Daily Life Of A Pot Farmer

One Bad Year

As a friend of mine says, “The season’s not over till the money’s been spent.”

Growing a small personal marijuana stash in your backyard is as easy as growing tomatoes. Pot farming is also the most lucrative agricultural work on the planet. But running a pot farm as a business and having your entire year’s livelihood ride on a successful harvest is fraught with more risks than most imagine.

From seed to sale, here is a list of this-actually-happened-to-someone-I-know ways to lose it all. I’m sure there are more ways to blow it. What did I miss? Share your stories in the comments.

“Clip a bale of ganja!” In one-and-a-half minutes.

In the final documentary, you’ll see people carefully harvesting their plants one branch at a time, selecting each branch when the flowers are at their peak potency and cutting in such a way as to make post-harvest processing efficient. Typically, the tops are harvested first then, days or even weeks later, there is a second cut after the smaller flowers have matured fully. After that, the third harvest is usually the tiny “larfy” flower clusters that become tinctures, oils or concentrates.

One Plant Harvest from Downtown Dailies on Vimeo.


Ripoff Moon, another good year, the same old fear.

Ripoff Moon, another good year, the same old fear.

(This was written two years ago, but is still just as relevant, so I thought I’d reshare it.)

By Mikal Jakubal

“The ripoff moon. That’s what my grandpa used to call it…the ripoff moon.”

Ripoff moon

“Yes,” I mumbled under my breath to my friend standing next to me, “he should know.” The speaker was, after all, the notorious ripoff son of said grandpa, himself a notorious ripoff. A friend and I were talking with him in front of my place, across the street from the junkyard and jumbled cluster of squalid hovels where the family lives.

More about the thieves——>

Sheriff, Chamber of Commerce, promote safe hiring and employment guidelines for pot growers and workers.

Sheriff, Chamber of Commerce, promote safe hiring and employment guidelines for pot growers and workers.

One of Garberville’s two weeklies, The Independent, printed a public service announcement sponsored by the Garberville/Redway Chamber of Commerce, and “supported by” the Humboldt County Sheriff, advising pot growers to only hire locals and people they know and trust for harvest work. The PSA also recommends asking for I.D. and checking references. While nowhere in the ad does it actually mention marijuana or trimming, the headline directed at “ALL HOME BUSINESS OWNERS” leaves no doubt as to whom they’re speaking.

Screenshot of Garberville/Redway Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page with the ad that also ran on page 6 of The Independent on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012.

Click here to read the rest of the story

The 18-wheel landslide

Humboldt County, especially Southern Humboldt, is hard to get to and hard to get out of. To drive anywhere requires getting from Highway 101 over into the I-5 corridor to the east or northeast or the Bay Area to the south. This is a four to five-hour drive, much of it on winding, two-lane roads. Parts of Highway 36, heading eastbound over the mountains to the Sacramento River Valley, are so narrow as to be nearly one-lane for short stretches.

Of course, more than a few people will tell you that’s why they like it here.
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It’s different up here.

It’s different up here.

By Mikal Jakubal

Times have changed, no doubt. Last week, a member of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and a sheriff’s sergeant testified in a Santa Rosa courtroom on behalf of two men charged with transporting pot through Sonoma County. The defendants are employees of Northstone Organics, a permitted medical marijuana collective in Mendocino County. Yes, you heard that right: the sergeant testified for the defendants. These two men were stopped on two consecutive days in what was a clear case of intentional surveillance. It’s unclear why Sonoma County law enforcement would prioritize intercepting an operation that is merely passing through Sonoma County en route to its Bay Area delivery route, nor why they’d intentionally provoke neighboring Mendocino County, throwing down a de facto challenge to the validity of Mendo’s medical pot permitting ordinance.

"Purple Diesel"—a little something to spice up an otherwise all-text post.

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Weekend marijuana weather forecast: Broken branches with a chance of mold.

Weekend marijuana weather forecast: Broken branches with a chance of mold.

There are such things a aviation weather reports for pilots, nautical weather reports for sailors and so on, so why not a special weather product tailored to the pot industry? The KMUD daily weather reports already include the exact length, down to the minute, of daylight—an important factor in when pot goes into flower.  Special mold, wind and rain alerts could be issued, along with regular data on daylength, temperatures, humidity and so on.

That would require some drastic changes in federal marijuana policy, given that NOAA  is federally-funded. In the meantime, you don’t have to be a shaman or clairvoyant to read about the rain predicted for this weekend. Blame global warming or chem trails or a HAARP conspiracy or chalk it up to “shit happens,” but it looks like we’re in for another crop-thrashing early rain. Most pot on the Northcoast is nearing harvest, with buds swelling in the warm fall days. Early strains have already been cut, dried and trimmed, while the later-finishing varieties are two to six weeks out. For those, there is enough water-retaining bud on most plants to over-tax branches. We had a similar situation last August. At that time, flower clusters were much less developed, but the rain still shattered unsupported plants.

