July 27, 2022

Cost of living and food price increases are leaving families without access to a healthy and affordable diet

There has been a rapid 57% jump in the proportion of households cutting back on food or missing meals altogether in just three months, according to new data published by The Food Foundation.

There was also a sharp increase in the proportion of households with children experiencing food insecurity in the past month at 17.2% up from 12.1% in January 2022. This represents a total of 2.6 million children aged under 18 who live in households that do not have access to a healthy and affordable diet, putting them at high risk of suffering from diet-related diseases.

Soaring food prices (up 5.9% in the past 12 months) are making it increasingly difficult for families to afford the food they need. There is also concern that prices of ‘budget’ ranges of staple foods may have increased at a faster rate, so the impact on low-income families may be worse. The increasing cost of living and rising food prices are likely to mean that people become more reliant on lower cost foods which tend to be calorie-dense and nutrient-poor, further increasing obesity and other diet-related diseases. Reducing food insecurity is essential if the Government is to achieve its Leveling Up mission to improve healthy life expectancy and reduce health disparities.

January 12, 2022


Greenhouse crops are irrigated by means of applying water to the media surface through drip tubes or tapes, by hand using a hose, overhead sprinklers and booms or by applying water through the bottom of the container through sub irrigation, or by using a combination of these delivery systems. Overhead sprinklers and hand watering have a tendency to "waste" water and also wet the foliage, which increases the potential for diseases and injury. Drip and sub irrigation systems are the most efficient and provide greater control over the amount of water applied. Also, since the foliage does not become wet there is a reduced potential for diseases and injury.


Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation can be a valuable tool for accurate growing medium moisture control. It also saves water and labor, and reduces the potential for groundwater pollution. Drip irrigation systems eliminate runoff of water missing the pot during overhead irrigation and the volume of water applied to the pot can be controlled. In theory it should be possible to greatly reduce or eliminate leaching from pots by simply turning the system off as container capacity is reached. Controlling drip systems with the use of a tensiometer placed in the growing medium to sense moisture tension (level) and a small computer programmed to turn the system on or off  when preset moisture tensions are reached has been  shown to reduce runoff from potted chrysanthemums and poinsettias to nearly zero. 

Vegetable crops when grown in ground beds, bags or pots are commonly watered with drip tapes. Tubing is placed atop the ground or container or woven through the bags. 


Water Trays and Saucers

In this system, water is applied to the surface and is collected under the container through collection trays or saucers Water trays and saucers, depending on their shape and spacing on the bench, can greatly reduce runoff and leaching by containing the water draining from pots and holding the water which misses the pot during overhead watering. They are inexpensive and reusable. Water which collects in them should be given adequate time to evaporate or be absorbed by the plant before further irrigation. Avoid tight plant spacing and poor ventilation to prevent disease problems when using this technique.



Irrigation Systems

Sub irrigation  

Sub irrigation systems, also know as zero runoff, are an environmentally responsibly alternative that conserves water and fertilizers.  They are being installed by greenhouse growers to improve product quality, achieve more uniform growth and increase production efficiency.


In sub irrigation systems, water and nutrient solution provided at the base of the container rises by capillary action through holes in the bottom and is absorbed by the growing media.  These systems are adaptable to crops grown in pots or flats. 


Advantages of sub irrigation systems

  • Water and nutrient solutions are contained and recycled
  • Water and fertilizer usage decreases at least 50% over conventional systems
  • Uniform watering of all containers
  • Pot size and placement can be easily changed
  • More vigorous plant growth
  • Foliage remains dry
  • Labor input is reduced


Examples of Sub irrigation Systems Capillary mat systems

 In a capillary mat system the pots are set on a mat that is kept constantly wet with a nutrient solution.  Several styles of fabric mats are available from ¼” to ½” thick. The pots take up the solution through holes in the bottom.  The mat is places on a level bench over a layer of plastic.  Water is supplied from drip tubes laid on top of the fabric.  


To keep algae under control, a layer of perforated film plastic is sometimes placed over the top of the mat. Algicides are also used.  Some growers turn the mat over when a new crop is started.    Containers holding nutrient solution and piping should be enclosed in black plastic or painted black to eliminate light and algae formation.


Trough system

In this system, plastic or metal troughs are placed on existing benches or supported overhead from the greenhouse structure.  The troughs are installed at a slight slope (3” to 6” per 100’) from one end to the other.  Pots are spaced along the trough.  Nutrient solution, supplied from spaghetti tubes, is pumped to the high end, flows past the base of the pots and is collected in a cross gutter at the low end.  The solution returns to a storage tank under the benches or below ground to be recycled.


One advantage to this system over other ebb and flow systems is the air circulation that occurs between the troughs. Another is the ability to space the troughs for different size pots.  Trough systems tend to be less expensive than bench systems and can be easily installed in existing greenhouses.

Ebb and flood benches and movable trays

This system uses 4’ to 6’ wide watertight benches or water-tight movable trays to contain the nutrient solution.  The benches, usually of plastic or fiberglass construction are installed perfectly level to maintain a uniform depth of liquid.  They can be installed as either fixed or movable depending on the crops to be grown. Channels in the bottom of the bench allow the water to distribute evenly and to drain rapidly when the water supply is shut off.  This allows the bench top to dry reducing algae growth and disease potential. 


In operation nutrient solution is pumped from a holding tank to a level of ¾” to 1” depth in the bench and held there for 10 minutes or long enough for the media in the container to absorb the solution.  A valve is then opened and the liquid is quickly drained by gravity back into the tank. Low cost PVC pipe is used as it is not affected by the fertilizer  in the water.  A filter removes any solid matter. The holding tank, usually located in the floor below the benches should have a capacity for about ½ gallon/sq ft of bench area.

