the water [they use] to spray their leaves. That’s something that’s interesting to me that I don’t put into practice, but I’ve heard of people having some success with that.
And the fourth thing is probably if I’m doing new soil and I’m building soil, [and if] I’m not 100-percent confident in it yet because the biology hasn’t taken off, the very last thing I’ll do is make sure that I can at least get in there with a tractor. I connect a big tool behind the tractor that will evenly spray the plants with different organic compounds to help with pest management.
Guthrie: Beija Flor is big on carbon sequestration. What is that, and how can it benefit the Earth?
Wentzel: There’s an optimal amount of carbon on Earth in the atmosphere. We’re made of carbon. There’s carbon released in the air. And when we till up too much top soil, or [release] carbon emissions through burning of fossil fuels, for example, we obviously end up with a situation that is less than pleasurable for a lot of the species on Earth. So, without getting into that too much, the soil absorbs carbon, and we’re able to do that by growing plants. And the more carbon you can put into the soil, the more it can take.
It’s kind of interesting that terpenes are actually made out of carbon. [Terpenes are] actually chains of carbon compounds, so this plant is actually really rich in its potential to absorb carbon. And one of the methods that I stress is no-till agriculture, or ‘till not to till,’ which means, essentially, once you have your biology and everything on point, you do not want to disturb that soil. You’re able to use [the soil] year after year, and it only becomes richer and better and stronger, and it absorbs more carbon and you are disturbing it less. … And some of the [terpene] profiles, we have gotten them really quite high, especially like 4-percent terpenes. So, I think there’s something to that.
Guthrie: What are some techniques you use to bring out terpene expression, and why does Beija Flor focus so much on terpene expression?
Wentzel: I’ve found that through [bringing carbon into the soil], this rich organic matter really benefits the expression of terpenes. I find that it’s stronger in the organic matter-based medium than maybe another medium. ... Another thing is really taking your time with the plant and letting it fully express itself. It has a period of time at the end when it just wants to go and really show its flower and show its essence, if you will.
Guthrie: Beija Flor recently made the decision to become legal. Why, and what has the process been like?
Wentzel: We moved forward just because we want to be transparent and proud of what we do, proud of the medicine we create, proud of putting our heart and soul into this. We want recognition for that. We want to be able to offer good medicine for people, and the best way to do that I think is to really just be legal.
It’s been somewhat of a struggle, and [there’s been] a discrepancy between the state and the local agencies. So, like any new industry, it’s finding its roots and it’s taking a while for these governing bodies to communicate. You have to be patient with that because it’s a new industry. … But I think in general, we’re just in it for the long haul, so we were anticipating this anyway. We expect the market to stabilize and the demand to increase, and these lumps will smooth out over time.
*Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, style and length.
Scott Guthrie is the senior editor for Cannabis Business Times and its sister publication, Cannabis Dispensary.
Washington’s cannabis market has had its share of issues since the state passed Initiative 502, legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2013. Folding the state’s medical market into the I-502 program left many medical operators unable to secure recreational licenses; the sustained glut of product has crippled many operators’ ability to break even (forget turning a profit); and odor issues have caused some communities to shun outdoor cannabis farmers.
However, the state’s latest issue regarding greenhouse definitions could potentially throw the state’s entire cannabis market into disarray.
Building codes across the country are based on the International Code Council’s (ICC) guidelines, and building inspectors use those codes and definitions to guide their daily work. However, the ICC does not specifically define what constitutes a greenhouse, but Washington’s energy code does. (The Washington State Building Code Council (SBCC), the entity that develops and adopts building code policy, developed the state’s energy code.) The code splits greenhouses into two categories: traditional greenhouses and “controlled plant growth environments.”
According to the state energy code, a greenhouse is “a structure or a thermally isolated area of a building that maintains a specialized sunlit environment that is used exclusively for, and essential to, the cultivation, protection or maintenance of plants.”
Meanwhile, controlled plant growth environments are “buildings or spaces that are specifically controlled to facilitate and enhance plant growth and production by manipulating various indoor environmental conditions. … Controlled indoor environment variables include, but are not limited to, temperature, air quality, humidity and carbon dioxide.”
