This week we’re taking you down some dusty Washington country roads. Legal pot growing operations are springing to life from urban King County to remote corners of the state. Over the next few days our Correspondent Anna King introduces us to some of the wild northwest farmers taking on this newly legal crop. Today she scouts out a farm just outside Goldendale to learn more about an ongoing debate in this new farming community – should pot be grown indoors or out?
For Toni Reita there is no debate on how to grow pot.
Reita: “It’s all going to happen as nature intended. Those warehouses are beautiful, and those state of the art buildings and all the light spectrum … but it doesn’t matter what you pay for it, you’re not going to beat this.”
This being the natural sunlight, wind and organic mulch … It’s a way of life for Reita. The diminutive woman with flowing white hair has been a naturalist, an herbalist, a log home builder … and now a full-on pot farmer.
Reita’s fenced in pot grow is just a stone’s throw from her log home’s porch. And it’s a remote spot. Black Dog Acres is past Goldendale, where narrow roads narrow even further. Then turn to gravel.
When you get there, you have to make it through the tall, locked driveway gate. Call first. With a name like Black Dog Acres – just jumping over isn’t recommended.
Even the “friendly” Rottweiler named Harley is scary. Reita’s pot farm doubles as a Rottweiler rescue. She has 22 other Rottweilers and one pit bull right now.
Right next to the kennels is the pot farm. It’s a fenced-off acre of flat fallow field. Reita’s hired a neighbor with a small tractor to help get her started.
He’s drilling holes in the hard-packed volcanic soil to make room for compost and lots of marijuana plants. Reita says growing pot outdoors makes economic sense too.
Reita: “Under ideal circumstances, one crop annually will outperform four crops indoors.”
About 40 miles away in the Columbia Gorge, Susy Wilson is also planning to produce a significant chunk of her pot outdoors.
Wilson: “How are you ladies doing today?”
Wilson has a warm, mother earth vibe with her tie-dye shirt and white, wispy mohawk. She says she passes the long work hours, by talking to her pot plants, a-k-a her “ladies.”
Wilson: “Oh look at you, don’t you look beautiful. What’s a matter with you? Why are you so droopy?”
Most of her plants so far are indoors, but she has big plans for her garden plot out back, and she’s nestled tiny plants there in mulch and sand. She says Dallesport, right off the Columbia River, is a microclimate -- the “Mediterranean of the Gorge.” It’s sunny, warm and windy here -- and she says, that’s a good thing.
Wilson: “The wind stops bugs. Bugs can’t hang on very well in this kind of wind, so that’s kind of a win-win situation for us.”
Plus, she says, outdoor plants are just healthier and require fewer chemicals for pests or molds.
Still, the majority of the 120 licensed marijuana grows in the state are opting for all-indoor grows.
Eric Cooper is one of them. His farm is just outside of Wenatchee. He believes a controlled environment is crucial for his business to make money. For example with an indoor grow, he says there’s never any down time -- like winter.
Cooper: “We will crop approximately 150 to 200 plants every seven days. So that’s 52 crops a year.”
His warehouse operation is called Monkey Grass. He leads me from one yawning room filled with chin-high weed to another.
Eric Cooper: “In this room alone we’ve got 60 lights, and in that room alone we’ve got 60 lights …”
He says in a warehouse he can control the dark and light the plants get so they mature the buds properly. But keeping these lights cycling is expensive. That’s even with Eastern Washington’s cheaper hydroelectric energy. And sunlight, well, it’s free. Cooper’s hoping that at some point soon the state will give out more licenses and he’ll be able operate an outdoor grow too.
Cooper: “When we go outdoor, our crop size is going to increase dramatically.”
If nature cooperates, outdoor grows can yield more pot -- but will customers like it as much?
Customers line up to inspect and sniff small jars at the Altitude pot store right in the heart of the Yakima Valley.
Tim Thompson is one of the owners here. Tim Thompson is one of the owners here. He says their customers haven’t had access to outdoor weed yet, but in terms of which they will prefer between outdoor and indoor…
Thompson: “I really don’t think there’s going to be a difference.”
He thinks it will come down to price. That theory will be tested in just a few weeks when farmers like Susy Wilson and Toni Reita bring their outdoor pot to market.
Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network