The nutrient solution is used over again but adjustments in pH and soluble salts may have to be made as water is added.  Water treatment with chlorine, ultra violet (UV) light or ozone is used by some growers to prevent diseases.  Control of the nutrients and flow can be manual or with a controller. Watering may be once or twice a week to several times a day depending on the weather and the size of the crop. 


Flood Floors

Flooded floors work on the same principle and with the same equipment as ebb and flow benches.  A watertight concrete is necessary for the floor surface and it must be installed as smooth as possible to avoid pockets.    A laser transit is used to get a perfect slope, usually ¼” in 10’.  A concrete contractor having experience with flood floor system should be hired.  Berms may be installed at the post line in gutter-connected houses to create zones.  PVC pipe with slots or holes is usually installed in the floor in the center of the bay to supply and remove the nutrient solution as quickly as possible. 

Large holding tanks are necessary, usually made of concrete and lined with plastic or coated with an epoxy paint. Typically a 21’ x 200’ bay will require 2000 to 3000 gallons of solution. In larger greenhouses, the tank has to be large enough to hold the liquid from several bays that are operated as a single zone. New flood floors can register high alkalinity as bicarbonates in the floor dissolve.

 PVC piping is used to transport the nutrient solution as it is inert to fertilizers. Monitoring of the nutrient solution is done by a computer.  Fertilizer is added, usually as individual elements, to maintain the desired nutrient level.  

Best results are obtained if a floor heating system is installed.  This provides uniform heat in the root zone area and quickly dries the floor after the solution is drained to reduce algae formation and lower disease potential.   A horizontal air flow (HAF) circulation system will reduce moisture in the plant foliage.  To save handling labor, a fork lift transport and spacing machine could be used.


Bartok, J.W., Jr.  2009. Sub irrigation for Greenhouses http://www.umass.edu/umext/floriculture/fact_sheets/greenhouse_management/jb_subirrigation_whatsnew.pdf 


Cox, D.A  Use "BMPs" to Increase Fertilizer Efficiency and Reduce Runoff



Weiler, T.C and M. Sailus. 1996. Water and Nutrient Management for Greenhouses NRAES, Cooperative Extension




          Drip system for crop growing in crates or ground beds.




January 12, 2022


New greenhouse designs, better glazing, improved heating and ventilating equipment and new management systems should be included when upgrading or adding on.  With typical annual energy usage being 75% for heating, 15% for electricity, and 10% for vehicles, efforts and resources should be put where the greatest savings can be realized. Prices are at the time of publication. 

Reduce Air Leaks  

 Keep doors closed - use door closer or springs.  

 Weather-strip doors, vents, and fan openings.  For example, a 48-inch fan louver that fails to close properly leaving 1-inch gaps, allows 23,000 Btu/hr of heat to escape, costing $0.53 if you are burning $2.30 fuel oil (prices at time of publication).  

 Lubricate louvers frequently so that they close tightly.  A partially open louver may allow several air changes per hour.  Additional fuel is needed to heat this air.  Shut off some fans during the winter and cover openings with insulation or plastic to reduce infiltration of air. 

 Repair broken glass or holes in the plastic covering.

Double Covering  

 Line sidewalls and endwalls of greenhouse inside with poly or bubble wrap to achieve the thermopane effect.  Install double wall polycarbonate structured sheets to get insulation effect and reduce recovering labor. 

 Use poly with an infrared inhibitor on the inner layer for 15% savings.  Payback is two to three months. 

 Add a single or double layer of plastic over older glasshouses to reduce infiltration and heat loss by 50%. 

Energy Conserving Blanket  

 Install a thermal blanket for 20 to 50% savings.  Cost is $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot. Payback is one to two years.  Tight closures should be maintained where curtains meet sidewalls, framing or gutters.  Use a Ushaped trap to prevent heat from escaping overhead.  Heat and water lines should be insulated or located below the blanket. 

Foundation and Sidewall Insulation  

 Insulate the foundation.  Place 1- to 2-inch polyurethane or polystyrene board to 18 inches below ground to reduce heat loss.  This can increase the soil temperature near the sidewall as much as 10 °F during the winter. 

 Insulate the kneewall or sidewall to bench height.  Use 1- to 2-inch insulation board.  Applying 2 inches of foam insulation to a 3-foot-high kneewall on a 28-foot by 100-foot greenhouse will save about 400 gallons of fuel oil per year.

 Insulate behind sidewall heat pipes.  Use aluminum faced building paper or insulation board behind to radiant heat back into the growing area.  Leave air space next to wall to prevent frost damage to the wall. 

Site Location  

 Locate new greenhouses in sheltered areas to reduce wind-induced heat loss, if this does not reduce light. 

 Install windbreaks on the north and northwest sides of the greenhouse.  The windbreak can be a double row of conifer trees or plastic snow fence.

Space Utilization  

 Increase space utilization to 80 to 90% with peninsular or movable benches.

 Install multi-level racks for crops that don't require high light levels. 

 Grow a crop of hanging baskets on overhead rails or truss-mounted conveyor system. 

 Roll-out bench system can double growing space.  Plants are moved outside during the day. 

Efficient Heating System  

 Installation of floor or under-bench heat will allow air temperature to be set 5 to 10 ºF lower. 

