The Brady Bunch
Take an in-depth tour behind the scenes at an award-winning marijuana farm in Oregon that produces pristine, medical-grade cannabis using tried and true cultivation techniques.
Welcome to High Winds Farms
The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the finest growers on Earth. If you can hold your own in this neighborhood, you deserve worldwide respect. Brady Clausen has shown that he’s one of the elite by winning the 2015 Northwest Cannabis Classic, held in Portland, Oregon, last fall (as well as a third-place trophy in the hybrids category), thereby cementing his reputation as one of the best growers in the country.
So how does Brady harvest a bunch of his award-winning weed? It all starts with genetics. There’s no sense working with subpar genetics, he explains—if it’s not top-shelf, it’s not worth keeping. All of his plants must earn the Clausen seal of approval. On my visit to High Winds Farms, he took me upstairs into a large growroom. On wooden shelves sat rows of small plants. Most of the room was stacked with high-output (HO) fluorescent lamps, with one row of high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps for the mothers. Brady explains that he likes good old-fashioned fluorescent lights and has yet to find anything better. Looking at the plants, I’d have to agree. Their internode spacing was spot on, with short stems and large, healthy leaves. I could tell by the deep-green color that these plants were lovin’ life!
The Vegetative Stage
Brady keeps a row of mother plants next to the teens. From these, he takes cuttings and places them in standard rockwool cubes. He dips the clones in rooting gel first; then it’s off to the Thunder Dome to pop roots. Brady prefers soil throughout the entire grow cycle: He uses a high-quality local soil but says that any top-shelf soil will do. The plants are transplanted several times throughout their lifespan. The first stage is in standard 4-inch square pots, where they spend a week or two. Then they’re transplanted into 1-gallon containers until the plants reach about 1 foot tall. They spend their rebellious teens in 3-gallon containers (telling Brady, “Fuck off! You can’t make me flower!”) before their final move into 20-gallon pots. Brady is careful not to stress the plants during each transplant; he allows them time to adjust to their new home before switching them over to flower.
The Flowering Stage
After the vegetative stage, the girls go into one of four massive flowering rooms. It’s so bright in there that it feels like an indoor Arizona! The ceiling is lined with 1,000-watt HPS lamps with integrated ballasts. Everything is controlled by computer; Brady showed me how he can adjust the timing of every room, all from one place. He can dim the lights to whatever intensity he chooses and also set them to slowly reach the 12-hours-on/12-hours-off cycle over a couple of weeks, so as not to shock the plants. It makes sense, when you think about it: How would you like to have a 1,000-watt light hanging inches above your head and then, instead of waking up to a phone beeping, get the equivalent of being slapped by a small sun?
Each flowering room has its own dedicated commercial air conditioner and dehumidifier—we’re talking A/C units the size of a small car. Without air-cooled lights, it’s critical to have enough A/C to keep the rooms under 80°F. This isn’t hard during the cold Oregon winters, but it can be a challenge on those 100°F summer days! The humidifiers are set to maintain the rooms at 60% humidity. Brady says this is the optimum setting for keeping his plants happy and mold-free.
The plants are lined up in rows by strain. This makes harvesting them much easier, as Brady can take down entire rows while leaving the rest of the room to finish. He has two layers of netting running the entire length of each room. The plants love it, but it makes walking through the aisles a pain in the ass. Every time I turned around, I felt like a bug in a spider web. I mean, really: How many times can someone get his head stuck in a net? You’d think I’d have learned after the 10th time!
The netting allows the plants to be trained like a well-oiled gimp. When I entered the flowering room, I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz walking into the castle for the first time. I really wished I had my magic slippers with me—nothing but wall-to-wall joy! It felt like some kind of bizarre stoner dream where any minute you think the cops are going to knock on the door of your van and tell you to move it away from the river. Each plant has a hose with a drip ring attached; the hose leads to a reservoir with a pump, where Brady keeps the perfect mix of water and nutrients.
I asked Brady how he had his water timers set, and was surprised when he said that he didn’t use them. As good as a timer-based system is, he explained, it’s not perfect—the plants will need more or less water throughout their grow cycle, and sometimes the timers just don’t get it right: What works great one day may starve the plants a week later. Brady insists that nothing beats the human eye—or, I should say, the human hand, since he prefers lifting the plants to see if they need water. If the plant feels light, then he knows it’s time to crank up the pumps. He’s also able to monitor the plants to make sure they aren’t overwatered. If the pots are so heavy that he can’t lift them, he’ll back off the all-you-can-eat buffet a little. This technique requires years of experience to master. It’s not something you can learn just by reading a book; you have to do it, over and over. But once you have it wired, it’s a surprisingly quick and easy way to check your plants.
