Kurtis Johnson from Thomson Farm One spares no details as he talks about how optimizes his 5,000 foot Las Vegas grow. Including stacking plants into two-story arrangements, adding nutrients to the water, adding CO2 and more. Listen in for the crucial details that will make you grow successful.
[1:20] – Kurtis’s approach to a grow
[3:55] – Kurtis’s background
[12:01] – Kurtis talks about the layout of his grow
[17:01] – The purpose of carbon in water filtering
[21:31] – Dissolved oxygen and pests
[31:54] – Kurtis talks about Compost Tea
[36:01] – Kurtis talks about stacked growing
[40:32] – Plant temperature
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Today we're going to walk you through the challenges, opportunities and day to day operations of the 5,000 square foot grow with Kurtis Johnson from Thompson Farm One. Kurtis, welcome to CannaInsider.
Kurtis: Matthew, thanks so much for having me on board.
Matthew: Kurtis, give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?
Kurtis: I'm here in Las Vegas, Nevada, Southern Nevada. We're ideally, you know, about four hours from the beach and about an hour from the mountains. So we're a...Sin City is what some people call it, but it's just a beautiful little town based on an oasis.
Matthew: I think you're little bit of a different mindset, kind of an engineering mindset you bring to growing, and I want to let the listeners understand how you think about cultivation. It's different and a little bit refreshing. So why don't you just tell us what you think about it, how you think about it and the lenses you use when you look at your grow?
Kurtis: Well, thinking differently is certainly not always a compliment. But thank you.
Matthew: It's not always, yes.
Kurtis: I come from...my degrees are in mathematics and in physics, and I just look at the math of what we're trying to do. I come from a family of small business owners, and when I looked at cultivation and, you know, legalization of cannabis, I looked at how can I maximize output, really care for the quality of the product and the plant. And then the most, you know, critical function for us here is really energy and thermal management. So I look at those issues and I just do the math. You know, the math predicts what's gonna make best. And the challenging part of cannabis cultivation, there's some great people like Jorge Cervantes, is just...he's just got a fabulous bible of medical marijuana. I don't have it right in front of me but his book is just fantastic. Ed Rosenthal's book is fantastic.
There's a lot of great people who've done a lot of great work in genetics and in cultivation. And so, I just, you know, I devour information. I read everything I could about what other people are doing and doing well, and then I just work to network to find the people who seem to have their head on straight, who seem to understand, you know, both the business aspect of it and also people who look at solving problems, you know. You know, there's a lot of people with some great solutions, but, you know, a lot of people have been working in a quiet dark space. It's really light inside but it's awfully dark on the outside for people who've been growing kind of I guess off-grid or off the radar and not selling through legal or other functions.
So collecting that information too has been a great way for me to look at building the best possible facility. So that's been my goal is to build the best possible facility, and to try to work in a design-build function so that I'm reducing ongoing labor costs and reducing steps, but still keeping the work, you know, as an enjoyable labor as opposed to, you know, an Orwellian work environment.
Matthew: Sure. I don't know what's that. You mentioned science and math as your background. What were you doing before getting into the cannabis cultivation business?
Kurtis: I was running a small collection of automotive repair and specialization and design, you know, like design modification build, specialty car shops. And my family comes from automotive racing on the recreational or on the amateur side. And, you know, I grew up in the garage with my dad. My dad's a carpenter by trade and an engineer by necessity and that kind of...Minnesota farm kid bootstrap education to how can we make this better, stronger, faster, build the six million dollar-man with the leftover parts of the tractor? That's where I come. And when I retired from the automotive business and from the real estate business here in Las Vegas, and as a lot of us were forced to do in the Great Recession, I looked at what did I wanna do in the future? I'd always been involved in some like closet growing with the legal medical card and, you know, passed in my life I'd grown on the, you know, grown in the ditches of the farms in Minnesota.
So cannabis cultivation and growing into that as a business that had an opportunity for business was something that interested me. And so, I got started with a partner and we just learned and grew and learned more and grew more and did a better job, build a better product, build a better system and then did a ton of testing between our two kind of mini-grows and our test grows. Prior to legalization, we built through all kinds of different growing environments: aeroponic, hydroponic, soil cocoa, [SP] deep water culture, different mediums, different feeds, different testing was and is a key part in building a great product when it comes to cultivation. So what happens...
Mathew: How did you arrive at your current growing media? What are you using now? You mentioned aeroponics, hydroponic, all these things. What do you use now to grow your plants and what do you think has been the kind of tradeoffs as you switched between doing growing media?
Kurtis: Everything is obviously a balance of, you know, what works best in a given space. I think tuning a room, tuning a grow space is about a six-month process. It seems like every different space has its own kind of, you know, I don't know, magic. I don't think it's this way to put it in the scientific way. So tuning a room to what fits best and here we have closed environments because we can't expose our product to 115 degree super dry air during the summer months and we don't want any smell to leave those spaces as dictated by regulation. So, you know, we look at a lot of work with our air conditioning and our dehumidification. And what we've found best is a cocoa mix that seems to give us, you know, rapid growth, ease of transportability and, you know, consistent results.
There's a guy, Lewis Miller, Miller Soils, he just seems to have...he grows...he doesn't grow product. He grows soil and he has, you know, really refined a cocoa mix that really fits and does well, can be, you know, just drip irrigated and drained and it just that's a system of success. It's simple. It doesn't involve too much craziness with, you know, dependency on pumps and people and all the rest. I mean we're automated in how we feed to be sure because we, you know, it is too much work to do that on a regular basis by hand. But his system of, you know, the cocoa that he gets, produces, and the soil that he builds for on organic-based bed are the things that make life easy when it comes to growing and that's simplicity.