 Yearly maintenance - Check boiler, burner and backup systems to make sure they are operating at peak efficiency.  Have furnaces cleaned and adjusted and an efficiency test run before heating

season.  A 2% increase in efficiency for a 30-foot

by 150-foot greenhouse will save about 200                                            Under-bench heat system             gallons  of fuel oil.                                                                             Photo: Tina Smith, UMass Extension

 Clean heating pipes and other radiation surfaces frequently. 

 Check accuracy of thermostats - correcting a reading that is 2 ºF high will save $100 to $200. 

 Install electronic thermostats or controllers with a 1 °F accuracy.  Potential yearly savings of 500 gallons of fuel oil in a 30 foot by 100 foot greenhouse when changing from a mechanical to electronic thermostat or controller. 

 Aspirate thermostats or sensors for more uniform temperature control.  Differential between on and off can be reduced as much as 6 ºF.

 Install horizontal air flow (HAF) fans to get more uniform temperature in growing area. 

 Insulate distribution pipes in areas where heat is not required. 

 Check and repair leaks in valves, steam traps, and pipes.

Efficient Cooling System  

 Build a new greenhouse with open-roof design to eliminate the need for fans.

 Install roll-up or guillotine sides to reduce the need for fan ventilation. 

 Use shading to reduce the need for mechanical cooling. 

 Install evaporative cooling to get better temperature control during the summer. 

 Select fans that meet AMCA standards and have a Ventilation Efficiency Ratio greater than 15. 

 Use the largest diameter fan with the smallest motor that meets ventilation requirements.

 Keep doors closed when fans are operating.  Locate intake louvers to give uniform cooling. 

Conserve Electricity  

 Have wiring system inspected for overloading, corroded parts, and faulty insulation. 

 Replace 3 hp or larger motors with high efficiency ones to reduce electric consumption by 2 to 5%. 

 Check for proper belt tension and alignment. 

 Replace incandescent bulbs with low wattage fluorescent or HID bulbs.  Save two thirds on electricity. 

 Install motion detectors to control security lights so they are not on all the time. 

Trucks and Tractors  

 Regularly scheduled tune-ups can save 10% on fuel usage.  Keep tires properly inflated. 

 Avoid lengthy idling.  Idling can consume 15 to 20% of the fuel used. 

 Run equipment in the proper gear for the load. 

Water Systems  

 Locate hot water tanks as close as possible to the largest and most frequent use.  Insulate pipes. 

 Heat water to the lowest temperature needed; usually 120 ºF is adequate. 

 Use pipe size large enough to supply necessary water at minimum friction loss.

 Eliminate water leaks.  A dripping faucet at 60 drops per minute will waste 113 gallons per month.


 Lower night temperature.  Fuel consumption is reduced 3% for each 1 ºF night temperature is lowered. 

 Delay starting the greenhouse by a week or more.  Build a germination/growth chamber to start seedlings.

 Keep growing areas full at all times.

 Use root zone heating.

Energy Broker/Consultant

Large energy users often hire a consultant or broker to assist in reducing and managing their electricity and natural gas, fuel oil and other energy expenses. The consultant analyzes business energy use and helps negotiate contracts and rates.

Compare Fuel Efficiency 

Consider the cost of different fuels in terms of energy value.

To determine the cost and value of a fuel, first consider the number of British Thermal Units (Btu) produced by the fuel (Table 1).  To determine the Btu value per dollar, divide the fuel's Btu per unit by the unit price. Example: #2 Fuel Oil   BTU/$ = 138,500 BTU/gal  = 55,400 BTU/dollar


Table 1.  Approximate Heating Value of Common Fuels

Fuel type

Heating value

Natural Gas

1,030 Btu/cu ft 

100,000 Btu/therm


2,500 Btu/cu ft

92,500 Btu/gal 


1,000 Btu/cu ft


Landfill gas

500 Btu/cu ft 



3,200 Btu/cu ft

130,000 Btu/gal 



57,000 Btu/gal



76,000 Btu/gal 

Fuel Oil 




135,000 Btu/gal



138,500 Btu/gal



145,000 Btu/gal 



153,000 Btu/gal 


1 Barrel of oil = 42 gallons



Waste oil

125,000 Btu/gal 


Biodiesel - Waste vegetable oil

120,000 Btu/gal 



125,000 Btu/gal 






2-3,000 lb/cord

10-15,000,000 Btu/cord 


4-5,000 lb/cord 

18-24,000,000 Btu/cord

Sawdust - green

10-13 lb/cu ft

8-10,000,000 Btu/ton 

Sawdust - kiln dry 

8-10 lb/cu ft 

14-18,000,000 Btu/ton

Chips - 45% moisture

10-30 lb/cu ft 

7,600,000 Btu/ton 


10-30 lb/cu ft 

16-20,000,000 Btu/ton 


10-20 lb/cu ft 

9-10,500,000 Btu/ton 

Wood pellets - 10% moisture

40-50 lb/cu ft 

16,000,000 Btu/ton 

Hard Coal (anthracite) 

13,000 Btu/lb

26,000,000 Btu/ton

Soft Coal (bituminous) 

12,000 Btu/lb 

24,000,000 Btu/ton

Rubber - pelletized

16,000 Btu/lb

32-34,000,000 Btu/ton 


18-20,000 Btu/lb 


Corn - shelled

7,800-8,500 Btu/lb 

15-17,000,000 Btu/ton


8,000-8,300 Btu/lb

16-17,000,000 Btu/ton 


3412 Btu/kilowatt hour 


Prepared by: John W. Bartok, Jr., Agricultural Engineer

University of Connecticut, Storrs CT 06269-4087 



November 03, 2021

Types Of Greenhouses (by Carlos Mazzarelli)

A greenhouse is a structure with a glass or plastic roof and side walls that is used for the production of ornamentals and food crops and may be used seasonally or year round. The closed environment of a greenhouse has its own unique requirements, compared with outdoor production. 


