[Canniseur: WOW! If you’ve ever eaten at or heard of the French Laundry, you’ll know that their dedication to quality … in everything … is supreme. The vegetables from the French Laundry garden are always stellar. If Mr. Keefer can cultivate cannabis with the same attention to quality as he did for the French Laundry, we’ll have a phenomenal grower in California.]
He is known for his succulent micro greens, but after 10 years at French Laundry, the restaurant’s head culinary gardener is moving on to — if not greener, then certainly danker — pastures. Aaron Keefer has been named Sonoma County craft cannabis endeavor Sonoma Hill Farms’ vice president of cannabis cultivation and operations.
You may remember Sonoma Hill Farms as the first cannabis cultivators to receive a business permit to grow weed in Sonoma County. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the company has the inside rail on getting its cultivation approval from the government. The company’s plan is to provide the kind of elite, locavore gourmet experience found in Sonoma’s most emblematic culinary and wine businesses.
As such, Keefer would appear to be just the person for the job. He comes from a farm-owning family and graduated from culinary school at 17. Keefer would go on to manage the gardening operations for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. The company has businesses in Las Vegas, Miami, and New York, in addition to the company’s five eatery mini-empire in Yountville (which includes French Laundry, Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery, La Calenda, and Ad Hoc + Addendum.)
From Veg to Herb
Keefer spent much of his time at the company in the Yountville dirt. He came to raise some very pretty veggies — and even on occasion, some very tasty escargot — which became a key draw at French Laundry’s three Michelin star winning, farm-focused fine dining experience and the rest of the Keller holdings.
Now, he’ll be applying that green thumb and savvy for glamorously sustainable sustenance at Sonoma Hill, which announced in October that it had received a conditional use permit for a 28,560 foot outdoor marijuana garden and 15,000 feet of indoor grow facilities, and is now gearing up for its first harvest.
“Much like growing grapes for the finest wines, we plan to take an artisanal approach to cultivation through the cannabis we have been permitted to grow in this incredible terroir,” said a partner in Sonoma Hills Farms’ parent company Petaluma Hill Farms, Sam Magruder, in a press statement announcing the facility’s successful permitting.
A memo announcing Keefer’s hiring notes that the chef grew his first cannabis plants at age 15.
“Craft cannabis cultivation has long been on my radar as a dream job,” Keefer said in a press statement. “And with the plant becoming mainstream and more accepted, I know the time is right.”
“Done right, cannabis cultivation is a true connoisseurship not seen in many businesses other than wine, whisky, mescal, and cigars,” continued Keefer.
The project’s organizers may well be hoping that Sonoma County foodie and wino tourists are ready to include a finely grown toke on their next trip to the area. Part of Keefer’s workload will include giving visitors a chance to learn more about cannabis as a plant.
To that end, the French Laundry alum will be creating an on-site culinary garden “to showcase how cannabis is synergistic with traditional farming and can be integrated into a farm-to-table lifestyle,” as the press statement put it.
[Canniseur: Leaf surface temperature? Really? Yes, even though this might seem a bit granular, it’s a thing when growing indoors. Obviously you can’t control this when growing outside where it really doesn’t matter because a grower can’t do anything about the sunlight falling on a plant. But inside, every single aspect of optimally growing cannabis is important. So yeah, I guess leaf surface temperature does matter.]
Every detail counts at an indoor grow facility. Indoor growers have complete control over nearly every aspect of their crop, ranging from light intensity to air circulation. Among the most important factors to regulate is temperature. While ambient air temperature is critical, growers will also want to measure leaf surface temperature (LST).
To illustrate, let’s say you keep your living room at a cozy 76 degrees. Then, if you place a thermometer under your tongue – your body is (hopefully) not at 76 degrees but is likely between a healthy temperature of 97 to 99 degrees.
A similar story can be told for cannabis plants grown indoors. A grow facility’s ambient air is often different than the plants’ LST. Finding an ideal LST for plant growth can be complex, but modern technology, including spectrally tunable LED grow lights, can simplify monitoring and maintaining this critical aspect.
Why Should Growers Care About LST?
Temperature plays a pivotal role in plant health. Many biochemical reactions contributing to growth and survival only occur within an ideal temperature range. If temperatures dip or spike dramatically, growers may witness inhibited growth, plant stress or irreversible damage to their crops.
The leaf is among the most important plant structures as it’s where most metabolic processes happen. Therefore, finding an optimum LST can improve growth rate and the production of metabolites such as pigments, terpenes, resins and vitamins.
Because many plants rely on their leaves for survival, it makes sense that leaves have their own temperature regulation system. Evaporation through pores in the leaf – known as stomata – can cool the plant through a process called transpiration. Up to 90% of water absorbed is used for transpiration, while 10% is used for growth.
The efficacy of transpiration is determined by the vapor pressure deficit (VPD), which refers to the relative humidity in the ambient air compared to the relative humidity in the leaf. If relative humidity is low, the VPD can be too high, which may cause plants to have withered, leathery leaves and stunted growth. On the other hand, a low VPD correlates to high relative humidity, and can quickly result in disease and mineral deficiencies. Higher humidity often results in a higher LST as transpiration may not be as effective.
When it comes to LST, growers should follow these basic guidelines:
Most cannabis plants’ LST should fall between 72 and 86 degrees – generally warmer than the ambient air.
LST varies depending on individual cultivar. For example, plants that have evolved in colder climates can generally tolerate cooler temperatures. The same can be said for those evolved in equatorial or temperate climates.
CO2 availability also plays a role in LST; CO2 generally raises the target temperature for photosynthesis.
How Does Light Spectrum Affect LST?
We know that CO2 concentration, specific genetic markers and ambient temperature all play an important role in moderating LST. But another important factor at an indoor grow is light spectrum – especially for those using spectrally tunable LEDs. Growers will want to optimize their light spectrum to provide their crop with ideal conditions.
A combination of red and blue wavelengths is shown to have the greatest impact on photosynthesis and, thus, LST. Photons found along the green and yellow wavelengths may not be absorbed as efficiently and instead create heat.
Optimized light spectrums – those with an appropriate balance between red and blue light – create more chemical energy instead of heat, thereby resulting in a lower LST. Using fixtures that are not spectrally tuned for plant growth, on the other hand, can waste energy and ultimately contribute to a higher LST and ambient temperature, negatively affecting plant growth. Consequently, measuring LST doesn’t only indicate ideal growing conditions but also indirectly illustrates the efficiency of your grow lights.
LED fixtures already run at a lower temperature than other lighting technologies, so indoor growers may need to raise the ambient temperature at their grow facilities to maintain ideal LST. Switching to spectrally tuned LEDs may help growers cut down on cooling and dehumidifying costs, while simultaneously improving crop health and productivity.
What’s the Best Way to Measure LST?
There are several tools available for growers to measure LST, ranging from advanced probes to specialty cameras. However, many of these tools provide a reading at a specific point, rather than the whole leaf, leading to some inaccuracies. Temperature can dramatically vary across the leaf, depending if parts are fully exposed to the light or in the shadows.
