If you are interested in what it takes to be a profitable, cutting-edge, commercial cannabis cultivator you’ll love this interview with expert grower Nick Hice of Denver Relief.
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[0:55] – Nick gives his background in Horticulture.
[2:43] – Nick explains what is meant by a flood table.
[6:49] – Size of Denver Relief’s facility.
[7:14] – The life of a cultivator.
[10:20] – Nick explains an ideal yield per square foot.
[12:56] – Are there different growing speeds between the different strains?
[14:10] – Nicks explains how to take care of cannabis plants.
[17:21] – Advantages on using fabric containers.
[21:17] – The ways the canopy and roots communicate to optimize a plant.
[23:15] – Nick explains NPK.
[23:52] – Nick explains common mistakes cultivators make.
[27:29] – The transition between indoor growing facilities and greenhouses.
[32:29] – Nick talks about optimal temperatures and humidity ranges.
[35:08] – Nick explains how CO2 is administered in a cultivation facility.
[36:28] – Nick talks about pests and diseases.
[44:29] – Nick talks about trends and technology in cultivation.
[49:35] – Contact info for Denver Relief and Denver Relief Consulting.
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the leaders of the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. Do you know that feeling when you sense opportunity, when you see something before most people and you just know it will be successful, then you're ready. Ready for CannaInsider Consulting. Learn more at www.canninsider.com/consulting. Now here's your program.
Our next guest is Nick Hice, a renowned grower at the famous dispensary Denver Relief. Welcome to CannaInsider Nick.
Nick: Yeah thanks for having me Matt. It’s good to be here.
Matthew: Nick, can you tell us about your background in horticulture and how that evolved into cannabis cultivation?
Nick: Yeah absolutely. I’m originally from Southern Ohio, and my parents when I was in elementary school started a 100 acre nursery, garden center and landscape design build company. And you know, so I pretty much grew up on the nursery and had a green thumb since way back in the day. And after graduating from the University of Dayton, I ended up going back and working for the family business for about another decade. And then in 2009 I moved out to Colorado and fast forward and here we are.
Matthew: What skills from the nursery experience help you the most in your day-to-day cannabis cultivation?
Nick: A little bit of everything really. You know, I’ve taken a lot from those years and, you know, a big advantage has just really been able… being able to understand agricultural equipment, some of the automation that’s taking place in bigger agriculture. And being able to sort of transition some of those products into our growing style here at Denver Relief. For example all the way down to even our fabric pots. Fabric pots are recycled containers that are typically made out of different recycled plastics and things of that nature. And they can be made out of blue jeans or anything else as well. But that’s something that we, you know, we were healing 20 foot tall, 2 and 3 inch caliper trunk size trees into the ground 15 and 20 years ago at the nursery in those very similar fabric style pots. So being able to take some of that technology, some of the flood tables and some of those different things and bring them into indoor agriculture more quickly than some other places has helped us keep a cutting edge I think.
Matthew: Can you just describe what a flood table is for someone that’s not familiar?
Nick: Sure. It’s very similar to an ebb and flow table. A lot of the people in the industry are familiar with smaller ebb and flow tables. They can be set up in multiple different ways, but the main advantage is it’s very easy to automate watering of all of your plants. You know, some people grow in true hydroponic, what I call true hydroponic systems, meaning that their only media is water and roots essentially hang in water. We grow in cocoa in container, again the fabric pot containers, and there are several different reasons that we do that.
But one of the reasons is it is easier to grow in. It is more consistent. If we have power outages or failures and things like that, we don’t have to worry about the electric going down as much. Of course we need our artificial light in the grow rooms, but let’s say we got a brown out for a few hours or we even have a blackout for a few days, all of our plants in the cocoa containers are going to be able to, you know, withstand a few days without light, and you would probably bounce back without much crop loss. Whereas if you have a true hydroponic system, you have a lot more electricity involved whether it be pumps and timers and things of that nature. So if you have even a very short power outage, you could have a major crop loss and it’s very hard to keep a consistent product in that way too.
So one of the nice things about the flood tables is because we do grow in those containers. You know, we’re able to have basically one automated irrigation system dump into a flood table that can be anywhere from 50 feet long to 300 feet long, and it can literally, you know, flood that table and water hundreds or even thousands of plants all at the same time. So it saves us a ton of labor as you can imagine. You can imagine top watering each individual pot when you have thousands of plants in 5 gallon containers, it’s going to take multiple hours and multiple guys worth of labor to get that done. Whereas with automation we can flood these tables.
There are other different benefits for flooding the tables as well. It keeps our fungus, gnat populations next to zero because we don’t have the top of the containers not moist which you would have with top watering. It’s harder to burn the plants with the flood tables because it is a true sub irrigation where the plants’ root system is actually pulling the nutrients and the water off of the table, but at the point that the plant does not need any nutrients or water, it won’t pull it up. So even if we accidently had a nutrient mix that was slightly hotter than it should be, it’s less likely that we’re going to have burn and things in the plant. Partially because of the sub-irrigation and the roots are pulling water that they demand, but partially because the cocoa media is actually a buffer as well and it helps hold some of the excess nutrients as opposed to a true hydroponic system where you have the roots hanging in, you know, a nutrient water. There is no buffer and if you put something hot on that, that type of system then it’s gonna very quickly cause degradation to the crop and potentially cause crop loss as well.
