Canna Cribs Episode 5: Honeydew Farms — Honeydew, California


On the fifth episode of Canna Cribs, Growers Network and the Canna Cribs crew hopped on over to beautiful Humboldt county to take a closer look at Honeydew Farms and interview Alex Moore.

The following is an interview with industry experts. Growers Network does not endorse nor evaluate the claims of our interviewees, nor do they influence our editorial process. We thank our interviewees for their time and effort so we can continue our exclusive Growers Spotlight service.


Trailers for Episode 5


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Abbreviated Article


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The Grow


Honeydew has access to over 900 acres of land, do you plan on using all of it?

Humboldt county put a cap on cultivation size at 8 acres, and currently they don’t plan on allowing a single entity to have more than that. The old “collective” trick won’t work either — they expect people to try that loophole again, so collectives aren’t allowed here. If we do want to expand further than 8 acres, we’ll need to go out of the county.

However, that said, our current 6.25 acres is a lot to chew on. Cannabis is a rather fragile agricultural product. One day, everything can be fine, but one mistake and you may be screwed for the rest of the season. So 6.25 acres is a pretty big challenge, which we’re working on dialing in. We will eventually expand out to the maximum 8 acres, but for now, we’re doing a lot!


You’re primarily growing outdoors, but what about greenhouses?

We’ve got around one and a half acres of greenhouse canopy currently. We do plan on expanding our greenhouse capacity because it gives us double the output. We use smaller greenhouses with sides that we can open up. The structures are relatively simple to put up and take down.


How many plants are you growing, and what strains?

We’re growing close to 40 different strains, but we plan on gradually reducing the number of strains we grow. We grow at least 50 to 100 pounds of any given strain in a season. It’s got to be a strain that sells well, so we focus on strains that are historically popular and stuff that seems to be trending.

As far as the raw number of plants we’re growing, we’re growing about 3500 per year outdoors, and another 7500 in the greenhouses. The outdoor plants grow to be very large, while the ones in the greenhouse generally get up to waist-high.


How do you feed your plants?

Currently, we water everything by hand. Now I know what you’re thinking… on 6.25 acres, that’s a lot of work. And you’re not wrong. Drip systems and other irrigation systems are great. I like them and have used them in the past.

But the worst mold problems I’ve ever experienced happened when I was using a drip system. The trouble is that automation in an outdoor grow is rather tricky. If you have a drip system going, it’s watering whether or not the plants need it. It also doesn’t tailor how much it’s feeding to individual plants.


What pests do you have to deal with?

The usual pests you might face with sungrown cannabis. This includes things like spider mites, grasshoppers, powdery mildew, and more. Last year we had a pretty bad russet mite encounter which was not good for our wallets.

This year, we’re way more on top of it. You have to be proactive, and you need to have a plan ready before you realize you have something. If you catch it late, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Prevention goes a long way.


Philosophy


What have been some of your biggest challenges?

Honestly, legalization. Back in ye olden days, all we had to worry about was the cops or the sheriffs deciding to inspect our property. Now that we’ve legalized, we’re basically inviting a whole bunch of regulators in. We have to deal with nearly a dozen different government agencies, all of which can shut you down if they find an infraction.

The other side of legalization is the economics of it. The current permitting process may cause an oversaturation of the market, and that really stings small time business owners. We’re the ones who get paid last. By the end of a season, we’ve hopefully got a good crop that will sell well. But if the market is oversaturated… we may come out in the red.


What are you looking forward to in the future?

I can’t wait to see what the market looks like when it’s not so volatile. It may be a few years before things start to settle, and I wish I could see into the future. I want to know who’s in this game for the long haul.

The other thing I’m hopeful for is seeing cannabis opening up nationally. California faces oversaturation in the market until that happens. If it doesn’t happen soon, the players with deep pockets are probably the only ones who will be able to survive. Mom and pop cultivators won’t be able to operate at a loss to capture the market.