Investing in a forward-looking infrared camera (FLIR) gives indoor growers a more accurate picture of LST and light efficiency. That being said, growers should not only measure leaves at the top of the plant, but across the middle and bottom of the plant as well. That way, growers receive a complete snapshot of growing conditions and can make changes as needed.
At an indoor grow facility, it’s not enough to only measure ambient room temperature. Of course, this aspect is important, but it will paint an incomplete picture of plant health. Measuring LST gives growers nuanced insights as to how plants respond to their environment and how they can better encourage resilient, healthy growth.
Using spectrally tunable LEDs makes achieving LST easier and more cost-effective. Lights with optimized spectrums for plant growth ensure no energy is wasted – resulting in superior performance and efficiency.
[Canniseur: I’ve seen cannabis that claimed to be ‘organically grown’ on the shelves in several states. While it’s nice to see that some growers are concerned that organic growing practices are important, nobody has any idea what that means. This certification will create an important framework to let consumers know what organic means. I see that as a good thing for the cannabis industry and its customers.]
Grocery shopping can be a long, detail-oriented journey if you’re someone who scans every ingredient label in an effort to avoid consuming pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Thankfully, the ‘USDA Organic’ label signals safety from these toxic additives. That same assurance doesn’t exist in cannabis, however, an issue our cultivation columnists have lamented in the past.
In fact, weed’s continued Schedule I status excludes pot growers from achieving “organic” certification, which is controlled by the federally-run USDA. But now, new standards are finally being developed by the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), which will soon allow cannabis cultivators and manufacturers to add an “Organically Grown” sticker to their products.
The CCC is a nonprofit organization that’s focused on providing cannabis consumers and businesses with education, and helping foster transparency and choice within the industry. The group formed in 2018 when the Portland-based Ethical Cannabis Alliance and the Organic Cannabis Association from Denver, Colorado, joined forces as a result of their shared goals: To create ethical, organic cannabis options within the space.
[Canniseur: Solventless concentrates are nearly impossible to find in most dispensaries in legal states. Water hash is almost the stuff of legends. In my experience at adult-use legal dispensaries in legal states, I always ask for water or solventless hash. I almost never find it. There’s one company in Colorado (Lazercat) who only creates water hash. Given the super high quality of their product, Lazercat commands a premium price. I’m sure there are others, but I don’t know them. The bottom line is that solventless concentrates are very difficult to find, but have incredible quality. Fascinating interview with several solventless hash makers in Michigan. But try to find their products!]
Your ultimate guide on hash rosin.
Made with no more than water, heat, pressure, and a few tools, hash rosin has become one of the most prized forms of cannabis resin today. Most hash rosin is made by squishing ice water hash instead of flower at the right temperature and pressure levels for yields that fail to rival solvent extractions. It also requires high-quality and properly maintained starting material to match the flavor and melt-quality of something made with hydrocarbon solvents.
There are also varying qualities of hash rosin. But thanks to the taste of concentrate connoisseurs, products like live rosin have become the most expensive and limited cannabis products being sold today. To better understand the many forms of modern hash rosin, I sat down with four premiere solventless extractors from Michigan with varying perspectives during the last High Times event in Detroit.
Today’s hashmakers press their hash into rosin and don the titles of solventless extractors. The extractors I spoke to have several years of experience working with rosin.
After originally outsourcing their plant material to other hashmakers for years, the founder of Superior Flowers, Kerry, started Superior Solventless to create some of the highest-grade single source hash rosin in the state. Seeing jars with his labels in the stashes of most other competing local hashmakers I’ve met speaks volumes to how much his work is respected in the community.
Tyler of Wojo Wax recently took home a second-place medal for Best Non-Solvent Concentrate with their single source Cream D’Mint at the Michigan Cannabis Cup in 2019. Tyler said he has been making hash for about 2 and a half years but feels he really found his groove after taking a hashmaking consult in Las Vegas about a year ago.
Anthony AKA the Organic Mechanic, has been growing and making traditional hash for over 15 years with a focus on pressing rosin over the last two to three years. He’s a hash veteran that I’ve seen doing live demos and pressing hash and flowers that guests bring to his booth at the Cannabis Cup over the last few years.
Mark from Covert Extracts is one of the first to introduce mechanically separated hash rosin to Michigan cannabis consumers. Using the technique, he took first place for Non-Solvent Concentrate with the mechanically separated Mother’s Milk THCA and terpenes grown by Ghostbudsters Farm at the Michigan Cannabis Cup in 2019.
Not All Hash is Made Equal
Two jars of hash rosin from the same extractor, strain and batch.
When it comes to hash rosin, terms like 90u and 120u are different parts of the trichome separated by size. The “u” or μ to be accurate is a measurement that refers to the different micron sizes of the holes in the multiple bags used to filter and separate trichomes from the rest of the plant during the “washing” process.
“Washing” is slang for making ice water hash. More specifically, it is when plant material is put into a bucket of ice water and stirred before it is strained, leaving only hash behind. However, it’s worth noting that dry sift hash can be made without water and ice but most of the live rosin on shelves today is made by turning ice water hash made with freshly frozen materials into rosin.
In fact, all four of the hashmakers I interviewed use ice water hash over dry sift material when making their rosin.
Beyond that, different hashmakers include or exclude certain trichome sizes from their final product. As a result, certain jars of hash and rosin being sold on the market are labeled as 90u, 120u, full spectrum or some range in between.
Differences in Micron Sizes
Kerry of Superior Solventless broke down the differences between the separate micron sizes and what they mean to consumers.
He compared washing flowers to straining pasta. Big holes let the water out and keep all the stuff you want isolated from falling through. However, in the case of making hash, multiple strainers with smaller and smaller holes are needed to separate the different parts of the trichome from the rest of the plant.
“So, when you’re looking at something like 120u [up close], you’re going to see things that are intact. Basically, a stalk and glandular head right up on top. Then, when you see a 90u or a 73u, you’re mainly going to see heads. Heads that have been knocked off the stalks. You can even see them both individually in the 73 and 90u. That generally is what melts really well. Followed down by 45u and 25u.”
The trichome head has proven to be the most prized component of the plant. The fact that they mostly end up in the 90 and 73u bags as Kerry describes is why jars of pure 90 or 73u hash rosin have become more expensive and desired than full spectrum hash by some.
To get a better idea of what goes into the rosin I’ve been smoking, I asked the four hashmakers what sizes they include in their final product and why.
What is Full Spectrum Hash Rosin?
Fresh Press Banana OG full spectrum live rosin from Covert Extracts
When asked if they leave the 25u or anything else out of their full spectrum rosin Kerry replied, “We do not. Our motto or our philosophy and principle is to be full spectrum from the beginning to the end of the process.”
According to Kerry, the 90u and 73u are the “meat and potatoes of your dinner plate” and make up the majority of the weight of the yield. In fact, he claimed 90u alone “makes up 70 percent of your wash.”
He warned consumers that if they see a product that’s labeled 90u and you see that same strain from the same company in full spectrum form as well, there’s a chance the 90 or 73u were left out of that full spectrum. That means you’re only getting about 30 percent of the actual hash spectrum despite the full spectrum label.
When asked if he prefers to smoke 90u over full spectrum Kerry said he personally feels 90u lacks certain flavors and the “entourage effect” from missing cannabinoids that would have been in the full spectrum.