Matthew: So on a typical flood table, let’s say, how many plants would you have and does the water, do you put it at one end and it just goes all the way down to the plants all the way to the end of the table and gets all the plants in between, and they suck it up from the bottom through the fabric and the root ball?
Nick: Exactly. The flood tables are essentially, our current flood tables are 35 feet long and six feet wide, and we have four of them in each of our flowering rooms. But yes correct, the water is basically flooded or dumped in via a 1 inch or a ¾ inch irrigation line. And because there are channels in the table, there are grooves or channels cut into the table, even though the table is perfectly level across 35 linear feet, it is still able to drain out. The drain is recessed a little bit on one end of the table, so it allows it to pull all of the water out of the table very efficiently when we do drain the table.
Matthew: And how big is Denver Relief’s current cultivation facility?
Nick: We have a 13,000 square foot facility right now, and we are actually, we’re just finishing building out the remainder of the facility. So we have about 3,000 square foot under construction as we speak.
Matthew: Okay. Now a lot of people are curious what is it like to be a cultivator day-to-day? How do you spend your time? What are your headaches? What do you enjoy? What’s it like?
Nick: Well I’m pretty fortunate that we have the consulting company and the medical marijuana center and also recreational marijuana sales. So we do wear a lot of hats. My days are very interesting. You know, it changes month to month, but we’ve just recently in the last couple of months we found out that most of the teams that we worked with in both Illinois and Nevada received licensure. So we’re very busy. My daily basis, you know, I’m headquartered here at our grow facility, but typically I come in in the morning, do anywhere from an hour to multiple hours of emails on the consulting side. It could be with, mostly right now it’s with architects and engineers hoping to design construction drawings for these facilities that we’re getting ready to start to build out here in the next three to six months.
So pretty exciting and fun emails. You know lots of times there’s a wrench thrown in the works where something about the existing building just doesn’t allow us to do what we want to do in the building. So it’s constantly sort of modifying our plan and the layout of these facilities and just trying to make sure that we’re maximizing the efficiency and the amount of production we can get out of the facilities. So at the same time that I’m doing more and more emails every day, I am here at the facility helping to operate our facility as well. So you can imagine right now with the construction process going on, with our grow rooms going full swing and also with our MIP company just really starting to get out of the gates and get up to full speed, we’re staying really busy. It’s an exciting time in the industry, and we’re fortunate to be, you know, where we’re at at this point in time.
Matthew: Yes, you guys all really are busy. I know your partner Kevan [ph] also has a pizza company and a standup comedy company, and Ian is I believe the Chairman of the National Cannabis Industry Association. You’ve got the Denver Relief Consulting, the Dispensary Cultivation Center. You guys really, you need to clone yourselves I think.
Nick: Right, yeah, yeah. That’s one of the interesting things about the industry right now is it really is, we’re starting to really get thin on people with skill sets. You know, there are a ton of fantastic people in the industry right now, and there are more people coming into the industry every day. But the states really have started to come on board I think a little bit quicker than anybody expected. And you know, there really is a fairly limited resource pool of commercial producers and business people that have really been in the trenches for more than a few years and had some Hard Knocks and had some of the true life experiences that it takes to really be able to help people out.
Matthew: Now digging into the mechanics of growing, is there a yield per square foot of growth space that you typically hit or try to hit just to give people kind of a rule of thumb like hey, I’ve got a cultivation center that’s this large, how much yield do you get per square foot just so people can try to visualize that?
Nick: Sure. It’s hard to say because there are so many variables that come into play. But typically what we will use is per thousand watts of lighting power that we’re putting on the plants. Square footage is tough because depending on where we’re at, you know, for example if we have 1,000 square foot flowering room, we’re not using 1,000 square foot of the flowering room. In a greenhouse space we might be able to use anywhere between 80 and 90% of the floor space. In some of these indoor facilities we’ve got to keep things like EGRESS in mind and the fire code.
So we can’t, usually we can’t maximize the square footage in some of these flower rooms quite as well as we would like to. So it’s a little bit harder to put a yield per square foot together. So typically we will very conservatively tell our clients that they need to expect between 1.25 to 1.5 pounds per 1,000 watts of light. Now that’s top shelf cannabis. That’s top shelf flowers that are sold as whole flowers. On top of that we typically get another third of product in what we call byproduct which is either, it’s trim leaves and what we call larf. Larf is what we consider really loose buds and flowers that just aren’t dense enough to sell as a full flower. We don’t think so at our shop anyway.