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Grow Operation


Humboldt County put a cap on cultivation size at 8 acres, and currently they don’t plan on allowing a single entity to have more than that. The old “collective” trick won’t work either — they expect people to try that loophole again, so collectives aren’t allowed here. If we do want to expand further than 8 acres, we’ll need to go out of the county.

Editor’s Note: “Collectives” in California were able to get around certain rules that restricted growing to a certain number of plants per person. The more people belonged to the “collective,” the more plants could be grown.

However, that said, our current 6.25 acres is a lot to chew on. Cannabis is a rather fragile agricultural product. One day, everything can be fine, but one mistake and you may be screwed for the rest of the season. So 6.25 acres is a pretty big challenge, which we’re working on dialing in. We will eventually expand out to the maximum 8 acres, but for now, we’re doing a lot!

Thankfully, no. I’m the owner and operator, of course, and I’m on the ranch seven days out of the week. My wife and I have a house in town where we stay with the kids during the week, and then spend weekends out on the ranch (the kids come too!). But I’m out there all the time.

We have a regular crew onsite most of the growing season, which can range from 6-8 people who maintain the plants and keep things running smoothly. We also work with a temp agricultural worker company when we need more muscle for big pushes such as harvesting or planting. During those periods, we can have upwards of 40 people, but generally we don’t average more than 15 people a day.

We’ve got around one and a half acres of greenhouse canopy, and we’re able to do two harvests per year in the greenhouses, instead of the typical single harvest for outdoors. The rest of the 6.25 acre grow is sungrown. We do plan on expanding our greenhouse capacity because it gives us double the output. Now, with that said, we aren’t planning on investing in a giant greenhouse facility any time soon. We use smaller greenhouses with sides that we can open up if it’s really nice outside, and close as we need. The structures are relatively simple to put up and take down, which heavily reduces the environmental impact we have.

The reason we aren’t investing in a bigger greenhouse facility is because we aren’t quite sure where the market is going in the next few years. Why invest all this money if the price of cannabis bottoms out? California’s legal cannabis market seems to be oversaturated at the moment, so it’s wise to keep expenditures small right now.

However, one place where are willing to invest a bit of money is in our processing capabilities. Cannabis is an unusual crop in that it requires a significant amount of work postharvest to process it. We’ve got about 8,000 square feet of processing right now, with an application pending for another 8,000 square feet. Instead of expanding our cultivation, we’re going to expand our infrastructure.


The Plants


Our first harvest as Honeydew, we only grew about five strains. Nowadays, we’re growing close to 40 different strains, but we plan on gradually reducing the number of strains we grow because California regulations require us to test each individual strain, which can amount to a lot.

That said, any strain we do select to grow, we grow at least 50 to 100 pounds of it in a season. It’s got to be a strain that sells well, so we focus on strains that are historically popular and stuff that seems to be trending. The industry’s changed a lot in the past decade, with a ton of exotic strains coming out of LA. There’s a few breeders we trust down there whom we source genetics from.

As far as the raw number of plants we’re growing, we’re growing about 3500 per year outdoors, and another 7500 in the greenhouses. The plants we grow outdoors grow to be very large, while the ones in the greenhouse generally get up to waist-high. Our outdoor plants are being grown in containers and pots, and our greenhouse plants are being grown in raised beds.

Currently, we water everything by hand. Now I know what you’re thinking… on 6.25 acres, that’s a lot of work. And you’re not wrong. Drip systems and other irrigation systems are great. I like them and have used them in the past.

But the worst mold problems I’ve ever experienced happened when I was using a drip system. The trouble is that automation in an outdoor grow is rather tricky. If you have a drip system going, it’s watering whether or not the plants need it. It also doesn’t tailor how much it’s feeding to individual plants. If we had a single large greenhouse that was high tech, it would make sense to use more automatic controls because you can completely control the environment. But outdoors, like we’re doing, it just doesn’t make sense.

The other side of “feeding” is, of course, nutrients. We don’t grow in the native soil, and we get called out for this online. Don’t get me wrong, Humboldt has great soil, but it’s not ideal for cannabis without a bunch of amendments, and I’m not a fan of digging holes and dumping in non-native amendments, all of which may get washed into a river after a heavy rain. I care about the environment more than that. So everything is grown in a container of non-native soil, and I’m still reusing soil that I’ve had for 20 years.