The plants are watered with a mixture of clean water and nutrients. There’s no need for a reverse-osmosis (RO) machine up here, where our water is cleaner than our minds. Brady prefers the Botanicare line of nutrients. He says they produce a better taste, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of smoking his weed, you’d wholeheartedly agree. Brady takes great pride in the overall flavor of his herb, and you can tell after the first mouthwatering puff: His buds burn smooth and leave a clean, white ash.
Brady is currently using the standard Botanicare formula of Base, Tea, Grow/Bloom, Hydroguard, Hydroplex and Cal/Mag. He adjusts the ppm to different amounts depending on the stage of growth. As the plants phase from the veg stage to flower, he cuts down on nitrogen while increasing potassium and phosphorus. Brady is adamant about using Hydroguard to inoculate the soil with the friendly bacteria Bacillus. He also uses Pure Blend Tea to enhance the aroma and flavor—not to mention that it helps to feed the beneficial bacteria.
On the wall outside each growroom is a large whiteboard with a detailed rundown of the room. The correct ppm, nutrients and schedule are all laid out. Next to the nutrient table are the reservoirs; each room has its own unique mix of nutrients and water. Brady spends a great deal of time adjusting the ratio to perfection. He starts out by keeping the ppm low, using Botanicare’s vegetative formula, and slowly raises it over time. He changes from the veg mix to the bloom formula during flowering. The last few weeks, he drops the ppm to flush the plants of any excess nutrients. When you look at Brady’s buds, they have a wonderful light-green/gold tone to them. Of course, that’s if you can see through all the trichomes!
Time to Harvest
Brady observes his plants closely, watching for the perfect time to harvest. He doesn’t rely on a calendar to decide; he uses his eyes. He examines the trichomes to see if the crystals are turning from cloudy to amber. Only when the plants meet Brady’s strict requirements are they ready to harvest.
On that day, everything is cut down and all the fan leaves are trimmed off and mulched. The plants are hung in the drying room on their way to the finish line. The drying room has a large dehumidifier with fans blowing on the hanging plants. Brady prefers a nice, slow dry; he says the buds taste better if the plants have a chance to use up the final nutrients trapped within the cells. He adds that the only thing you have to watch out for is mold: It’s important to inspect the buds and make sure they don’t start to rot. (Is there anything worse than bud mold? Every outdoor grower in the Northwest has at least one horror story to tell!)
Brady checks the drying plants frequently. He bends the stems and, when they snap, he knows they’re ready for the final trim. Brady has a crew of hand trimmers jamming away to music, with the sound of clip-clip-clip always in the background. It almost sounds like little crickets chirping away, hoping to get laid. When I asked him why he prefers hand trimming when he could obviously afford the best machine trimmer, Brady replied: “Why spend all that time and money growing the perfect buds, only to ruin them at the last minute?” Although trimming machines are fast, they tend to damage the buds and knock off many of the trichomes, he added. Basically, if you grow the best bud, you need the best trim job.
Brady’s team is top-notch: The care his trimmers lavish on every bud is simply amazing. Years of experience allow his crew to trim to perfection. You won’t see any kickstands or crow’s feet on these buds—nothing but sugar-coated calyxes await the lucky smoker! After the buds are trimmed, they’re placed in glass jars for a couple of weeks to allow them to cure properly. Brady burps each jar a few times a day, letting the excess moisture escape. Only when the buds pass his final inspection are they sent off to the distributor.
There are a lot of master growers here in the Great Pacific Northwest. Alaska, Washington and Oregon have always been at the forefront of the cannabis revolution—and when these master growers get together and choose Brady’s bud as the best, what does that tell you? Brady Clausen is not just your average grower: His flowers are at the top of the bud chain. If you’re ever in Oregon, stop by one of the local dispensaries and try some of Brady’s bud for yourself—just look for “High Winds Farms” on the label. I currently have some of his award-winning Blackberry in front of me right now! It looks completely white, shimmering in the sunlight. It’s almost too pretty to smoke! I said almost ….
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