View full article →
January 10, 2018

How to Install Polyethylene Sheeting on a Greenhouse

Paul Simon, Landscape Horticulturist with the National Gardening Association, shows you how to install the polyethylene sheeting for your greenhouse.



June 22, 2017

Calculating Greenhouse Film Size

Calculating Greenhouse Film Size

1. Measure dimensions A,B,C, and D on your greenhouse.

2. Determine the size of film needed for the top and sides. The length and width will be A and C. We recommend adding at least 1' to each dimension. This will give you some extra film to hold onto when securing it to your greenhouse. If you want a double layer of film inflated, order 2 pieces this size

3. Determine the size of film needed for the end walls. Use measurements B and D for your 2nd piece of plastic. If they are less than 11' each, multiply the larger number by 2, and add 1' for extra film to hold onto. This will give you enough to cover both end walls with a single layer of film or one end wall with a double layer.

View our Greenhouse Film


Greenhouse Dimensions: A=14' B=8' C=16' D=8'
Film size for top and sides = 15' x 17' (A + 1' x C + 1')
You will need to order 15' of our 20' wide plastic.

Film size for end walls = 9' x 9' x 2 end walls = 9' x 18' (B + Dx2) or (Bx2 + D)
You will need to order 9' of our 20' wide plastic.

NOTE: If you want to cover your greenhouse with a double layer of film, you would purchase 2 of each size film listed above. 

December 21, 2016

How An Energy Audit Of Your Greenhouse Can Save You Money

Gotham Greens Atrium Style Greenhouse Chicago

High greenhouse energy bills can make things difficult for any grower. However, even some of the simplest and most inexpensive repairs can result in lower energy use. For example, according to University of Massachusetts Extension, fixing a fan louver that doesn’t close correctly — leaving 1-inch gaps, allowing 23,000 BTU per hour of heat loss — can save $0.46 per hour, assuming a national average cost of $2.80 of fuel oil per gallon. In addition, Pennsylvania State Extension advises greenhouses to simply fill cracks, holes, and openings in the structure to potentially reduce the heating bill by up to 10%.

To evaluate these and other potential energy savings, Kristin Getter in the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University suggests growers conduct a formal or informal energy audit.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers a self-assessment tool, the Greenhouse Energy Self-Assessment Tool, that allows you to enter detailed information about your greenhouses, including dimensions, types of coverings, type of heaters, etc. For example, a fictitious greenhouse consisting of two 100-foot x 36-foot bays with 12-foot side walls was used that had no thermal curtains, was covered in traditional double-poly, and used forced air gravity vented unit heaters. The results of the program suggested multiple changes, including a 29% energy savings by switching from double poly to IR-inhibited double poly. More savings could be seen by adding thermal curtains or upgrading to high efficiency condensing heating systems.

Consider paying for a formal energy audit by a Michigan State University-trained third party auditor, especially if you intend to seek government loans or rebates that require such an audit. Depending on the size of your business, the audit may take up to four hours to complete. The auditor will ask for detailed information before the audit takes place, including a year of your utility bills, structural layouts and coverings of your structures, temperature set points throughout the year and types of heaters, motors, fans, and lighting. The auditor will then sit down with you for a two- to four-hour meeting to go over the data you provided and then tour your greenhouses. The final report will list detailed energy use by individual energy consuming appliances and options to save energy for each.

For more details on how a formal audit works and for an example of the resulting audit document, see “Greenhouse Energy Audit Overview” written by Thomas Dudek and Jeanne Himmelein from Michigan State University Extension.

December 19, 2016

Cannabis - 46 Tips for Better Cultivation

As the cannabis industry grows up, the base of knowledge shared among large-scale cultivators is growing up, too. Cannabis Business Times interviewed a group of well-known industry players and frequent CBT contributors about their best practices, covering everything from lighting to custom fertilizing to specialized grow techniques, and design innovations, such as rolling aisles and vertical grows. They provide advice for beginner and advanced growers alike. Read on for tips, tricks and lessons gleaned from large-scale growing operations all over North America.

Brett Eaton

Director of Horticulture, American Cannabis Co. || Denver, Colorado

1. Think holistically when planning your operation

“Cultivators can maximize grow space by capturing both vertical and horizontal gain in cultivation rooms, having a well-planned layout for all equipment and functions of the operation, and streamlining workflow to eliminate unnecessary tasks.”

2. Hire experienced people

“Growing the highest-quality product is achieved by having a skilled staff that understands the smallest nuances in grow systems. Cultivators should understand, or hire a professional who understands, the design and build out of cultivation facilities, how to maintain proper environmental parameters, the cost/benefit analysis of all grow systems, implementation of clean protocols and workflow management.”

3. Test changes in small batches

“Many changes can have adverse effects if not implemented properly. For example, adding equipment without accounting for environmental parameters or power consumption can create problems. Also, a grower should never test new grow techniques on an entire crop — use a sample test crop instead. He or she should never implement new techniques without understanding any additional workflow or labor needed to make it successful.”

4. Don’t expect basement grow techniques to work on a large scale

Basement-growing techniques don’t translate to a large-scale cultivation facility. “Don’t hire unskilled labor, operate in a facility that can’t maintain a proper environment, operate without understanding production costs or begin operations without addressing an efficient building layout and future expansion.”

