You know when you start any business there is usually some type of roadmap, or standard format to follow. Basically someone before you did the leg work and now you have the benefit of their experience. When it came to building an indoor I502 production and processing facility in a brand new recreational marijuana market, there were no roadmaps. There was no standard format. Most medical marijuana grow rooms operate at a smaller scale. So When it came to the design and implementation of our build-out and move in, we encountered challenges.
Our biggest problem came from not going with our gut. When you know something and you feel it to be true, you should always follow your best instinct. Sometimes you can be too cautious and that can cost a little extra when it comes to time and money. But the opposite can cost even more and then all the planning in the world isn’t going to help.
When we first started this project I was obsessed with doing everything right. Maxing out our potential. Maybe not having the biggest, but definitely having the best facility we could build. But when it comes to getting started, you just gotta get it going. Get it up and running, generate capital and then you can come back a make it grandiose. So as construction, permitting and ordering of materials began, all the cool things like R.O. water, rainwater collection, thermal heat and solar fell by the wayside. All that stuff is a pipe dream and in theory these things are great, and in practice they can save you tons of money and allow you to operate with a cleaner, greener footprint. But boy is that stuff expensive. I mean on a commercial scale we were talking $15,000 for a small water filtration system. That’s just for a small one, when you’re running a commercial operation you’ll require thousands of gallons of water.
So when you start these things you have this meeting with your City Commissioner and Fire Marshal and the building and planning office. And you go over every single detail about your entire operation including construction, electrical, and fire sprinkler systems. They want to know exactly how many people will be working there so that you have the appropriate septic system (in case you weren’t aware septic is how you manage sewage when there is no City sewer system). They want to know about all the mechanical, HVAC, and ventilation for “occupied spaces”. They want to know everything they can to vet out the people who frankly just aren’t qualified to be doing this. For myself as a grower, I only had one question: how’s the water?
Water = Life. Period! Without water very few things on this planet can sustain for very long and most biology (plants, animal, human beings,) are made up mainly of water. It is one of those main components required for life. But just like many things, not all water is created equal. Just because it’s clear does not mean that it’s pure. Most water that comes from the tap is “drinkable”. I use this term in quotes because the limits and requirements for water to be considered “Fit for human consumption” are as broad as a rainbow. You have no idea the kind of stuff that’s in the water coming out of your tap. Some of these things are good, like calcium, magnesium, b-vitamin, iron and so on. Some of these are all things biology needs in varying amounts of course. But then there are things in water that are not good for the body like chlorine or chloramine, lead, arsenic, microbial cysts, pesticides, herbicides and even fluoride. That’s where the term “Fit for human consumption” comes into play. The government has allowable tolerances for these things in drinking water. Now add on to that the fact that there is always a possibility of water contamination from somewhere in the chain after the supply source of said water. When somebody says “we have the best water in the county” ….. a) they are probably right, and b) what exactly does that mean?
It means they’ve probably tested their water and found that it was within the allowable limits set forth by the state, FDA or EPA for human consumption (not really sure who’s in charge of setting that standard and it doesn’t really matter). The point is this water has been tested and has been found to be good and in some cases even better than the next county. “Well that’s great, sounds good to me” is what your average person including us would say after hearing the facts and getting the go ahead to start our build out. And so we did.
Fast forward four months or so to an exciting time, the construction was done or at least enough for us to get inspected by the governing body (The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board) was done. Basically we had a vegetative / mother room and two flowering rooms done. Since we planned on staggering harvest we would do these two, then the next two, then the next and so on completing construction for sets of room in phases as they were scheduled to be up and running. Without going into detail we had enough plants available to populate those rooms (roughly 300). We were given the green light and began our 15-day window of bringing in clones, mothers and seeds. There was a lot of work to be done. Every day there were new challenges. Construction crews, electrical and HVAC was still being built. All the while we were beginning to use the facility in which we had moved into in order to grow the plants.
About a week goes by. More and more challenges arise. Air conditioners quit working. Drainage problems occur. When we moved in, it was the first of the year. It was nearly 40 degrees outside when we started. On the third morning it was raining inside our mother room from the lighting hoods due to developing condensation as a result of the temperature differences in the air flow. I mean we had bomb after bomb thrown at us. Electrical problems, equipment failures and design difficulties. You name it, we dealt with it. But the worst was yet to come.
After the first week we noticed a lack of vigor in our newly transported plants. Not all at once. It started with the smaller transplants we placed in the new flowering rooms first. We had about a week or so of regular growth and then as if someone had flipped a switch, they stopped. I do mean stopped. They were strong, tall, and stout. But they were not moving. This started with them, but quickly invaded our mother room. We were shocked. In a matter of two weeks our entire crop went from full blast, to full on halt. We were frantic. I started to question everything I knew about growing. Every technique I developed over the years. I checked expiration dates of nutrients, CO2 levels, lighting height. I was in this grow for 22 hours a day trying to dial it in. Lucky as a last resort, desperate, I called Big Mike from advanced nutrients. Now this isn’t a plug, I don’t know this guy and he doesn’t know me. But I love their products. Their additives, while costly, are some of the best in the world. I sent Mike pictures of our “crop on pause”. I told him about our experience. We kicked over a few scenarios and ideas and came up with the only answer that made sense. We had a pH problem. He offered a solution in a product they offer. Now I won’t mention it here because I don’t want people to think it was some miracle in a bottle. But for us, it might as well have been just that.
One watering of plants that were otherwise full on stunted, yellowing, wilting and not drinking water. Just flat out dead. Two days later and we flipped the switch. It was a night and day transformation. Overnight they were reaching for the stars and turning green again. We had a pH problem in our last watering. But how could this have been. We use expensive devices. We had multiple different ones. One of them was over $300 how could these be wrong? Was it human error? How do we fix this? Over a period of time after testing I noticed that the pH of the incoming water from would fluctuate. One day it would be 7, the next day 6, some days as high as 8.4. This had me baffled. We sought out the help of a water testing facility to find answers about what was happening. They informed us that they could test our water. But that there were certain test that were standard and some that weren’t and that those would be extra. No problem. We’ll pay it. Come to find out, you have to tell them what to test for and they tell you how much of it is found in your sample. Really? Well what about the stuff that I don’t tell you to test for? You know, the stuff I don’t know about?
Anyway this was going to take some time. Time we didn’t have. What were we going to do? We had 300 plants, a pH problem under a new roof in a new county and every dime we had wrapped up into this project. What could we do? The only thing I could come up with .We outfitted my 1996 Chevy cargo van with seven trash cans from home depot that held about 44 gallons each and proceeded to drive the 1 hour drive to our old house, five counties away. We would drive there, back up to the house and fill up the seven cans 2/3 full with “clean” county water (not very clean at all, but we’ve used it for the last four years). Then we would drive the one-hour back to the new warehouse, unload all the water using sump pumps and then do it over again. This usually took place at night, with the least amount of traffic about twice a week for nearly six months before we could afford an R.O. system big enough for our needs.
So that’s it. The first six months of our company’s operation and early success was built on us transporting roughly 250 gal of water twice a week from one location to the other just to feed our plants. Thinking back on those times I smile and wonder how many people have ever been in a situation like that. We do what we have to. We work hard, problem solve and pull resources to make sure we are able to produce only the best quality product we can. Now we use R.O. water with a base of 0 contaminates so we can be assured that our plants are receiving only what we want them to. This process allows us to grow some of the most wonderfully aromatic and tasty flowers in the world. This is something we’ve known all along. Next time, will go with our gut!