I’m at a homegrow on a rooftop in East Oakland dipping through cannabis plants so near to harvest that, if the wind were just right, one might believe the sweet, pungent aromas of marijuana in flower could be caught from the street far below. There’s plenty of room for the plants, 40 in total, to stretch out and dance in the afternoon’s slight breeze, but each is unquestionably feeling its own groove. On the one hand, a Panama Red sways slowly, fanning its thin ruddy branches so far into the sky that it borders upon being spotted for edging past the top of the approximately 6-foot tall walled area. On the other hand, at less than 4 feet tall, a Matanus-K stands so short and squat that it resembles a rounded hydrangea bush and hardly moves at all.
The distinct grow highlights the hard work and dedication of The Dank Duchess, a California-based cultivator-turned-hashmaker, and reveals an exceptionally rare curation of new cannabis strains originating from two distinct locations: California and Spain.
As we walk through the plants, each of which was started from seed, Duchess points out the varying attributes of each selection as well as the seed company that created them. I’m amazed by all the genetic diversity; this grow is the cannabis equivalent of a Kanye West release, there are so many different styles and forms of expression and each is innovative and feels incredibly fresh and new.
Duchess’ access to seed companies she found during her international travel has allowed her to create one of the most diverse collections of Spanish sensimilla outside of Barcelona. And, because of her trade as a hashmaker, the future for the majority of these dank, resinous buds lies in becoming potent cannabis concentrate which Duchess plans to sample at incremental times to get a sense of how the hashish will settle into its cure.
“I didn’t want to grow what everyone else was growing,” she says. “I wasn’t so much interested in getting flavors simply to grow flowers and say ‘Oh look I have these flowers,’ I want to make hash. I want to make hash that’s very different and it’s very different because it starts off with totally different flavors than we can get over here in California.”
On one edge of the grow is a grouping of a Darkside and Cherry Kush cross from The Kush Brothers Seeds. This plant, Duchess explains, is a sativa-dominant hybrid that, off all the 19 types of cannabis growing on the roof, was the slowest to flower.
“They’ve been the slowest in blooming,” she says. “They been very easy to grow, they’re very thirsty. They are some of the thirstiest in my entire garden.”
Near them I spot the Matanus-K from Gea Seeds in Barcelona. It’s hard not to be attracted to this plant because, at its diminutive stature, it could rightly be described as “cute.” I kneel down and extend my hands in a wide circle around it in a mock embrace. It’s heavy on the indica side, 80 percent, and has a wide leaf structure and a full bunching of rounded leaves.
“It’s definitely the most dominant indica in the entire garden,” Duchess says. “I don’t really like indicas so… I think I actually picked this one up by mistake.”
Despite not necessarily wanting to grow this strain, she gushes over the plant with equal fervor as the others.
“She’s so pretty,” she says as she inspects the Matanus-K’s tightly-grouped branches for signs of caterpillars. “Everything about her is clustering and that’s different.”
While growing, cannabis cultivators spend a lot of time with their plants and can develop an attachment to them. Earlier in the season, I witnessed Duchess’ hesitation towards ridding her garden of the male plants, which had already grown out past 5 feet tall and were in a far corner shoved away from the others. That day we poked through the branches “eating the balls,” otherwise known as destroying the pollen sacks on the male cannabis flower. They tasted slightly nutty, much like I would expect raw hemp seeds to taste. Later, once she cut the male plants down and removed them from the garden, she actually pickled their flowers so that they essentially became cannabis capers. Duchess also makes berry smoothies with the cannabis leaves, which contain the raw cannabinoid THCA.
“I smoke because I love to smoke, I know it’s good for me it makes my body feel good, but I have to tell you, the two-three weeks straight that I was blending cannabis, oh I felt like a million bucks every day,” she says.
Duchess is definitely versed on getting the most out of her grow. This rooftop setup represents her 13th season as a cultivator.
“Growing weed is where it’s at for me so wherever I live, growing weed has to be a major component of the process,” she says. “I like that connection that I make with the cannabis. It requires a patience that I have to nothing else. This four months, every day it’s like two, three, four, five hours, time can really get away from me, being here, attending to their every need and making sure that their conditions are exactly what they would like.”
As she inspects and manicures the plants, we share a family-style portion of a cannabis salad, a fat joint filled with Holy Headband, Sour Tangie and Duchess’ own T2 hash. Traveling through the rows, Duchess is able to recall details about the origin story of each strain. The Super Lekker, she says, is from Marimberos seed company, which is actually based in Uruguay, but she has a friend in Barcelona who works as a representative for the business.
“Barcelona is so big on the cannabis scene now, it’s getting so huge that everyone who’s trying to do anything is there,” she says.
Duchess is also very much plugged into the California cannabis scene and has more than a few new strains from Norstar Genetics in the mix. The satisfaction she gets from growing great cannabis keeps her in state of constant exploration and discovery.
“This is life,” she says of growing cannabis. “It’s a responsibility.”
TELL US, have you ever grown cannabis?