Scott Lowry

Chief Operations Officer, Global Organiks || Tecumseh, Ontario

5. More roots equals more fruits

“One common way to boost root growth is mycorrhizal inoculants, which utilize a symbiotic association between a fungus and the roots of the cannabis plant. The fungus stimulates root growth and increases the roots’ ability to take up nutrients from any media you choose (hydro, soil, coco fiber, and so on).”

6. Schedule foliar spraying

“A steady schedule of spraying cannabis plants with inoculants [pathogens/antigens] — with the lights off — will stimulate root growth and improve your plants’ node production.”

7. Implement low stress training

“Low stress training, or LST, is probably the safest, most risk-averse method to increasing top colas, the part of the plant on which buds grow together tightly. It involves bending unruly branches and using gardening wire or soft ties to hold the branches where you want them. A combination of topping, super-cropping, pruning and bending can achieve the goal of having several top colas to maximize yield.

“The majority of growers using LST are trying to keep their plants short and wide to take advantage of grow lights or the sun. Branches need to be bent down and secured away from other branches, creating a wider canopy with many colas from which the bud can grow.”

8. Super-crop your crop

“Super-cropping is not like pruning, where you actually snip off some of the plant. Instead, the basic crux of the super-cropping process is to bend (not break) branches near the top so the plant ‘thinks’ it doesn’t have tops. You’re essentially trying to increase the number of ‘tops’ by pushing the lower growth higher and wider, so that it, too, will flower.”

9. Start topping and FIMming

“These plant training techniques involve ‘pinching,’ or cutting off some of the plant’s top growth. They are a costless way to achieve better plant shape, which makes better use of available light, creates more colas and achieves bigger yields.” Many resources exist online that explain the intricacies of topping and FIMming.

10. Don’t cut your growth periods short

“Most growers know that the bigger the plant, the bigger the yield. So some growers maintain a veg cycle — the training period before flowering — of eight to 10 full weeks before transporting their multi-cola, multi-noded plant to the flowering room.”

11. Keep CO2 levels high

“Consistently high carbon dioxide levels — about 1,500 parts per million — can boost your yield by up to 30 percent if done correctly. The plants use the carbon dioxide to photosynthesize light into plant energy and sugars, which increases bud size and density.”

12. Focus on quality

Quality is far more important than maximizing yield if you are serious about your business and keeping your clients happy and loyal.

13. Stay on top of growing trends

“TLO, or True Living Organics style growing, and Veganics are truly next-level methods, though the grower sacrifices the massive yields of hydroponic growing for lower yields growing organically. There is always a tradeoff. There are also always better techniques coming out of grow circles around the world, so my advice is to keep yourselves in the know.”

14. Develop solid procedures now

“For the budding cannabis entrepreneur with a green thumb: The further you move up the chain, the more important process and procedure become. Keeping track of all changing variables — dates, times, sales, patient preferences — is what will help keep your business afloat. These variables provide key performance indicators that you can use to manage your day-to-day operations more effectively. And having a thick book of standard operating procedures for every process that goes on in your operation can truly be a lifesaver.”

“Consistently high carbon dioxide levels — about 1500 parts per million — can boost your yield by up to 30 percent if done correctly. The plants use the carbon dioxide to photosynthesize light into plant energy and sugars, which increases bud size and density.”

Stan Gorski

Gorski Grows, Owner || Columbus, Ohio

15. Build toward the canopy

“The top buds are going to get the most power, and the bottom are going to get the least, because they get the least amount of sun. But they’re still taking power away from the top buds. So what I do is, week 2 of bloom, or day 1 of week 3, after they’ve already done their 80 percent shoot and stretch, I go in and cut all those little bud sites, at least at the bottom. If I’ve got a 5-foot plant, then 1.5 feet of bottom growth gets cut out. Everything goes, except for if a branch reaches the top of the canopy. Then I’ll leave the branch, but take all the small buds.”

“There’s a lot of people that take the fan leaves off, but I have to leave them. Fan leaves are actually long-term food storage for the plant. So if the plant has deficiency and needs something, the first thing it does is pull from those. If I’m flushing, and those plants want something more, they’ll pull it right from the fan leaves first.”


16. Know your sources

“A huge thing I see is people getting online – which, I love the web, but you need to know what to believe and what not to believe. A lot of people take to the forums and they’ll get [things like], ‘so-and-so said this.’ Well, who is so-and-so? How much experience does he have? How many ... warehouses has he run? How many grows has he been a part of? How many successful grows has he done? Need a good resource? Jorge Cervantes, the [“Indoor Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor Bible”]. Anything you want, it’s in there.”


17. Get to know your grow

“I tell smaller growers, find a strain you like, and find the phenotype of the strain you like, and learn to grow it and stick with it. A lot of growers will stick with a strain for 10 to 15 years. Keep moms, clone them.

“You’ll get consistency with single strains. Once you get it down, you’ll be able to tell the difference when it’s healthy and when it’s not. You will be able to tell if it needs more nitrogen or less potassium and phosphorous. You will be able to count on a certain amount of end product. Every grower loves a consistent strain. If you provide a consistent product, other people may come to rely on you for that for that specific phenotype. Once you can consistently produce great product from one phenotype, you can start looking at other strains. You will be able to compare characteristics that are similar or not so similar to what you’ve been growing. You will be able to identify problems more easily. And once you jump to something else, a different strain or different phenotype, adapting will be easier.”

Devin Liles

Vice President of Production, The Farm || Boulder, Colo.

18. Find a balance in your environment

“I would say the tendency is to maximize space and stuff as many plants as you can into the space you have. What a lot of people don’t understand is that has to be balanced with maintaining a really healthy environment for the plants, one that is less prone to pests and disease. The goal is to balance efficiency and the health and vigor of the crop overall: balancing adequate airflow, while at the same time maximizing the light you’re using as well as the space.

