The Humboldt Effect: The Influence of Microclimates on Cannabis Production


Deep within a lush Redwood tree forest, Humboldt County is part of the Emerald Triangle. It’s known for being the most important cannabis-producing region in North America.

In the ‘60s, a mix of hippies and locals started growing pot there, and for years we were left alone to develop some of the best marijuana strains in the world. But what is it about Humboldt County, apart from the culture and its isolation that, makes it such a great region for growing cannabis?

The Terroir of Cannabis

Of course, my home state, California, is also known for wines. Pot growers and winery owners have a lot in common, especially when it comes to the effects of microclimate on plant production.

In wine vernacular, the term terroir refers to: “…the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown and that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma.”

Vintners attribute the characteristics of their product to the geographical region from which the grapes once grow. Specific regions, air, and temperature contribute directly to the end-product. The micro-geographical and micro-climate attributes of the Sonoma, Napa, Willamette, Russian River, and Lodi Valleys are synonymous with high-quality American wines.

But does the same apply to marijuana production? Does microclimate, soils, elevation, flora, and fauna, affect the quality of the cannabis plant?

Definitely yes.

Like wine grapes, cannabis grows more favorably in certain regions under specific conditions. Many buyers even select flowering plants from specific rows of cannabis farms. That’s why cannabis experts favor the product coming out of Humboldt County, California.

In fact, Humboldt County officials have taken measure to promote Humboldt-produced marijuana as part of an officially recognized artisanal brand.

Cannabinoids and Terpenes 101: What Makes Different Cannabis Strains Unique

Before looking at the advantages of the Humboldt influence, you should understand some basics. Cannabinoids are not very “plastic.” Heritage and lineage pretty much determine a cannabis strain’s natural chemistry. The basic THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN come in different combinations. Cultivation can bump these up or down a little, but they are pretty much genetically-determined.

But, growing methods do much to influence the terpenes that produce the rich aromas and flavors of the best-loved cannabis products. Terpenes occur in other flowering plants, too. Lavender has its Linalool. Lemons have limonene. Black pepper and cloves have β-Caryophyllene, and Echinacea has Asteraceae. And, grapefruit and honeysuckle have Citrine.

These terpenes can be differentiated, extracted, or synthesized. Extracted as oils, they are sold for their aromatherapy benefits or worked into lotions, perfumes, and other products. While most plants are clearly identified by one terpene or another, cannabis has many of them. Pinene, Limonene, β-myrcene, and Caryophyllene are standard, explaining why many strains have complex aromas and flavors including pine, citrus, and earth.

But, there are still a bunch of strains with lower levels of terpenes that we breed for at Sunnabis Farms. These terpenes are more plastic than others and very responsive to their environment.

The Humboldt Effect

Humboldt County has grown quality weed for years. It’s the home of “craft cannabis” and “artisan cannabis” of such quality that it has become part of the branding. Growers and processors in the region look forward to stamping their origin on products under California’s seed-to-sale regulations. My alma mater, Humboldt State University created its Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in 2012 to study it.

The county lies in far northern California, between the Pacific and the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The coast has very wet, cool winters, and mildly foggy, dry summers. Winter temperatures range from 32° to 59°, and summers from 46° to 70°. Inland Humboldt temperatures can reach 100° the further inland and east you go, but the higher elevations are also subject to snow.

The influence of temperature fluctuations, soil quality, and native pests of Humboldt County influence its cannabis products. Growing cannabis outdoors exposes the growth to the warm daytime sun, varying winds, and cooler night temperatures. Indoor growers insist on a controlled temperature with a maximum fluctuation of 10° to 15°. But, at my Humboldt farm, in the hills near the East Branch of the South Fork of the Eel River, the temperature might reach 105° during the day and drop to 55° at night.

Our full-sun farms benefit from the sunshine as opposed to the LED lights used indoors. There are terpenes present in sun-grown cannabis that are not found in plants raised under full-spectrum LED lights. We are blessed by Humboldt’s amazing ecological pocket, a biosphere at about 500 feet elevation where the crop enjoys full-sun from the morning when it crests the horizon to the moment it hits the other side of it.

Second-generation farmers grow full-term plants that have been bred in the same area for decades and have become genetically predisposed to growing well in that location. Even the area’s winds and insecticides contribute by forcing the terpenes to generate more protective resin.

A local problem with powdery mildew is pursued with integrated pest management consisting of sprays made of peppermint oil, soybean oil, and rubbing alcohol. While it kills the pests immediately, it does not interact with terpene production.

The Humboldt effect has unique terpene profiles because of where it is grown, and how it is grown, and the inputs we use. While many use compost tea, Sunnabis tailors their compost tea. There’s a whole natural permaculture we implement that we don’t share with other growers in other areas.

Without commonly available potting soils and off-the-shelf nutrients, Humboldt plants offer distinctly rich flavors and smells. The Mango OG, for example, has an amazing pineapple tropical scent. The San Fernando OG is rich with grassy touches. And, the Sour Diesel is unmistakably Sour Diesel.

This distinction has lead track-and-trace program that ensures the authenticity of Humboldt-grown marijuana. Since originating in 2017, the CalOrigin system has gone on to protect public safety, enables regulation, and builds on Humboldt’s reputation as a preeminent cannabis-producing region.

Humboldt Proof of Origin

What started out as a lush and beautiful area whose isolation benefitted the first cannabis farmers in the 1960s, has now turned into the premier cannabis growing region in North America.