Matthew: Okay. Is he just in Vegas or is he all over?
Kurtis: He's out of Boulder and he's...he ships containers of his made dirt throughout the United States and even internationally. So I mean he's kind of a...he's a connoisseur of dirt. I mean he's so funny and I'm not...I know him...I've never actually seen him, but I know him by finding him, talking to him on the phone. And he was a suggestion from somebody that I do some nutrient work with and like it just...my nutrient numbers weren't...I measure pH, EC, dissolved oxygen content and salts and solids going in and coming out of my medias. And when I look at, you know, I look at these variances and I was trying to define what's causing, you know, microbes, do I have...what do I have that's creating these changes? You know, and when I went to the Millers Soils cocoa mix, it just...like all that stopped. It became consistent. And consistency is the only thing a scientist can use to make improvements, you know.
There's lots of things that happen that make plants go great and we don't have any idea why. But eliminate the inconsistent things that come out in the numbers you can measure and then you can really do something about it. So that's how I found him. That's how I worked with him and he's also just wicked smart when it comes to what's going in the dirt and what's...and he's got a whole test and research section of building new dirt. I don't know if dirt's the right word. Soils probably [crosstalk 00:10:31]. But...so that's what we've been. We're in small pots and trays and drain. I mean there's a little extra work involved in that, but transplanting goes easy. There is forgivability in basically 3,000 feet of flour, we're knocking out two and a half to four pounds seven days a week of cut dried product. And in that we need consistency on a perpetual harvest in a couple of rooms of flour. Consistency is really important and a little bit of forgivability.
And if you have an emitter plug or cause [SP] a problem as to some of the more advanced and I think better yield functions of aeroponic or deep culture, you're gonna lose a product in a mechanical mistake or in a mechanical failure that you can't watch everything all the time. I mean we'd like to, but there's only 24 hours in a day. And, you know, as my construction working father would say, you know, all I want to do is work half days. Any 12 you want, no problem.
Matthew: Well, walk us through your grow. I mentioned the size, but tell us more about the size, how many people you have working in there, the look and feel and just a look over your shoulder as you would be panning through your grow.
Kurtis: We start out with just some racked, you know, racked cloning and propagation off of a few dozen mothers. We'd do basically a nitrogen deprivation pre-clips so that the mother is really ready to grow roots. We get our clippings into propagation domes. We get those rooted. Those go into small pots for a little care, you know, basically a seven by seven by seven little pot. And with Louis's cocoa and we start on a light feed that ramps up pretty quickly, those then just go into...so that's basically a third of what we have going on, a little less than that mothers and propagation. And then that jumps into two rooms that make up, you know, basically 1500 plus feet a piece. And there, one is racked in two levels so we're running in, you know, we're running in a vertical function. We have a bit of heights in there and we're able to capture the heat and get it out.
So those two levels just, you know, we go basically, you know, clip, root and then flower. So we knock those girls through as quickly as we can, care for them, take care of them, make sure that everything rolls smoothly with their nutrient program. They go in the automated systems. We have, you know, water totes [SP] of our...we clean our water hard with an RO system in advance, RO carbon, and then we add to our water the nutrients needed and we do something a little different which is oxygenation. So I use a water splitter. That splits hydrogen and oxygen inside of our nutrient tank so enough salt base and there's enough electric conductivity in there that we're able to split the water, the hydrogen boils out the top and the oxygen gets sucked into the nutrient base.
So roots need oxygen more than I think a lot of growers bring to value. And if we're for taking our dissolved oxygen in the water in the range of, you know, tap water, sitting still water, will be like a dissolved oxygen ratio of like 7 and we get it up into 18 to 20 by, you know, not through a bubbler but through actually splitting the water and oxygen and hydrogen. And that...you know, those microcapsules that come out of those electrolyte plates that split the water, the oxygen dissolves back in. And so you get a heavy concentration of oxygen in what you're feeding. And that's been something I think that really helps us as well to keep our systems clean and also to really produce, you know, high volume from less electricity and less...because root is fruit, you know. The better your root structure, the better you go there.
So we have the three levels. It's kind of a segue there into the water. And so we have the three levels in one room, two levels in the other room. We look at our genetics that can tolerate more heat. Those run on the top decks. Our middle deck...and these are decks that are six foot tall. Our middle deck is...are kind of our premium product that can run in the middle, and then stuff that needs a lot of attention we keep on the...just basically knee-high level so that we're able to kind of dote on those girls to make sure that they're well cared for and that they get the extra pruning and the extra effort. The stuff that goes on top doesn't get a lot of prune because it doesn't, you know...working up there doesn't work well so that mostly goes for extraction.
And that gives us extra production and value out of a smaller space, you know. If we had more money, we'd have a bigger space but, you know, we grow as we grow. And sometimes we have what we have and we do the best with it. That's part of what happens.
Matthew: I wanna circle back there to the water for a second because you said some interesting things. First of all, for everybody listening, RO is reverse osmosis. But you also mentioned that you do the carbon filter which, you know, like a [inaudible 00:16:44] is a carbon filter essentially that takes out some of the impurities for the flavor and so forth. But what is the purpose of the carbon? Is that really just like a gross kind of cleaning agents before it goes into a fine cleaning agent or what's your thought around that?