“We have one product. That product is all full spectrum. From there we manipulate the consistency,” he said.
The other three hashmakers I spoke to leave what they perceive as the less desirable ends of the hash spectrum like 25 and the much higher microns out of the final product.
Which Microns Make the Cut?
In response to what goes into their full spectrum, Anthony from the Organic Mechanic responded, “45-159u is what I use for my full spectrum.”
He added that he leaves out the 25 and the 159 because “in my personal opinion, it’s all the broken stalks and little pieces of heads that fall through.”
Anthony also added that you would have to wash an extremely large quantity for the 25u to amount to anything worthwhile.
Tyler of Wojo Wax agreed by saying, “like Anthony said, I catch 40 to 159. I’ve done 25 before and never went above 159u. My reasoning for it is it just makes the color a little bit darker and a lot of people base it [the quality] on color. I didn’t notice much of a difference as far as effect. Yields are obviously a little bit better if you are throwing in those bags, but I’ll sacrifice that yield for the lighter color.”
Covert also found that, in his experience, the 45 to 159u range for his full spectrum rosin was the best for maintaining the flavor of the original plant. The remaining hash that get left out of smokable product is still used in capsules or edibles.
I asked Kerry why he felt less inclined to leave out the 25u and he admitted, “the 70u is going to be white, the 25u or the 159 and above is definitely going to be on the greener, darker, less smelly side.”
But he added that he believes the ends have beneficial properties and those parts make up a much smaller portion of the weight of the wash.
Furthermore, when you make rosin, “you’re taking all the hash and you’re putting it through an entire filtration process again and you can look at that bag and you can see what’s leftover.”
Animal Mints live rosin jam processed by @greenthumbforpresident
Never Judge a Book by Its Cover
Hashmakers are tasked with selecting strains of flower that will provide a sustainable yield and desirable characteristics after being washed and pressed into rosin.
When asked what his favorite strain to wash was, Kerry of Superior Flowers responded, “I would say Purple Pebbles as well as TKP currently. The TKP was very deceptive when I was running through the pheno hunt. The plant to the naked eyes doesn’t look covered in frost like the Cookies strain.”
Despite the lack of visible frost on the plant, he assured us the yields from washing the TKP were surprisingly high.
And vice versa, he added, “if you’re familiar with the MAC, looking at it you would think ‘wow, that thing is covered [in frost], if it gets washed it’s going to do phenomenal,’ but sometimes that’s not the case and you never want to judge a book by its cover.”
Tyler’s current favorite plant to wash is Sundae Driver because it “checks every single box from nose to taste to yield.”
He described it as a delicious dessert dab with fruity flavors that speak to the Grape Pie half of its lineage.
The Organic Mechanic had similar woes with MAC and Tyler from Wojo Wax agreed that he’s washed material that was frosty in appearance but only yielded .3% — and when you’re getting that little in return, it becomes impossible for hashmakers to keep their lights on. To put that .3% into perspective, yields for hash-friendly strains like GMO can be as high as 8%.
Anthony from the Organic Mechanic said his favorite strain to wash is GG#4 because it has been consistent in every category including yield, potency and smell.
“The color on it is beautiful, the taste, the yield, the terp on it is just loud. Everybody that has got a hold of it likes it. Also, Cherry Punch from Greener Thumb’s outdoor grow is another one of my favorites because of the terps.”
Mark, the lead extractor for Covert Extracts says his current favorite is the mountain cut of Tropicanna Cookies bred by Harry Palms and grown by Ghostbudsters Farm because of the prominent terpene profile. He gave GMO an honorable mention as well because “it dumps, it’s stinky and it checks every box for me. It’s my go-to.”
Mason Jar Test Wash
Tyler admits he made the mistake of judging how well a strain would wash based of the quality of its appearance. After putting in tons of work processing an extremely large bulk of flower for a friend that ended up looking far better than it yielded, he learned his lesson the hard way.
Since it is impossible to rely on looks alone to tell how well a strain will wash after the harvest, Tyler recommends paying attention to genetics and performing a small mason jar test before washing an entire grow and being surprised it didn’t yield enough to break even.
Tyler said that when sourcing starting material, solventless extractors “have to truly look for what strains are going to wash well. You gotta look at the parents and then as you’re growing them too, you can tell by the size of the head if you’re scoping it. A new thing that we started doing is doing a test wash. You can put a small amount of flower in a mason jar with water and ice then start swishing it around to see if those heads fall off because it can be the frostiest plant ever like the MAC and not dump at all. It’s got to want to let that head go because we’re not after the stalk.”
With the mason jar test wash method, Tyler says only about a half ounce of flower is needed rather than using a whole plant or more when it might not yield much.
Live Rosin vs. Cured
Cured rosin by Mammoth Melts from Rhode Island.
Most modern hashmakers exclusively work with “live” or freshly frozen starting material. This is best illustrated by the fact that only one of the four hashmakers I interviewed for this article currently processes dry or cured flower.
I asked Anthony from Organic Mechanic if he preferred using fresh frozen starting material over cured and he replied, “I would do either one if the product was taken care of.”
However, he finds flavor can be lost during the curing process.
On the other hand, the other three hashmakers exclusively work with live products for a number of reasons.
Kerry said in his experience at Superior Solventless, he observed differences in the yield, color, potency and consumer demand.
Tyler used both live and cured products before the Wojo Wax team deciding to only use freshly frozen flowers. Tyler says that in his experience, the yield was higher with cured material. Despite this, he exclusively runs live material because of the enhanced flavor and the fact that it melts better in his experience.
Mark prefers live because it “tastes better, the color is obviously better” and that’s been enough to keep him exclusively working with freshly frozen flowers.
Single Source vs. Outsourcing Flower for Hash Rosin
I asked a few of the hashmakers if they noticed any differences when extracting flower they grew themselves versus outsourcing plant material.
“This is probably my favorite question so far because this to me is where you really get your difference [in hash quality]. We do everything single source,” said Tyler of Wojo Wax.
He says the reason for this is, “growing for hash is different than growing for flower.”
Macro shot of the GMO strain grown by Loki Gro
Growing for Hash
“For starters, I’m not defoliating as much as I am for hash because I’m trying to get as much surface area as much as I can. On top of that, I crank my room down as cold I can possibly get it for the last three weeks because that preserves the terpenes which is what we’re ultimately after. Another reason is because I’ve taken [other] people’s materials and it doesn’t always yield well. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news to somebody that they’re getting .3% back on a wash.”
When asked if he also noticed a difference when washing the same strain from his own grow compared to somebody else’s, Kerry of Superior Solventless admits the experiences were not the same.
“For example, we washed Wedding Cake that we grew and got 5%. We washed someone else’s and got 3%.”
Mechanical Separation vs. Jar Tech
There are two additional ways for hashmakers to further process hash after it has been turned into rosin. Using these techniques, they can turn the consistency of their rosin into something closer to a live resin sauce.
Live rosin jam.