So typically we’ll tell our clients to expect between 1.25 and 1.5 pounds on average across the room per 1,000 watt light, and then add another 1/3 on top of that weight for byproduct. Now again a lot of people might hear this right now and say wow that’s not very much weight. There is some strains that we grow that could easily do, you know, 2, 3, some strains even push maybe 4 pounds per 1,000 watt lights in the perfect condition depending on the strain. But here we grow a lot of finicky strains or a lot of coveted strains that people really look for. For example, OG Kushes and some of the Diesels like Sour Diesel. These are very finicky strains that are typically not high yielders, but they are such good medicine and they are very sought after. So these are things that you have to keep in mind when we’re talking about these averages. Again, you know the average gets lowered quite a bit because we do grow a lot of strains that are finicky and take a little bit of work to really get heavy weight out of.
Matthew: Now you mentioned Sour Diesel and a few other strains there. To give people a visual, how does the growing speed differ between Indica, Sativa, hybrids, is there any kind of rules of thumb there?
Nick: Not a whole lot. The Sativas can definitely grow a little bit quicker. For example they could have a slightly shorter vegetative schedule because you don’t need to grow them out as long to get, you know, the height that we’re looking for because basically for an indoor environment we’re looking to maximize, you know, square footage on the floor space or of the floor space underneath the light. But we can’t have a lot of height like we could outside. For example these artificial lights only penetrate maybe 18 to 24 inches worth of really good photons or light to the plant and anything underneath that doesn’t get very good light. So under these artificial lights if we grow a plant six foot tall, it’s still really only the top two feet that we’re getting good flowers out of. And you know the bottom third of the plant we’re going to trim up and there’s going to be next to no branches on that anyway.
Matthew: So that’s a good point you make there. I mean there’s different schools of thought as far as topping a plant, trying to make it rounded where you want the flower to be the most abundant sea of green. Can you kind of walk us through how you feel plants should be taken care of in terms of, you know, do you want it to be rounded, do you want it more heavy on the top, that type of thing?
Nick: Yeah sure. So typically because we do, here at Denver Relief, we do keep our vegetative schedules pretty similar between our Sativas and Indicas. So typically when they move into the flowering stage our Sativas are a little bit taller than our Indicas, but that’s fine for a couple of reasons. One is that they’re typically a little bit more, the Sativas are a little bit… they have a wider node spacing. They’re almost more of a vine type of plant where they just have thinner branching and thinner foliage. So that makes it better for light penetration, right. Even though it might be a foot or two taller than one of our Indica plants, it’s a little bit sparser or thinner. So there is a little bit better light penetration from those artificial lights on those Sativas.
But the other thing that we do is in vegetation we do have about 50 or 60% of the strains in the building that we top 1 to 2 times in vegetation. And when I say top it’s really just that very, just right at the very tip of the apical meristemmer, the very top growth on the plant, right in the center of the plant. Just that very newest node that’s shooting out, typically we’ll take out less than a quarter inch or an eighth inch of foliage off the plant. But it’s just really that tip node off the plant. So on some of our taller varieties that we know take well to topping, we will top once or twice in the vegetative stage to try to push some of those Sativas out and get them a little bit wider base and a little bit wider branching pattern. But at the same time, when we move them into the flowering room, they are a little bit thinner typically so we can afford to have them a little bit taller.
And then we also have posts around the corner of our flood tables so that we do put up trellis netting. Trellis netting is really the key in flower. That’s how we maximize square footage. We have a trellis net that basically has four inch by four inch cubes on it, and our goal is to fill up every one of those four inch by four inch cubes on the table with at least one branch if not two branches. So that’s sort of the idea when we get the plants in the flower, we’ll start training the plants out, manipulating some of the horizontal branches, pushing them to the sides especially on some of the taller Sativas. We’ll be a little bit more aggressive with those and train them out across the trellis netting to keep them growing horizontally as opposed to vertically.
Matthew: Gosh that’s great information, and how tall do the plants typically get? I know that varies, but how tall are they would you say?
Nick: I would say some of our shortest Indicas like our Lemon Diesel looks very much like a traditional Afghani Indica, but it’s very short and slow growing. Some of those probably only get may two and a half feet at maximum height when they’re harvested. But then some of our Sativas like our Island Sweet Skunk or maybe Outer Space, they could be I would say in between four and five feet sometimes at their maximum height.
Matthew: Now you spoke a little bit about the containers that you keep the plants in, and there’s a lot of folks out there that are still using, you know, dense plastic containers. Can you tell us why you prefer the porous fabric containers in a little bit more detail and what that does for the roots?
Nick: yeah absolutely. So one of the reasons is because we are very fond of flood tables. We think that’s, you know, as far as scaling up and you know looking towards big agriculture to try to get some ideas, that’s where we’re going and that’s, you know, again there are a lot of other benefits to the flood tables that we haven’t talked about yet. But back to the fabric pots, you know, that helps them wick up the moisture, be allowed to pull in that moisture. If we had plastic pots, there’s a few drain holes on the plastic pots, but it would limit the amount of moisture that those plants could wick up on that table. So it would reduce the amount of water we get to the plants.