“One of my golden rules is that I want my growers to be able to put their eyes on every single plant on a regular basis. We have multiple operations and tens of thousands of square feet, but I want my guys to have an intimate relationship with every crop.

“I’ve seen some grows where they just stack a room, and they can’t get to the back corner, and unbeknownst to them, back in that dank corner they’ve allowed a microclimate that’s conducive to powdery mildew, for instance. And they get an outbreak, but they don’t know it until it’s spread to the front of the room, or they don’t know it because they don’t have that expertise to know scouting is a big part of integrated pest management.”

19. Look for more efficient technology

“It’s [already] becoming more and more known how much energy we consume. We need to do our best to work as efficiently as possible. Right now, we’re using the double-ended HPS bulbs, and what we’ve found is we can get more yield out of the same square footage with fewer of those lights than the older-technology HPS lights. It’s a better utilization of space, and we’re getting more weight per square foot with [fewer] lights.”

20. Make room for veg

“Make sure you have the adequate veg space for your plants. You have dedicated veg space, with different lighting, different HVAC, different environment vs. bloom spaces. Have enough veg space to get your plants ready and to the size that you want, such that you can turn over the bloom rooms really quickly. So when you harvest, you’re ready with the next crop to go in with as little downtime as possible. Some places I have more, but generally your veg space will be about a third the size of your overall bloom space.”

21. Plan for IPM

“I’m still amazed at how many people don’t understand a more comprehensive approach to pest and disease management. They just look to growing the plants, and they don’t understand that how you set everything up, how you manage your canopies, how and when you water all go into ensuring that you have healthy, robust plants, and that you’re not creating conditions for pest and disease to take hold. A lot of people are learning the hard way that you can’t just spray a toxic cure when a problem arises. It’s really about a more disciplined approach incorporating the fundamental principles of integrated pest management.”

Mel Frank

Industry veteran and cannabis author, publisher & consultant

22. Get innovative with your configuration

Spliffin, which sells vaporizing hardware, cannabinoid concentrates, and high-quality marijuana flowers, is having a grow room space designed inside a 200,000-square-foot facility. “The space will ultimately be divided into smaller rooms with 70 to 100 lamps each. The trademarked ‘Spacesaver’ design by Cannstruction features four sliding rows of plants. To improve use and durability, Cannstruction built grows to fit into two existing 19-foot by 30-foot rooms; each was filled with four rows of growing plants. Each row consists of three 4-foot by 8-foot trays and one 4-foot by 4-foot tray, forming a 4-foot by 28-foot row. The four rows rest on fixed beds with 20-inch spaces between beds. Each space can become an aisle as a row is moved.

“One 2-foot-wide crosswise space was created for room entry and access to each row. Each 20-inch lengthwise space between fixed beds could become an aisle. By sliding a row over to cover the aisle, a space opens a new aisle on the opposite side of the row that was moved. With four rows, five aisle positions can be created one at a time. The aisle can be on either side of the room or between any two rows, providing easy access to all plants.”

23. Automate watering and fertilizing with drain to recover waste

Each row in Spliffin’s room design “has a separate watering line and each pot has two drip emitters. More than 80 percent of the water [can be] recovered and recycled from start to harvest.”

24. Consider joined pipes instead of wheeled tables

“In what appears to be a long-lasting, maintenance-free design … the Spliffin facility design uses rows that roll on 1.25-inch joined pipes. They form 28-foot lengths laid atop solidly constructed beds affixed to the floor. The ease with which one person can move a 28-foot-long row proved surprising to me, a 71-year-old, 150-pound man.”

“Other growers try to treat their plants like bodybuilders by feeding them excessive amounts of fertilizers ... . What they do not understand is the point of diminishing returns. Once crossed, both yield and quality will suffer.”

Kenneth Morrow

Founder, Trichome Technologies || Northern California

25. If you’re thinking vertical, think beyond the math

“Business guys crunch the numbers on vertical growing, but they don’t necessarily understand the nuances of the plant. Humidity and temperature are critical. Unless you massively move the air in a building, it can be counterproductive to have too many shelves. You also may not get approval from OSHA.

“Growers usually have a limited amount of floor space, so you can see why someone might think to put in a mezzanine and double the floor space. But this just isn’t something that’s commonly used in large-scale agriculture. Nobody is working with vertical grows in crops like tomatoes and orchids. Sure, you can see what [Walt Disney World’s] Epcot is doing — they’ve got plants growing vertically, in moving rows, in every way possible. But in any commercial production facility you’re not going to find that.”

26. Beware overly complex vertical setups

“A few years ago, there were a few growers in Canada taking short clones and putting them into vertical aisles. I’ve also seen a grow with a setup that looked like a Ferris wheel. They had a circle that was 10 feet long [in circumference], but when you set it up in a circle, it [took up only] five feet. It rotated through irrigation and always got light from a light in the center. It was a very productive system.

“These may produce a good-quality product, but I don’t see them as efficient. A vertical grow can become, at the end of the day, more of a logistical nightmare. For a hobbyist or home grower it can work fine, but for the larger scale, if you’ve got $30 million at stake in your facility and you need to have forklifts moving things around and then equipment to decontaminate, the system itself can kill you with inefficiency.”

Brett & Keith Sprau

Head of Sales / Owner & Head Grower, Colorado Leaf LLC || Pueblo County, Colorado

27. Leverage your environment

“Colorado’s 300-plus days of sun helps us produce a consistent, high-quality, finished product. Our 150-acre farm is set at the foothills of the Wet Mountains, approximately 30 miles west of Pueblo, so the climate usually provides us with the best of both worlds, meaning the growing season of the Eastern Plains and the precipitation of the foothills.”

