The world is clearly changing rapidly around us, in some ways for the better and, in others, for the worse. Even as people worldwide slowly begin to be conscious of not using fossil fuels, climate change continues to wreak havoc. Even as proper dietary habits take hold in many communities, preventable but deadly diseases are on the rise. And as regenerative farming practices gradually become more widespread, Roundup herbicide continues to poison the soil, rivers, lakes, and streams. It’s a delicate balance, and with the right action, we can make a difference to tilt everything in a positive direction.
This certainly pertains to the world of cannabis, as well as everything else. We are seeing that conscious craft farmers who use organic regenerative methods and employ the power of the sun to energize their plants, as opposed to indoor lighting coming off the grid, are growing the best flowers and reducing their carbon footprint. These methods are beginning to catch the attention of traditional farmers of all sorts of crops, and we can only hope that the message and methodology of living soil will spread far and wide.
This coming planting season is even more delicate as the situation surrounding us is so precarious. In California, we’ve received far less than our average rainfall this winter, leaving ponds, creeks, and springs barely filled enough to support a full growing season. The threat of wildfires in the summer and autumn looms heavily over us all, as this year shapes up to be another drought year. And now, there is the novel coronavirus and all its associated challenges.
At times like this, we tend to go to the Goddess to ask for guidance. Our family Devi is Sri Mukambika — a Hindu deity who hails from a small temple in the jungles of South India. She is a manifestation of Maha-Lakshmi, Maha-Saraswati, and Maha-Kali, the three most powerful female deities, all rolled into one.
A few years ago, to honor Sri Mukambika, who inspired our spiritual path, we constructed a small temple dedicated to Her here at our ranch, near the cannabis garden. A Hindu priest inaugurated it, bringing the Goddess’s blessings from India. Starting in the ’80s, we would visit Sri Mukambika’s temple on the west coast of India every year, stay for a few weeks, meditate by the side of the river that flows through the jungle, and offer her our devotion. She has been the guiding spirit of our ranch in Mendocino, California.
While we don’t ask favors of Mukambika often, this felt like a time when real answers were required. And so we went to the temple last week, and after some heartfelt prayers, a response came very clearly: “It is time for a new phase.”
The Goddess’s simple seven words — “It is time for a new phase” — answered all of our questions. Our primary concern was about our lead gardeners for this coming season. Our beloved Adam and Colin — whom we have known since they were teenagers and are now young men, as well as excellent cannabis farmers — are clearly entering new phases, too. New love, new locations, and more changes in their lives were making it apparent that they wouldn’t be able to tend our garden, along with Swami, for the whole season.
While we were in the midst of considering what to do, an email came out of the blue from a young man named Chris, right here in our area of The Emerald Triangle. He wrote that he has practiced craft cannabis farming with regenerative methods for years and was, at that moment, looking for a new gig. On a whim, he had thought, “Why not just ask Nikki and Swami if they need help in their garden this year? I would really like to work for them.” In the email, he mentioned that he had just returned from visiting a Devi temple in South India and that he is a devotee of Amma. Surely, this was a message and a gift from Sri Mukambika.
Our loyalty to the previous farmers was strong. But once it became obvious that the logistics just would not work — and we were given the message about the “new phase” — we decided to hire Chris to join our team. As with all oracles and means of divination, if you don’t listen and follow the guidance, don’t expect solid answers in the future. The new phase had begun.
At its most fundamental, the new phase is the conscious intent to place more expressly spiritual content around the entire process of growing the sacred herb, and also putting more obvious spiritual intent in all aspects of our daily lives. Concerning the garden, discussions now turn around philosophies and methodologies of growing, soil testing, nutrients and amendments, composting, and mulching. Chris has created hugelkultur gardens in the past, is down with regenerative farming, has installed drip irrigation systems, and seems to know local suppliers who offer discounts. All important considerations.
Now is time to decide what cultivars to plant from among the many seed packets we have collected. How many different cultivars altogether do we grow? Do we have enough seeds from the cultivars we like? In the past, we grew as many as 24 different varieties, but due to the high cost of lab testing and the 50-pound batch limit, we have cut that down to seven cultivars. It is never easy to decide which ones not to grow. As in the past, once we gather and choose the cultivars for that year, we place the seed packets at the feet of the Goddess of Cannabis, Sri Ganja Ma, and intone her mantra. From then on, the season is underway.
