Croptober — the annual outdoor cannabis harvest — is upon us, meaning Canada’s sun-growing cultivators are embarking on long, hard-working days cutting down cannabis plants and prepping their bud to share with consumers.
But Croptober is more than just hours spent toiling in the fields. It’s an industry occasion that’s steeped in tradition and marked with big celebrations.
From Salt Spring Island, B.C. to the Eastern Townships of Quebec, here’s what Croptober looks like for seven Licensed Producers — from the number of plants harvested (and the number of harvesters) to the soundtrack for the post-harvest party.
Psst: Getting ready to harvest your own backyard bud? These Producers have some tips to share.
Gearing up for the big day(s)
It’s a team effort. At Greybeard, a cannabis brand growing in Simcoe, Ont., 75 seasonal workers are brought aboard and trained on the harvest process. They’ll work 12 hours each day (or more), seven days a week. In total, harvest time lasts three to four weeks.
For Aurélien Pochard, founder of Quebec-based Après La Pluie, the Licensed Producer behind Six Lunes, preparation is all about organization. “I have to get everything lined up so each harvest day is super-efficient, because once it starts, it simply cannot stop,” he says. “I need to book employees, transportation vehicles for the daily harvests, I need to make sure the electricity is running and that the cleaning stations are operational.”
Timing is everything. Tyler Rumi, founder and CEO of Good Buds, Canada’s first licensed outdoor cultivator, says he and his team scrutinize their Salt Spring Island crops from mid-September until mid-October, inspecting buds for trichomes and size. “The plants will hit a special day where they’re really maxed out and the buds are swollen as big and beautiful as they’re going to be,” he says. “That’s when you want to grab them. A couple days later, they can be completely wiped out by pathogens, like detritus or mildew.”
Outdoor cultivators will often harvest after the plants experience a bit of a cold snap because that can boost cannabinoid potency. David Marcus, founder of WholeHemp (which produces CBD flower in southwestern Ontario), says preparation starts in September and that harvesting is usually completed by the end of October, sometimes in early November.
There is a risk if the plants are left too long, as EarthWolf, which grows flower for concentrates in Lillooet, B.C., experienced in its first year. “We lost a lot of plants to a very cold -10 C frost in our first season,” say Josh Lapkovsky, master grower, and Daniel Lantela, co-founder and former master grower. “We started harvesting 24 hours a day to try and lose as little as possible. Harvesting in the dark was an experience the team will not forget.”
Every outdoor cultivator agrees that dry weather is best. “If we have a really wet, sloppy field, it makes it a lot harder to harvest,” says Rob O’Neill, principal and CEO of Jonny Chronic, based in Thorndale, Ont. “If you have a really wet fall, you can start getting into mould or mildew trouble if you’re not careful.”
By the numbers
70,000 cannabis plants
What Divvy will harvest from its Port Perry, Ont., site, depending on the final size of the crop.
4,000 hemp plants
What Après La Pluie founder Aurélien Pochard grew this year. “We only hand-pick the bigger flowers, so it’s a very small yield. I expect to come out with about 500 kg.”
How long Good Buds hang-dries its plants for.
21 tonnes of fresh frozen cannabis
What Greybeard expects from its 2022 harvest.
The number of people from Authorized Cannabis Stores that Divvy invited to plant Sour Kush seedlings at their outdoor facility in Port Perry. They’ll be back in October to check out how their plants did.
The size of WholeHemp’s harvest team. The group sometimes comprises WWOOFers — members of the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization.
The size of Jonny Chronic’s outdoor cultivation site, on the site of the former elementary school that O’Neill attended as a kid. The school was converted into the company’s indoor grow space; the outdoor space spans the former playground and baseball diamond (and farm fields beyond).
Work hard, celebrate hard
To keep spirits high during long harvest days that can last from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., the Good Buds team keeps everyone fed and throws tailgate parties for both the workers who live on Salt Spring and those who camp on-site.
For Greybeard, the motivation equation is pizza plus coffee plus doughnuts plus tunes — and some healthy competition. “We have competitions with prizes, or sometimes it’s just for bragging rights,” says Tyson Cramer, chief cultivator for Greybeard. “We compete on the total final harvest weight. We are always trying to get the most bags in a day and it really gets the team fired up.”
Harvesters for WholeHemp stay on the property in cabins in a scenic wooded area. They cook over campfires, play music and take after-work hikes. And then there’s the annual Halloween bash to look forward to as an end-of-harvest reward; this year, Big Sam’s Funky Nation is coming up from New Orleans to play the party.
At EarthWolf, it’s a family affair. Co-founder Daniel Lantela brings in treats from the local bakery in the mornings; his mom and stepdad, who own the farm, help cook meals for the crew. It all wraps up with a big harvest party. Then, while the flower they picked is being processed into solventless extracts, Lantela and master grower Josh Lapkovsky hit the slopes. “Usually, a week or two after harvest is done, Whistler Blackcomb will open and we spend the winters skiing powder,” Lantela says. “Once the mountain closes, it’s back to the farm for another year.”
“Music is the key for motivation and a happy mood, no matter the weather,” says founder Aurélien Pochard. The team starts every day with ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder. “The smile on people’s faces when that groovy drum track kicks in is just priceless.”
Harvest tips from professional
growers, for home growers
1) Let your plants get a taste of the cold.
David Marcus of WholeHemp, who grows plants at home, too, says to wait to expose your plants to cold temperatures before harvesting. The exposure will help maximize the cannabinoid profile.
2) Watch for the plant’s own cues.
Scott Lauder, alternate master grower for Divvy, says the plant will communicate when it’s ready. “Too often I see people harvesting their plants early because someone else said they took their plants down already. Every strain is different and every plant is going through something different, just like humans.”
If the trichomes are cloudy and there are plenty of hairs on the buds, it’s time.
3) Prepare your space and tools.
EarthWolf recommends sanitizing any harvesting tools you plan on using with isopropyl alcohol or another cleaning agent to avoid contaminating your plants.
You’ll also need to make sure you have enough space to hang your cuttings. “If you’re going to put the plants in a closet, for example, you risk them going mouldy,” says WholeHemp’s Marcus. “You’ve got to have a way to gently dehumidify the air.”
4) Be gentle.
Don’t touch the buds directly as you go — you’ll damage the precious trichomes. Handle the harvest with care at every step.