Our senior cultivation editor takes a trip to the Great Northeast to check out the gardens of family farmers, commercial-level cultivators, patient caregivers and cannabis consultants to find out what’s growing in the newly legal states of Maine and Massachusetts.
Migs in Maine
The first garden we toured on our trip to New England is run by a gentleman who calls himself Migs. He’s a Maine caregiver with a patient collective run by and for medical marijuana patients. Although Migs is concerned about what the new adult-use law will do to Maine’s medical marijuana system, he’s keeping his hopes up and staying ready for anything.
Migs’s grow is a drain-to-waste drip system with plants in 15-gallon containers that are fed five times a day. The nutrients are custom-built on a foundation of Cutting Edge Solutions products for the base, as well as supplemental teas. Corrugated roofing is used to hold up the pots and drain the used nutrient solution away. The plants remain in their vegetative stage for a full month before flowering is induced.
The medium here is made up of 50% peat, 40% coco and 10% grow stones. A scoop of worm castings and a half-scoop of stone meal (basalt) are added as well. This results in a very loose and airy mix that allows plenty of oxygen to get to the roots, and Migs never lets it dry out completely. A unique custom-made double-trellis system employs two levels of aluminum tubes strung across the canopy with netting. The plants are trained into the first row of tubes for the grow, and then trained into the second row above it to support their heavy buds during flowering.
The CES nutrients are supplemented with a biweekly tea brew hand-fed to every plant. The tea consists of cold-pressed seaweed, a “shitload” of worm castings, blackstrap molasses and beneficial bacteria. The tea is oxygenated for 24 hours using an air pump and air stones, and the molasses is added for only the last hour of brewing. Prior to harvest, the “Little Guy” performs a 10-day flush with 5 gallons of RO (reverse-osmosis) filtered water per day.
We visited Migs before Maine’s recent vote to legalize the adult use of cannabis, but I reached out to him after the results were in to get his response. “The cannabis culture is volatile at best,” Migs said. “There’s very little solid ground to stand on, and one always has to be ready for new regulations and potential pitfalls. It’s not a business for those who are weak at heart or lack the willingness to adapt. With Trump, Jeff Sessions, and our Governor Paul LePage’s attempts to put the brakes on Prop. 1 [Maine’s legalization initiative]—and with it passing by less than 1 percent, with talk of a recount—it’s tough to say what will happen next.
“With the new federal regime rallying against cannabis,” Migs continued, “it’s now time more than ever to work at the local level to expand the testing and research on medical cannabis. It’s my hope that the laws are as liberal as possible, and that they work to protect the small farmer and pot patients and health sovereignty first!”
Port City Relief
Next, we took a short ride closer to Portland to meet up with the good folks at Port City Relief, one of Maine’s premier cannabis providers, assisted by TopCrop Consulting. Nick Messer, Kevin Young and the rest of the crew showed us around the facility, and I was impressed by their professionalism and the cleanliness of their grow and processing spaces. All of the various cultivation and laboratory environments were tightly controlled, sterile and completely hygienic.
As we strolled through the facility, Nick and Kevin explained their cannabis-production philosophy. Serving as two of the three co-presidents of the Maine Marijuana Processing Association, they’re looking to establish standards that protect medical cannabis patients. Their goal is to produce organically grown, medicinal-quality cannabis, extracts and edibles without the use of toxic pesticides or PGRs (plant-growth regulators).
The plants at the Port City Relief facility are started in cloning rooms. After rooting, they’re moved to the vegetative rooms, where six SolisTek 1,000-watt metal halide (MH) digital lights hang above 20-gallon containers filled with coco blend, perlite and paramagnetic rocks. These plants are hand-fed with Biobizz nutrients during their two months in the vegetative stage, until they develop thick trunks and abundant branches for bud sites. The containers sit on corrugated metal over movable rolling beds, and the nutrient solution drains to waste.
The plants go into their flowering stage under 1,000-watt Gavita high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights. All of the grow areas are controlled using technology from Lifesprings Microclimates, which creates customized systems to suit commercial farmers’ needs. Lifesprings is headquartered in Auburn, Maine, but provides services nationally, including HVAC, odor control, lighting, CO2 injection, decontamination and more.
As we inspected the immaculate processing area, Nick and Kevin demonstrated some rosin-press techniques for us. High-powered hydraulic presses literally squeeze the essential oils right out of the flowers or dry-sifted gland heads. The oils ooze out and are a dabbable alternative to solvent-based extracts like butane hash oil, or BHO.
I followed up with Kevin after the trip to find out what the Port City Relief crew thought about the changes coming to their state. “Maine has had one of the best medical cannabis programs in the country since its establishment in 1999,” he told me. “We don’t want to see it disappear like Seattle’s program. We would like to see the two co-exist, as with Colorado’s medical cannabis program, so we can care for patients. I feel bad for the 3,000-plus caregivers that have put their heart and soul into building a small business; we hope to protect them and ourselves. Maine has one of the worst economies in the United States. The recreational marijuana program could generate new brands and over $150 million in taxable dollars each year. This allows the consumer to have a larger selection of product, and the tax dollars generated can be used to build schools, infrastructure, drug rehab and social programs.
