Everything You Want to Know About the Emerald Triangle Harvest (From Its Farmers)

Each year, in October, cannabis farmers in the Emerald Triangle—the part of northern California that encompasses Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties—begin to harvest their crops. The annual spectacle has taken on the viral identity of Croptober. “The harvest season is beautiful and busy,” says Daniel Stein, owner of Briceland Forest Farm in Briceland, Calif., located in Humboldt County.

To hear the region’s farmers talk about it, harvest in the Emerald Triangle is magical. Of course, it’s also nerve-wracking, as they toil to see if their hard work all year will finally pay off. So, to get an accurate picture of the harvest and its many important steps—as well as glean how a changing marketplace may affect this important time of year—Cannabis Business Times spoke with three farmers: Stein; Tina Gordon, owner of Moon Made Farms in Humboldt County; and Karla Avila, co-owner of Flowerdaze Farm at the border of Trinity and Humboldt counties.

CBT: What is harvest season like in the Emerald Triangle? Can you paint us a picture?

Daniel Stein: Nights are colder and some mornings are shrouded with cool mist. Oaks begin losing their leaves and dropping acorns. Farmers are busy preparing—cleaning and prepping drying spaces, sharpening scissors, and making sure their teams are ready to bring in the harvest. Every day farmers are out in the field, checking the readiness of crops, making sure supports are in place in the event of a rain, and reveling in the full-season colas ripening on the plants.

Tina Gordon: Harvest season is the culmination of the year, the karmic consequence of all of the natural influences the year has brought coupled with the decisions we’ve made in response. Just after the autumnal equinox, there’s a dramatic shift: the air cools, the nights grow longer, and the cannabis flowers express more dramatically. A sense of anticipation and excitement increases daily before harvest. There’s the most gorgeous smell in the air as you walk through the gardens in full bloom and absorb all of the subtleties of the flowers’ final phase.

CBT: As you prepare to harvest, what concerns do you have for crops?

DS: As the crops ripen, the biggest concerns are the plants supporting the increasing weight of buds and the weather. A heavy rain followed by warm days could mean mold and a loss of some of the crop. Broken branches could stop the ripening process before the flowers reach their peak.

TG: My concerns are that they have enough time to finish to their fullest expression and that we’re prepared to mitigate and harm to these plants as they prepare to finish. Threats could be anything from a storm, coming in early, pest pressure, or even feral pigs getting into the garden.

Karla Avila: Preparation for harvest involves supporting branches from breaking as the buds grow larger. Ensuring proper ventilation through pruning prevents issues caused by dampness.

CBT: How do you know it’s the right time to cut?

DS: I look at trichomes under a scope and pay attention to the ripening hairs, but it still comes down to intuition. I have been growing cannabis for almost 25 years, and I just know when the plants are ripe enough for the various strains we grow. We also like to plan our harvest around moon cycles: The natural rhythms of the moon can focus a plant’s energy into the flowers.

TG: There’s a combination of indicators that include smell. There’s a brief peak inflorescence period when the flowers become extremely fragrant. I notice this especially in the very early morning. The gardens burst with floral expression. The wind carries the floral scent throughout the property. For most cultivars during the final phase of maturity, buds begin to draw in as the trichomes turn milky white. Depending on the cultivar, we determine the optimal time to cut for desired cannabinoid and terpene profiles. For some cultivars, that’s when the trichomes are milky white with just hint of amber; for others, we allow dominant amber trichome production.

CBT: What are the essential steps to your harvest?

TG: Lots of observation, creating a clear harvest plan, preparing all of our systems, preparing dry spaces, cleaning totes and tools, and a group consensus on process. Bringing a positive mental and emotional attitude matters, too. After all, this is harvest—it’s supposed to be celebratory and joyful. We have harvest feasts with the crew and friends to honor the harvest.

KA: Prior to harvest, we remove all of the fan leaves. But perhaps most importantly, harvest consists of bringing the flowers to the dry room as quickly and as carefully as possible.

CBT: How has harvest in the Emerald Triangle changed over the last few years?

