Every fall in Nevada County, wine grapes are plucked from the vine and amateur gardeners pick their tomatoes, squash and peppers and reflect on the quality of their respective bounties.
But one group of growers are a bit more mum in taking stock of their crop: those cultivating marijuana.
This year’s crop of cannabis benefited from some of the better growing weather in recent years, growers told The Union.
“Every grower that I talk to said that it has been an exceptional year in terms of moisture,” said Patricia Smith, founder of nonprofit patient advocacy group Grassroots Solutions and the local chapter of Americans for Safe Access.
However, the biggest challenge growers faced was not presented by Mother Nature, they said, but came with abiding by Nevada County’s marijuana cultivation ordinance, passed in May 2012.
The ordinance is intended to regulate legal grows from a nuisance standpoint; It limits the size of grows depending on zoning, setbacks and plot size and imposes other restrictions, such as security fencing.
But growers said that size restrictions, coupled with requirements on solid fencing, limit airflow through and between plants — a condition that can foster the propagation of mold.
“Because of the tight grouping and the fencing requirements, the things that I have found are marked increases in mold, mildews or basically unusable product,” said “Terry,” an agricultural engineer who consults with approximately 130 Nevada County growers, all of whom he said are in compliance with either county or state regulations. Terry agreed to speak with The Union on the condition of remaining anonymous.
“We had a heavy rain early enough in the season that the buds weren’t big enough,” Smith said. “If you get a very heavy rain in the latter part of the growing season, when the buds are thick and dense, that is undesirable if you are growing medicine. You have to toss all of it.”
Terry estimated that at least 75 percent of the growers he works with were affected by moisture problems. Those people lost approximately 30 percent of their crop, on average, he said.
“You would be shocked at how something so tiny can do so much damage,” Smith said. “They turn the buds to mush.”
The Northern Sierra region that includes Nevada County saw little more than 3 inches of precipitation between the start of summer in June and October, according to monitoring by California’s Department of Water Resources.
“It’s all about the weather,” Smith said. “Every farmer lives and dies by the weather.”
Only two significant rainfalls occurred in that period: at the beginning of July and at the end of September, according to the water department. Of those two, the September rain was the most dangerous to the marijuana growth because of its occurrence when much of Nevada County’s crop was beginning to bud.
However, Terry said that the cool temperatures in the days after the September rainfall helped alleviate the potential for mold.
Growers on larger parcels who grew few plants with more room fared better this year, Terry said.
“The weather was fine. In terms of growing, the weather was good,” said “Cayenne,” who suffers from Lyme Disease and whose family has a history of cancer. Cayenne also requested that The Union not use her name.
“In reality, the biggest problem was stress with trying to come in compliance with the ordinance,” she said.
Smith and the Nevada County ASA chapter are currently in the midst of gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to rewrite the ordinance.
Marijuana plants can also suffer from pests, such as mites and caterpillars, Smith said. Though her crop last year suffered from such pests, she said it wasn’t a problem for her this year. Smith said she heard that only areas around the San Juan Ridge communities had problems with pests this year.
“It was a fabulous growing year for growing medicine,” Cayenne said. “We had those heat spells that were tough on me, but the plants were fine.”
In Smith’s and Cayenne’s growing experience, 2013 produced a crop they each regarded as above average.
If Nevada County’s 2013 marijuana crop was regarded as a wine year, Terry said he would describe it as a “good year.”
“We’ll definitely have the best medicine in a long time,” Smith said. “It’s a question of whether we’ll have enough to last a year. You never know until you run out.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.