We also regularly submit samples of our soil to a lab, and then we hire a local company to build a nutrient package for us based on the test results. They use organic inputs to help us nutrify the soil. We also supplement our feeding with organic products here and there as needed. We try to keep inorganic stuff out of our soil because salt build ups can cause all sorts of problems.

The usual pests you might face with sungrown cannabis. This includes things like spider mites, grasshoppers, powdery mildew, and more. Last year we had a pretty bad russet mite encounter which was not good for our wallets. We caught it in time, but we had to spend a lot of time spraying the fields every night by hand. The plants were too big at the time to bring a tractor into the field.

Russett mites under a microscope. Image courtesy of Medicinal Genomics.

This year, we’re way more on top of it. You have to be proactive, and you need to have a plan ready before you realize you have something. If you catch it late, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Prevention goes a long way.

Our plan this year was to put beneficials out after we were finished doing a preventative spray. We do a spray in the nursery and once when they get planted in the field. Our intention was to add beneficials after that. We scoped for bugs constantly, but we haven’t seen a bug on the ranch this year… so we didn’t feel the need to release any.
We do a bit of both. Around 30% of our outdoor plants are seeds, and the rest are clones. We do our own cloning and propagation from genetics we’ve sourced from our grow and other grows around the state. We grow our own moms and make clones off of those. We made around 20,000 clones this year.


Guiding Philosophy


Honestly, legalization has been a big challenge. Back in ye olden days, all we had to worry about was the cops or the sheriffs deciding to inspect our property. Now that we’ve legalized, we’re basically inviting a whole bunch of regulators in. We have to deal with nearly a dozen different government agencies, all of which can shut you down if they find an infraction. We also have to go through a rather stringent permitting process, which was hard even for me as a real estate developer and investor.

The other side of legalization is the economics of it. The current permitting process may cause an oversaturation of the market, and that really stings small time business owners. We’re the ones who get paid last. We’re constantly spending money throughout the season — paying wages, buying equipment and nutrients, and we paying for processing and packaging. Then, by the end, we’ve hopefully got a good crop that will sell well. But if the market is saturated… we may come out in the red.

Packaging

One big challenge we had until recently was getting into the retail market. Dispensaries didn’t have to sell licensed cultivators’ cannabis only until recently. The state finally clamped down, which has been a game changer for us. I would also like to see cannabis end up in other retail stores too — not just dispensaries. It should be next to alcohol and tobacco in the grocery store.

Just getting our brand out there. We got lucky in a lot of ways; we got lucky with our permits, getting them right out of the gate. Nobody was expecting for 6 acre licenses to go to just one person in Humboldt County.

On top of that, we’re just lucky for the skills we have. My wife and I have a decent background in photography and art, which has allowed us to develop a brand which we could refine with some help. Marketing is a whole other side of the industry that has laid dormant for years.

I can’t wait to see what the market looks like when it’s not so volatile. It may be a few years before things start to settle, and I wish I could see into the future. I want to know who’s in this game for the long haul.

The other thing I’m hopeful for is seeing cannabis opening up nationally. California faces oversaturation in the market until that happens. If it doesn’t happen soon, the players with deep pockets are probably the only ones who will be able to survive. Mom and pop cultivators won’t be able to operate at a loss to capture the market.


About Alex Moore and Honeydew Farms


While I was growing up, the only “cannabis” I had access to on the East Coast was Mexican brick weed, which was filled with sticks and stems, just really low quality stuff. I grew up in Philadelphia. Brick weed was all I could get my hands on. So I didn’t put much thought into cannabis when I was younger.

After I graduated from high school, my family moved to Boston. I got a scholarship to go to school in Maryland, and eventually I took a semester off to go travel and see other parts of the country. While I was taking my leave of absence from school, I decided to go visit the Bay Area in California, since I had visited there as a kid and loved it. One of my school friends was up in McKinleyville at the time, so I hopped up to Humboldt County to see him.