Kurtis: The public water we have here in Las Vegas is a combination of what comes out of the wells, and that's all heavily alkalined, and what comes out of Lake Mead which is the Colorado River. And that's heavily treated and heavily chlorined. In addition, years ago there was a small rocket fuel plant that blew up here, and we have some perchlorate and a lot of estrogens and a lot of PCBs in our water. It's all drinkable and fine and wonderful. I'm not saying anything about the water district, just I look for basically as close to distilled water as I can get. And so, I start with a heavy carbon wash that's just activated carbon and, you know, what would be at home you'd think of like one of your tanks for your water softener. But that's just all just a...it's just a changeable media activated carbon. Then we run through an RO, you know, a GE Marilyn, [SP] a large industrial style RO.
And then we look at what's our EC, our electrical conductivity, and what's our pH of our water. And, you know, that gets us the clean water that we can then add back in what we want. You know, you can't feed distilled water. It strips everything...you can't drink it either actually. You shouldn't because it strips all the minerals back out. Water is a fabulous solvent. And so we wanna add the minerals that can be actively taken up by the plant. And so, we add those back in after we've basically stripped the water to be as clean as possible. So that's the activity...that's the prefilled water. We do use that sometimes as an end of cycle flush just a couple days before harvest. But, you know, traditionally, that's just prepped water that's ready to go for us and to add back in what water plants desire.
Matthew: Okay. So to flush out any remaining nutrients out of the plant, you mean use like a distilled type water with no nutrients?
Kurtis: More for us it's about flushing out the cocoa media. We look at that as a reusable, you know, as a reusable tool. If we flush that cocoa out and just, you know... We look at nutrient. We look at salt built up, you know. The meters that one has for water, you know, can start with...I would hope and believe that most growers would run a pH meter and then look at what's the acidity. Then you look at the EC, the electrical conductivity, which is gonna give you what's basically the salt load. And the salt loads are your minerals that you're adding back in. And then you look at the oxygen content of the water. And then we just lay our water out on a little glass slide and let it evaporate away and see what crystallizes, kind of like a mini rock candy, a little mini-rock candy set.
And we look at what, you know, what is hanging out in our water pre-feed and post-feed so we can see what's up taking, you know, what's happening there. I'd love to have a little more technology in water. I'd love to be able to look at the individual components, my phosphorous, my nitrogen and my potassium and my boron and my magnesium but...and my calcium. But I can't, you know. I don't have that scientific tooling to my disposal. We do take water out for a test periodically though just to see what it's looking like through a mass spectrometer that gives us some feedback on problem-solving if something seems to be a little strange or things are different.
Matthew: I wanna circle back to the dissolved oxygen too. Now I guess it's hard to tell because you don't have a basis for comparison. But does the dissolved oxygen help reduce pest problems because pests typically don't like oxygen? Is that true?
Kurtis: I don't have an answer for that. You know, I look at the microbial functions. When you look at microbes, algae is...seems to be ubiquitous to everybody's, you know, everybody's tanks, everybody's reservoir. Everyone sees algae. Algae, you know, algae's microscopic plant life that is, you know, found an ideal living environment and what we want for our plants is an ideal living environment. You know, perfect temperature, perfect humidity, perfect everything. Algae grabs the light and starts to grow, producing waste that ends up being a problem for us. So I use UV sterilization and I use ozone sterilization to work through the algae functions because I can pinpoint those and run, you know, run through filters that have UV light sterilization and have ozone sterilization to get rid of those...you know, the waterborne pests that we might see, the waterborne microbes that we don't wanna see coming back around.
The oxygen that we add to the water promotes, you know, promotes growth. It's kind of on the other side of that, you know. Oxygen is great. Oxygen is basically providing the fuel that makes things grow. You know, a match in a vacuum doesn't burn. It needs the oxygen and the oxygen is what, you know, what the plants use in their combination of the nutrients that they bring together along with the photosynthesis. So on the top side they're taking the CO2 and pull in the carbon out of the air, and on the bottom side, they're using the oxygen to oxidize those nutrients. Everything that we put in the water is water soluble, but it's water oxygen soluble. So when you add oxygen to that mix, those oxidizers grab on and they carry them up in through the plant in the water.
And that's...and then the plant can more easily pull those nutrient bases, those salts, and those minerals out and bring them to where they need to be inside the plant.
Matthew: This is fascinating subject. You know, what you could do with water and, you know, looking at this from various angles because I know there's a lot people listening. They're just like, ''Oh, crap. I'm just doing reverse osmosis.'' And maybe they're not looking at this quite as holistically. So maybe they do pH too but, you know, at the EC, oxygen content, all this sterilization with UV and ozone, there's a lot of things to consider here.
Kurtis: No, and the more you do, the more I learn about water, the more I feel like I don't know anything. It's just...I mean, when you look at adding...as you add salts in, the salts and minerals that we add in that are the plant nutrients, how do they bring changes in the migration of the...around the root. The rhizome layer, there's a...basically it would be a micro bloom of all the things that are so small. We can't see them or pay great attention to them but all those little viruses, little...all that activity in that is all incredible. So it's the difference between growing good soil and having good solid soil and good solid plants is the difference between spoiled milk and yogurt. It's what microbe is doing what for you. Those are the true engines of a grow is all that stuff that's down in the soil and making all that happen, you know. And the oxygen is part of that.