One is called “jar tech” which just about anyone should be able to do at home with a jar of fresh-pressed rosin, a source of heat, time and practice. The consistency it creates has been called jam or “caviar” by Superior Solventless and it contains small crystals with a more liquidy high-terpene layer. The layers combine to create an applesauce-like consistency that is less likely to change at room temperature than fresh-pressed rosin.
Unlike the washing and pressing phases, the hashmakers I spoke to claim little to no weight is lost after a jar of hash rosin undergoes the “jar tech.”
On the other hand, the other technique which involves mechanically separating THCA out of the oil comes with a more significant yield loss.
If you come across a jar of solventless rosin with large THCA crystals and oil in it, they were most likely mechanically separated with a press and filters. Then, the crystals are melted down and manipulated into a shape of choice. Usually, they are made to mimic the appearance of popular live resin extracts made with hydrocarbon solvents.
Mechanically Separated THCA and Terpenes from Covert Extracts and Ghostbudsters Farm.
According to Mark of Covert Extracts to make mechanically separated THCA, “you need wax rosin in order to make mechanically separated THCA.”
From there, he says, “to separate the THCA from terpenes I usually press the rosin wax in a 25u press bag at about 135 degrees to start. With a very low pressure at first before building to almost max pressure. Then, I repeat at different temps until I feel enough terpenes are separated. From there you can take the THCA and melt it down into a glass-like consistency at around 240 to 250 degrees.”
Comparing it to the jam tech or fresh press, Mark said it is a “long process and you have about a 25% loss in yield but potency and appearance of the final product sets it apart.”
The process appears to further isolate THCA in hash rosin with Mark claiming to have “had some testing out at 92% THCA.”
There was a point in time when most hash looked the same. It was a dark brown or green in color and stretchy. Traditional hash commonly came in a brick, ball, or bullet that may have traveled inside someone’s ass before getting to you.
Fortunately, today’s hash has is far more refined and versatile. It looks more like a lighter colored oil that can take on the form of dry sift, ice wax, rosin, live rosin, jam, or mechanically separated hash rosin. Not to mention the various consistencies that rosin can be shape-shifted into, like cake batter, sugar, or applesauce.
[Canniseur: I’m convinced that the outdoor growing in California, Oregon, Washington and other states including Colorado and Michigan, is the best way to grow cannabis. Somehow indoor grow operations are a little off. Not that the product is bad, but outdoors is where cannabis has thrived for millennia and is probably the best place for cannabis grow farms. California is interesting to watch because it was the biggest outdoor growing state in the U.S.]
It’s been over two years since Proposition 64 was passed in California. Profit projections, law enforcement, the black market, and climate change have kept the cannabis business in the Golden State everything but predictable. People continue to be imprisoned for crimes connected to cannabis while legal businesses are turning a profit. Legal weed has even backfired on the people who made it legal, as big corporate investors coming in change their business landscape.
Yet it remains a general consensus that legalization is all for the better. No one wants to go to jail anymore for growing or selling weed, there’s absolutely no denying the many medical benefits of the plant and hemp is poised to present itself as the green alternative to the overconsumption of fossil fuel products. Cannabis is a disruptor to big pharma, big alcohol and big tobacco, which in turn has the “bigs” attempting to either sabotage and/or establish themselves in the marketplace.
Long story short, it’s rocky out there for many running legitimate legal cannabis businesses but they want to be doing it.
Northern California took a big hit — and it wasn’t just profit loss. While policymakers tried to model California’s legal market after Colorado, they fell short because the cultivators in California don’t operate the same way. The green rush flooded prime growing communities with people who were so green to cannabis, it doesn’t seem right to even call them that. But many heritage cannabis farmers in these communities wanted to break the cycle of fear instilled over the years and moved forward with legalization regardless, for all the right reasons.
Chiah Rodriques and her husband James Beatty run River Txai Farms and Arcanna Flowers, the brand and sustainable cannabis farm and nursery in Mendocino County. Rodriques and Beatty grew up on a large back-to-land intentional community and are second-generation Mendo cannabis farmers.
Chiah Rodriques and James Beatty. PHOTO | Trina Calderón
Committed to legal growing since the 9.31 ordinance enacted in 2008, they founded Mendocino Generations, a collective of sustainable cannabis farms in Mendocino County who strive to work together as a brand, farm landrace genetics, and promote “better living through cannabis.”
But keeping Mendo’s exceptional cannabis tradition alive throughout legalization has presented challenges. Visiting the area during this season’s harvest, I took the temperature with Rodriques.
“Basically over-regulation is like the ankle-biter,” shared Rodriques. “It’s the Achilles heel of the small farmer because in order to compete in this market you have to cultivate enough cannabis to compete with farms in other counties with larger cultivation allowances. Ultimately, they’re our competition but on a shelf with jars of cannabis, they’re not, because you wouldn’t want to put that cannabis in a pretty jar on a shelf — most of that product is going to oil and biomass. You have different levels of competition. You have competition for pricing because their cannabis is still going into the market, which makes prices fluctuate. Then you have the shelf space for all the brands, and lots of these brands thought that they could do a small brand and survive with that, but I don’t think that that’s really going to play out as we thought. Running a small brand takes a lot of overhead.
PHOTO | Trina Calderón
“Basically it’s hard to know if your brand from one small farm can have enough cannabis if your brand goes big,” she continued. “You may need to start reaching out and getting cannabis for your brand from other cultivators. In Mendocino County, we have a disadvantage because we can only cultivate 10,000 sq. ft., but there is a push for there to be a ballot to change it to one acre. That has mixed reviews from the farmers too, basically half the farmers hate that idea and half the farmers are into it. I think that’s mostly because they don’t have the space or the water or the infrastructure to handle that much.”
Rodriques believes that a contributor to the disconnect in policy is that no one consulted with Mendo’s heritage cannabis farmers when creating regulations.
“Farmers were not invited to the table until much of the ordinance was in place and there was a big rush to push things through as is and make changes later — so the county was ready for Prop 64 to go into effect. It was a race to the finish line. They didn’t think we had valid concerns, or maybe felt like the hippies needed to get organized. Admittedly so, we were all over the place with requests and needs that I’m sure it was overwhelming to lawmakers,” Rodriques said.
There was no real insight into what is actually practical or what is actually happening on farms in the area. Most of the regulations were written around indoor cultivation and don’t play out for sun-grown farms in Mendo.
A more community-oriented step towards action is the Mendocino Appellations Project, a group designed to set up a process for defining cannabis appellations, which are geographic areas in which small farmers can classify their crop with that name. A valiant effort, it plays into marketing and promotion, though the true cannabis aficionado will appreciate the information the same way a wine connoisseur likes to know where exactly a pinot noir grape is grown.
PHOTO | Trina Calderón
Small farming is no easy task in itself and going legal has created hardships for many.
“I think last year sucked so bad most people were struggling pretty hard, and in terms of pricing, it was bad last year,” said Rodriques. “Crops this year were a mixed bag. We definitely had a lot of people who had frost, and we had mold. There’s a lot of powdery mildew this year because the rain didn’t come. It’s like this weird humid that makes no sense because it’s really been dry. There’s been a lot of theft. There have been a lot of fires, so there’s smoke damage material.