The Issue at Hand
These definitions are proving to be problematic, mainly because they allow for personal interpretation. According to a spokesperson for Washington’s Department of Enterprise Services (DES), “the State Building Code is enforced by cities and counties” using local government-hired building code inspectors. When there is overlap between the definitions, “generally the more restrictive requirements apply,” the DES says.
Crystal Oliver, co-founder and owner of Washington’s Finest Cannabis, an outdoor cannabis farm in Deer Park, Wash., says the state’s energy code is being used “as a tool to manipulate the market” by deterring both indoor and outdoor cultivators from moving to a greenhouse structure.
According to Oliver—who is also on the Cannabis Farmers Council executive board and was a member of the SBCC’s Cannabis Issues Technical Advisory Group—local building code officials in certain conservative communities are interpreting the state energy codes to say year-round greenhouses utilizing any kind of supplemental lighting, heating or other mechanical environmental control are controlled plant growth environments, and controlled plant environments are not exempt from building envelope requirements.
“What that means is you need to have insulation in your walls and ceiling so you’re not losing that heat or energy,” she explains, but adds that complying with building envelope requirements also means “you don’t have a greenhouse anymore,” because greenhouses don’t have insulation.
Oliver has spoken with one local building code inspector who has taken a hard stance against greenhouses in this debate. She explained to the inspector that “if we go with your interpretation, greenhouses will cease to exist in Washington for anyone, cannabis or any other product.”
The DES spokesperson agrees with Oliver’s interpretation that nearly all greenhouse structures in the state would be affected, but added that existing structures would be grandfathered in. “With a few exceptions, application of the building codes is not retroactive,” the spokesperson says. “If a structure has been permitted for a specific use and that use has been continuous and not changed, the facility is code compliant.”
However, individuals seeking new permits would have to meet the requirements if their local building code inspector deems the greenhouse to be a controlled plant growth environment. The DES spokesperson also added that any structural or equipment changes to existing greenhouses could also trigger a building envelope requirement.
How We Got Here, and What is Next
The building envelope requirement is meant to ensure heated structures conserve energy through proper insulation. (The SBCC is also mandated under the Energy Code Act to reduce energy consumption by 70 percent by 2031.)
The concern with heated greenhouses in Washington, as Oliver understands it, is that they are often in areas that endure cold snaps and snowstorms, taxing the state’s power grid during winter months. She agrees that heated greenhouses use more energy, “but then my argument to them is if you look at it on an annual basis, that greenhouse … is going to use less energy than that warehouse structure that has to use lighting all year-round,” she says.
While this code interpretation affects the entire greenhouse community, the impacts on the cannabis industry would be substantial, Oliver says. By making greenhouses more expensive, she continues, the SBCC is removing greenhouses as a viable option for indoor cultivators looking to cut production costs and outdoor farmers seeking year-round production and odor reduction.
Oliver plans to appeal the SBCC for an official interpretation and an advisory determination. (The SBCC’s official interpretations are non-binding.) However, interpretation requests must come from a building code inspector, meaning Oliver must find a local official sympathetic to greenhouses and cannabis to raise the issue with the SBCC.
“The market wants to go toward greenhouse cultivation for various reasons, but if the energy codes wipe that out, it’s something different.”
Brian Maciver is the associate editor for Cannabis Business Times.
With legalization falling into place around the world, the cannabis industry is changing rapidly. Countless exciting start-ups have joined this burgeoning market to create socially responsible brands that now support the once gray underground economy. With them, we see the rise of well-informed cannabis consumers: people who know what they consume and how it impacts their health and the environment. They’re demanding better, more environmentally friendly products.
Embracing Plant-Based Proteins in Your Nutrients
Recent studies have uncovered the origins of high soil fertility. In the wild, plants die and decompose where they once sprouted and grew. After soil microbial life breaks plant tissues down into bioavailable compounds, the compounds feed the next generation of plants, which feeds the next.
Animal-based proteins (usually bovine) are often used in bloom boosters and other cannabis-specific nutrients, if they contain any proteins at all. But animal-based proteins are not an ideal match for the vegetable protein profiles of plants. More importantly, these proteins may hold residue from the antibiotics, growth stimulants and chemicals fed to farm animals.