Not only that, but the fabric pots, a lot of our plants again are very finicky, and if they hit the side of a fabric pot with their root system, they’ll start to get root spin or they’ll start to J-root which means the roots are starting to spin around the side of the plastic container. And it stresses the plant out, it stresses the root out and it keeps the root system from producing more finer feeder roots. Which actually it’s just the very tip of each root hair that pulls up nutrients. So the rest of the root system gets pretty hearty and pretty woody and doesn’t really pull up nutrients. So rather than have that spin out, if we have fabric pots, the root system grows out to the edge of the pot and then the root tip or the root hair will actually penetrate the side of that container. When it does it sees daylights and it sees dry air, and it’s basically a natural reaction for the plant to air prune itself.
So essentially that root tip goes out, it gets dried up, it burns back and dies off. That’s essentially the same thing as topping the plant. As soon as that happens just behind where that burn back happened two new root hairs come out, one on each side of the root system. So by using the fabric pots it really does create just a way more fibrous root system that allows the plant to pull up way more nutrients in a much shorter period of time.
Matthew: So if we could visualize that sac that the root ball is in you’re essentially optimizing making sure that the volume of that space gets the most optimal root articulation or projection out from the center of the root ball instead of hitting a corner, coming back and circling around. It’s fully optimized within that root space.
Nick: Yeah. Exactly. If you just pictured turning the plant upside down and almost think of the branching and the foliage as the root system for a second, if you could just turn that plant upside down, now all of a sudden it’s like we have automatic toping of the root system. Every time a new feeder root hits that wall, it dies back and it shoots two more roots out behind it. So very quickly that plant becomes a very bushy, very dense and fibrous root system, very much like if you were to continue topping a plant and vegetation.
Whereas again, if you just have that plastic pot, that taproot is going to hit. And some of the cannabis strains have a little bit more of a taproot than others and usually those are typically the more finicky strains. If that taproot is allowed to just hit a plastic surface like that, it feels like it hit a rock or something else, but it’s still got moisture and it’s still got darkness so it starts to spin, and eventually it can even strangle the plant. The root will spin around the pot so much that it can strangle the trunk of the plant or strangle other root systems. So the roots will end up fighting themselves and they won’t be creating any of those new root hairs and those feeder roots to take up nutrients. So we’ll just continually slowly decline the plant until the plant is either harvested or dead.
Matthew: Now can you help us understand how the canopy of the plant and the roots of the plant communicate where the canopy might say okay roots we’re doing well up here, grow some more roots, and the roots might say okay now it’s your turn canopy, grow some more and kind of the language back and forth to optimize the plant?
Nick: Yeah exactly. So a good example of that is when we transplant a plant. Every time we transplant the plant that’s typically going to be one of the most stressful points in that plant’s life. So for example we go from three inch Rockwool cubes, you know, before they go into their final container they’re in three inch Rockwool cubes. So when we transplant from that three inch Rockwool cube into that cocoa container typically, you know, there is going to be a root here and there that gets snapped or broken back, and there’s going to be a little bit of transplant shock or stress to the plant.
So typically in that first week after transplanting we don’t get a whole lot of plant growth really anywhere. We don’t get any growth on the top of the plant because the root system is working to try to repair itself. So what we’ll do is after we give the plants a few days to get through that transplant shock, we’ll go ahead and hit them with a foliar spray that’s very high in NPK. And the reason we do that is to jumpstart the foliage growth. So if we hit that plant with that foliar spray of NPK it goes directly, you know, it soaks in directly through the stomata and through the pores on the surface of the plant into the plant which immediately makes, you know, photosynthesis start to pick up and the cells start to expand and growth starts to happen.
So when that growth has a chain reaction that’s sent down to the root system basically telling the root system hey we’ve got more foliage up here. We need more help supporting this foliage. And the root system, because it has that demand from the foliage will continue to increase its growth and put out more of a root system. And then it’s vice versa, once there’s more roots on the plant then it’s much easier to photosynthesize. So the plant will start photosynthesizing more and the foliage will start to continue to grow.
Matthew: Now you touched on NPK there. Most people that have been to a garden center will recognize those letters used together, but could you just give an overview of the three minerals you’re talking about when you say NPK?
Nick: Yeah nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium which are the main three macronutrients that we deal with.
Matthew: Okay. I touched on Denver Relief which, you know, is your dispensary and your cultivation facility, but obviously you have Denver Relief Consulting as well. We talked a little bit about that. Let’s say one of your Denver Relief Consulting clients calls you up and they’ve been attempting to grow on their own, but they have zero experience. When you walk into that cultivation center without knowing anything else, what are the typical mistakes you might see?
