In the spring, when many farmers are checking the weather reports to find the right time to plant their crop, Marty Clein of Big B’s Martyjuana Farm in Mendocino County, California, turns to another source to do his planning for the growing season: The Farmers’ Almanac.
“We plant our seeds on the new moon in early spring,” he says. “Then we harvest on the harvest full moon in either late September or October.”
It’s a technique he learned from one of his first farming jobs at a winery in Sonoma County.
“If you plant a seed on the new moon in April, by the full moon two weeks later, it has already cracked the soil surface and already produced its first two sets of leaves,” he says.
It’s all part of what Clein says makes his marijuana stand out among the best in the state: a hands-on approach, attention to detail, an understanding of the land and climate and a focus on growing the cleanest plants he can using the most sustainable agricultural practices he knows.
“I tell my story as using principles of Native American agriculture, which includes the principles of biodynamics,” he says.
Located in the small town of Covelo in Mendocino County, part of California’s famed Emerald Triangle, Big B’s Martyjuana Farm is a collaboration between Clein and his partner, Byron “Big B” Koehler. Three years after receiving their state permit, Clein and Koehler are still the company’s only two full-time employees.
Clein says the farm is located on the dry, eastern side of the mountains, at about 1,800 feet of elevation which helps create the perfect environment for growing cannabis outdoors. It rains very little in the summertime and the plants get the full power of the sun for eight months, helping to create a broad-spectrum flower that reflects the terroir of the region.
In addition, the elevation and location mean drastic temperature changes that can range from 100 degrees during the day to 50 at night.
“The temperature differential is what helps make the cannabis so good and builds that terpene profile,” he says, adding, “You can’t recreate the sun and moon in an indoor system.”
The farm itself is about 27 acres of land, but the company’s permit — which Clein proudly says is a full license and not a provisional one — only allows for a canopy of 10,000 square feet, or about a quarter-acre. He grows three different cultivars — a heavy indica, a sativa and a hybrid — in 6-foot by 6-foot boxes made of recycled redwood. The small footprint of the farm allows Clein to apply a more hands-on approach to farming than larger competitors. For example, one of Clein’s many sayings is “every plant, every day.” Every day he walks the entire garden “with purpose,” looking to spot potential problems before they can take hold.
“What we’re looking for is anomalies. We’re trying to catch an issue immediately,” he says. “I follow very simple principles of paying attention, of being consistent.”
The farm also grows flowers and vegetables, a standard practice in biodynamic agriculture because it gives the “good pests” of a chemical-free integrated pest management program places to live.
“It’s very similar to vineyards that grow roses or other flowering trees at the end of their rows,” Clein says.
While comparisons between wine and cannabis have been drawn for decades, it’s a more direct link for Clein, who learned much of his farming techniques while working in Sonoma County on a Demeter Certified biodynamic vineyard owned by Mike Benziger.
“That’s when I was introduced to the idea of creating a better fruit,” Clein says, adding that it comes from building an overall better ecosystem on the farm. “I applied those principles early on in my farming techniques with cannabis.”
Clein says he’s developed his farming principles from multiple types of agriculture, including biodynamics.
Developed in 1924 by a German scientist named Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic agriculture does not focus on a single input, but treats the farm — and by extension the planet — as a single organism, inherently connected and intertwined with the quality of crops the land produces. It’s a complicated and sometimes odd collection of practices found in a 59-page manual that is monitored and certified by the Demeter Association.
Clein is quick to point out that his farm is not Demeter Certified, but he believes in the basic principles which he then mixes with other techniques he has picked up through the years. It’s a long way from his first cannabis plants, grown in a “gator hole” (to save from watering them, of course) in the Everglades outside of Miami. Biodynamics is something Clein learned after his wife fell ill and the couple moved to California in 2006 as “cannabis refugees.”
Clein says that in addition to his IPM practices, his farm uses all organic soil amendments, compost teas as fertilizers and mycorrhiza fungi to help break down those amendments. Not only does it help create what he calls a “better quality flower” with a wider terpene profile, it also helps ensure the cannabis is as clean as possible, which is important for those using the product as a medicine, such as his wife, who is “Patient No. 1.”
He’s a consumer, too, so he understands the nuance of terpene profiles and the flavors of cannabis.
“I prefer to have a plant with a better quality flower with better flavor and smells and more density than a plant that has double the amount of flower,” he says.
When the fall comes, Clein goes back to The Farmers’ Almanac, this time to find the harvest full moon so he knows when to bring his crop down. Then he makes sure to get started early in the morning, before the day’s full sun can affect the freshly harvested buds.
“When we harvest, we look for symmetry in our preparation,” he says. “The reason we harvest on the full moons is because the terpene profiles, on those full moons, are more intense. The reason we harvest early in the morning is the sun, when it gets above a certain temperature, tends to help evaporate the terpene profile.”
Once completed, which can take days with just two people working (“It’s exhausting,” Clein says), an extended drying and curing process begins.
“I’ve added two additional very important steps, especially for a sungrown farmer who grows once a year like myself: it’s dry, cure, preserve and store,” he says. “When I go to my flowers in March or April or May, and I bring them to my distributor, I need to have them just as fresh as they were in October or November and that’s about removing oxygen, that’s about controlling the remaining moisture in the flower, that’s about having the cannabis in a temperature-controlled room, and all of that is very important.”
Clein says in recent years he has also invested heavily in the branding and marketing of his product, which comes in jars with distinctive black and white labels. During the first few years, he sold his flower in bulk, sold the trim to extractors and sold his smaller buds to companies that made pre-rolls. Now, he does that in-house and works to ensure that distributors, retailers and budtenders understand what makes his product special and different, often through some of the very sayings and mantras he uses at the farm, such as “Planted by the moon with sun, soil and soul” and “GMO-free, pesticide-free and worry-free.”
He also says he looks forward to a post-COVID world when he can get back to throwing his “Marty Parties” to help consumers understand the nuances that make Martyjuana a unique product, from the seed-start, to the moon cycles, to the compost teas, IPM, hand-trimming and extensive curing process.
“These are the nuances that produce a flower that is not just a good flower, but something that is quite unique in color, texture and tone and tests really well,” he says.
It’s a lot of work, but the Florida boy who moved to California wine country in order to grow cannabis says that effort and level of attention to detail is ultimately what makes his flower stand out from the crowd.
“I never believed I was the best at what I did, I just believed that I loved what I did,” he says.