“We are both hands-on people – growing kind of makes you that way anyway – but since arriving we’ve had to become our own electricians, plumbers, farmers, woodsmen, builders, landscapers"
As summer slips into Autumn and the days of leaving the house in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts are but a fading memory, many of us will be looking towards the dark months ahead and dreaming of a place in the sun.
In the Autumn of 2012, the dream was made reality by two twenty-somethings who decided to swap the financial-crisis-crippled UK and the urban landscape of northern England for a new life on a rural mountainside in northern Spain. Yes, it does sound like a plot line from a crap relocation TV program but that’s where the similarity ends…entirely.
Mitch and Tim, aged 31 and 29, have spent the past two years attempting to turn their passion for cannabis cultivation into a viable career path. Their story is a triumph in the true tradition of the British adventurer, brimming with true grit and DIY ethos. The result is Mephisto Genetics, a small business selling auto-flower seeds that come in all varieties, from the ‘super fast to massively stinky, stubby sea-of-green specials to knock-you-out-potency and incredible hash plants to amazing bubblegum flavors.’
Living the dream or what?
Like many seed companies, Mitch and Tim were attracted to Spain for its tolerance towards the world’s favorite illicit plant. As legal attitudes towards cannabis in the UK remain stubbornly stuck somewhere between the Middle Ages and Victorian middle England, Spain, and particularly the northeast region of Catalunya, is generally far more relaxed about the consumption and small scale cultivation of the plant.
The story starts in the UK, where Mitch had just graduated from university. With Britain gripped in the icy claw of the financial crisis, job prospects were bleak and despite his degree he ended up doing laboring and building jobs to make ends meet. Likewise with old friend Tim, who had ended up as a care worker… until he lost his job.
In the words of the immortal Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it. ” The catalyst for Mitch came when a close friend died and he made the decision that he would move to Spain.
“I had been breeding in the UK for several years, purely as a hobby. Collecting seeds was expensive and breeding was impractical because of the small spaces I was working in. But it was really exciting and liberating to make seeds and then create a strain I’d dreamt about. Spain offered the opportunity to do it properly.”
Once his mind was made he approached Tim to be his partner. The two had lived together before, had a shared passion for growing and a few practical skills that would prove to be very handy in the months to come. In Autumn 2012, the two of them took over a ramshackle farmhouse with a hectare of land, made up of forest and hard clay soil, and set about building the dream that would culminate with the launch of Mephisto Genetics, in May of this year.
Mephisto HQ, situated at the end of a dirt track on a mountain, and miles away from the nearest village, was ‘rough around the edges’ when they first arrived, to put it mildly. There was no gas for cooking or central heating, dodgy electrics, no mains water or phone line (two years later they still rely on satellite for their internet) and hardly any furniture. What Mitch and Tim did have however, was boxes of grow equipment that had been shipped over from the UK along with precious seeds and cuttings.
In the early days, dinner was an al fresco affair – the first meal consisted of pasta cooked in a paella pan over an open fire – and they were often a meal themselves for the swarms of mosquitoes inhabiting the woods. The switch from a northern industrial city to a rural mountainside was a shock initially and Mitch jokes that he wished he’d watched more Ray Mears before embarking on the adventure. However, undaunted, the lads set to work.
They started converting the cellar of the farmhouse into a grow set up, complete with veg room, a cuttings station to house mother plants, a tent room to use for ‘projects’ and a decent space split into two flowering rooms. It was at this point that the two got to use some of their previous life skills – from design to build, by way of some rudimentary electrics work.
The trouble with moving to your place in the sun is that, after a few weeks, the holiday feeling inevitably wears off and the reality sets in. For Mitch and Tim, this was the coming of winter. They laugh as they recount their naivety of those early days.
“We hadn’t even bought coats with us,” says Tim. “We thought ‘Oh, it’s Spain, it’ll be warm’, but in fact in Spain the winter is fucking freezing – especially up on a mountain! You might be able to enjoy the sunshine in the day, but once the sun dips the temperatures drop dramatically. We spent the first winter camped on the sofa about six inches away from the fire.”
The first year was a non-stop merry-go-round of hard work and minor catastrophe as Mitch and Tim set about building the infrastructure for the Mephisto breeding progra:; flash floods coming off the mountain and swamping their cellar, the coldest Spanish spring since the 1890s and having to move their greenhouses from one site to another because they had set them up on the neighbor’s land by mistake!
Living on a mountainside, new to the country and lacking in resources and a reliable network to call on, the two had to adapt quickly and be versatile. Because of the location of the farm everything has to be done by hand, from clearing trees and preparing ground to pollination and separating seeds from buds. Nevertheless, necessity is the mother of invention and the two have learnt to be innovative. They are particularly proud of a device they refer to as The De-seed-a-tron 3000 v.2.0 , a homemade contraption which reduced the time they spent seed shucking from 2 days to a couple of hours.
As Mitch explains, “We are both hands-on people – growing kind of makes you that way anyway – but since arriving we’ve had to become our own electricians, plumbers, farmers, woodsmen, builders, landscapers… The place is always a work in progress, improving little by little, whether using a different grow style or finding a better way to do a task, with just the two of us efficiency is the key.”
There are also the usual problems that come with breeding. New auto projects are conducted indoors, while outdoor greenhouses are used to make extra stock of existing varieties and testing outdoor strains. “Whatever time of year, there are different things to combat – mold, mildew and spider mites are the main annoyances,” says Tim.
However, they have been fortunate enough to make a few contacts, amongst industry people living in the region, who have been able to offer advice and assistance. These include Karma from Karma Genetics and legendary cannabis grower Jorge Cervantes, whose handbook to growing has been referred to simply as ‘The Bible’, who became interested in what the guys were doing and is including them as a case study in his new book.
Through all the trials and tribulations, the process of breeding and selecting plants continued until Mitch and Tim reached the point at which they were ready to start trading… only to encounter a whole new set of inconvenient realities as they got to grips with the bureaucracy and paperwork involved in setting up a business in Spain.
And how about the scene in Spain? Is Barcelona really set to become the new Amsterdam? Mitch laughs. “I think the relaxed attitude will always remain with people here, but regarding the government, I’m not so sure. They are gradually tightening and developing the regulations here, at least to do with the laws surrounding associations (cannabis social clubs). I personally don’t think Barcelona will become the new Amsterdam, although it would be great if it did.”
Mephisto finally launched in May 2014. Having drummed up interest in their project through forum posts documenting their story, orders have been coming in directly to their website, as well as from distribution through Seedsman and grow shops. Best selling strains have been their Chem City Blues and Sour Crack to date and November sees the release of their next ‘elite’ auto collection including: ChemDogging, The Ghost Train Haze, Alien OG, Triangle Kush and Toof Decay.
“The response since launch has been fantastic,” says Mitch. “I think people like the fact that we’re just two guys, doing it all ourselves and many people have been following our story so they know we’re genuine and into producing quality seeds (rather than just making cash).Reactions to the product have been good – we’ve had many people say ‘it’s auto?… REALLY?’, which is great. The levels of THC keep getting stronger too and there isn’t a strain in our collection that is less than 15% now.”
While Mitch admits that the whole experience has been a succession of challenges, there’s no going back. “All in all, we’ve been through the mill a bit. At times it’s felt like our own personal combination of Breaking Bad and the Trailer Park Boys, but we certainly couldn’t have accomplished what we have and live with peace of mind, like we do here, at home. Whatever the future holds, I doubt we will return to England for a long time.”
Originally published in Weed World Magazine Issue 113