“Maine will be a leader of the cannabis industry in New England no matter how the laws play out,” Kevin added. “Come up to Vacationland and see for yourself!”
Further on up the road, we meet with Buzz and his family, who all participate in tending a perpetual-harvest medical marijuana grow. As a caregiver and patient, Buzz says, he’s “been keeping my family fed for five years legally.” He also keeps everything as organic as possible, telling me: “I try to stay veganic, but every once in a while, I play with some poop!”
Buzz’s medium starts with the classic Sunshine Mix #4, to which he adds earthworm castings, humisoil, greensand, alfalfa and kelp meal. The plants are hand-fed General Organics nutrients and Vegamatrix’s Hard-n-Quick foliar spray, and they’re grown in 3-gallon buckets with a one-month vegetative time under MH and T5 fluorescent lighting. Then they move into the flowering rooms to bloom under air-cooled HPS bulbs and get Vegamatrix’s Big-n-Sticky as an additive.
How does the perpetual-harvest system work? Under Maine’s medical marijuana law, Buzz is allowed to have eight plants apiece in their various stages: eight in the cloner, and another eight in early veg, mid-veg, late veg, early flower, mid-flower, late flower and harvest.
“Ultimately,” Buzz tells me, “we aim to harvest one plant per day and always have the same turnaround … never too much, and as earthy and clean as we can. We try to recycle everything and tread lightly—patients before profits.” His advice for beginning growers is to learn from their mistakes and keep trying. “We have had some impatient patients!” he jokes.
The plants in Buzz’s garden get a 10-day flush with filtered water right before harvest. Then they’re trimmed wet and hung up to dry. Once the branches snap instead of bending, the buds are snipped off and put into jars for curing.
“It’s weird to me that we’re refugees from just down the road,” Buzz points out concerning his setup. “In New Hampshire, if we had one plant, we’d be felons. Here, up to 99 is a misdemeanor, and we’re less than 10 miles away!”
Regarding Prop. 1, Buzz acknowledges that “many growers voted against it, thinking that it favors big business instead of the local economy. A lot of us are scared to lose our livelihoods. Washington State’s medical system seemingly fell apart from their adult-use law, and now they’re complaining about overregulation, high taxes and exorbitant licensing fees. Plus Trump coming in throws a serious wildcard into our future as well. There’s a ton of confusion, anxiety and some excitement up here. Time will tell.”
Eric from MassCannabis Consulting
The final stop on our trip was in Western Massachusetts, another state whose voters recently legalized marijuana for adult use. We were there before the election, so the garden we visited was a medical one run by Eric Vallee, a multiple Cannabis Cup–winning grower.
Eric and his collective of friends have been bringing home trophies regularly for their flowers and concentrates, including a 2015 first-place win in Michigan for Best Sativa Flower with their Strawberry Banana; a shared first-place win for Best Non-Solvent Extract at the 2015 World Cannabis Cup in Jamaica with their Strawberry Banana Hand-Pressed Rosin; and yet another first-place win in the 2016 SoCal Indica Flower category with Grape Stomper OG, just to name a few.
Eric runs the consulting company MassCannabis Consulting and works with his buddies Jason Bates, breeder and owner of Mass Genetics, and Peter Molle, its manager. Eric also co-owns Nerd Creations with his friend Lorenzo, and they’ve won multiple awards worldwide for their concentrates as well.
Despite this hectic résumé, “I’m just a grower,” Eric says, “but I do a little consulting on the side. Most of all, I love pheno-hunting for keeper mother plants from seed crops. Smokers and dabbers love the Strawberry Banana and Tangie we grow from Crockett Family Farms, and extract artists especially love our Kosher Kush pheno that we grow from DNA Genetics, as they’ve been getting 24 to 27 percent returns!”
Eric regularly harvests 10 pounds of medical cannabis from a space that has just 16 plants under four 1,000-watt HPS lights with a two-and-a-half-week vegetative time. He does this using two eight-site Under Current recirculating hydroponic systems from Current Culture. You can practically see the plants growing before your eyes when you dial in this sophisticated and highly aerobic setup. The 16 plants—four under each light—are fed with General Hydroponics’ Flora Nova three-part nute system along with some GH additives.
I asked Eric about his future plans in light of the newly legal landscape in Massachusetts. “Hopefully, with the lifting of prohibition here and in other parts of New England, the social stigma will lift and business will pick up,” he replied. To that end, he and his bud brothers are focused on breeding projects for their seed companies and looking to one day expand into a bigger marijuana marketplace.