Nick: Lots of times we’ll see a lack of forethought in the design or a lack of design planning. And sometimes, you know, some of our clients are sort of stuck with a building or they had a building that they thought might suit them, and then they found out later that it wasn’t a perfectly ideal building for growing cannabis for whatever reason. So lots of times we’ll see folks that just have a lack of workflow thought out. They haven’t really thought too much about okay this needs to be the clean side of the facility where any finished product is, where any processing goes on, if there’s a kitchen in the facility, this is where the kitchen needs to be. And then there’s a dirty side of the facility, you know, where we’re mixing media, taking in pallets worth of material and things like that.
So just really thinking through the workflow and trying to make efficiencies in your facility with the processing and the workflow. Also stationary lights or just lack of design in this particular room which is stuff that is typically very easy to fix. Lots of times we’ll see people that have stationary lights where they’re mounted on a ceiling and you know, that works out in some cases but typically we want all of our lights to be adjustable because we’re losing grams, we’re losing ounces, we’re losing pounds if we’re not able to really cater to each strain and to each plant. So we want all of our lights to be adjustable and lots of times we go into facilities and see that they have stationary lights that are, you know, 3, 4, 5 feet away from the top of the canopy of the plant which is typically, you know, typically not putting enough photons on the plant. So, you know, even if it’s a $10,000 or $20,000 retro fit in each flower room to make an adjustment like that you’re typically talking about 1 or 2 harvests to get the return on investment.
Matthew: Now when you’re talking about the lights being adjustable, you’re talking about both horizontally and vertically, is that correct?
Nick: Mainly vertically. We have started to experiment with some different supplemental lighting. For example, a lot of the big greenhouse growers in the US that do vegetables are starting to use I believe Phillips is the main manufacturer that has what’s called inner module lighting. And basically it’s a light beam. It almost looks like a florescent fixture, but it’s about 6 feet long and it shoots out LED light at a 60 degree angle off of both sides of it. So more indoor growers under artificial light are playing around with using some of these different technologies like LED because it emits low heat, and we can afford to slide those in, you know, underneath our isles or next to our isles, next to the trunk of the plant, next to the main stem shooting up at the bottom of the plant on a 60 degree angle to try to minimize the amount of larf we talked about earlier. Some of our byproduct is actually just loose buds that we can’t sell at the shop on the shelf as top flower because they’re not dense enough. But if we can get some more supplemental lighting underneath the canopy where there artificial light typically is falling off then we can, you know, raise the quality of our product and raise our yields at the same time.
Matthew: Now when I hear you speak sometimes you make the distinction between artificial light or natural light. How do you feel like the transition between indoor cultivation facilities and greenhouses is going to happen? Do you see that starting to happen now and are you excited about it?
Nick: Absolutely. It is starting to happen all across Colorado. The neat thing about seeing it happen here in Colorado is it truly is typically high tech greenhouses going up. And you know greenhouses really these days are the best of both worlds. You know lots of times when we talk about greenhouses people already have a preconceived notion of maybe just a cold frame or a hoop house or some hobby greenhouse. But the greenhouses that the, you know, the big agricultural companies are using and the big manufactures of greenhouses in the US these days, it’s as high tech as it gets and it’s the best of both worlds. None of our artificial lights are ever going to be able to out power the sun in the sunny months of the year. And the sun moves across the sky which is good for the plants because it allows them to share that sunlight to a certain extent, and it allows us to grow bigger plants in a greenhouse too because there is better light penetration, more light penetration.
But the real key with the new greenhouses coming online is making sure that they are very high tech. We do need supplemental light in there so that when we get into the winter months and we’re not getting enough photons from the sun that we can help out and make sure that we’re keeping our yields up. Of course it’s a little bit more expensive to produce in the winter months especially in a climate like ours here in Denver. We’re going to have to use, you know, more natural gas and things like that for heat. But it’s well worth the investment, and it’s still a fraction of the cost that we’re spending on our indoor grows. The artificial light it will be much less expensive per square foot in artificial because we won’t need as many fixtures in a greenhouse setting.
And really just about, you know, any agricultural equipment whether it’s a true hydroponic, you know, NFT or water system or whether it’s container production, is going to have a ton of advantages in a greenhouse environment. It’s easier to keep the environment in a greenhouse. There’s fewer mechanical systems running the greenhouse as opposed to all of the little mechanical systems that we have to install in these indoor environments. And we actually just in the last year have purchased a two and a half acre property right behind our current cultivation facility where we plan on building just over 30,000 square feet of flowering space in very high tech greenhouses. So we’re very excited about that.
We’ve just recently started, we just recently received our H.E. Anderson fertigation system which is a system that we had custom made for us so that we can basically automatically pump raw elements through five different pumpers into any irrigation zone or valve at any point in time. So we can essentially, whether we have one flower room or fifty flower rooms, we can program our controller to tell the controller hey flower in room number one needs, you know, 1,000 parts per million, 1,000 in room number 2 is a week further behind it. It’s needs 1,200 parts per million and so on and so forth. So we can specify the electrical conductivity or basically the salt level of the nutrients, the ph level of the nutrients. We can do all that and have all of that automated to where we really don’t have to step in and do much. We’ll have 50 gallon stock tanks that are highly concentrated with things like potassium nitrate and another tank with monopotassium phosphate and so on and so forth throughout all of our macro and micro nutrients. And the computer is going to be sophisticated enough to be able to do on time watering for each room.
