“The aroma of conifers and the cannabis mixed on a bright and sunny mountain day combined with the lilac and lavender the farm had planted infused the air with the ‘Divinity of Trinity.’”
I picked up Biovortex one fine June morning and we headed out bright and early from the coast with an egg and toast on board and a thermos of coffee to fuel our trip into the mountain, over the river, and through the hills. We dropped over the Berry Summit to find river fun and mountain sun and we kept winding out the sinuous curves of CA Route 299. We arrived on the farm with the sun up in the sky, where we found master cultivators from Healing Tree Medicinals, already hard at work.
The summer sun is intense out in these parts of the State of Jefferson, and the day had already begun to warm up. In the background, as we looked across the canyon, we could see Sugar Pines with their branches weighed down with cones covered in sticky sap. In the foreground, we see a beautiful sea of green genetic diversity, with canopies of Cypress OG Kush, SFV OG Kush, Grouch OG Kush, GG4, Dream Queen and Purple Widow with branches soon to be weighed down with buds covered in sticky resin. These are both good things that make us happy, but their fragrance combined is truly exceptional. The aroma of conifers and the cannabis mixed on a bright and sunny mountain day combined with the lilac and lavender the farm had planted infused the air with the ‘Divinity of Trinity.’
Healing Tree Medicinals produces medical cannabis for members on a farm that consists of a parcel of approximately 20 acres with gentle sloping topography. The farm’s central point is a bowl like feature, with the site infrastructure distributed around the flat areas in proximity. We were fortunate enough to have the master cultivators give us a walkabout tour of the property, which started and ended at the greenhouses. The symbolism was not lost on us, as cannabis was and is the driving force supporting site restoration and farm operations. Cannabis was the reason that the property was a realistic investment, where hard work could pay off and allow for the funding of a much needed restoration with huge potential.
On contour swales and bioswales were installed by the team at Soilscape Solutions, for erosion and sediment control, while simultaneously being an effective method of rainwater harvest. By objectively observing site conditions and visualizing the path of water moving across the landscape, one can begin to develop systems to harness the energy and volume of the water moving across the landscape to benefit the land, soil, water, and wildlife. The flipside of the above is by not respecting the laws of the land (similar to the law of the jungle) poorly designed roads, infrastructure, and site development can result in catastrophic effects on site, systems, and huge failures across the board, whether it be crop loss, road failure, and regulatory enforcement.
In a time of change in the Industry, we love to see people that are doing it right get recognized and rewarded for their hard work, respecting themselves, their land, and those that live downstream. It was obvious to us that Healing Tree Medicinals takes pride in the land, the farm, and taking care of their employees. We felt privileged to witness a shining example of how cannabis can be farmed in a way that allows for biodiversity, protects water quality, and produces a yield.
The farm was a parcel with a history of neglect. As part of the reclamation of the parcel, with tons of scrap metal and over a thousand tires were hauled out with all the associated debris and trash that comes with years of bad choices. Through elbow grease, and plenty of dump runs, the waste materials were removed and the land development began. From the beginning, Healing Tree Medicinals has respected the property, and they have been able to restore the ranch as the result of their hard work, dedication, and motivation. We noticed on the Trinity County Web GIS that when we zoomed in and out the dates of the photos changed, giving us a time lapse of before and after conscious cannabis cultivation. Stunning, to say the least!
The Cannabis Garden was impressive on many different levels, from the irrigation system, to the cover cropping and IPM implementation, to the canopy and plants themselves! The irrigation system was installed with water conservation in mind — solar water timers are plumbed into every greenhouse bed, which are all irrigated with drip. The farm installed the system during wintertime, and combined with their cover cropping of the beds, noted a reduction of approximately 67 percent in the amount of water required to maintain suitable soil moisture for plant growth. This is astonishing to see a reduction of 2/3 in the overall water budget, and a great lesson to ourselves and the Industry.
Healing Tree Medicinals gave us a glorious reaffirmation of the fact that when we pay attention to how we use water, we can reduce waste. It seems obvious that irrigating with drip in the
early morning or at dusk is a much better way to conserve resources than hand irrigating in the middle of a 100 degree day, but it is nice to see objective data specific to cannabis that confirms this theory. Utilizing technology for agronomic irrigation saves time and money, and it just makes sense.
Healing Tree Medicinals grows in raised beds, where they use engineered soil that’s alive and teaming with microbes. When we were there, there was a 200 gallon brew of compost tea bubbling right next to the raised beds. Bubble bubble toil and no trouble indeed. We really dug the farm’s approach to economical yet ecological cultivation practices, and we could tell that all decisions and materials were carefully thought out.