I think one of the reasons why when I've been doing different grow study tests, when I look at the deep water culture, which I love for results, it just it grows so well, you know, production-wise getting those... And I just was looking and looking at that and all the problems that occur with, you know, the pumping and the water and the pumps failing and the bubblers failing and, you know, just triple redundancy to keep a large scale grow rolling. And as 5000 feet is large scale, to be sure we're a little puppy. But when I look at all that and think, ''What is it that makes that so great?" and to me it's all that oxygen that's coming through the bubblers. And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe, you know, maybe I don't know enough about that. But when I started adding oxygen heavily to my water and getting my water to be oxygen-saturated pre-feed, I really felt like we just saw a big kick in plant health and in production.
Matthew: Just on a personal level, how do you drink [SP] water? Because typically I run water through reverse osmosis and then I just put it in glass jars and I just add like a pinch of sea salt to it. I'd like to add some trace minerals to it but I'm just too lazy. What do you do? Do you just drink tap water? What [inaudible 00:26:45]?
Kurtis: I drink...I'm a water goofball. So in past homes that I've lived in, I have a whole house RO system so the water gets carbon...basically, it's everything I do for my plants I do for myself. Big carbon collector, big reverse osmosis, put it in a tank, ozone the tank and then when it leaves the tank to go get pumped to inside the house where it's shower, drink, whatever because you're...you know, you're showering in chemistry as well when your largest organ is your skin. And you absorb as much water through your skin during the shower as you do drinking two glasses of water so.
So, you know, at that point when it's leaving the RO tank, the basic sterile tank, then I run it through a...you can buy collection filters that are built of crushed sea shells. And so, they have the calcium, the magnesium and a few other salts in them as well and minerals. So then I'm adding those back in. So I'm stripping the water clean, get at the point where I know what zero looks like or as close to zero as possible, and then I bounce it back up with... And I do that in the grows as well, you know. I just run...when the water is going out of the RO tank and going into the nutrient tank, it goes through that basic seashell. And that that lasts in the realm of 50,000 gallons and then you replace the cartridge and that cartridge adds back in those... And that's, you know, that's something that works in a whole system, you know. Putting in a jar, throw some salt in it is probably better than...I don't know.
You know, it's a balance, you know. It's a balance of what you do. Some people will hang crushed seashells just like in a tea bag in their gallon jugs, you know. That works well, you know, as opposed to putting just salt in. You just, you know, you have like a tea on a tea bag that you just have crushed seashells and those slowly release their mineral into that. So that would be would be my...and pH...I don't pH the water I drink regularly but I brew a lot of kombucha and I like to make vinegar. So...and I like to do some fermenting foods so pH is a...the pH meter that's down in the kitchen is as important as the pH meter that's upstairs in the grow. So, you know...
Matthew: So this is a fascinating topic. I know a lot of people listening are like, ''Oh, shit. I'm just drinking tap water. Am I polluted?'' And the answer is you probably are because tap water got, you know all these chemicals. We don't have Elon Musk at these municipal water districts, you know, making the water here. They're just doing the minimal thing they can to get away with it.
Kurtis: I'm gonna disagree with you in that realm. The water company is working to do their absolute...I mean it's amazing that nearly...I mean except for Flint, Michigan and maybe a few other places throughout our country, the water district, U.S. wide and Europe wide is amazing in the fact that I can flip on a tap and have clean drinkable water. Is the water perfect? No. Is it good enough? A hundred percent. Tap water is good enough. It really is. And, you know, and it's...I don't have any challenge at all, you know, drinking tap water. And I have friends in Wyoming and there's a lot of extraction in Wyoming and the water there is glacier, you know, glacier and aquifer-fed and it's beautiful. And I took some and I love the taste of it. And I took some and ran it through a test and it's, you know, it's pounding out benzene.
And I'm like, ''How is it benzene in this?" You're just...you're right up in Jackson Hall in the most beautiful place in the world and the water's got benzene in it. And you're just like, ''Goodness, what do we do next?'' And maybe a little benzene is good for you, you know. Think of it that way, you know. I got a bigger carbon filter there though.
Matthew: Well, I could go on with water all day. That could be a separate episode but I wanted to ask you about compost tea. Ever try to experiment with that?
Kurtis: I have, and my challenge with compost tea...and I do it at home but I don't do it at work. My challenge with compost tea is the inconsistency.
Matthew: Maybe I should back up on this. Can you tell us what compost tea is for people that are not familiar with that term?
Kurtis: So a lot of what we put into the plant, the plant uses to produce everything but what we want. It produces stems. It produces fan leaves. [SP] It produces starting leaves. It produces, you know, all the effervescence that come off the plant and then we smell in the air when we smell our grows. All that that doesn't go into what is the actual but inusable product is recyclable. So, you know, get that in to a composting environment. Let the microbes do their job in bringing it around to where it should be and then taking that product and, you know, bagging it into flow through bags and soaking that through with traditionally a lower pH environment. So I get my pH there around like 4.2, 4.4, in that range there, so my compost tea does not become a bloom of, you know, organic chemistry in algaes and in funguses and everything.
So I get the pH low. I get the nutrients basically that I've captured that the plant didn't necessarily use 100%, you know. And those were used for growth but not necessarily to produce THC, CBD, CBG, CBK or any of the turpines [SP] that we value. So those things I don't really, you know, I don't really think there's a reason why we shouldn't reuse those in the, you know, the biosphere of the earth that we live in. Everything gets reused. And in our little grows, reusing things is also, you know, of value and produces I think a more flavorful product in many people's eyes. And it tends to have a little more of an organic feel to making your teas, taking that basically the leftover product.
