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Integrating Cannabis into Your Farming System

“Integrating Cannabis into Your Farming System” was a well attended workshop presented at EcoFarm Conference that featured cannabis growers Daniel Stein of Briceland Forest Farm and Josh and Sandra Khankhanian of Moon Gazer Farms. Both presenters shared insights and tips on incorporating cannabis into a farming operation including growing methods, seed sourcing, soil fertility, and regulations.

Photo credit: Moon Gazer Farms

Daniel Stein grows cannabis and diversified vegetables on his Briceland Forest Farm in Humboldt County. He has three separate zones on his farm, with the primary zone containing cannabis plants for the entire growing season. Every other bed is planted with cannabis, while the beds in between the cannabis beds are planted with vegetables. After the vegetables are harvested, the cannabis grows up to twelve feet tall and the canopy overtakes the area. Some vegetable crops are left to complete their cycle for seed saving or to host beneficial insects. In the winter the beds are planted with cover crops. Each new season, Stein rotates where he plants the cannabis and the vegetables.

Stein also utilizes a light deprivation system in another zone of the farm. This enables him to grow two cycles of cannabis per year, with the first plants put in the ground in late April or early May and the second round put in during August, once the first plants have been harvested. He deprives the plants of light using caterpillar tunnels, forcing them to flower earlier than they would in their natural cycle.

Stein’s third system utilizes hugelkultur, a technique in which large mounds are created from decaying wood debris and other plant materials to be used as a raised bed. Hugelkultur beds are utilized on Briceland Forest Farm wherever there is substandard soil or inclines. “Hugelkultur is great for making wonderful soil where there wasn’t wonderful soil and for getting water into the soil where it would normally run off,” Stein said.

Hugelkultur is great for making wonderful soil where there wasn’t wonderful soil and for getting water into the soil where it would normally run off.

While Briceland Forest Farm has three distinct, organized systems, the Khankhanians, based in Mendocino County, grow all of their crops in one bed and rely heavily on hugelkultur for their 10,000 square foot certified biodynamic farm. “We’ve found we need these annual crops interplanted with the cannabis for a healthy system,” said Josh Khankhanian.

Josh and Sandra grow all of their cannabis from seed which they plant in spring along with their other crops. They grow with the moon cycles which, they say, helps them stay diversified and never having to harvest everything all at once. The food crops they grow among their cannabis plants include potatoes and jerusalem artichokes which offer the cannabis shade from the Mendocino heat. Both crops regenerate and reseed when left in the soil, and potatoes in particular fight symphylans that can attack crops. The Khankhanians generally only grow what thrives on their land and what they can save seeds from. They hope to eventually save seed for their cover crops, eliminating the need to purchase any seed whatsoever for their farm.

Regulatory restraints on cannabis are different county by county and ever changing, but Daniel Stein and the Khankhanians described some of their struggles with current regulations on integrating cannabis into a farming system.

“We want to rotate our cannabis but within the regulatory system, I have to provide a map of where the cannabis will be and each time it moves, I would need to submit a new map,” said Daniel Stein.

The Khankhanians urge cannabis growers to get involved with county and state regulations and give a voice to small cannabis growers who are currently being taxed heavily in Mendocino County. “It’s up to us to speak up,” said Sandra. “There is a stigma on cannabis and everybody thinks the growers have [deep pockets]. We need to show them the numbers so they don’t tax us out of business.”

To hear more from the Khankhanians and Daniel Stein, download the audio recording of this workshop and others from EcoFarm Conference 2019.