At first look, we thought something must be wrong with the cannabis plants… they were so green they had to be sick! Bad jokes aside, the feel, smell, and results of the soil fertility protocol were apparent in the health of the plants and the soil. Every bed had a canopy full of strong healthy plants. The connection between healthy soil and healthy plants is not lost on us, and it was a stoked out moment to see it beautifully illustrated on this farm. Every single plant stood with outstretched leaves praying towards the summer sun, assisted by the soil wizardry, some say magic, with custom amendments provided by Soilscape Solutions. The understory was well pruned, and we could feel a fine breeze blowing through the greenhouse and canopy. The various cultivars of OG Kush were all tickled green, and the lush foliage began to show floral formations. Under the plants we noticed instead of bare soil, a lush and healthy cover crop!
Every greenhouse bed on the farm is planted with Soilscape Solution’s cover crop mix. The head cultivator explained their strategy of cover crop planting oats, clover, and chrysanthemums, which benefits soil microbiology, provides habitat for beneficial insects, offers integrated pest management, and reduces the need for irrigation by covering soil from direct sunlight. The cover crop is pruned to allow for adequate airflow, but didn’t seem to require much attention to maintain and prune the cannabis canopy. Our visit coincided with an abundance of cannabis leaf material that had been pruned out of the lower canopy, and we utilized this to create a canna-centric compost. More about that below…
We walked to the flat below the greenhouse and found a beautiful swale, planted with erosion control seed mix, native plant species, and other useful crops. Plantings included Mimulus auriantiacus (Monkeyflower), Ceanothus spp. (California Lilac), Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), and Lavender. The swale’s multiple functions include; promoting water quality, providing habitat for native insects and birds, protecting soil fertility and conserving resources.
Due to the past century of fire suppression, conifer encroachment on hardwood canopy is often the pattern of succession in Northern California. Healing Tree Medicinals identified this pattern on their land, and implemented a forest management plan to promote biodiversity and hardwood recruitment.
All trees removed were processed into useful resources that are integral parts of a healthy homestead. A portable saw mill transformed many logs into dimensional lumber. The ranch utilizes wood heat, and logs not fit for milling were set aside and bucked into firewood. The remainder of the material, including most of the slash, was run through a chipper. Healing Tree Medicinals constructed a static compost pile, with the walls of the bin built out of other logs that were also byproducts of forest management implementation.
In a couple short months, the mix of conifer and hardwood chips became colonized with Actinomyces, a type of bacteria that can transform wood into humus. Humus is a crucial component of healthy soil, and produces enzymes that help degrade organic plant matter. Thus, through intelligent forest management, Healing Tree Medicinals is able to promote healthy fire ecology, stand growth and promote biodiversity all while building soil! Utilizing onsite resources is a great way to reduce the overhead cost of operations while still providing the necessary soil nutrition and fertility required to cultivate crops, produce a killer yield, and pay the bills.
With the able direction of Biovortex, we assisted with the creation of a canna-centric compost, where the spoils from last year’s crops (stems, stalks, miscellaneous debris) and the leaves pruned from this year’s light dep, were combined with the static compost of wood chips mentioned above. Envision a compost lasagna, with layers of wood chips, cannabis, and more wood chips wrapped in a lovely layer of wood chips, and left to bake over the winter. Next spring, after a blessing of winter rain, this compost will be an awesome source of fertility for the farm, created with 100% onsite materials. Just to think that all the above could have been thrown in a burn pile, where their carbon would have become part of the atmosphere. Instead, the carbon will be kept onsite and in closed loop systems.
In the spirit of honesty and transparency, full disclosure, and a shameless plug, Humboldt Rain was happy to install a rainwater catchment system for Healing Tree Medicinals last spring. The property is blessed with abundant groundwater and surface water with developed and permitted spring and well systems in place. However, capturing and storing rainwater for use as irrigation is another system that promotes biodiversity and conserves resources, which are both part of the mission of Healing Tree Medicinals. Rain grown cannabis is in development, with systems in place to utilize as much rainwater as possible.
Healing Tree Medicinals recognizes that although they are sustainable on many levels, there is always room for improvement. Future development of the farm will include on contour swales, permaculture design, a restoration of the historic fruit orchard, and installation of a pond with an emphasis on wildlife habitat, livestock, and more. By following their dreams and creating a vision, Healing Tree Medicinals has been able to transform a blighted property into a productive and beautiful farm. As the closed loop systems build, a regenerative model for cannabis cultivation is being created o’er the river, through woods, and over yonder. Maybe in your back yard…
Healing Tree Medicinals is grateful to have the knowledge and experience of master soil consultants, Soilscape Solutions, on board for assistance with the development and direction of the farm, especially the soil. Soilscape Solutions designs engineered soils, custom amendment mixes, cover crop mixes and provides on site compost building for Cannabis.
Story and photos by Mike Black of Humboldt Rain and Jesse Dodd of Biovortex