Now I add to that always because, you know, the production of THC and of the rest of the cannabinoids uses a lot of boron and it uses a lot of those microelements that they're not in the tea. That, you know, they get used up and harvested, put in a bag and, you know, brought for sale. So we need to add those back in and tea environments in a big organic and in a lot of soil and a lot of turn where you've got a lot of microbial activity, you've got a lot of worm activity, you've got a lot of even...in the outdoors where you've got a lot of bird activity grinding through your...they're out there hunting worms and they're providing fertilizer and guano as they go. So, you know...and stirring things up and moving microbes from your neighbor's garden to your garden. You know, that whole transitional world, you know, we're not doing much in our little sterile environments. So we have to add back in what we can.
Matthew: Now, I wanna circle back to when you were talking about your stack growing or your vertical growing. Is that something you started with right away or did you get comfortable with, you know, just one level and then you're like, "Hey, let's stack this because we've kind of understand how to grow now?" Or did you start right away with the stacks growing?
Kurtis: My smaller grows and my grows that I don't talk about were all on the flat and simple and an easier life. And when I went into an environment where I was tapped for space and wanted to get as much production out of the small space that I had, I just looked at going vertical as the solution and just built that out and started it. You know, there's a larger learning curve in getting air to move properly throughout a grow and getting, you know, getting plants to be happy in, you know, confined spaces. But a lot of growers have got decades of three by six by six closet experience and they might be better in those confined spaces than they are out in a big open canopy of grow so...
So we just went...we went stacked because we knew as our financial base business partners that we needed to be pound per square foot a leader in what we're doing and, you know, more square foot of grow in smaller square foot of building. Vertical is the way to do it. It's a pain harvesting on the third level and it's not, you know...and then when you get a problem with an emitter, it's not ideal and all that's not ideal. But, you know, we are problem solvers. You know, if we're in this industry we are problem solvers. Every grower, every cultivator, everybody I've ever met who's in this industry is a problem solver. You know, whether they have a Boy Scout badge or not, they come prepared to whatever the problem is that day. They solve it and, you know, they get the plants happy and they move ahead and that's what's great about it.
Matthew: And is there stratifications of air that...I mean there's temperature differences if you want CO2 and air movement and so forth? I mean the first...your first couple of harvest is in that situation was a little tricky. Did you have some discovery there? Some pain points at all or was it just...
Kurtis: Oh, 100%. Tuning...I think you need in a 60-day harvest cycle, by your third harvest cycle if you haven't got all your fans moved around and all of your dead spots resolved and all of your ducts tweaked and all of your emitters first spilled CO2, if it's tanked CO2 or through other methods for CO2 addition to a sealed room, if you haven't solved that by your 270-day mark, then you're not working hard enough on it. But first grow I just would call it tune grow and it doesn't, you know...and when I consult and help people, other people build out rooms, you know, these are most likely gonna go for extraction. We'll cap the A-grade product off the top. But we're not gonna have the kind of production we'd like to see the first run because we have to tune the space. We have to make the space fit for each individual micro space which is that individual plant and canopy and then that individual tray and those individual lights and then that...the air flow functions.
And it's amazing to me how I can walk through a grow and there's a hot spot. And it's right next to a fan. You know, like why is this spot hot? I'm like why is this spot... Ten steps down in row three in room three, there's a hot spot and I don't know why. I just know that I have to do everything in my power to keep that space cool. And, you know, canopy temperature's another interesting thing that I'm doing more and more work with which is not measuring the temperature in the room but measuring the temperature of the leaf.
Matthew: And how do you do that? I think there's some tools where you can just like shoot like a beam across and it'll tell you the temperature, right? Or how do you do it?
Kurtis: I use an, you know...we measure room temperature in like a thousand places because we have three levels and so basically every bay has a little thermometer. And those are magnet and we're on metal rocking so we move those around and we're like always...and then our main temperature and our HVAC system temperature is...we have two HVACs that have thermostats on different ends of the room. So, you know, that works through. And then I use just a laser inforometer and the key there is you gotta shield the light and then measure the temperature and then pull back because if you measure the temperature when the light's beating, you're measuring the infrared energy that's bouncing back in the green color. And so you shield it, measure it, that kind of like boom, boom. It's like...I don't know what you call it. It's like mini golf, you know. You gotta get the wind...you gotta shoot when the windmill's not covering the hole.
I don't know how is it like that but if you let it cool down it doesn't do any good. So, you know, when...you take those temperatures and look at what your leaf temperature is because you're leaf has a stoma and that stoma is a series of, you know, micro openings that control the perspiration of the plant and that control the intake of the CO2 in the plant. And if the plant's too hot, it opens the top, dumps water and closes the bottom to get more cooling space. And, you know, and if the plant's too cold it closes the top so you're not...you're just loading up on water that you've pulled all of the nutrients out of but now that's just sitting there bloating the leaf and then your bottom stoma is opening but there's not enough energy going on because you're just awashed in basically plant or road water.
You look at the water that comes out of the dehumidifiers in the rooms, you're loading so much nutrients, salt and minerals into that water and the plants take it all up, either take it to waste or take it to good, and they just evaporate clear pure water. So that evaporated water, that comes out of those plants and if you put a gallon in a plant, you're gonna get eight-tenths or eight out of ten cups that you put in to the ground come out in the air and only two of those cups are split apart by the plant and used to add hydrogen to the hydrocarbons with the carbon monoxide that's in the air to make structure. That would be stems, leaves and otherwise. And then, you know, the tetrocanamonoid [SP] groupings, you know, those hydrogens come out of the water. And the plant needs the energy and the right temperature to split that water into oxygen and into hydrogen so it can build the product.