While I was in Humboldt County, visiting my friend, I got to experience what real cannabis was like. Somebody even offered me the opportunity to caretake for a cannabis farm in Honeydew, and I took them up on the offer. And I haven’t really left since 1991.

Well, we were on an off-the-grid property. The DEA and the county had some pretty heavy-handed eradication efforts going on back then, and Honeydew was one of the hottest spots in the county at the time. So there was a lot of… risk to it. Still, I never got in any real trouble.

That first summer, I basically lived in the greenhouse. I slept in there at night, and was out working on the property during the day. I put in a ton of work, and at the end of the harvest, my cut was two pounds from the owner.

I took that two pounds, went to San Francisco, and hustled the hell out of them. Made a decent chunk of change. I came back to Humboldt with enough money to buy my first property with $15,000 down. That’s when I first started growing what would eventually become Honeydew Farms.

After I bought the initial property for $15k down, I spent about a decade repeating the cycle of growing and selling, followed by buying property. I was in love with the landscape of Northern California, and land was relatively cheap at the time. It was only about $600-$700 per acre, so I got in at the perfect time.

Eventually, because I kept buying property, I got into the real estate game. I came in at the perfect time, just before the real estate boom happened. I would invest in a property, go to the bank, borrow on that property, and then buy more property. When the real estate boom hit, I was in a pretty good place.

As for Honeydew itself, cannabis grows back then were almost entirely outdoor guerilla grows. Nobody grew in a greenhouse for fear of law enforcement, and indoors was impractical up here. I had my plants literally growing in trees. I’d place one cannabis plant about 20-30 feet up per tree in the woods. Suffice to say, I got in REALLY good shape those years, because I would have to climb all those trees every day to check on the plants.

I started my first greenhouse in 1994, and my neighbors thought I was crazy at the time. I was holding 16 plants in 12’ x 15’ greenhouse.

In 1996, Prop 215 passed and a lot of things changed. Prop 215 opened up a whole lot of gray area, and Humboldt County’s stance on cannabis was that individuals were allowed to cultivate 99 plants per person, max. However, it didn’t take long for people to realized they could form coops and collectives so that they could legally grow for other people too. That made life a little easier on the growers, and they started to expand their operations.

Then along came a court case that started in Honeydew. The sheriff’s department had found cannabis on a person’s property, but they did the search completely wrong. They cut the lock on this guy’s gate, kicked open his greenhouse, took his plants, and then charged him. There was no visible sign from the exterior that this guy was growing cannabis, no reasonable suspicion. The judge threw out the case because there was a lack of probable cause, and ruled that if you can’t see a plant near a person’s home, you can’t go in.

This was a landmark ruling for growers in the area. It effectively greenlit greenhouses, as long as they were in the “curtilage” area of a house. If growers covered the sides of their greenhouses to not be easily visible, and controlled their ventilation carefully, police and sheriffs weren’t able to do much. Because of the curtilage rule, people would build empty cabins with greenhouses surrounding them, which tied law enforcement’s hands. This really caught on over the decade.

Editor’s Note: “Curtilage” is the legal description for the immediate area around a house.

And of course, we arrive at Prop 64. Prop 64 has done a lot to get rid of the weird gray areas, and Honeydew had all of its applications and referrals lined up and ready to go on day one of submission. Two months later, we got our permits, and we were one of the first large-scale grows in the state. We were permitted for 280,000 square feet, or 6.25 acres. We now have an application going in to allow us to expand up to 8 acres.

 


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Want to get in touch with Honeydew Farms?

You can reach them via the following methods:

  1. Website: https://www.honeydewfarms.com/

Want to see other Canna Cribs Episodes?

Check these out:

  1. Canna Cribs Episode 1: Glass House Farms, CA
  2. Canna Cribs Episode 2: Grow Op Farms
  3. Canna Cribs Episode 3: Copperstate Farms — Snowflake, AZ
  4. Canna Cribs Episode 4: Los Sueños Farms — Pueblo, Colorado

Do you have any questions or comments?

Feel free to post below!


About the Author

Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.