I’ve visited Switzerland many times over the past 2 years, and although I am inspired with the tolerance of Swiss law and astounded at the size of their fields, sadly I have usually not been impressed with the quality of their buds. Yet their skills and genetics are rapidly improving, due both to their increasing experience, and an influx of professional growers from other nations who want to take advantage of the opportunities Switzerland offers. One of those immigrant growers is a friend of mine, and I picked him up recently at the Zurich airport and drove directly to a thriving farm. We walked into the shipping area and saw the produce ready for delivery. Three rolling stock trays each held about 1000 clones of such varieties as Snoopy, Purple Skunk and Skunk 44. All the clones were six to eight inches tall; healthy young plants ready to decorate a medium sized greenhouse. These varieties, as many others in Switzerland, have the potential to be moderately strong, but are not knockout varieties.
Walking past the shipping area, we entered a 1000 square meter space devoted to mother plants and their offspring. A typical mother plant stands about 6 feet tall and is bushy at the top, with a form that looks something like a tree rose. Only top shoots are cut, so that each one is a terminal shoot.
When we had visited the greenhouse a month before, untrained workers were doing all the watering.
The result was uneven watering and a very humid environment. High humidity, temperature in the mid-60’s, overcrowding and still air all make plants susceptible to botrytis (gray mold), especially at cuts and other wound sites.
When we inspected this time, environmental conditions had been changed, and the problem eliminated. Rather than promiscuous hand watering by untrained employees as in the past, an automatic drip watering system was in place.
Several drippers irrigate each of the 15-25 gallon containers. The system is calibrated so that about 20% of the high EC water, translating to 800 ppm dissolved solids, drains from the container. The vents were also repaired so they automatically open and close. A sophisticated humidistat-thermostat, rather than a worker’s subjective judgement, controls the top opening units, which run the length of the glasshouse.
The clones are located across the aisle. The entire section is covered with medium knit, white shade cloth. A curtain lowers the light level and maintains a higher level of humidity, while allowing some air circulation. This area had previously been hand watered daily using a wand. This time the capillary action system was reactivated. This system uses a stream of water traveling slowly through a non-woven cloth at a 1/40 slant. The cloth is covered with a black polyethylene plastic sheet punctured with small holes throughout. The peat moss mix plugs absorb the water as it passes through.
All of these clones are destined for outdoor gardens and farms. Once they are rooted they are hardened up in smaller, satellite hoop greenhouses which are heated using portable natural gas blowers. Overcast light is supplemented with 400 watt HPS lamps spaced widely apart. The trays are placed on a cloth on the ground and fattened up before they are used outdoors.
Some of the plants were grown in the adjoining fields. The plants were planted in early May and were still in vegetative growth. To conserve heat, clear polyethylene curtains were placed over the 1/2 meter rows near dusk and then removed in the morning. Steel hoops placed securely in the ground, guide the plastic. In about two weeks, the plants will be forced to flower using polyethylene blackout curtains. The curtains will be used to maintain a daily routine of 12 hours of darkness each evening.
It was still early in the day so we decided to visit a nearby complex. The field, which used the same kind of curtains as the previous one, had been planted in March and was almost ripe. Last year these plants had matured during a warm and sunny spring, and had been very resinous and appealing. This year Switzerland suffered a terrible spring. The weather had been mostly cool, overcast and rainy. We viewed a sad site. More than half the plants were totally moldy and useless. Most of the others had some infections. The weather also lowered their gland content.
Finger hash deluxe
My friend, who was familiar with Swiss quality weed, decided that the only possibility of getting really high while in the country was to rub some hash. Looking like a human bee, he flitted around the plants, carefully rubbing each appealing one. After 20 minutes his hands were coated with the resins.
His next task was to turn the resin coating into finger hash, appropriate for smoking. He rubbed his palms together. The resin began to form small cylindrical rolls with tapered ends. He put these together to form a single piece, then continued rubbing. New rolls formed and the larger one picked up new material. The resin was more attracted to itself rather than my friend’s skin. A half hour after starting rubbing we had a 1/2 inch ball, ready to smoke. I thought that it was probably the best hashish in all of Switzerland. It was certainly the freshest.
The next day we visited a very sophisticated greenhouse complex about 20 kilometers from the first two. It was retrofitted in the early O90’s.
Unfortunately the operator, whose family had bred plants for 50 years, chose the wrong time to modernize. The added debt and changing market conditions (competition from North Africa) forced him into bankruptcy. In order to grow his way out of debt he contracted with various partners in growing projects.
The nine greenhouse units were small, 25′ x 100′, but their environments, fertilization and irrigation were all computer controlled. The units were ideal for plant breeding and seed production.
All of the glasshouses have blackout curtains. The containers are placed on galvinized steel trays about 6″ wide with one inch lips. Two pipes deliver water to each sloped tray. The container plants, planted in a nearly pure coir medium, absorb water from the stream. It is drawn up through the medium using capillary action.
There were plants in several stages of growth, each in a different greenhouse. We saw an indica variety that was the most resinous plant I saw in Switzerland. It’s had a musky odor that was pervasive. Even after washing my hands it lingered.
Big Buddha garden
After a week of cloudy weather, my friend and I, as well as a Swiss friend, decided to go where the weather suited our clothes. Tecine, the Italian section of Switzerland, is on the other side of the Alps. We took the highway that tunnels through the big mountains. When we reached the other side of the last tunnel the sun was shining. The air was dry and palm trees dotted the landscape. We were on our way to Lugano, perched on one side of Lake Lugano. Italy is on the other side, about a 10-minute boat ride away.
We were going to visit friends at Big Buddha, a headshop-grow store in the city. The store has a marijuana garden display open to the public, and sells grow products, hempware, pipes, papers and marijuana and clones. Clones and buds are grown in a private section. They were started in rockwool, transplanted to 3″ cubes and then placed in coir grow bags, which were designed to replace 6″ rockwool slabs. The coir supplier, Canna, manufactures a matched fertilizer.
The plants were healthy, and had just started flowering. The proprietor had a steady stream of customers, but none were willing to be photographed, so I posed my companions. Their cooperation was extraordinary, based on my promise of a meal at a fine restaurant in the city.