WHERE THE SUN DON'T SHINE
Not much on this remote, rural medical ganja farm adheres to a strict schedule. Morning comes when the sun rises over the hilts and wakes you up in your tent. The lunch break begins when it gets too hot to work in the early afternoon and/or a tortilla starts sounding mighty nice, with the midday meal typically (but not always) followed by a few hard-fought games of rustic ping-pong and a siesta of undetermined length in a shady hammock. Under no circumstances does anybody ever schedule a meeting for any time more precise than 'after dinner." And nobody ever busts your balls about the dress code. So stay up all night smoking hash and playing truck-driver songs on a battered acoustic guitar if you want—just so tong as that next big batch of compost tea gets brewed in time to use tomorrow.
Ultimately, it's the needs of the plants that determine the workday around here, whether that means pruning, transplanting, fertilizing or just letting nature run its course. But make no mistake: There s always plenty to do. at pretty much anytime of the day—more than enough. in fact, including some fairly intense physical tabor, what with a few hundred plants that just keep getting bigger every day and only a handful of human beings to look after them.
So its not that these guys don't work hard, and its not that they don't work smart. Its just that the closest thing they've got to a day planner is a laminated guide to the cycles of the moon and other astrological bodies tacked onto a cabinet in the communal at fresco kitchen, which they consult from time to time in order to make sure they're planting, watering, feeding and harvesting in accordance with the Earth's own bio-dynamic rhythms.
Pure hippie bullshit, if you ask me—unless you happen to believe in it.
I mean, take a look at all the bright green, healthy, vigorously growing ganja plants scattered around this land, and you'd certainty have to admit they're doing something right. Of course, in all seriousness. these master gardeners do keep careful and even detailed
records, not to mention updating and maintaining a fairly endless to-do list—it's just that, like I said, everything here gets done, but nothing ever gets done at any particular time.
With one major exception, once per day.
Today, appropriately. the big event is scheduled to begin just a few minutes prior to 5 p.m., the traditional end of the working day for the all-American wage slave. Spore. the project's head gardener, blows a conch shell. and soon enough. all four of us have assembled en masse before the largest structure on the land, as if gathering together for some strange. barbaric ritual timed to the precise position of the sun in the sky. When. in fact, the truth is much ... darker.
"It's a little weird," Spore admits. Our entire philosophy in growing these plants on this farm centers around providing them with everything they need to thrive in a natural. healthy. organic way, out in the open, under the sun and the moon ... except for this one sort of Area 51 scene we've got going off to the side, where we fuck up their whole sense of time and space. not to mention purposely deprive them of the most vital life force in the universe—all in the name of a rolling harvest.
What Spore is referring to is a specially designed tight-deprivation greenhouse that functions as a kind of black-ops netherworld. In fact. it's a strange experiment that's currently taking place—one that involves a definite element of deception. And so. half as a joke and perhaps half seriously (because they've started going just a bit batty up in the woods all by themselves). these gardeners discuss the chilly fall weather and their plans to listen to the World Series on the radio that night—even though it's still 92 degrees in the shade and baseball wont be crowning its next champion for another four months. "Yessiree. I sure am looking forward to Halloween on Tuesday."
Water Bear informs a particularly fragrant Tangelo variety. "And what a beautiful sunset we have this evening!"
It's early July—practically the longest day of the year—and the sun won't be setting for hours. But fear not: The farm's resident systems expert hasn't lost track of the time (or his mind) that severely. Rather, he's deliberately trying to fool the plants into thinking it's a few months later than it actually is as part of his own clever plan to get them to start budding much earlier in
the season than Mother Nature ever intended.
Of course, it takes more than just talking to the plants to accomplish that neat trick. But before we get to the particulars of how the light-dep greenhouse induces early flowering, we first need to understand the natural life cycle of cannabis.
Most importantly, marijuana is an annual plant. which means that in nature, it grows up from seeds each spring and diesel( every autumn (after producing and scattering a new generation of seeds in order to further propagate the species). Roughly half of all those seedlings will end up being males, and the other half will be females—a unique property of this plant.
Left to their own devices, the males and females grow rapidly. side by side, without much differentiation between the two, until autumn, when the days grow short enough for 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness to fall over the plants at night. At that point, the females begin to produce resinous Rowers (i.e., dank buds), while the males form small sacs of pollen that will eventually open up and pollinate any nearby females, with seeds being formed as a result.