Matthew: What kind of systems do you have in place if any for kind of power outages or redundancy there? Like if you're grow, if there's no electricity for some reason on a Sunday, you're are not there, what happens? I mean because it's so hot there in Las Vegas. What do you do?
Kurtis: We've two services that come to the building. And in Las Vegas, because we only make money when we process people pushing buttons on machines, not completely but kind of, Las Vegas in an average year if you have more than eight minutes of power out at any address, it's amazing.
Matthew: Like you say, slot machines in the gaming industry, they need that power.
Kurtis: The power system is super redundant. It's well-managed. The power outage here comes from your local transformer being struck in an auto accident 100% of the time. We don't have weather. We don't have ice storms. We don't have high winds. I mean we do have high winds but we built for it, you know, and the power company does. We have redundancy. We have extra capacity, you know. We have...so power failure here is rare, you know, rare and generally local. That said, we have a natural gas generator. And in an ideal world, we would run the natural gas generator to operate the lights, and we would run the grid to operate our A-track. And the reason for that would be the natural gas generator would be generating the power to reproduce the sun, and in that natural gas generator, we produce thousands of pounds of CO2 to simply filter and dump back into the room after it's been cooled so our plants can breathe it.
So we gain in two ways there. That's future systems for me. I don't have a natural gas generator that's running complete and 100% yet to run lights, but that would be my goal. And, eventually, you know, eventually, I'd like to be a little more off-grid just because natural gas power here is $0.80 on the dollar so, you know, you save money by being your own local power generator.
Matthew: What kind of lights are you using? Are you using traditional LED?
Kurtis: I really like the 315 ceramic metal halide. That's my current. I've got 60 of an offshore brand of LED that work well and that I like, produce really stubby short plants which is nice for a top level and don't require any...really much of any cooling. So LED, HPS and the lamp a preference for me is the ceramic metal halide. And, you know, whether it's, you know, right or wrong it seems like the Philips, the actual Philips labeled bulb is a bulb that's worth paying extra for. So but...and, you know, they run for like...they're 315 watts. They produce a really nice spectrum. And one of the things that...whenever one looks at lighting spectrum, people do or don't, but if you look at the lighting spectrum you see the nanometers and the bumps and here's where things come in, here's where things go out, here's what the plant uses.
I look at past the 800 range where the ultraviolet functions are and the ceramic metal highlights produce a nice ultraviolet spike that nobody else gets. And I think that improves the density of the product, improves the yield and improves the overall flavor and taste that those high energy photons that are coming out of that ultraviolet light in those lamps make a difference. And we get a fair amount of ultraviolet outside that we don't produce inside with a just a standard metal halide or a standard HPS or a standard LED or those...that ultraviolet side is interesting. And I've even in a test grow, you know, thrown up some tanning bulbs to increase ultraviolet in my test groups.
Matthew: That's cool. That's cool. Tell us how you manage the CO2 in your grow. I'm sure people will be interested in that. And what's the optimal level of CO2?
Kurtis: I like to see consistency most importantly in the CO2 because you train the plant to look for that amount of CO2. So fluctuations in CO2 to me are worse than, you know, worse than anything else. I use wall mounted CO2 meters that, you know, that I move around a bit, you know, as I'm tuning a room to kind of find that low spot in the room. And those wall mounted CO2 meters manage a cut point, you know, or a swing point, generally about 1,200 parts per million on the bottom and 1,350 on the top. And that parts per million of CO2 is then [inaudible 00:49:40] in to the HVAC system after the air is cooled. So the air is cooled, dehumidified and then CO2 is added back in and then it's dumped into the room and makes it cycle. And then those are driven off of...we drive those off of the light sensor as well because we're fine during the sleeping time, you know, dropping the CO2 down into the, you know,500, 600 range.
Ambient CO2 in most environments used to be about 320. It's about 410, 425 right now kind of U.S. wide. I think it's a little higher on the West Coast during the fire season. But...and that drifts across, you know. The Midwest sucks up a lot of CO2. So the East Coast has a little less CO2 content than we do here but we get the ocean CO2 and we get the fire CO2 and we get some CO2 out of China. So our ambient CO2 is a little higher here than it is on the East Coast. So we add back in.
Matthew: What about the Brix level? Can you tell us about that? What does that mean exactly?
Kurtis: Brix is a measure in general horticulture and actual real...it's a real world farming but in bulk farming, real farms. You know, people who grow vegetables, people who grow hothouse crops, they measure Brix. Brix is a measure of the sugar level, the...it's a combination of gluecoids [SP] or glucoses that are in the plant's fluids, you know, that are in the sap basically or the, you know, the fluids that come out of the plant. So whenever I'm doing any tuning of a room, I'm...when I'm doing, you know, trimming and cutting back, I will press out that basic sap and the plant's fluids and you drop it onto a...it's a refractometer which is something that measures the speed of light through a medium.
So the light comes in through the top. It's diffused. It goes through the layer of plant fluid or through the sap, and then it goes through a prism. And the speed of the light through that sugar makes you basically a shadow line on a scale. And the top of the shadow line, if it's real crisp, tells you that your calcium level in that sugar is up where you need it to be. If that top line is real fuzzy, you're low on Boron and you're low on calcium. And then that line, the shadow line from below gives you the amount of sugars that you have. So the greater your sugars, the higher your shadow is on your scale. And the nice thing about Brix is it's almost an immediate measure of the plant's uptake. So Brix changes throughout the day. It changes throughout the watering cycle and consistency in time of measurement, you know.
