Hurricane Pummels Equinox Farm, but Remineralized Cannabis ‘Orchard’ Resurges
Hurricane Isaias brought 60-mile-an-hour winds to the Berkshires that toppled trees around Equinox Farm in Sheffield, Massachusetts, beating down much of this year’s outdoor cannabis crop in the process.
Fortunately, says Ted Dobson, general manager and farmer-in-chief, cannabis is vigorous, like growing an “annual orchard,” and soon after seeing the devastation of Mother Nature’s wrath, he was back at work, having trellised 3,300 plants less than three weeks after the storm. The crop is recovering nicely.
“The average plant size is six feet tall, and it’s like being in a marijuana forest, really. That is not an exaggeration. To have so many thousands of them, it really does feel that way. It makes me feel good. I’m not even a big consumer of marijuana, and I haven’t been for years, but I adore the plant.”
He adds: “That isn’t to say there haven’t been innumerable challenges, most recently with our hurricane problem. But I’m a farmer, and so I factor a lot of that in beforehand.”
According to Dobson, he has a “natural optimistic nervousness” when it comes to farming. He wants to take all the steps necessary to ensure the cannabis harvest is as successful as possible, but there are a multitude of contingencies that remain out of his control — such as hurricanes.
“I’m nervous, because every day is a new day, and every moment is a new moment. Plants are living entities just like you and I, and you know when you’re on a good track, but it’s a lot to take care of every day, and of course there are millions upon millions of dollars on the line [in the industry]. This isn’t a watermelon patch.”
It is Dobson’s second year growing cannabis at Equinox Farm. In 2019, he harvested 1,800 plants under a Theory Wellness subcontract. Remineralization remains a key component to his marijuana enterprise, which started more than a year ago by building soil with bone, wood char and rock dust, including long-term rock dust fertilizers such as Azomite™.
“There’s no question, structurally. I can see it work through the soil and the integrity of the plants,” he says, adding last year’s crop was fraught with issues in simply obtaining a license to grow the plant outdoors. He largely depended on compost and shorter-term fertilizers just due to time restraints. This season, though, Dobson is seeing the longer-term effects of fertilization, which includes basalt rock powder.
“For next year, I began working [rock dust] into my paths with composted wood chips, and then tilling the wood chips into the rock dust paths not only for next year, but for years and years to come.”
Keep it outside
It takes a lot of planning and hard work to become the first outdoor farm grow operation on the U.S. East Coast, but Dobson believes his efforts pave the way for others, and that outdoor cannabis farms are the region’s future.
“When you look at these artificial monstrosities in which they grow marijuana for legal medical and recreational markets in Massachusetts, it’s all done — without any hyperbole or pun — entirely artificially,” he says. “It’s grown under halide lights or LED lights. The nutrition is intravenous. There’s no soil. It’s entirely hydroponic. It is a flush-toilet nutritional system, and they are massive energy sucks, and it’s really a tragedy.”
Likewise, the horticulturalist believes modern industrial farmers have forgotten remineralization fundamentals, and therefore the soils have become depleted of nutrients over many years of poor management.
Rather than spending tens of millions of dollars on building cannabis factories, Dobson advocates for growing outdoors, as has historically been the practice, with maybe the addendum of greenhouses where applicable. “That’s certainly not ‘indoors’. There’s still sunlight, but you have a membrane of plastic in-between.”
Looking to 2021, beyond
As autumn settles into the long nights of winter, so too will Dobson’s cannabis operations enter ‘hibernation mode’ for at least a few weeks. He says: “There’s no point in pushing the limits unless you’re going to turn the lights on in the greenhouse, and I have no desire to do that.”
However, come mid-January he will start preparing certain ‘autoflowering’ varieties that are accustomed to colder, darker conditions. Dobson adds: “The seeds are ancient from Siberia. I discovered them this season. After 30 days they start to flower. Because the days are so short at those latitudes, this particular strain of marijuana automatically starts to flower after 30 days at knee-to-waist high, and 60 days later at chest-to-chin high it’s ready to harvest.”
Meanwhile, the ‘regenerative’ New England farmer has other projects planned. For example, he will coordinate with Remineralize the Earth in his greenhouse on a small trial in which some seeds are planted in remineralized pots, while others are not. It is all part of his lifelong passion to grow healthy plants and build strong soils for the future.
“When you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s amazing how much the past becomes the present and the present becomes the future. I think I’m in that space right now, where things are opened up backwards and forwards. And I have been at this for decades, and so I’m definitely living a story.”
Carter Haydu is a writer, reporter, and journalist based in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He works for JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group, with regular articles appearing in the Daily Oil Bulletin. He is a freelance columnist with the award-winning Quad Town Forum weekly newspaper, based in Vibank, Saskatchewan. He also contributes content for a series of magazines in and around Regina and Saskatoon. He received a BA in Political Science and Philosophy from Augustana University College in 2001 and a diploma in journalism from Grant Macewan College in 2005.