“[As for] the market, who knows what it’s actually going to look like in the next couple months. Right now, its sort of a mixture, a lot of people are saying they’re going to back out. A lot of people are scared, but then there’s a lot of people that are moving forward with all these other ideas and plans. They’re doing okay, so it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen with the ultimate heritage cultivators, like my parents’ generation. Most of them aren’t doing it anymore because they were on the brink of retirement anyway so who wants to go through all this bullshit, right?”
Chiah Rodriques. PHOTO | Trina Calderón
Recently, the county has realized they’re not getting as much tax money as they hoped and the Board of Supervisors are planning to give the small farmers what’s called a Cannabis Cultivation Amnesty Transition Pathway. The plan would give more years for legacy growers to transition into county compliance, which may help attract more applications. The vote was unanimous to create the Amnesty, which Rodriques sees as the county throwing them a bone. Considering 1588 total people applied to participate in legal cannabis in the county, and only 232 were approved and issued permits, and it appears not many more would apply since the regulations are so problematic. Building and planning issues like commercial zoning and ADA rules for bathrooms and parking lots are costing farms money they don’t have. Especially when the reality is it’s usually not probable to have anyone in a wheelchair working on a farm. Workarounds are likely because people are trying to be compliant, but the same rules are putting people in uncomfortable positions.
“Comparatively to Humboldt, I would say that Mendo is struggling a little bit harder and that’s more because the bureaucracy hasn’t allowed people to get into the system,” Rodriques concluded.
[Canniseur: In the wine business, provenance (where the wine is from) is everything. Where the grapes were grown should be an indication of the character of the wine, if not the quality. Why should cannabis be any different? While the jury is out on cannabis appelations (place names), it will be very interesting to find out if cannabis follows the same rules as Vitis vinifera (wine grapes like cabernet are all in this genus and species) as far as place, growing, flavor and effect. Will you be able to tell that a particular bud is from Humboldt by its taste and effect sometime in the future?]
Connoisseurs know that pairing a fine cut of steak with a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is a sure winner. But how many are aware that pairing strawberry cheesecake with a certified Santa Cruz Blue Dream cannabis strain creates an equally delicate palatal synergy? Thanks to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Appellations Project (“CAP”), premium cannabis regions will soon have the potential to capitalize on such newfound awareness among discerning consumers.
For decades, cannabis connoisseurs have been willing to pay a premium for flower said to have been grown in certain regions or with certain techniques, but because of cannabis’ legal status, supply chains have been opaque. As a result, cultivators of distinct cannabis strains struggled to capture the full market potential of their products. That has begun to shift with implementation of California’s Cannabis Track-and-Trace System. The costs associated with implementation of the METRC1 system have been bemoaned by many in the industry, but there is also tremendous potential value in having the most transparent supply chain in the world. The CalCannabis Appellations Project is the vehicle through which brands will be able to harness that value.
The underlying premise behind the CalCannabis Appellations Project is that the distinctive qualities of a cannabis product are often attributable to where and how the plant is grown. Through this project, CalCannabis is developing a statewide appellations system2 that will allow qualifying licensed cultivators to effectively communicate information about their cannabis crops (i.e., the standards, practices and/or varietals used) through labels, advertisements and other marketing techniques. It will also prevent disingenuous cannabis cultivators from making inaccurate claims about where and how a product is grown, which protects the integrity and value of the appellation.
What is an appellation?
In general terms, an appellation is an identifying name, title or label that can be legally defined and protected. Appellations are most commonly used in the wine industry to geographically identify the origin of grapes in a particular bottle. This place-based identification system comes from an understanding that certain regions have unique environmental and growing characteristics, which result in a product that cannot be produced from other regions even when the same varietals are used. Famous wine appellations or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in California include the Napa Valley and Santa Ynez AVAs, and sub-AVAs such as the Russian River Valley AVA, located within the larger Sonoma County AVA.
Recognizing there are also growing regions that produce uniquely distinctive cannabis, CalCannabis is developing a process for:
Establishing an appellation (i.e., identifying regions that produce distinctive cannabis and defining standards, practices and/or varietals that must be used in those regions to qualify for an appellation); and
Qualifying to use a particular appellation once they are established (i.e., determining the cannabis cultivators that can legally label or market themselves as belonging to a particular appellation).
While the state has not released program details, it’s likely that cultivators will have to demonstrate their outdoor-grown cannabis is distinctly unique.3 CalCannabis has until Jan. 21, 2021,4 to establish these processes, but a draft is expected to be released by early January 2020.5 This is an opportunity for cultivators to organize and participate in the process to define and create unique local appellations.
What are the benefits of an appellations system?
Appellations benefit both cannabis cultivators and consumers. It allows small farmers to capture the value that consumers place on unique and local cannabis products. Allowing for product differentiation through an appellations system will prevent cannabis from becoming a commodity—a situation that could result in indistinguishable products and a single market price for cannabis regardless of how or where it is grown. Thus, an appellations system protects not only local economies and farming communities, but also consumers that care about the origin and growing practices of their cannabis.
A criticism of appellations, particularly in the wine industry, is that they can disincentivize innovation and industry growth when strict growing practices and standards are required to be a part of an appellation. This will be an important consideration as CalCannabis establishes its appellations system.
County of Origin
In addition to setting up an appellations system, the CalCannabis Appellations Project will expand upon current county of origin regulations. Unlike an appellation designation, the county of origin designation is designed to be much more inclusive—it can currently be used on any cannabis product as long as 100% of the cannabis is grown within the designated county.6 Whereas an appellation will communicate information about the quality of a cannabis product and how it was produced, a county of origin designation is more like a “Made In” label. For example, a county of origin designation can be applied to indoor cannabis whereas an appellation will likely only include sun-grown cannabis.
There is also a desire to allow city of origin designations in addition to county of origin designations, which would enable products grown wholly within the political boundaries of a city to further differentiate themselves.7 As the legal cannabis landscape changes nationwide, it may also be important to have a statewide appellation allowing products to be marketed as “Grown in California.”
What should cannabis cultivation regions be doing now?
After CalCannabis releases a draft process for establishing an appellation, the next steps will be clarified. However, not everyone is waiting. For instance, growers in Mendocino County have already started to organize.8 The Mendocino Appellations Project divided the county into 11 unique subregions based on regional growing conditions and practices that could potentially be turned into appellations in the future. The goal of the appellations outlined by the Mendocino Appellations Project is to protect cannabis products coming out of Mendocino County and preserve the region’s growing heritage.
A group in Sonoma County is also discussing the establishment of appellations with the hope that it will help differentiate their cannabis and draw attention to the unique microclimate and soil structure in parts of Sonoma County.9 The groups involved in these discussions also believe it will allow cultivators to develop strict growing standards and to protect certain strains, while creating new jobs and encouraging agritourism. Appellations will become increasingly important as sophisticated consumers begin to select quality cannabis that aligns with their preferences.
METRC is the third-party-owned software contracted by California authorities to implement the commercial cannabis track-and-trace system “from seed-to-sale.”
Passage of Senate Bill 185 calls for the use of the term “appellations of origin” instead of “appellations.”
Based on comments made during the October 23 Cannabis Advisory Committee Meeting.