And again it will be able to specify, you know, whether it’s a vegetation room or whether it’s a room in the first week of flower or in the tenth week of flower. So we’re very excited about that and getting, you know, just getting a little bit more of the automation running here in our facility so that by the time we get the 30,000 square foot of greenhouse up we’re ready to go.
Matthew: Gosh this has come so from the ditch weed I smoked in college.
Nick: Yeah it sure has. It’s happened a lot quicker I think than most of us expect it to even those of us that were the most optimistic five and ten years ago. I don’t think most of us expected to be where we are right now. So it’s a whirlwind. You know, in some ways, you know, we’re definitely learning every day, every minute of the day and it’s exciting though. The technology and being able to, you know, step up into the shoes of some of these bigger agricultural producers like some of the bigger tomato producers and cucumber producers in the US. If we can just continue to follow their path and follow their footsteps, you know, think about the things that we should be able to do with the product that we’re growing.
Matthew: Now what are the optimal temperature and humidity levels for a plant because we talked a little bit about, you know, minerals, watering, how should we think about temperature both, you know, at the vegetative and flowering stage and what’s the humidity range that’s optimal during those periods?
Nick: Sure. In vegetative stage we’re typically keeping the temperature between about 75 and 80 degrees. And we’re trying to keep the humidity anywhere between about 40% and 60%. We don’t want it to go too far over 60% because then we’ll have to start worrying about different funguses and diseases entering the room. And in the flowering room it’s very similar. It’s typically 75 to 80 degrees, if we’re supplementing with CO2 which the majority of growers are supplementing with CO2 in an indoor environment. It would be pretty crazy not to.
So the flowering room 75 to 80 degrees. We’re typically a little bit tighter on our humidity and try to keep it between 40 and 50%. The reason we don’t like to go too much over 50% in flower is because cannabis is an annual plant or more specifically it’s a seasonal plant. So once the plant gets about a month into flower, the immune system of it completely shuts down which means any kind of failure in our environment is going to be exaggerated and it’s gonna, you know, be a potential for a problem like powdery mildew to show up. For example, you know, after we get through a month of flower we have a lot of green plant material in these flowering rooms in a very small footprint. As we know, the plants are, you know, 80 to 90% water weight. So they create a lot of humidity on their own. Plus we’re dumping hundreds of gallons of water into these flood tables.
So once we get passed that day 30, if the humidity goes over 50%, there’s a chance that powdery mildew could enter, a spore could enter into the room and start to attach itself to a plant. Typically lots of times we have trouble with that because we do have our room packed in so tight. So lots of times we will have fluctuations where it jumps up maybe to 55, 58 even 60% sometimes in our rooms. And that’s where it’s very important to have all your other mechanical systems in place. You know, every now and then it’s okay if it bumps up a little bit like that if we have really good air flow from our horizontal air flow fans in the room, if we have enough tonnage on our air condition system so that the air condition system can keep up with the lights. If we have enough CO2 supplementation in the room so that photosynthesis can continue at its maximum rate, but you know and there are a dozen other different variables I could go over with you. But if any of those variables are lacking in any way shape or form then it’s going to be more likely that a pest and/or disease enters your room.
Matthew: Now you mentioned CO2 there. For people, I mean obviously CO2 helps the plants a lot, but how is that administered in a cultivation facility?
Nick: We use natural gas burners which is our first recommendation. If you’re able to do it per city code, then that’s what we recommend. Natural gas is very cheap. It’s very safe. It’s very affective. Really the only downside to the CO2 burners in our room is the fact that we are creating a little bit of excess heat from the CO2 burners, but it’s not enough to really affect the room too much. We also do now have to, as the regulations have kicked in, and we have stricter rules and regulations, if you do have a CO2 burning in your room, you will also have to have an audible and a visual CO2 alarm. And we also have to have our CO2 tied into our exhaust fans in our flowering rooms now as well too. So that if the CO2 goes above I believe it’s 4,000 parts per million, the exhaust fan is on a relay and will kick on and exhaust that room. We have some signage on the doorways of the room too noting that it might be an oxygen deficient environment.
Matthew: Now pests and diseases could be its own show, but can you just give a high level overview of what you have to deal with and how prospective cultivators should think about pest and diseases?
