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Putting the Garden to Bed

PHOTO Brian Parks


Putting the Garden to Bed

As winter approaches, Swami shares their process for winterizing their 190-acre farm in the Mendocino Highlands.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you can say, “The crop is in the barn.” There’s a sense of accomplishment, as well as a great relief that you got it in before the weather turned really bad and cut each cultivar before first light, at its peak potency.

Nonetheless, I also always get a little depressed right after harvest, kind of a postpartum blues, as I look out at a garden bereft of the glorious plants that filled it just a few days prior. As I mentally review all the challenges and difficulties of the grow season, I ask myself, “Can the new flowers possibly be as good as last year’s crop? Did I somehow blow it?” 

I won’t really know until four months from now, in the beginning of March, when it will first be really ready to smoke. Nothing to do but to be patient and wait. Somehow, every year it comes out great, but still, I worry.

How We Winterize Our Cannabis Farm

Nevertheless, there’s much to do in the garden to put her to bed for the winter. As the cold and rainy weather starts, it becomes time to winterize the whole farm, not just the garden. I really have to think about the total 190 acres of our ranch and the upcoming rainy season.

Starting in the garden, we take up the irrigation lines and clear away the old mulch. After we broad fork each mound, we spread a thick layer of OSB (organic soil builder, comprised of seeds of vetch, red clover, fava beans, sweet pea and winter rye), then cover it with a thin compost layer. Over that, the old mulch is put back and some new straw mulch is added.

These legumes and grasses are called “nitrogen fixing plants” because a bacterium called rhizobium lives around their roots and processes various plant decay to make nitrogen in the form of ammonium and nitrate, which is available to the plants.

In the springtime, when we start waking up the beds, the cover crop will be cut down and used as green mulch. Just the roots are turned up and over before we add whatever amendments are needed—it’s kind of like making a lasagna with all the layers. The little white nitrogen nodules collected around the roots will be readily available to the new crop.

Winterize a Cannabis Farm post harvest
The post-harvest garden. PHOTO Nikki Lastreto

General Clean Up and Storage

At the same time, a general cleanup on the farm is underway. We tie up the bamboo trellis sticks and them put away. If kept dry, they can be reused year after year. Around piles of soil and compost, we put wattles and cover them with tarps. We keep piles damp but don’t allow them to wash out during the winter storms.

Back by the barn, we clean the brew tanks, drain water lines to prevent freezing and clean around the barn. Tools, power equipment and several water and air pumps are put away for the winter. The classic yellow top black bins need to be washed out and stored.

Along with winterizing the cannabis farm, we also have to winterize Hank, the tractor, a sixteen-year-old John Deere 4520 who’s a vital part of our operations. He’s used for turning piles of soil and compost, carrying, loading and unloading, keeping the roads in shape, making trenches, mowing the high grass in spring and more. “Hank gets it done.”

Around the rest of the farm, we check various culverts and ditches on our dirt roads for obstruction and repair rolling dips in roads.

Snow caused the roof of the woodshed to collapse. PHOTO Nikki Lastreto

Preparing for the Unexpected

Last winter was very rainy in November and December, but then in March and April we had a hundred-year snowfall. It accumulated nearly five feet in our little valley, and we were snowed in for 31 days.

Fortunately, we had plenty of firewood and a well-stocked pantry. Finally, we had to get a friendly neighbor to plow us out. That’s a reminder to make sure we have enough firewood and canned goods in the pantry—in case we get snowed in again.

It was a good thing I bought a pair of snowshoes 16 years ago but never used—otherwise, when the snow piled up last spring (54 inches), I wouldn’t have been able to get out to the solar panels to bush them off and, therefore wouldn’t have had electricity.

For the moment, the firewood pile is covered with tarps because during that snowfall last April, the woodshed collapsed under a four-and-a-half-foot snow load. So, I’m now in the process of building a proper woodshed to replace the ramshackle improvised job that fell down. I had to go online to learn how to calculate the angles to cut the bird’s mouths for the rafters. Now, I just have to put up the plywood roof sheathing and the metal roofing.

I also need to fix the chimney for the wood stove in the barn, which was partially knocked over from the heavy snowfall on the roof. Fortunately, it’s been relatively cool and dry this fall, so we haven’t needed the stove to help with the drying in the barn.

The only other damage from the snowfall was to the newly installed array of solar panels, which was slightly bent out of shape, but still completely functional. I hope to get to fixing that soon.

Winterize a Cannabis Farm drying bud
Orange Turbo hanging to dry. PHOTO Nikki Lastreto

Monitoring the Harvest

While all the above gets done, we also must keep checking on the crop that’s hanging in the wooden barn—the fruits, that is the flowers, of seven months labor.

Temperature and humidity need to be maintained between 50 to 60 degrees and 50 to 60% humidity, so we check readings several times a day in the blackened-out wooden barn.

Depending on temperature and humidity levels, fans and dehumidifiers need to be turned on and off accordingly. When the plants of each new cutting are brought in and hung, we usually run the dehumidifiers all night and day for the first two days so that the previously cut plants don’t absorb moisture from the new cutting. The operation of the fans and dehumidifiers is dependent on available battery power, which is dependent on how much sunlight there was on the panels that day. It’s all connected.

This year has been rather dry, in spite of a few days of rain here and there, so it hasn’t been too difficult to stay in that 50/60 range. In addition, the barn was never totally jammed full as it has been in previous years. This is because our total yield was a bit smaller this year due to the late seed sprouting and planting dates—a result of being snowed in.

The Ups and Downs of Farming

There’s an old saying, even more appropriate now in our current climate crisis: “Nature bats last!”

Nevertheless, we persevere. It’s called “farming.”

The unique stresses of our Mendocino Highlands environment—our soil, our weather, our traditions, that is to say, our “terroir”—are what produce the distinctive, superior characteristics that our cannabis is known for. So, we graciously accept what Mother Nature offers and give thanks.

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