Business and Professions Code Section 26063.
Based on comments made during the October 23 Cannabis Advisory Committee Meeting.
Business and Professions Code Section 26063(a).
Based on comments made during the October 23 Cannabis Advisory Committee Meeting.
[Canniseur: This book is an essential guide for anyone who is growing their own. We predict that home grown cannabis will become as popular as homemade beer in the future. Especially until the states where cannabis is legal get their act together and make sensible regulations for both growers and retailers.]
Marijuana quality and potency changes over time. In the living plant, the precursors of THC and CBD are found in their acid forms, THCa and CBDa. These are not psychotropic. Only when they lose a portion of their molecules do they become active as THC and CBD. This occurs naturally over time and is accelerated in the presence of heat and light, especially ultraviolet light.
Once buds are dried and cured, potency is at its peak. Over time, THC gradually degrades to CBN, a far less psychotropic cannabinoid than THC. Research conducted at the University of Mississippi on low-quality cannabis stored for four years at room temperature (68-72°F, or 20-22°C) found that the percentage loss of THC was proportional to time in storage, with the greatest loss in the first year. As the THC level declines, the concentration of CBN increases.
This research is consistent with the experiences of marijuana users. Marijuana loses potency over time as the psychoactive THC converts to CBN, which induces sleep but not highness. Storing buds in the freezer or refrigerator slows deterioration. Freezing keeps buds fresh longest. However, even then THC deteriorates, at nearly 4 percent a year. In deep freeze (below 0°F), deterioration slows further. At refrigerator temperatures, THC deteriorates at the rate of a bout 5.4 percent a year. A freezer is best for long-term storage; a refrigerator is good for protecting terpenes in the short term. There are several problems with storing marijuana in a freezer, especially when super-cooled to 0°F (-18°C).
Even under higher temperatures in the freezer, glands become very brittle and are easily and inadvertently shaken off buds. For that reason, once placed in the freezer the container should be handled very gently, and when removed the buds should be given time to warm up so they become more pliable.
The moisture in the container freezes and can form ice crystals, especially during long storage. This may also occur when buds have not been dried sufficiently.
However, in several experiments, properly dried marijuana in a plastic container developed no ice crystals when placed in a freezer for several months. The trichomes remained intact. If moisture is a problem, vacuum sealing mostly eliminates it, although the process may result in crushed buds. Another solution is to remove the air with moisture-free gas such as carbon dioxide or nitrogen. These can be injected into the container as the ambient air exits through another hole. Then both holes are sealed.
When freezing marijuana in glass containers, choose shoulderless containers, as shouldered containers are more likely to develop cracks. Metal and wood containers can also be used for freezing.
One way to store frozen marijuana is in small containers. Pack just enough for a week’s use in each container. The rest of the stored material is not disturbed, so the glands are not at risk, as they can be removed from the freezer individually.
According to the University of Mississippi study, refrigerator temperatures slow deterioration to a little less than 0.5 percent a month, which isn’t noticeable when storing for just a few months. Here, too, it is best if the bulk of the stored material is disturbed infrequently.
Heat and light, especially UV light, evaporate terpenes and erode quality. Only an opaque container will completely protect the terpenes, and therefore the quality of the buds stored inside. An opaque container with a white exterior reflects heat, keeping the contents cool. Using a desiccant packet that maintains a set humidity of about 60-65 percent ensures the proper level of moisture is retained without causing mold.
Terpene molecules vary in size, and the smallest ones evaporate at lower temperatures, starting in the high 60s. Buds kept at room temperature in an open container will experience some loss of terpenes. Storing buds in a refrigerator or freezer keeps terpenes in a liquid state, rather than gassing off.
Cannabis can be properly stored in a number of different materials, each with pros and cons that make them more or less suitable depending on the grower’s needs.
Glass makes great, inert, hard, non-biodegradable storage containers. The downside is that most glass jars are clear, and light degrades trichomes—which doesn’t matter if buds are stored in the dark. For storing buds exposed to light, opaque glass is best. Different types of glass are used to store food. The color of the glass determines the type of light and heat that can penetrate the barrier.
Violet glass blocks visible light with the exception of the color violet. It also is semi-permeable to UVA, an infrared light, allowing about 40-60 percent to penetrate, depending on the glass formula and thickness.
Miron Glass, a manufacturer in Germany, claims that this combination of light preserves biological material such as herbs as well as fresh vegetation. The company bases its claims loosely on bio-photons, which is very weak light emitted by all living things.
Its literature claims that even when material is dry, the light that penetrates the glass preserves this energy while forming a barrier to other visible spectrums that can cause deterioration of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Placing a glass or stainless-steel container in a dark space such as a refrigerator closet or dark room will also keep harmful light out. It is highly unlikely that there is much UVA light indoors, so none is passing through. However, visible light is filtered out.
In a controlled experiment, fresh garden tomatoes were placed in a Miron container, a stainless-steel container and a clear-glass container. All were sealed and the clear-glass container was kept entirely in the dark.
When the jars were opened a month later, the tomatoes were still fresh, if a little dehydrated. The containers were closed again and reopened a month later. All three tomatoes had begun molding at similar rates.
Stainless-steel tubs with plastic seals and flip-top locking mechanisms are popular because they’re strong and can be stacked. The metal does not interact with the buds and is impervious to outside air. Stainless-steel containers are an excellent choice for storage.
Cannabis is slightly acidic and lipophilic, so it degrades some plastics. Plastics are stickier than glass or stainless steel. Odorless turkey bags are popular because they contain odors well and are inexpensive. However, they are easily pierced by stems and offer no protection from shaking and movement, which leads to more damage and shake. Five-gallon buckets sealed with toothed, locking airtight lids will protect buds from getting crushed and can be stacked.
A desiccant is a substance that removes moisture from the surrounding air. Desiccants are often found in certain food packages, like those for dried seaweed, and in electronics. Silicon packets, newspaper or anything extra-dry acts as a desiccant and absorbs moisture in a storage container.
Vacuum packaging is popular because it decreases the amount of oxygen present in a storage container. Oxygen is corrosive and degrades the buds’ color. A decreased presence of oxygen also discourages the growth of spoilage bacteria, but not anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria thrive in low- and no-oxygen environments that are damp and have food—the buds! Never seal and store wet or damp buds.
Gas-flushed, sealed Mylar bags are excellent packaging for long-term storage. The process flushes the bag with nitrogen and seals it. Unlike oxygen, nitrogen is inert and doesn’t burn. Purging packages of oxygen extends the life of the buds and prevents the growth of mold and discoloration, similar to vacuum sealing. Gas-purged bags are a cornerstone of consumer food-product packaging and are common in snacks like chips and jerky. Some testing labs offer nitrogen bagging services using tamper-proof packaging.
Instead of being prepped and dried, marijuana can be made directly into concentrates or stored undried and “wet” frozen to be used later. This saves energy and labor. With storage, the conversion of the material can be postponed to a more convenient time. Either fresh or frozen buds can be used for bubble, or BHO. First, the chopped buds are brought to near-freezing temperatures. Then agitation from a paint mixer or other tool makes the glands brittle; they break off and are collected in a series of filters that catch different-size glands. When collected, the glands make hash, which can be used in a vaporizer or pipe or as an intermediate for making butane or C02 concentrate. BHO extractors use butane as a solvent to de-cannabinize and de-terpenize the leaf. The result is a very pure dabbable concentrate.