If you always measure Brix an hour after the lights' turned on, if you watered when the lights' shut off at night or you wanna...you don't wanna be just gathering numbers because those numbers are on a cyclic scale as a plant breathes, operates, grows and loads sugar into...loads the sugars and then loads the carbon up into the buds. So you measure Brix as a standard ideal plant level for me in cannabis with no effort and just randomly growing away thinking I'm doing a great job, looking at overly watered fat, poorly...beautiful plants but poor producers will be about eight. And if I can really work hard, I can get Brix to about 12 and that's some in dehydration, you know, making sure that I keep that leaf as dry as possible so that it isn't loaded with water that's doing it no good that it can't use to grow.
You know, once the water is done it's gotta get out, so I need to keep that room dehumidified so I can get the water out of the plant so it can get new water with new energy in it. So that's where Brix is and there's a whole ton of new work on soluble and, you know, the humid elements that go into the soil and into Boron levels that help you with a Brix meter. And, you know, that...there's a whole, you know, building your nutrient base for a Brix level and building your lighting schedules for a Brix level is really building your grow for a really solid production on a per square foot and on a per kilowatt basis. And those are the keys. To get production up, I mean it's...you know. And it's also Brix is also flavor. You know, when you have plants that are too dry but don't have enough sugar and that don't make enough Brix, they're gonna have that kind of hay smell as you go through. I don't know if you've experienced that in any of the grows that you've been through or...but, you know, as things are starting to dry you kind of get that hay type smell.
And that's, you know, that's not enough going on in the sugar inside the plant. So that once you've cut it and are working to cure it, it's gotta have that left over sugar and that left over Boron and that, you know, that comes from the plant storage and getting that, you know, getting everything going on in the [inaudible 00:56:04], the root zone basically, getting all that stuff to work properly so that it gets up in and gets in. So measuring Brix, lots of people...like I'll do a lamp and I'll just measure the Brix every day at a given time and I'll use that little lamp as a test. I'll keep adjusting what's going on, what's going on, what's going on. And I just look at the Brix level and when I see it that I've got a consistent improvement on the Brix level then I apply that to all the other lamps that are like that lamp within the grow.
And that's where you do some adjustment and, you know, the higher levels are drier and hotter and, you know, see if you adjust accordingly in what you're trying to get out.
Matthew: Okay. So for people that are interested in learning more about that, Brix is spelled B-R-I-X.
Matthew: Okay. You know, I'd like to switch to some personal development questions, Kurtis, if you're up for it.
Matthew: I'd like our listeners to get a sense of who you are personally. With that, is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you'd like to share with listeners? Doesn't have to do with cannabis or growing or anything, just anything that you've enjoyed.
Kurtis: I read about a book a week, and so it's really hard for me to say like, ''Oh, I just, love, love, love this.'' I would read and I do as a performing art, Andy Weir's "The Egg." Andy Weir's the man who wrote "The Martian" which was a great book and a pretty solid movie for those of us who like spacey stuff. But "The Egg" is a little bit of a touchy-feely guide to, you know, what's it all about. It's short and, you know, I can do it as a seven or eight-minute performance art piece. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" I think is an important look at humanity and how we all work together and how to...and that's Douglas Adams, of course.
Mathew: I've never heard of it. Never read it.
Kurtis: Okay. "Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy," it's great reading. I like "Stranger in a Strange Land." That's Robert Heinlein. I'm a little on the science fiction-y, kind of geeky goofball side. But, you know, that's good and I wear it well. It goes with my armor and glasses, no tape. And then Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," I think is required reading.
Matthew: Yes that's the gentleman that was in the concentration camp. Is that him?
Kurtis: Yeah, yeah, Viktor Frankl. Was a psychology student who tucked his Ph.D. dissertation into his underwear as he marched into the train and survived Auschwitz and has written extensively on his... But "Man's Search for Meaning" it's just, you know, it's heartbreaking. It's beautiful. You know, it's hard and it's good.
Matthew: How did...he kinda had like a mental framework on how he looked at things that helped him get through it? Is that what the gist of it is?
Kurtis: Yeah. The little story I tell from that and that I share with people when I try to, you know, talk to people about it, he...you know, everything in his life is lost. He's seen his family destroyed. He's seen, you know...for no cause other than, you know, the color of his skin and the heritage of his family and I think some of that fits in today's culture sadly. But he lost everything and he's a decently healthy slave labor, going out of the camp every day as a slave labor with very little food and little clothing, etc. The gentleman in the bunk next to him is praying, thanking God for, you know, for...you know, just saying his prayers.
And he hits the guy, Victor Frankl hits the guy and says, "What can you be thankful for? Every single thing in our life has been destroyed just because we're Jewish. Every single thing in our life has been taken from us. Every single thing that matters to us is gone and we're slaves to these pigs." And the guy calmly turns over and says, "I am thankful I'm not one of the guards."
Matthew: Bad karma forever. That's a bad cycle.
Kurtis: "I can live this or I can die here and I am a good person, and they cannot." And that for me is what "Man's Search for Meaning" is about. I am a good person and I will do my best to do good.