Well-prepared growers have their plants well-staked or caged or netted already, but many will be scrambling to tie things up before Saturday night’s predicted rain. It doesn’t matter if it is only a couple tenths-of-an-inch; the bud will hold the water in its tight flower-cluster structure until the branches give way. It doesn’t help that the rain is predicted for the middle of the night. If it were daytime, growers might go out and hand-shake buds during the day, only staking any that threatened to snap.

Add to this the threat of Botrytis mold and powdery mildew from all the extra moisture and it’s going to be another stressful harvest for some people. I like to mention these problems to counter the notion that pot growers don’t have to work, don’t have any risk of crop loss and thereby are somehow greedy and lazy. No one will deny that it is the highest-paying agricultural work you’ll ever do, but it’s also easy to lose an entire year’s work and investment virtually overnight to mold, ripoffs, “hermaphrodism,” bag mold or law enforcement confiscation if you’re operating in the black market and get busted. Unlike soybean or apple farmers, there is no crop insurance for weed.


It’s a boy!

It’s a boy!

By Mikal Jakubal

While the world condemns countries that practice female infanticide, in the Emerald Triangle, we do the botanical opposite, nipping mostly-useless male plants in the bud long before they can pollinate any nearby females and ruin the quality of the finished “buds.”

For those unfamiliar with marijuana botany, the plants are typically dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, the way most animals have male and female reproductive organs on separate male or female individuals. “Dioecy,” as it’s known to botanists, is relatively uncommon in the plant world, compared to bisexuality, where each individual flower on all plants of the species has both male and female parts. Kiwis, date palms and pistacios are some common dioecious food plants that require the occasional male plant to be grown for pollen with the fruit-bearing females. The dioecious Ginko trees that you buy in most commercial nurseries are usually male plants, grown from cuttings (“clones”) of known male trees. The Ginko fruit produced by female plants is apparently stomach-churningly foul-smelling, though I’ve never had the pleasure of that experience.

Male pot plant ready to bloom. (Sorry for the blurry iPhone shot.)

The process of identifying the sex of seed-grown pot plants is known as “sexing” and is usually done with the naked eye or a good magnifying glass between late April and early June. “Sexing” is also used to describe the growth stage where the plants first show visible flowers, e.g. “my O.G. Kush plants are all sexing, but the Sour Diesel hasn’t shown yet.” The earlier that plants can be sexed, the better for the grower, since this means the females can be planted out in their holes or large pots and the males can be composted (or a few selected out for later breeding). Most pot strains have a greater than 1/1 ratio of females to males when grown from seed. Some strains will end up with 70% females, a real boon when you have to buy seeds or had a poor seed crop the previous year.

Cannabis is special not only in its dioecy, but also in that it can also form separate male and female flowers on the same plant, making it “monoecious.” The vernacular term in the grower community for this is “hermaphrodite,” though I believe hermaphrodite is actually a synonym for bisexuality. “Hermies” are a serious bane to growers, since they typically don’t show up until late in the season on otherwise female plants. It can happen that a month before harvest, a huge female plant in full flower suddenly starts popping out male or “staminate” flowers (after the uniquely boy parts called stamens) intermixed with the female, or “pistillate,” flowers. Not only will these male flowers seed the “hermaphrodite” plant itself, but they’ll seed any plants downwind. Because they have been previously identified as confirmed females, hermies can sneak up on a grower, not being noticed until the damage has been done.

This guy in the photo was mistakenly sexed as a female and put in a 45-gallon plastic pot in a garden very near fifteen other female plants in similar pots. All of them are just beginning to flower, so had this male plant slipped the grower’s notice, it would have seeded a good portion of the nearby plants. Seedy bud is weaker, unaesthetic and virtually unsalable.  The term sinsemilla, if you’re not familiar with stoner culture, is Spanish for “seedless.” For those who’ve been reading this blog regularly, last July one of my main film subjects had to destroy a dozen huge plants when they ultimately sexed-out as males. That was nearly a quarter of her entire potential crop. (She later lost a good third to the mold epidemic we had last fall.) I’ve known people to lose a similar percentage of their crop to hermies. Several years ago, when smoke from forest fires discolored the sky for months, many growers in SoHum reported an explosion of monoecy.

It used to be that the male plants were just killed and buried to prevent any buds from opening after the fact and causing mischief. Nowadays, with so much competition in both the medical market and black market, pollen from good strains is becoming valuable. Last week I was at a meeting of a local medical marijuana collective with which I’m involved, the Tea House Collective, where someone was looking for pollen from “Sour Diesel” (a strain of Cannabis). He had sourced females from a grower for bud production, but wanted to do his own breeding, since Sour D is popular with the legal medical marijuana dispensaries and with medical-use patients now.

New research is coming out regularly about the beneficial, but non-psychoactive, effects of eating raw marijuana leaves or drinking the juice, especially that from strains high in CBD, one of the other chemicals found in pot besides the well known and psychoactive THC. As a result, many people either juice their sacrificial males or give them to others who will use them. In what will be an amusing scene in the film, one of my other subjects accidentally cut and juiced one of his female plants. Ouch.

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