28. Consider all aspects of your location

“Our [location is also our] biggest challenge. We are 40 minutes from town and two hours from Denver, the biggest market for us. All of the resort towns are a minimum of three hours away. And our location has made it difficult to find reliable and consistent workers.”

29. Build strategically

“Every square inch in the greenhouse has a cost value to it, so we didn’t overbuild the veg house or underbuild the flower house. We used the newest aisle-eliminating rolling benches to cover the entire growing area and gained an extra 1,200 square feet of growing space per phase. We also planted a perpetual garden consisting of two veg, two flower and one clone room in order to maximize growing time and minimize down time. This leads to a harvest every four to six weeks.”

30. Consider supplemental LEDs and environmental controls

“Combining Colorado’s sun with our state-of-the-art supplemental LEDs has allowed us to maximize our yields while minimizing our cost per gram. In addition, we have been using an extremely advanced environmental controller with its own weather station to provide the ideal environment, which helps keep the consistent quality we demand as premiere retail wholesalers in this state.”

Leif B. Abel

Founder / Co-owner, Greatland Ganja || Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

31. Do not try to build and grow a hybrid system

“For example, hydro/organic. They are two types of dealing with the science of cultivating a plant, and mixing them usually results in trouble.”

32. Stick with what you know

“A tip another mentor gave me was this: Do what you know. So even though new techniques and knowledge should be pursued, the majority of the early crops should be a standard, known method the cultivator is comfortable with.”

Nic Easley & Adam Koh

Chief executive officer & chief cultivation officer 3C – Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting || Denver, Colorado

33. Control grow-room environments

“To maximize yield without compromising quality, indoor cultivators are well-served to install equipment that can exercise precise control over the room’s conditions. Both yield and quality will be lost if it is too humid or dry, too hot or cold, or if the environment has too much or too little carbon dioxide.

“We have seen facilities with mediocre strains, clueless staff and no effective direction from management still pulling very respectable yields simply because the environmental control equipment installed in the facility was top-notch and conditions in garden areas were optimal.”

34. Choose reliable, quality lighting

“Quality of light is possibly the single most important factor determining how well your plants will perform. Combined with disruptive technology, such as … reflector, chiller and dehumidifier systems — these are a game-changer for indoor growers. They significantly increase yield and quality while also becoming more efficient in terms of energy use.”

35. Buy a PAR meter

“New technology is being developed every day in the industry. If you choose to evaluate new lights or cooling technologies in your own grow, employ the proper equipment such as a photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) meter to accurately measure quality of light and an infrared thermometer, or “temperature gun,” to ensure your canopy is not too hot. These tools should be used in combination with your observations and data-collection protocols.”

36. Understand your inputs

“Many growers employ commercially produced fertilizer lines that come with ‘feed charts’ prescribing what to use, how much and when to feed. This is convenient, but it obscures understanding of the plants’ nutritional needs, which in commercial fertilizer lines are boiled down to products with catchy names.

“In many cases, the amounts prescribed by feed charts are higher than what is necessary. The educated grower who understands the roles of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and the various micronutrients required for plant growth — in addition to applying those nutrients in the proper amounts and with the right timing — can tweak pre-made feed charts to his or her great advantage.”

37. Consider vertical growing

“In vegetative areas, shelves or racks can be built such that smaller plants can be stacked on top of each other in multiple levels. For example, picture a room with 12-foot ceilings and numerous groups of new plantings that are less than a foot tall. Instead of simply hanging one fluorescent fixture over a 4-foot by 4-foot tray holding 75 new plantings, at least three levels could be fit into the same square footage of floor space, holding at least 225 plants rather than only 75.”

38. Consider wheeled tables

“Creative uses of space can allow a grower to stock a garden area almost completely full with plants under lights and no or minimal walkways. All he or she needs is tables on wheels, built to hold 4-foot by 4-foot trays of plants, and space sufficient to pull out the tables, a few at a time, to [allow space between to] work on the plants. Using this approach, staff will be able to give individualized attention to every plant in a room with only a minimal amount of workspace taking away from the space devoted to plants.”

39. Know your supply and storage needs

“Having a good grasp of logistics via detailed record-keeping and a tight, consistent production schedule can save space by minimizing the amount of necessary storage. Less storage space means more available room devoted to production. If you know how much soil you will need on a quarterly basis, you can order that amount and set re-order points so that you do not have to have copious amounts of supplies on hand.”

40. Pay attention to your particular micro-environment

“There are thousands of strains out there. It is important to remember that even strains with ostensibly the same genetics can grow very differently under different conditions. Never assume that a strain simply ‘is the way it is’ based on anecdotal evidence or even prior experience, especially if that experience has not been properly documented. Strains performing very well can sometimes be improved upon with focused attention and intelligent adjustments based on properly collected data.

“We have seen a top-quality strain that was testing at nearly 30-percent THC with great aroma and taste while smoking. It was yielding quite low, at or just below one pound per 1,000-watt lamp, but it blossomed into a strain from which I could consistently pull 2 pounds per light while keeping the same quality standards.

“This did not happen overnight. Over the course of more than a year the strain was run over a half-dozen times with alterations to lighting, fertilization, pest management approaches and other variables each run. After each adjustment, yield results and testing results were recorded in order to identify what benefited and what may hae suffered.”