DS: The biggest change for us has come from the protocols associated with compliance and our adaptation toward it. Weighing material wet and not having the freedom to do harvest in stages for metrics has certainly added new challenges and significantly changed the harvest. For us, we also used to have friends here to help with trimming. It’s more work now that we have to keep it in the family, but the attention to detail is great because we’ve known these plants since spring.

“I look at trichomes under a scope and pay attention to the ripening hairs, but it still comes down to intuition.”

– Daniel Stein, Briceland Forest Farm

TG: Harvest processes have become more formalized with the implementation of track and trace and [standard operating procedures]. More access to research has promoted implementing more modern techniques and technologies. But for Moon Made Farms, it’s all about taking time with a long, slow cure to ensure terpene retention.

KA: Traditionally, harvest season is an international celebration of cannabis, where ideas, music, art, culture, friendship and money are shared and alternative livers are reinvigorated for the next year. With the advent of light deprivation—which allows for multiple harvests throughout the year—the climactic celebratory nature of the autumn harvest has been somewhat diminished.

CBT: What is a common harvest mistake that growers might make?

DS: Harvesting too early is one of the bigger mistakes we see, especially for outdoor. With fall rains coming, the motivation to get flowers into a dry space can be huge, but buds can be OK in a bit of rain if they are well supported—and the last couple of weeks of ripening can make all the difference in the quality of the product. That being said, it takes a lot of attention and monitoring toward the end to notice and prevent any molds or mildews from becoming a problem.

TG: The onset of rain can bring a delicate and high pressure situation to full sun cultivators. There are many factors to consider and depending upon those factors a rain can be beneficial or catastrophic. Reliable forecasting is good but going with one’s gut is the best. We’ve been on both sides of the big rain decision and I think the biggest mistake growers might make is to cut a crop with an impending rain…or not cut a crop with impending rain.

CBT: How have you managed inventory and sales ahead of harvest? Do you know where your flower is headed already, or will you work with distributors to place orders in fall?

DS: Most of our product is spoken for ahead of harvest. The distributors and manufacturers we work with know the quality of our flower and look forward to it every season.

TG: Most of the crop has a planned destination and we hold back some of the crop for a long cure to release as farm reserves. After devoting a full season to these flowers, we want to see all of the flower reach the marketplace … to those who appreciate Moon Made Farms.

KA: Our flower is available through retail and micro business partners in Northern California. For the first time, we’ll also release single-source artisanal hashish to the recreational market.

CBT: How does the regulated marketplace change the way you plan for harvest?

DS: We have made the plants and their quality the driving force in our harvest decisions. Our distributors know and respect the decisions that we make and know that if we let the marketplace drive our care of the plant rather than the needs of the plant, we would have an inferior product.

TG: Logistics under the regulated supply chain is complex, with many moving parts. I anticipate there will continue to be logistical challenges, but we’re collectively working it out to create a smooth supply chain process. It’s been a fascinating experience to observe where there’s a demand for Moon Made Farms’ flower. The regenerative sun-grown movement is gaining traction—people are starting to ask where their cannabis comes from and how it was grown. I’m excited to see consumers tune into the long-cure cannabis market, which allows the dried flower to mature over the winter and spring so that you can enjoy it the following summer and fall.

CBT: Is there a cannabis tourism market that you’ve engaged over the last year or two?

DS: The hurdles put in our place by county regulations makes participating in the burgeoning tourism market unrealistic for us. This is sad to us, because we believe that we have a unique experience to share with folks who want take a look behind the curtain of the Emerald Triangle.

TG: Moon Made Farms is in a region that will become the Palo Verde Appellation. It’s where the three counties of the Emerald Triangle meet: Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity. Our neighborhood is the home to a fantastic retreat center called Heartwood Mountain Sanctuary. Visitors can stay at Heartwood and experience the natural beauty of the area and in time, we look forward to hosting tours at Moon Made Farms.

KA: Cannabis tourism in our region is just starting to emerge. We have found that visitors engaging in the outdoor recreation Trinity County has to offer are also inclined to engage in cannabis tourism as well.

Note: Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

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