After the Harvest
After the harvest is complete, growers are left with a variety of byproducts. What used to be considered trash is now processed further and enjoyed or sold. The first step is to evaluate and separate the material.
The most efficient way is to sort it during trimming.
The quality of the remaining material is based on the percentage of THC and other cannabinoids it contains. Three types of growth remain after the buds have been removed: popcorn buds (larf), sugar trim and fan leaves.
Stems and woody parts of the plant are not suitable for ingestion since they contain few cannabinoids.
Grades of Trim
Popcorn Buds (Larf)
Buds that receive less light grow smaller and less dense. They are time-consuming to trim and cosmetically undesirable in the market. However, they contain a high percentage of THC and are often used to make pre-rolls or concentrates.
Sugar trim refers to the resin-covered leaves that grow near and often surround the buds. They are cut during manicuring and, other than the buds, contain the most THC in the plant. Sugar trim is used to make extracts such as kief, hash, tinctures and edibles.
Fan Leaves (Sun Leaves)
Although fan leaves contain a third or less of the cannabinoids as sugar trim, processing them may still be worthwhile. Leaves with visible glands are worth keeping. Leaves from immature plants typically have very few glands and do not yield much THC.
Use a magnifying glass or photographer’s loupe for a close-up look at the material. Fan-leaf glands are often small and hug the surface of the leaf, while glands near the flowers are stalked and look like mushrooms with bulbous caps. The latter contain considerably more cannabinoids than the smaller glands.
Male plants also contain cannabinoids. These cannabinoids are strongest at the budding, pre-flowering stage. The sugar leaves—small leaves near the flowers—are the most potent, followed by the younger and then the older fan leaves. Male plants are not prized for resin production and are often removed from the garden and destroyed.
To use fan leaves in cooking, gently heat them in butter or oil. Use the infused oil in salads or cooking.
Grind dried fan leaves into fine flour and substitute it for a small portion of regular flour in recipes. To remove the chlorophyll taste, soak the leaves in cool water before drying and grinding. The flour can also be used in making salves and poultices; an easy method is to mix it into an existing topical ointment.
Juice the fresh leaves. Start by rinsing them and then run them through a wheatgrass juicer. To store for later, pour the juice into ice cube trays and freeze it. The juice is ingested medically and for general health maintenance.
Stems and branches contain little to no usable THC. However, there are several ways to recycle them:
Chop and use as mulch
Use as fire kindling
Carve the large stems
Use as walking sticks
Use for craft projects such as papermaking
Chop finely for superior horse bedding or small animal litter
There are various ways to use the separated trim and maximize crop value. Trim, sugar leaves and popcorn buds can be converted to kief, hash, BHO, tinctures and cooking oils. For the purposes of this book, only safe, at-home extractions are covered. For more in-depth instructions and information on all post-harvest extractions, see the book Beyond Buds, Next Generation: Marijuana Concentrates and Cannabis Infusions, by Ed Rosenthal and Greg Zeman.
When the trichomes are separated from the plant material, they form a pale blond to green powder, known as kief. High-quality golden kief is consumed. Lower-quality green kief, which contains a lot of vegetation, is used for cooking or for further processing.
The blond glands are delicious when smoked fresh and loose and have a lighter, distinctively different flavor than the whole bud. They have not been heated, so the kief has a high concentration of terpenes. Some traditionalists insist that kief is best pressed into hash. It can also be sprinkled over a bowl or joint, or mixed in food. The simplest and most common method of making kief from sugar leaves or popcorn buds is by screening it.
Screening for Kief
Use a fine screen. The size of the openings in the screen determines what size glands and how much residual plant material passes through. The vigor used in rubbing the plant material over the screen has a profound effect on the quality of the final product. Rub gently. More debris is pushed through when the screening is vigorous. Also, sifting the same material a few times yields more kief, but each sift results in a higher proportion of plant mixed with the glands.
Kief or pollen-sifting boxes and screens are good tools for processing small personal-use amounts. They can be as simple as wooden stash boxes with a screen above a pullout drawer to catch the glands that fall off buds from normal handling. Other boxes are made specifically to capture different grades. Use cold buds and trim because cold causes the trichomes to become brittle and break more easily.
Automatic kief makers called Pollinators and pollen sifters use a tumbling action to rub leaves against a screen that separates the glands from the leaves. The rubbings are collected on a bottom plate.
Divide kief processing by time. The highest grade comes from the first minute of rubbing. The material degrades with each processing as the ratio of vegetation to glands increases.
How Water Hash Works
The most common water-hash processing method uses a combination of water, ice and agitation to separate glands from the plant material. Ice, water and plant material are placed in a bucket that has been lined with filtration bags with screens on the bottom similar to the screens used for making kief. The material is agitated to knock the trichomes free. Plant material is trapped and floats in the top bag while the glands, which are heavy, sink to the bottom and are collected in the bags.
Ready-made systems use multiple bags, usually three to seven with various size screens to sort the glands into grades. Unlike kief making, the material is separated in one step rather than through repeated sieving. Usually the material is processed once, although some commercial hashmakers process it a second time to capture more of the THC.
Ice serves a dual purpose: It acts as an agitator against which the plant material rubs, and it makes the material very cold so the glands become brittle. After the material is agitated in ice water, it is allowed to settle. Then the bags are separated, and the glands are removed from each one. They vary in content. Different-size glands have different effects. After water hash is dried, it is ready to smoke.
Water hash varies in color, much like kief. The finest grade is typically a light tan, while the coarser second-tier material is slightly darker and may be a little green from plant-material contamination.
Water hash can be made without bags. Agitate the material in ice and water for 20 minutes. A paint mixer attached to a motor or drill works well. After agitating, most of the plant material floats. Remove it using a colander and cooking spoon. Glands are heavier than water and detach from the vegetation. They sink to the bottom of the container where they form a gray or tan layer. Rinse them from the container and capture them in a coffee filter.
The quality of water hash, especially from the finest-grade material, is impressive. It can test as high as many solvent-extracted hash products: up to 80 percent, although 50 percent samples are more common. The effects produced by water hash depend on the strain and quality of the plants. Processing plant material with water yields hash that has been washed free of some contaminants: green plant matter, dust, dander and some mold, bacteria and chemicals. However, high counts of mold and bacteria are commonly found in tests of water hashes. Perhaps a final rinse in 1 percent hydrogen peroxide water will lower these counts.
Extraction yields 0.5 to 2 ounces (14-57 grams) of hash per pound of plant material, depending on gland density and size.
[Canniseur: Everyone should read this story. Really. Whether you’re a grower or not, these Plant Growth Regulators can be carcinogenic in our smokable weed and in our extracts and concentrates as well. It’s serious. Serious enough that I believe that some growers in Michigan are using them as well as California and probably all the other states. A hard dense nug is NOT necessarily a good thing. I believe I reported on some nugs a few weeks ago that were ‘over manicured’ and dense. I believe the grower used PGRs. Another reason not to like this grower.]