Over the years, it became clear that the space needed to properly dry a crop is about the same as the square footage of the plants’ canopy. So, if we also select seeds for early, middle, and late harvest points, then we only need one-third the drying space. After consulting the astrological calendar to determine the best day according to the moon phase, we place the seeds in water for cracking.
The waxing moon at the beginning of April is best for our latitude and elevation, and sprouting seeds is best done in an earth or a water sign — known as the fertile signs — rather than fire or air signs, which are known as the barren signs. Moon in Taurus, Virgo, or Capricorn — which are earth signs — or in Cancer, Scorpio, or Pisces — which are water signs — are the better times for planting.
We have a relatively late spring up here in The Emerald Triangle, so we like to wait until the grasses, trees, and flowers are all bursting forth and join in that momentum of the sprouting energy. If we were to start the seeds much earlier than that, we would have to coddle and care for them when it turns cold, damp, and even snowy, as it did this weekend. By waiting until April, the ground warmed, and when there are more sunny days, the plants are not stunted by cold, gray days and colder nights.
Growers in other climes may want to crack seeds at an earlier date, but we find that no matter when in the spring they start, as long as the seeds cracked female plants and are in the ground by June 20 at the latest — just before the summer solstice — they all produce about the same yield, as long as you choose the right moon phase.
As planting time approaches, the energy shifts to preparing the pots to receive the seeds. Last year’s pots need to be washed and checked, then filled with a special sprouting mixture.
Also, the garden beds will be topped up with various amendments and materials we gathered from the ranch, such as wood chips, oak leaves, cannabis stalks, wood stove ashes and charcoal, compost, and worm castings. We are rededicating our efforts to source more and more garden additives from our own immediate environment to advance our regenerative program. We will be starting the compost teas sooner this year to stimulate the local soil food web.
When the appointed day for sprouting arrives, a small water jar for each cultivar is labeled with the strain name and the appropriate METRC number, and then we add a few drops of water from the sacred Ganges River in India. Then, 40 or 50 seeds are put into the soil, and the Sri Ganja Ma Mantra is chanted: “Om Aim Hreem Kleem Shreem Ganajamayai Nama.”
The seeds normally crack after 24-36 hours in water. If they don’t pop after 48 hours, they probably won’t crack, period. You will see the tiny white taproots peeking out of the cracked seed shell. Each seed is gently placed with the taproot pointing down in a half-inch deep hole made with the finger in the sprouting soil in a 3- or 5-gallon pot. Now, each seed gets another drop of Ganges water, and the mantra is repeated. The intention is clear: The flowers and leaves will bring health, inspiration, and a blessing from the Goddess to those who partake. The Goddess has been invited to inhabit the sacred herb.
It is curious indeed that Sri Mukambika’s message comes at a time of crisis with the coronavirus and the self-quarantine we have established. This is new territory for the human race, and it is changing how everyone lives and interacts socially. We sensed the need to be more in the garden this year to cut labor costs; hence we are attending fewer cannabis advocacy meetings and in-store marketing presentations.
The advent of the coronavirus means we must plant many more vegetables for ourselves than we ever have before. It’s all part of companion planting with cannabis anyway. Due to the need for social distancing and isolation for our age group, we are still trying to figure out how to create safe working conditions for our team members while also protecting ourselves from outside contamination. We’ll find a way as everyone has to in their own environment.
As the French author, Voltaire famously said in Candide: “Cultivate your gardens.” This should be interpreted in the widest possible sense, from growing one’s own food to cultivating one’s inner life, to reinvigorating one’s spiritual direction in order to imbibe the regenerative power of the Earth and to celebrate the Spirit manifest in all of life, and especially in cannabis. Jai Ganja Ma! Jai Sri Mukambika!
Nikki Lastreto and Swami Chaitanya are the founders of Swami Select brand of craft cannabis flowers. They consciously cultivate premium sun-grown cannabis, using regenerative methods in living soil at their sanctuary in Mendocino County. As Flower Judges for The Emerald Cup since it began in 2004, they have sampled thousands of cultivars and are true Cannabis Connoisseurs. Nikki and Swami lived abroad for several years, especially in India. They infuse their cannabis, and their lives, with spiritual devotion and, are dedicated to shaping the future of cannabis through political action and education.