Unfortunately (for us), the moment that happens, the female plants largely stop producing resin, which is where the majority of the plant's THC and other important cannabinoids reside. So in addition to seedy weed, you're talking about lowgrade weed—which explains why marijuana growers adhering to the sinsemilla technique (Spanish for -without seeds") carefully remove all male plants from their gardens long before they have a chance to fully mature.
As a result, the remaining females never get pollinated, so they never produce seeds—which means they never stop producing sweet, sticky. resinous buds right up to the moment you cut them down. Of course, in the great outdoors. that whole process from seed to harvest takes roughly five months to happen. depending on the particular climate and the strain you're growing.
Meanwhile, indoor ganja growers, by exploiting their total mastery over the plants' environment, can choose exactly when to start flowering simply by cutting back their grow lights to a 12/12-hour tight/dark cycle. The most advanced indoor growers even divide their operations into separate areas for vegetative and (lowering growth, to ensure a perpetual harvest every few weeks instead of every live months.
"What's nice about that is you get a manageable harvest on a regular schedule," says Spore, who mayor may not have done a bit of indoor growing before seeing the tight about the benefits of outdoor organic. 'Meanwhile. out here, we're not using a bunch of thousand-watt lights running nonstop, and we can't control the actual sun. So what the light-dep greenhouse allows us is a chance to get a significant bit of our garden flowered. harvested and processed early so we don't have to do it all at once."
Given the limited manpower out here and the large population of plants, that's more than a passing concern. Light-depping also means having a cash crop to market in the middle of the "dry summer, as well as cutting down on the amount of water, fertilizer and other inputs in the garden (since they're shortening the growth cycle by months). Best of all. they can even reuse the same greenhouse space to get a second harvest later in the season.
So how does light-dep work?
It's pretty simple. actually. The key is constructing a greenhouse that can be quickly and easily covered up, with the inside kept dark enough to trick the plants into thinking it's actu- ally nighttime. This way, the plants get the benefits of the full summer sun all day, but you get to decide when to trigger (towering by cutting back the light cycle to 12 hours per day—at which point, your light-dep plants will begin to think it's autumn and start making buds.
If you're handy and have enough time to devote to the project, you can certainly design and construct a simple light-dep greenhouse of your own out of PVC pipes and two-by-fours at a significant savings, But given the incredibly busy schedule at the farm this spring, Spore decided to buy a kit version instead. For roughly $1,500, it came complete with poles, pipes and a U channel with wiggle wire that tied onto the frame.
Before starting construction, these foresighted farmers searched for an ideal location—one that was large and flat enough and also shaded in the afternoon, since that keeps the greenhouse much cooler while covered than if
it was in full sun. They also planned carefully and chose a greenhouse large enough to house the plants comfortably not just at the beginning of the light-dep cycle but also a couple of months later, when they reached full budding maturity.
Next, our farmers used pressure-treated wood for the baseboards and ends and then followed the instructions that came with the greenhouse. They strongly advise getting one with a fully rounded roof, since that makes it much easier for one or two people to cover the greenhouse at night. which involves throwing ropes attached to a giant tarp from one side to the other and then using them to drag the tarp over top of the structure. The rounded sides also allow a bit more room for branches to spread from the outer row of plants. And it's Important not to crowd them.
"I need to have easy access to every pot so I can water them all and give individual attention to each plant without contorting my body uncomfortably or leaning on the branches Water Bear says. 'You definitely don't want the branches touching, and you need to leave walkways for the gardener.... Now that means fitting a few less plants into the greenhouse, but it pays off In the end because you yield a little more per plant and have much less problems with pests and diseases. if you give more attention to fewer plants, you'll have better results."
Known as panda plastic; the tarp they use is black on the bottom to keep tight out of the greenhouse, but white on top to reflect the sun's heat. The light-dep greenhouse also has fans hung throughout; these run whenever the plants are covered to keep them cool and prevent humidity from building up, which can lead to powdery mildew and other problems. The fans are pointed perpendicular to the length of the greenhouse in order to fully circulate the air, rather than just blowing air from one to the next.
All told. it took three farm workers a little more than a day to fully construct this light-dep greenhouse. and only about 10 minutes for the four of us to cover it up. Well leave the tarpon until about an hour after sunset, at which point it grows dark enough on this remote mountainside to safely remove il.
Typically, but not always. this is the last thing these guys do before turning in for the night. After all, it's another working day in the morning. And the sun usually decides to come up pretty early.