Nick: Yeah absolutely. As far as pests go, I’ll start with those I guess because they might be, I don’t know, a little bit easier. I guess, we would consider them a little easier anyway. Thrips, aphids and spider mites are typically the three pests that we’re most likely to see. The thrips are more of a nuisance pest. There is a natural bacteria called Spinosad that is sold Monterey Products, and it does really well for the thrip. So we’ll usually do a foliar spray on those in vegetation. Typically pretty much once a month in our veg rooms, we’ll do a foliar spray with that bacteria, that spinosad bacteria because thrips are very common, and they seem like the most often pests that come back into our rooms. But again they’re very much a nuisance pest, and it takes very very high populations before they really do much damage to the plant.
Aphids and spider mites, typically the way that we deal with all pests is just healthy plants. Doing some of our organic foliar sprays in vegetation is very important because it helps to build up a waxy layer on the surface of the plant which makes it harder for the pests to chew on the foliage and to penetrate the plant. So some of our natural foliar sprays and organic foliar sprays really help just to build that waxy cuticle layer on the plant. And typically all of our treatment, any treatment that we do is typically going to be organic, and it’s going to be in the vegetation stage. We won’t put plants into flower if they have a pest or disease on them. We’re either going to call them out of the crop and destroy them or we’re going to keep them in vegetation a little bit longer so we can correct that problem.
So typically if we see pests once the plants get into the flowering stage, we usually let it ride. We will mechanically remove a few plants if we find it ground zero, and we find it early which we typically do because we have a lot of people in our grow rooms. So we will do some mechanical removal, but typically we won’t do any kind of foliar sprays in the flowering room because we don’t want to compromise the quality of the product. And if we’re not spotting a spider mite or an aphid or whatever else it might be until we get into the flowering stage, we basically have a two month crunch time where we really want to make it through that two months. But lots of times for us if and when we see it, it’s going to be, you know, late spring or in the summertime, and if we see it in flower, it’s typically a few weeks into flower before we notice a big enough population to even be visible to us. And at that point we’ll typically let it ride. If we have a little bit of product that we have to destroy, we will do so.
But typically the pests, you know, it’s a slower process. Lots of times growers will do more damage to their plants by putting something synthetic and toxic on the plant than the bug would do. You know, in a matter of an hour or two we can do way more damage with something synthetic and toxic than it takes most bugs, you know, two or three months to cause damage on your plants. So really the bigger concern for us is disease.
One of the biggest diseases that we see trouble with is powdery mildew and gray mold or botrytis as well. With the powdery mildew it’s sort of the same game plan as the pests. Really having sort of an integrated pest management or we even have an integrated crop management system in play where we know what organic foliar sprays we’re putting on the plants, and we know how we’re treating our plants to make them very healthy in the vegetative stage so that they can help fight that stuff off and flower. One of the things that we will use on powdery mildew in the flowering stage and pretty much the only thing that we’ll spray on the plants in the flowering stage is a 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide. And typically we’ll just do that to spot spray.
So again most of our plants go about 70 days in flower. And again they have a good immune system up through the first month in flower. So typically if we ever do see any in our flowering rooms, it’s usually that last week or two in flower, and it’s typically just a little pinhead or something the size of a Skittle where we notice a spot or two on a fan leaf. And if that’s the case then spot treating with that 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide, we do it at very low rates. I should note that. You really have to dilute that stuff, 35% is very caustic and it can be dangerous. So we dilute it down to very low dilution rate with a gallon of water, and then we’ll spray that. You know, hydrogen peroxide basically just has an extra oxygen molecule. So very shortly after it’s been sprayed on the plants, it’s essentially back to water. But again there isn’t a lot, you know, one of the things that we have to deal with as growers is knowing that there’s very few things that we can put on in the flowering stage because this plant does have such a short life cycle and it’s really a sprint to the finish, and any kind of synthetics that we put on it are more than likely going to compromise the product and/or leave some residual in it even after it’s been processed and harvested.
Matthew: So you talked a little bit earlier about extraction and concentrates. You touched on it. And it’s one of the themes of the show is that, you know, we’re kind of moving away from flower. Flower will always be there, but concentrates, edibles seem to really be accelerating in terms of market share. Can you talk a little bit about what you’re doing over there as far as creating concentrates and extracting yourself?
Nick: Yeah just a little bit. I’m not in the kitchen too much. We have a couple of other good people over there that run the kitchen process for us. But it has changed a few things for us. We are building out a big extraction booth now so that we can get back to doing BHO extraction which we haven’t done since the middle of last year when the new regulations kicked in. And we are putting a little bit, we are dedicating a little bit more product every couple months towards concentrate production. You know a few years ago, pretty much all of our byproduct went to concentrate production. It was all trim leaves or that larfy bud that’s not quite good enough to make it to top shelf. Whereas now the demand is shifting very quickly, and more people are willing to pay. There’s a price point. There’s a difference there, you know, people know the difference and understand the difference. And we’re now able to market the difference between a nug run shatter and a for example compared to, you know, a byproduct run.
