As the evenings become crisper and the days become shorter, here on the home farm we celebrate the end of another successful growing season. We're pulling pumpkins from the pumpkin patch and picking our apples. This year marked an important milestone in home farming: The much awaited cannabis prohibition has at long last come to an end. Californians now have the right to grow their very own special green flower patch right at home. Like growing vegetables or cut flowers, homegrown cannabis costs a fraction of commercial prices. It's never wrapped in plastic packaging or hauled in a truck and the freshness and intensity in flavor cannot be beat. We focused on the CBD-heavy strain Suzy Q but there are countless options to choose from.
Cannabis offered a lovely addition to our backyard corn and pumpkin patch. Tucked away behind the wispy corn tassels, our little outdoor plants grew taller and bushier over the growing season. We were total novices with this one, since it only recently became commercially available. However, we decided the investment in this particular medicinal herb was well worth the price (around $10 per clone) and were pleasantly surprised with the level of harvest. We weren't sure if growing these plants without a greenhouse in the coastal fog zone would still yield a decent harvest. Turns out we had nothing to worry about — they produced just fine. We plan on making them a permanent fixture in the home farm medicinal garden. We use it for pain relief and insomnia mostly, though we find it also works for boosting creativity. Now that the dark cloak has been lifted off the humble cannabis plant, we hope that many who suffer from a range of physical and emotional pains can heal with homegrown bounty.
For those of you interested in starting your own green flower patch in 2019, there's plenty of time to plan. Follow these few simple steps to your own personal Emerald Triangle.
1. Select the sunniest spot in the yard with the most protection from the wind.
2. Prepare the ground. Winter is an ideal time to accomplish this task. Cover up with thick cardboard, top with a 3-inch layer of organic mulch. Let it rest for one to three months, until spring planting season.
3. Research what to grow and where to buy it. There's no shortage of interesting options out there. We bought direct from the nursery in Kneeland. If you're up for the adventure, find a cannabis farm that sells clones. It's worth the drive to visit a thriving cannabis farm for inspiration. A farmer can handpick the best plants available and give plenty of growing tips.
4. As soon as earth can be worked in the spring (when it's not too wet), dig a 3-foot-diameter hole approximately 12 inches deep per plant in mulch/cardboard area. Cardboard softens in the rain and a sharp shovel should cut right through it. Remove the large pieces of cardboard, then dig mulch into the earth. Supplement your soil with compost.
5. Plant individual cannabis plants at the center of each circle, ideally during a full moon. Of any day of the month, the full moon has the most light available to plants and therefore maximum photosynthetic potential to allow for optimal plant establishment. Make sure to mark individual varieties with a weather-proof tag (we like to write with Sharpie on large wooden planting sticks). Cover the bare earth with cardboard and mulch to prevent weeds from growing around the base of the plant.
6. Water daily with fish emulsion (2 teaspoons per gallon, available at garden supply stores) until the plant is established. Once the plant has green, vibrant growth, water as needed every one to three days.
7. Mix compost into the soil approximately once a month.
8. Let the flowers develop until just before the first autumn rain. Cut the plant at the base and store it in a dark, dry place (such as an attic) until the leaves wither (two to three weeks).
9. Wearing thin gloves, trim the leaves away from the flowers. Snip and store the flowers in glass jars labeled with the variety. Flowers will keep for one year.
In addition to harvesting our medicinal herbs, we're also planning for next year's cut flower garden. It's almost time to dig up and store dahlia bulbs (after a couple of killing frosts, they should be dormant). We're looking forward to harvesting a crop of tubers that will expand next year's dahlia patch. The bulbs are best stored with dirt covering them so they don't dry out — don't forget to label them. Variety is the spice of life and we like to design our dahlia patch with color in mind. We're also gathering our flower seeds and carefully tucking them away. This task seems tedious and time consuming at first. However, giving in to the process of making a mess and creating tiny jars filled with future gardens is too fun to put off. We're also tucking away this year's dried flower blossoms (calendula, rose petals and lavender). Farming can be hard work and we like to create personal care products using home farm ingredients to pamper ourselves.
In order to give our flowers the best of everything, we're continuing to develop our rainwater catchment system. We place galvanized steel trashcans at the base of rainspouts to gather rainfall off the roof. Once the barrels are full, we pop the lids on to keep our carefully collected water clean. Bonus: Raindrops on the lids sound like our own private percussion band. In the spring we'll water our delicate seedlings by hand from a metal watering can to avoid plastic tubing and accessories. As we scale up our operation, we plan on minimizing plastics as much as possible. We want to preserve our beautiful ocean and rivers. Plastic poses a great threat to those incredible ecosystems. Once that plastic is out there, it's hard to get it back. Like diamonds, plastic is forever.
Moving toward the darker time of the year, we're stacking up the firewood and looking forward to many happy hours of home farm planning for next year's growing season. Pull up a seed catalogue and let the dreams begin.
Katie Rose McGourty is the owner of Healthy Living Everyday at www.healthy-living-everyday.com.