Matthew: That's crazy. That's a good story. I went to a concentration camp this year in the Czech Republic visit [inaudible 01:01:50]. It's amazing to see how the whole thing operated and also what a mind game the Nazis were playing all the time to not only was it physically torturous and emotionally, but they're always using these psychological tactics to convince the Jews that if they worked harder, you know, that would give them freedom, mental freedom or actually somehow physical freedom some point in the future just to get them to work more. And they had a German all around the camp, you know, work will make you free. It's just craziness. It's excellent thing to do [inaudible 01:02:30] an interest to go see one. It's definitely worth it, although heartbreaking. But I'm glad you shared that little excerpt from the book.
Kurtis: Well, history does...I heard this the other day. History doesn't repeat itself, it does rhyme.
Kurtis: It does rhyme so, you know, we need to work to be good and to, you know, and to share the blessings we have. And that's, you know...those are kind of the three, you know. I'm reading Dr. Waggle's "Fantastic Laboratory" about typhus and this is...that's also based during the concentration camp era in Poland. And, you know, and that's, you know...the Polish world pre-Nazi world was really an incredible thing. I don't know if you knew much in Poland when you've been there in Europe but, you know, I'm just...I'm like driven to see some of these places and spend some more time to there.
Matthew: Kurtis, is there a tool web-based or otherwise that you consider valuable to your productivity?
Kurtis: I write a list before I go to bed.
Matthew: The things you need to do the next day?
Kurtis: Sometimes it's just the things I'm thankful for or sometimes it's the things I wanna get done. Sometimes it's stuff I know I'm gonna forget when I get up. And those are kind of random in a way but I just...I try to memorialize and I take a sheet of scrap paper that came out of the printer, I fold it in half so I just got the narrow but tall, like envelope-sized kind of like a folded piece of paper in half. And I put the date on the top. I date every single...if I write on something I put the date on it. I'm always frustrated to find a note and not know when it came from or where, and I'm not as organized as...anybody who knows me would tell you easily I'm super disorganized.
But so I write a list and then, you know, I write that list and I get my glass of water and I go up and read. And in the morning that list is on the counter and, you know, I start there. I've also pretty much deleted social media, you know. I'm a little more of a Kora [SP] fan than I used to be now that I'm out of the rest of social media. But, you know, I was told [inaudible 01:05:10].
Matthew: Good suggestion to get rid of social media. There's a big distraction. Now if there's any, you know, companies, dispensaries or anybody in Vegas that is looking for, you know, your extracts or they're looking for flowers or anything, how can they get a hold of you? What do you provide or how can people connect with you?
Kurtis: We're a wholesaler and my business partners manage everything beyond just, you know...I manage the growing side. They manage the selling side. So, you know, I focus on growth and innovation and then I also work, because I'm a small part of this grow, I work as a consultant to help other grows get started and rolling and to help other people solve their problems. And so, you know, I have clients, you know, up in the triangle. I have some clients in California. I have some clients here and some clients in Arizona and I have a client in Wyoming. So that consulting work that I do is more of my, you know...this 5,000 feet is...and my own personal grows are more testing and gathering information and improving upon things and, you know, production as well.
But my true goal is to spend more time in broadening the skill set that I seem to have collected in how to build an efficient, low labor cost, high production cost... Our wholesale cost in getting a pound out the door including profit, overhead and everything is $360. And so I look at being able to...other people are spending close to a $1000 in an indoor grow, high labor costs, high energy costs, high waste costs. Sharing that ability to save...penny saved, penny earned and that comes more to...what I desire to do more of in the future and...versus just plant husbandry. So I would say just, you know, anybody can call me on my direct cell which is 702-480-7676. And like I welcome a call. And if somebody wants to share my number with a troll or a prankster, love it, you know. I enjoy new perspectives. That's not an invitation but, you know...but no, I mean call me.
I don't always answer, but I always get the message. You know, and I'm looking to grow other people's businesses and have a little more...you know, one of the challenges in running a grow is it is a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day job. And, you know, you have good people you work with and you work together with good people and that's great. But you also...I also desire a little more travel and a little bit more interest than just maximizing what I'm doing. I wanna help other people maximize as well. And I have an email too that's really simple. It's kurtis, K-U-R-T-I-S, firstname.lastname@example.org. And those are my two best contacts, you know. Shoot me a line, let me know how I can help or, you know, if you have a question about some crazy thing I've talked about or need a reading list, you know, I'm good at that stuff.
Matthew: All right. Well, Kurtis, thanks so much for coming on the show today. We really geeked out here for a long time and I appreciate all the details and nuances of everything you shared with us. And I know there's a lot of people out there that did as well that you really helped. So thank you for that and good luck with everything you have going on in Vegas and everywhere else.
Kurtis: No, thank you, Matt. And one of the things I really have to say is how much I love your podcast. And I love the variety of people that...I mean one of the things that's really great for me in listening to what...and I found you, I don't know, two and a half years ago or so maybe. And I don't listen to every single one but I really do...I love the fact that you express variety in our industry. There's a lot I've learned from listening to people that have come through, you know. And I was listening to somebody, I don't remember who it was, and they were talking about Fuller feeding. And I went through a big test on Fuller feeding for the next, you know... My workmates are like "Oh, [inaudible 01:09:51]?"
Matthew: I was gonna delete out that one thing when you said you don't listen to every episode. I'm just kidding. [Crosstalk 01:10:01].
Kurtis: And it's only because I got those 12 hours a day I gotta work.
Matthew: I appreciate that. I really appreciate you saying that, and I do try to get a variety so that is good to hear that feedback. So thank you and good luck to you, Kurtis, and thanks again.
Kurtis: Hey, thank you, Matt. Have a great day.