The dark years of cannabis prohibition here in California created an innovative and highly competitive black market for weed that thrives to this day despite the state’s relatively progressive path toward legalization. Risk has always been high for illicit growers and their tactics to avoid the prying eyes of law enforcement have evolved over time. Decades ago, the use of helicopters and spotter planes to target pot farms forced growers to camouflage their cultivation, or in many cases, move it all the way indoors.
This radical change in the way cannabis was grown, particularly in Cali, led to a massive leap in quality control as indoor growers could now “play god” and manipulate all environmental conditions to their liking. However, it also led to a drastic drop in overall yields.
Remember, we are talking about the Nineties, so most of these were not yet warehouse-style grows. They were closets, garages, basements, and spare rooms for the most part and even though you could flip each room a few times per year, the overall weight harvested paled in comparison to the massive trees that could be grown outdoors.
With a limited footprint to grow in, and a limited canopy above (ie. the ceiling and lights), growers began looking for any way they could to boost the number of grams of finished buds that they could pull from each square foot of cultivation space.
For some, like our friend Josh D, that meant revolutionizing hydroponic grow systems and optimizing that method for cannabis production while at the same time introducing and perfecting the ultimate indoor strain — OG Kush. The optimal genetics of this iconic strain naturally produced shorter, bushier plants with massive, dense, and potent buds, making it ideal for indoor cultivation.
Not all growers were blessed with such genetics or know-how, though, and it didn’t take long for some of them to start to seek out some rather unsavory store-bought shortcuts to try to compensate for lackluster harvests.
Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs)
Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs) date back well before the Nineties cannabis boom. First introduced to American agriculture in the 1920s, these chemical compounds were used for nearly half a century to either boost or slow down the natural rate of growth of plants through phytohormonal manipulation.
For example, groves of fruit or nut trees could be filled with shorter trees that yielded more produce thereby reducing the time and risk of harvesting and, in turn, increasing profits.
However, when independent lab studies showed that certain synthetic PGRs could potentially be carcinogenic, the FDA stepped in and banned the use of such products on consumable food crops in the 1970s.
Those products did not vanish, though. They continued to be used to keep trees at parks from growing too tall, or to make bouquets of grocery store flowers bloom brighter and grow at such uniform sizes and, as we know, to artificially boost cannabis yields. In fact, the global demand for PGRs has more than doubled in the past six years and now stands as a $6.4 billion sector of the agricultural industry.
Some growers are using this particular shortcut knowingly but many others may be pumping their pot full of PGRs without even knowing it as this controversial compound has been found (often unlabeled) in many popular brands of fertilizers and nutrients. If growers use those products and just so happen to see tighter, denser, and heavier nugs as a result… win/win, right? What’s wrong with increased yields and solid buds, anyway?
It’s no secret that, for the most part, the regulated cannabis market in California is flooded with mid-grade weed that is barely worthy of a blunt wrap for most seasoned smokers. The logistics of the supply chain and the way things have to be packaged in today’s market can mutilate even the best-grown buds by the time they reach the end-user but, sadly, most of the supply these days was pretty shoddy to begin with. We call it California’s “Mids Life Crisis”.
As many state-sanctioned cultivators struggle to stay afloat in the new legal market, too many are feeling the pressure of whatever deal they signed with the devil to fund their startup and are willing to do whatever it takes to make their numbers make sense. PGRs are the perfect tool for such an unscrupulous job.
Simply put, the way that PGRs boost cannabis yields is by pumping those nugs full of water at the cellular level which leads to the expansion. You are not boosting the vigor or potency of the plant, that added weight is literally moisture and cellulose. So while California cannabis testing labs are not required to flag samples for PGR levels, they will show lower overall THC levels – bigger buds do not always equal stronger buds.
So how can you tell if that herb you are inspecting at the dispensary has been treated with Plant Growth Regulators? Here are a few telltale signs to look for:
Buds that are extremely hard or dense in structure
Buds with an excessive amount of pistils, often matted or intertwined
Pistils often have more of a brown hue than the rusty orange seen on healthy buds
Distinct lack of visible developed trichomes
Lack of strain-appropriate aroma
Still unsure? Ask the budtender direct questions about it. Who grew it?Where was it grown? Research that feedback or pass on those products if that information is unknown. At the end of the day, it is our job as consumers to do the due diligence to ensure that what we put into our bodies is legit. Relying on any company or corporation to do that for you is naïve, particularly when it comes to the Wild West of legal weed.
Roughly a decade after the FDA banned the use of synthetic Plant Growth Regulators on crops meant for human consumption, the Environmental Protection Agency followed suit in the 1980s by placing even heavier restrictions on the use of certain PGRs and labeling them as environmental pollutants. The EPA warned that exposure to these synth PGRs could elevate a person’s risk of cancer 240 times higher than the acceptable standard.
That being said, many of those studies involved subjecting rats to astronomical levels of various PGRs in order to trigger negative reactions and there is no hard evidence that smoking weed treated with PGRs is much different than eating In n’ Out instead of a home-cooked burger. But, to us, it does matter and we will avoid synthetic PGR weed at all costs. We don’t want to smoke it, we don’t want to vape it, and we certainly have no interest in extracting it to create full-spectrum cannabis oil. Nothing about Plant Growth Regulators benefits the consumer, period.
Now, that’s not to say that all PGRs are bad news. In fact, there are many natural sources for Plant Growth Regulators that can be useful and healthy supplements for your fertilizer or nutrient base. But as a grower, you should feel obligated to thoroughly understand how they are sourced from nature and exactly how they work with the balanced chemistry of your plants before putting them to use. Failure to do so can take you from “Top Shelf” to “Midzotics” real quick!
Remember, fellow cultivators: If your SOP calls for more PGRs, then your QC is probably BS.
Look for PGRs to make a major splash in the newly established American hemp marketplace as the importance of higher yields compounds dramatically at the large scale that those farms will be operating at. Combine that with the relative lack of lab testing requirements and Plant Growth Regulators figure to play a large role in helping the U.S. compete in the global market. American hemp is mandated by federal law to produce a ridiculously low 0.3% THC content, so the fact that PGRs murder trichomes only helps growers and manufacturers.
As for what role Plant Growth Regulators will play in the future of cannabis, that will likely come down to regulation since we see that there are too many growers who are willing to cut that corner when it is left up to them. At the very least, plant fertilizer and nutrient companies should be mandated by law to accurately list all ingredients and contents of their products. That way the growers who are trying to do the right thing can make informed decisions about how they treat their gardens, farms, and warehouse grows.
Finally, as consumers, we can speak with our hard-earned dollars. Quit buying PGR tainted buds! Tell your favorite dispensary that you aren’t interested in buying those products. If enough of us do exactly that, the free market will… ahem… weed out the PGR growers and those who push their products.
Beard Bros. Pharms has earned their reputation as a trusted source for cannabis news, content creation, and culture preservation. With decades of experience in cultivation and marketing, their fearless voice for the plant includes advocacy for veterans, inmates, people of color, and anyone else who has been oppressed by generations of cannabis prohibition. See what they’re up to now at BeardBrosPharms.com