So if we label, you know, Nug Run on any particular concentrate, than it’s typically going to be a little bit more sought after by the general public. Now these are concentrates. So lots of times we can get the trim or byproduct concentrate to be very close in cannabinoid concentrate to the Nug Run cannabis. But sometimes, you know, there can be a slight difference in the amount of plant material and fatty lipids and oils that are pulled through with it. But it’s interesting because, you know, it does change a few of our processing scenarios. For example if we do Nug Run concentrate product, we don’t have to worry about manicuring those flowers down as well. So it makes it a little bit easier for us on the harvesting end for some of the product that’s going into the kitchen because if we know it’s getting a process down and concentrated anyway then there’s no reason for us to spend that extra few minutes trimming up that flower to make it as perfect as we can. As far as aesthetically anyway.
Matthew: Now what trends or technology in cultivation are you most excited about that you see on the horizon?
Nick: You know, both as activists and as owners of the consulting company we’re very excited about legalization and the way it has continued to sweep across the country. It’s been at a pretty fascinating rate, and we’re very excited to continue to ride the wave and continue to be involved in as much as we can, be with this great new industry that we’re all building here. But on top of that the really exciting things for me as a grower and for consulting others that are growing is a lot of the automation.
The Anderson injection system I mentioned earlier that we just got into our facility, hopefully we’ll have it hooked up here in the next seven days. It’s pretty phenomenal. Up until about 12 months ago a similar system to the one we have would be close to a 6 figure system. And I can assure that we’ve got it for a much better price than that, and it’s a very good quality system. You know it’s really just getting into the greenhouse space. We’re really excited to get into a 30,000+ square feet of greenhouse space. We honest feel like we grow some of the best cannabis in the state right now, and we really truly believe that we’re going to be able to improve on what we’re doing inside once we get into the greenhouse space.
So a lot of the automation that goes into that and just stepping into more of a big agricultural outfit is what we’re really excited about. Moisture sensors I guess I should mention really quickly too. As far as technology goes we’ve got a lot of decagon sensors in our building. So we are constantly testing. We have infrared sensors in our room. We have thermocoupler sensors in our room. We have moisture sensors that test volumetric water content in the pore space of the pot, not only in the pore space but also in the actual media space of the post. So what the cocoa’s holding. So we’re constantly watching our salt levels in the media which is very cool and very exciting, and we’re learning a ton from it. It’s easy for us to see when we are giving the plant too much nutrients so that then we can back off.
One of the neat things that we’re working on is zero leach off of our plants. For example when we use the elemental compounds that we use we typically need to get between 15 and 25% runoff from our plants or else we’ll get too high of a salt level in the soil and we’ll start to burn the plant. With these sensors that we’re using, we’re able to see our salt level rise. So we can continue to do micro pulse irrigation where we’re just doing a five or ten second irrigation. It’s not enough of an irrigation to make any water leech out of the bottom of the pot, but it’s enough to continually keep that plant at a 30% moisture content. Now when we see the salt level gets up to a level that’s unacceptable for the plant, we can go ahead and water it for a day or two with just straight ph water, still do those micro pulse irrigations. The micro pulse irrigation with the ph water is just going to help dissolve more of those salts that are held into the soil and help bring that EC level back down. When that EC level goes back down we can start bumping it back up with fertilizer again.
So really just being able to feed these plants in real time and really be able to dial in exactly what their needs are. We’ve been using some of these decagon sensors for about seven months now, and the learning curve has just been unbelievable. In the last seven months we’ve learned things that we probably wouldn’t learn in five or ten year without the technology.
Matthew: Wow. You know, one final question before we close. There is a lot of people that… I’m sure you get this question all the time too. I get reached out to and they’re so hungry to get into cannabis cultivation. They just don’t know how to get their foot in the door. What can they do to stand out, show their eagerness and their aptitude and be helpful to cannabis cultivation facility?
Nick: I mean one of the things we look for is an education in agriculture, in horticulture. We look for people that are really passionate about plants in general, not necessarily just cannabis. So anybody that comes into us and has a resume with any kind of degree related to horticulture or agriculture, that’s going to be a huge plus or any kind of greenhouse growing experience, those types of things. Those are big plusses. We know a lot of people get started out here by becoming bud tenders or becoming contract trimmers. There are a couple of temporary trim companies around town that staff employees to different facilities. So a lot of people get in the door by applying for a bud tender which is more of an entry level position and/or a trim position. But really the industry, you know, it needs a lot of good people right now. It’s growing so quickly. So really anybody that is passionate about plants and that’s willing to roll up their sleeves and put in the effort, there are going to be lots of opportunities for those type of people.
Matthew: Nick in closing how can listeners learn more about Denver Relief and Denver Relief Consulting?
Nick: Yeah you can reach us over at Denver Relief if you’re looking for some product or medicine to speak about, you can reach us at 303-420-MEDS, and if you’re looking for any information on getting into the industry or any type of consulting information, you can contact us at 303-420-PLAN.
Matthew: Well Nick, thanks so much for being on CannaInsider. We really appreciate it.
Nick: Yeah, thanks for having me Matt. It was good to be here.
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