“It’s long hours and long days, but it’s fun. It’s my favourite time of year,” says LaToya Phillips, speaking about the harvest season at Countryside Cannabis. As site lead, Phillips overseas the hundred-acre farm in St. Thomas, Ontario, where Countryside grows exclusively outdoors.
Harvest season takes place in the beginning of October, but it’s the culmination of year-round work that sees Phillips coaxing her seedlings through to their veg phase, then cloning, then getting their roots strong and established. She started last October with 22 small veg plants; by March, she had about 1,200 mother plants.
ABOUT THE LOCATION
St. Thomas is located in Southwestern Ontario in Elgin County. Countryside Cannabis’ farm is on an 100-acre property.
The planting season takes place from the May long weekend, when the young plants start getting acclimatized, to mid-June, when the last ones get put in the ground. June 2022, it took nine people and a tractor eight days to get 42,000 plants into the ground.
This is Phillips’s first year running the show, from seed to plant, though she’s been part of every Countryside harvest since its first in 2020.
According to Abi Roach, Countryside’s lead on marketing and merchandising, at the moment the company primarily sells pre-rolls, some of which are infused with live resin, along with vape cartridges and a small selection of flower. “Our three key values are being true to flower and being closest to nature, providing a relaxing, ready-to-use experience and always delivering a great value,” says Roach.
Customers can find Countryside Cannabis products on OCS.ca or in select Authorized Cannabis Stores. Countryside’s 10th Planet, Strawberry OG and Grape Diamonds pre-rolls offer 19% to 26% THC, and they only go up from there, with the most potent live resin–infused pre-roll, the Peach Crescendo, staking a claim in the 35% to 43% THC range. Across Ontario and Canada, the OCS carries the largest number of Countryside products. “Our main focus is Ontario. It’s our home province and we want to support it by making sure we employ people and grow the company within Ontario,” says Roach.
Back in the field, Phillips dotes on the plants while they mature, checking them for pests and tracking their growth. The outdoor element introduces unpredictability and risk to growing. Last year, she treated a spider mite infestation with beneficial predators — good bugs that eat the bad bugs. This year has been infestation-free, but an early season drought followed by a deluge of rain caused many plants to perish.
Though there are risks to outdoor growing, there are also significant rewards. Compared to indoor-grown cannabis, Phillips has noted that the ones planted outdoors on the farm are significantly larger and darker in colour. According to Phillips they also tend to have more — and larger — trichomes, which are the origin of Countryside’s live resin products. Phillips has also noticed pink hairs on the buds, thought in the cannabis community to be a chemical reaction triggered by outdoor factors like sun and temperature variation.
Unlike indoors, where lights can be flipped to start the flowering phase overnight, Phillips says growing cannabis outdoors is a slower, more gradual process. To keep track of the plants’ progress and correctly time the harvest, she takes photos of the plants every week. “You can really see a difference in the development of the plants [from week to week],” she says.
Phillips began her outdoor growing adventure by learning as much as she could from expert cannabis growers as well as local farmers well acquainted with the southern Ontario region’s soil, sun and precipitation, among other environmental factors. Under her leadership, Countryside is marrying some of the must-haves of cannabis growing — testing, tissue culture and cloning — with the low-tech world of organic outdoor farming.
Phillips may be relatively new to growing, but she’s an experienced operations professional, the kind who gets brought in to revise and tighten up processes to improve the consistency and standardization of an operation. Combined with her burgeoning fondness for farming, she was an obvious choice to lead the Countryside site.
“Cutting down the plants might feel a little more emotional this year, just because I’ve been with the plants since they were clones. Seeing them get cut down might be a little more devastating,” she says. That is, until next season, when the process starts all over again.