Experimenting with Semi-arid Marijuana Cultivation

Back at the beginning of April I became inspired by an account on my Instagram page (go check it out to see whats blooming in 9bGardens!). Eel River Organics is a local company that cultivates dry farmed cannabis in Humboldt County, which to me is very interesting since I was always under the impression that cannabis farming requires copious amounts of water. They claim that dry farming places a unique stress on the plants that results in better flavor and potency, so I’m here to put this theory to the test!

I’m going to approach this a little differently than Eel River Organics by going with a semi-arid style of cultivation (Basically, I’m only going to water very lightly about once a week).

Varieties – Afghani (top right, grown from seed that was given to me by a friend), Blue Cheese (middle, clone), Honey Bear (bottom right, clone) and White Yeti (bottom left, clone). You’ll also notice a Poppy Flower in the top left that I’m growing just for fun.

Soil mixture – Keep it simple and organic. Steer manure, chicken manure, sand, woodchips (the secret ingredient to success), and top soil.

Active fertilizing – You’ll see a plastic black lid in the bottom right. That’s my “worm hotel” filled with red wiggler worms from my compost bin. The container is simply an old protein bucket with holes drilled in it. I’ll be filling this up periodically with kitchen scraps, coffee grinds and weeds that I’ve pulled up. Hopefully the worms will propagate through the soil and provide aeration/nutrients directly to the plant roots.

Plant placement – In the picture below, you’ll notice that I have the plants placed in a sort of circular setup with the plants connected by trenches. In the center is a sort of donut shaped soil mound that I had thrown some compost/worms into as well. This will also serve as a watering point. The purpose of this is to attract the roots of all the plants to meet in the center where they will hopefully develop a relationship with beneficial¬†mycorrhizal fungi.

I’ve also placed my largest plant at the southern most corner of the garden bed. Once the plant gets bigger it will help to shade the soil and smaller clones behind it.

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A close up shot of the woodchips that are about to go into this gardening bed. You’ll notice the white stringy mycelium omnipresent throughout the woodchips. This is exactly what we want! This fungi will eventually spread to the roots of the plants where it will develop a symbiotic relationship. In this relationship, the fungi will exchange nutrients and water for sugars released from the plant roots. The cool thing about mycelium is that once it matures, it’ll be able to pull nutrients and water from several feet away and bring it directly to the plant roots!

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Below you can see I’ve filled up the trenches with the woodchips in an attempt to create a “river of mycelium”. I’m not totally sure how well I will actually accomplish this, but remember we’re just experimenting.

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Covered up more of the surrounding soil with woodchips. You want to try to not leave any bare soil exposed to the sun. The UV rays from the sun will kill off any beneficial bacteria in the top layer of the soil. The woodchips acts as a sun block, protecting beneficial microorganisms, cooling the soil and slowing evaporation.

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This photo was taken roughly 2 months after planting. They’re thriving so far! I’m surprised these babies grew so well on such little water. And check out those beautiful poppy flowers in the back!

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This area is just outside of the kitchen door, so I figured it’d be a good place for an herb garden! Sticking true to my permaculture values, I’ve chosen to go with a hugelkultur style raised herb bed.

The area you see under the window is where some lovely lavender plants used to reside (sorry, I forgot to snap pics before I mowed down the flowers!). While they’re beautiful, smell great and attract many pollinators, they just weren’t of much use to me.

How to:

  1. Cut down lavender stocks using a hedge trimmer.
  2. Lay down cardboard as the first layer to block any invading growth coming from underneath.
  3. Build your raised garden bed (I used 1×12 common board because it was cheap).
  4. Alternate layers of nitrogen and carbon (green trimmings and dried wood). I had some Iris flowers nearby that were getting out of control, so I just cut it back and used the trimmings here. My yard also had random bits of wood laying around, so I just tossed in whatever I could find.
  5. Add woodchips if you got em’ (not pictured here). Woodchips are the secret sauce to any garden! Seriously
  6. Top it off with a soil of your choosing. Here I used a mixture of steer manure, chicken manure/bedding from my chicken coop, and organic top soil.
  7. Whenever planting a new project, I like to throw in some compost/worms from my worm bin to get a jump start on beneficial bacteria colonization. This will ensure healthy plants, help break down the branches/wood chips and shift this raised bed towards a self-sustaining mini ecosystem.
  8. Plant! Here I have Black Prince heirloom tomato, black cherry tomato, Mammoth Jalapeno pepper, spicy bell pepper, cilantro, rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley, and hopefully several varieties of basil soon.