Spring into Production

Features - Cultivation

Prep for your best upcoming growing season with these pointers from experienced outdoor cannabis cultivators.

April 12, 2018

PHOTOS of clarity farMs by Cary Hilton
As the peaceful winter draws to a close, anticipation and excitement for the coming growing season takes hold. With the holidays behind us, it is a time for reflection, daydreaming, planning and completing preparation work on the farm. Most cannabis farmers I know in regions with cold winters see their to-do lists grow exponentially in the months leading up to spring planting. It can be a challenge to plan and execute all the critical tasks that must be completed before planting can begin. To gather some planning tips, I met with several fellow small-scale outdoor farmers from Washington and California to discuss this pre-spring period and how they approach it on their farms.

I was curious to learn what each farmer felt were the top three pre-spring activities necessary to ensure the upcoming season’s success. Chad Steelman, owner of Humboldt Marijuana Company, says that mapping canopy, training employees and picking the right strains for the coming year’s crop are of utmost importance.

Jade Stefano, CEO of Puffin Farm, believes that top priorities are “taking care of genetics and making sure mother plants are in tip-top health, analyzing last season … and farm clean-up.”

Nazareth Victoria II, CEO and Founder of The Four Twenty Collection, says that “strain selection, starting healthy plants and making sure our soil is right” are primary considerations.

Certainly, the vigor of the seedlings and clones to be planted as well as the health of the soil to be used are critical to the season’s success. But as with most things on the farm, timing is everything.

Spring Season Breakdown

February is typically cold, rainy and snowy in many regions, prompting most farmers to begin with indoor tasks. If you haven’t written down all the tasks and activities you hope to complete before spring planting, February is the time to finalize your game plan.

Properly planning your grow cycles in the spring season will give you a greater chance of high yields when it’s time to harvest.

“While we’re concentrating on the release of our harvest, we’re also starting to think about what strains we’re going to plant,” Victoria says.

Each farmer I spoke with agrees that February is the time to prepare for success. Furthermore, those who propagate their own cuttings emphasize the importance of providing mother plants ample love and attention during this time.

Steelman details his plans for February: “We will begin to put greenhouse roofs on, get greenhouse heaters into place, build growing beds and finish any clean-up that was abandoned upon our Thanksgiving Day exodus,” he says. The end of February is also the time to start seeds and begin taking cuttings.

Clarity Farms’ crop. Outdoor cultivators should be ordering clones in March to be ready for May’s planting season.

March is when the weather begins to change and the first real signs of spring begin to show. It’s a time for tending plants, sprouting seeds and taking more cuttings. If you intend to order your plants from a licensed cannabis nursery, March is the time to place the order to ensure on-time delivery.

“In March, we also test our soil for micro- and macro-nutrient levels. This aids us in planning what amendments we will need to add to our soil,” Stefano explains. Transplanting and soil mixing will begin in earnest this month as well. Most farmers will start each day as the sun rises, and they will be greeted by the smell of sweet, wet earth as they survey their farms and the day’s tasks ahead of them. Each night, farmers will likely lay down exhausted, experiencing achy and sore muscles familiar from past spring seasons. And as they drift off to sleep, they’ll think about tomorrow’s tasks.

April is generally regarded as a farmer’s last opportunity to rest before the busy growing season is upon them. Plants ordered from a nursery should be delivered at this time. A delay in delivery may indicate the need for a farmer to find backup plants in a hurry. I’ve heard a number of stories about clone deliveries being delayed or short because a farmer relied on a newly established or inexperienced nursery to fill his needs.

Steelman expects to be incredibly busy come April. “We’ll continue transplanting seed starts, more bed building, repair holes on light deprivation tarps, daily inspection and maintenance of plants, spraying of teas, watering and possibly topping,” he says. Farmers should take advantage of any nice days in March and April for bed preparation and any necessary repairs. A farm’s status in April will provide a clear indication of how the coming season will fair. Any setback experienced now will likely impact the coming harvest.

Words of Advice

An aisle at Clarity Farms. Most outdoor farms have their field layouts finished in April.

Stefano, Victoria and Steelman also offer advice to their fellow outdoor cultivators. “We have learned that the time goes way faster than it seems and to start planning early. If you wait until spring, it may be difficult to source supplies, as they sell out,” Stefano says. Sound advice—cloning trays and rooting plugs have been hard to come by in Washington in season’s past.

Victoria adds: “Making sure your soil is right so that you can get your plants in the ground when they’re supposed to be is crucial to your harvest.”

Steelman provides some cautionary advice: “Don’t forget to place and set the mouse traps around the freshly popped seed sprouts. One mouse can ruin your whole start to the season.”

My thoughts are that you really can’t start off the season with too many clones or plant starts. If you’re propagating clones for yourself, take extras—you will likely be able to sell what you don’t need in the spring to a fellow farmer who experienced a setback. It ensures you are keeping with the tradition of farmers helping farmers, allows for the preservation and sharing of cannabis genetics, and may provide you some extra cash to finance your season.

As April draws to a close, May arrives full of life. Before you know it, spring has returned and planting season is upon the farmers. Long days will be spent in the field digging holes and planting cannabis starts. There will be a sense of satisfaction when things go as planned, and any new obstacles or mistakes will provide learning opportunities to be applied next spring. As Victoria points out, “We are always striving for perfection, knowing that we can never achieve it, yet it allows us to continue to improve.” Yes, farmers agree, as eternal optimists, that there is always next year.

Crystal Oliver is a co-owner/founder of Washington’s Finest Cannabis, an outdoor cannabis farm licensed by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board since August 2014.