Vegetable-based proteins are superior and far more suitable for your crops because they more closely match your garden’s protein profiles. They precisely mirror the protein profiles of the high-value crops you grow. A sustainable, vegetable-based source of protein can aid floral development and assist chelation for better nutrient uptake. Vegetable-based proteins are better quality than animal-based proteins and are also more environmentally friendly to produce and use in commercial cannabis facilities. High-quality sources of vegetable protein include soy, grains, lentils, nuts and seeds such as hemp and chia.
Hemp is one of the best plant-based protein sources. Rich in albumin and edestin, hemp seeds contain high-quality plant protein, branched-chain amino acids with all 20 essential amino acids, both essential and non-essential. In other words, hemp-based proteins are a perfect match for your garden!
Look for the L
L-amino acid that is. Feeding is an active process for plants. They expend energy while accumulating essential elements. And the job of finding readily absorbable nutrients is the hardest. L-amino acids promote nutrient absorption and bring a host of other plant benefits. For example, they provide essential nutrients for plant growth, including nitrogen. The amino acids L-Glycine and L-Glutamine mediate photosynthesis, metabolites for chlorophyll concentration, synthesis and tissue formation. L-aminos also help combat plant stress, increase root mass, trigger natural defense mechanisms and stimulate metabolic activity.
L-aminos are natural chelators that help plants absorb the amount of nutrients required to produce substantial yields. Chelation of micronutrients saves the plants energy and drives them to grow faster and more prolifically. Look for nutrients that offer L-amino acids and a range of chelating agents along with high-quality plant-based proteins.
Other Essential Nutrients for Robust Plant Growth
Whether you’re growing cannabis or roses, your plants have need-specific nutrients to grow, flower and be healthy. The three main nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).
Nitrogen helps build the physical structure of plants and assists in cell division. Phosphorus aids photosynthesis and thus encourages blooming, root formation and water absorption. Potassium creates long, sturdy plant structures, regulates the stomata, and increases hardiness. Stored potassium and phosphorous are used to develop extra floral structures and tissues; they also stimulate extra cytokinins to further boost floral production throughout blooming. A powerful bloom booster creates extra reserves of potassium and phosphorus that directly feed production of essential oils and flavoring compounds when your buds swell and ripen.
Knowledge Is Key
Commercial cannabis companies should know what tools they have and when, where and how to use them. Staying current with cutting-edge technologies in the cannabis industry gives cultivators the deep knowledge that will benefit their customers and their business.
Most commercial cannabis growers only realize a fraction of their potential because they aren’t doing everything they can to increase their yields. The faster you learn about leading-edge products designed to create bigger, heavier blossoms, stimulate growth, and increase yields, the more likely it is you will enjoy better harvests, happier customers and bigger profits. If you’re reading and learning from Cannabis Business Times, you’re off to a great start!
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced Jan. 31 that his office will retroactively apply Proposition 64 to misdemeanor and felony convictions dating back to 1975. Up to 4,940 cases are eligible for review in his district alone. Source: San Francisco District Attorney’s Office
Georgia Senator Curt Thompson (D-Tucker) introduced a bill to legalize and tax adult-use cannabis in the Peach State. The bill has gained traction by attracting six sponsors, but chances that state lawmakers will legalize the plant remain slim. Source: WSB-TV 2 Atlanta
José Hidalgo, founder and CEO of Knox Medical, one of three medical dispensaries legally allowed to operate in Texas, announced that his dispensary delivered to a patient the state’s first legal cannabis oil Feb. 1, more than two years after Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law legalizing CBD oil for Texans with intractable epilepsy. The patient receiving the medication was a young female child from Central Texas. Source: Texas Tribune
British Columbia Solicitor General Mike Farnworth on the announcement of B.C.’s cannabis regulatory framework-which allows for online and storefront sales, but limits brick-and-mortar commerce to stand-alone stores that don’t sell liquor, tobacco, food or other products. Municipalities will be able to block in-store sales. Source: Vancouver Sun
Cannabis Business Times’ interactive legislative map is another tool to help cultivators quickly navigate state cannabis laws and find news relevant to their markets. View More