Harvest season comes in as many crops as it does colors, and while Sonoma Valley is best known for wine, it is also celebrated by those-who-know for its quality cannabis. In fact, some of the valley’s premier cannabis hails from the foothills of Sonoma Mountain in Glen Ellen, where fields are flat with a slight grade, absorbing plenty of afternoon sunshine—an ideal spot for the dry, well-drained soils where cannabis thrives.
SPARC, Sonoma’s local cannabis retailer, also farms under the “Marigold” label farmed in Glen Ellen. Farming cannabis outdoors is still a surprising novelty, as most cannabis grows hydroponically, but in Sonoma Valley, it’s a “growing” trend that’s gaining ground for its quality. Since visitors are still prohibited by law from visiting cannabis farms, we are bringing the farm experience to you. We recently interviewed Erich Pearson, SPARC’s owner, who told us about this year’s harvest.
2022 CANNABIS HARVEST REPORT
“It’s been a great harvest year! Dry weather makes a great crop. Our plants are finishing to full ripeness without mold pressure which allows the maximum level of cannabinoids.” Cannabinoids are the compounds found in the plant, including THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, and terpenes, which account for its distinctive aroma and flavor, individualized by a specific strain.
Erich explains, “Good, dry weather makes for good yields. With cannabis, we don’t make the same correlation as grapes between quality and yields. Large yields are influenced by genetics—not farming techniques. Some fancier genetics yield less cannabinoids. Those are typically quirkier, designer strains that tend to have lower yields. They are harder and rarer to grow - and may have more market demand, but not necessarily superior in quality.”
Erich explains that the only real threat to growing cannabis in Sonoma Valley comes from heavy seasonal fog and temperature spikes, which can add undue moisture to the plant, making it susceptible to mold and botrytis. In many ways, cannabis is the ideal plant for our climate, but it can depend on the year.
“Cannabis fields tend to sprout roots quickly in soil that is dry with good drainage. We are looking for no rain at harvest. Heavy fog can add undue moisture, but overall, this fall season is looking great. New strains that farmers are breeding have a longer flower time with a ripening season that extends into November.
HOW CANNABIS IS HARVESTED
When cannabis reaches peak ripeness, the team harvests the plants into 18” lengths. Some teams harvest the plant’s lower branches first, but the SPARC team cuts the whole plant at once. And all by hand! Like wine grapes, the team tends to harvest in the early morning, out of the heat of the day. SPARC works with a regular farm crew, as well as seasonal field workers to assist with harvest.
After harvest, the plants go to a drying facility on the farm, where it dries in a large room over 10 days. The trimmers then cut off the stems (a process called bucking), leaving a machine to trim the individual buds, before doing a quality-control trimming by hand. The team then packs the buds before delivering them to local dispensaries like SPARC. The name of the game is all about achieving the right moisture content, which the team achieves by keeping the packed buds in a cool room at 65 degrees.
THE FUTURE OF CANNABIS FARM VISITS FOR SPARC
While cannabis farms are not yet open for visitors, the future is hopeful. “I’m looking forward to cannabis here operating the way wine does:” Erich says, “to allow the public in, taste, and purchase directly from the farmer. That’s how you build brands and businesses.”
The cannabis industry has blown the doors of brand-building wide open, although regulation is still tight and well controlled by legislation in Sonoma County. The more visitors come to experience cannabis tourism in Sonoma Valley, the greater the possibilities for visiting farms and having tasting venues. While the industry continues to bud in its infancy, hope remains for greater flexibility and openness in regulation.