41. Make flushing part of your routine

“To create a high-quality product, growers should irrigate their crop with unadulterated, properly pH-balanced reverse osmosis water for two weeks prior to harvest, at the very least. Three weeks can provide a very smooth smoking experience even with limited or no curing to the bud.”

42. Don’t neglect drying

“Many growers are so focused on the cultivation that the treatment of the buds afterward is neglected by comparison. You can be the best grower in the world, but if you do not properly dry and cure your product, it will turn out terribly. A climate-controlled space that can maintain proper drying conditions is essential. If possible, curing the dried buds in glass jars for at least a month will greatly improve the quality of your product.”

43. Remember: More doesn’t equal better

“Some indoor growers install more lights in a room simply because they have extra space. They think, ‘More lights = more weight,’ only to have those lights and additional plants spike the temperature and humidity in the room, leading to lower yields, powdery mildew and other problems.

“Other growers try to treat their plants like bodybuilders by feeding them excessive amounts of fertilizers, assuming that more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) will result in larger, denser buds. What they do not understand is the point of diminishing returns. Once crossed, both yield and quality will suffer.”

44. Don’t blindly fear pests

“Some growers treat their plants with pesticides, whether organic or chemical, legal or illegal, too frequently or in too-high concentrations. Rather than eliminating problems, this approach stresses your plants, making them more susceptible to pests. It is better to diagnose the pest pressuring your crop and treat the problem based on its life cycle and characteristics. For example, if mites reproduce every five days, treating plants every two days is likely overkill, causing more harm than good.”

45. Compartmentalize to prevent future pest issues

“If you are constructing a new facility, do not lay it out with only one or two very large areas for flowering plants. A number of these types of facilities exist in Denver and are sometimes referred to as ‘perpetual harvest’ rooms, as they are extremely large and groups of flowering plants at different stages of development share the same space. Plants are harvested and reset piecemeal, or incrementally.

“This may seem like an efficient use of space, but in this type of layout, a small pest issue can quickly turn into a problem that affects your entire grow. Compartmentalization may cut down on the amount of space devoted to production, but some division is necessary to ensure pest problems can be contained and minimized as much as possible.”

46. Don’t overcrowd your space

“In the desire to maximize productive grow space, we have seen grow rooms that are incredibly difficult to walk through, and certainly challenging for watering, pruning, spraying foliar nutrient supplementation or organic preventatives and other garden tasks. A grower may have ‘maximized’ the grow space, but the staff will break their backs to do basic tasks. Remember to retain enough space for staff to work comfortably and effectively so plants can be properly maintained.”

December 14, 2016

Stay Up To Date On Greenhouse Structures And Materials

eGro, an online resource for greenhouse growers, features a series of video lectures and tutorials on a wide variety of topics. When it comes to greenhouse management, here’s a quick look at the videos you can check out:
• Structure Types and Terminology
• Glazing Materials
• Overview of Greenhouse Heating
• Greenhouse Cooling
• Plant Growth and Development
• Carbon Dioxide Injection

Each tutorial features a video as well as a slideshow presentation. You can also subscribe to eGro to make sure you’re notified whenever a new presentation is made available. eGRO

December 12, 2016

Community-Centered Cannabis

When states implement new marijuana programs, and license applications begin to be filled out, there is usually a scramble for real estate in densely populated metropolitan areas. Hopeful cultivators may even try to outbid one another to get the largest warehouses in the best neighborhoods.

But not Tim McGraw, founder of Illinois medical cannabis producer Revolution Enterprises.

Instead of trying to join the bidding wars in larger cities when Illinois legalized medical cannabis in January 2013, McGraw started making cold calls to rural towns in need of an economic stimulus.

“A lot of cannabis companies,” McGraw says, “find a location, and then try to convince, so to speak, the community to accept them and get the support. We did the opposite: We worked backwards into the location, by finding communities that wanted us.”

That seemingly counter-intuitive approach paid off for Revolution Enterprises. It was awarded two of the state’s 19 cultivation licenses: one for a facility in Barry, and another dedicated to the company’s flagship facility in Delavan.

“[Being in smaller communities], was, I think, a huge differentiator between us and the other applicants,” McGraw says.

Now, at the tail end of 2016, those licenses have turned into two 75,000-square-foot facilities and Revolution Enterprises is eyeing new markets in which to expand. McGraw, however, is still focused on making sure the small towns aren’t left in the dust of his big plans.

Being Part of the Community

On the night of July 16, an EF2 tornado touched down in Delavan. Wind gusts of 120 mph leveled 51 homes on a 1.3-mile-long path of destruction, leaving one Delavanite seriously injured.

Revolution Enterprises’ facility in the town was still under construction when the tornado hit, but no damage was done to the structure. So what McGraw did next came as a surprise to the entire town.

“I talked to the mayor at 5:00 in the morning, a few hours after the tornado hit, and just said, ‘What can we do to help? Do you need help with cleanup? Do you need bodies? What do you need?’” McGraw says. “And she said, ‘You know, Tim, we just need places for people to stay.’”

So that’s what Revolution Enterprises provided by footing the hotel bills for those families who saw their homes destroyed. McGraw also bought storm detectors for any household in town that wanted one. That way, he explains, Delavan’s residents could have more time to prepare their homes if another tornado approached the town.

His reasoning behind those decisions is simple. “I saw the devastation in this small town … so that’s just being a good neighbor, you know?”

McGraw made a point to set up shop in smaller communities rather than in larger, urban areas. Not only is Revolution Enterprises making a bigger impact in the community, but areas in need of economic development often will be willing to work with businesses, more so than cities like Chicago, McGraw says.

“Before construction, the towns were [ghost towns],” McGraw explains. “There’s maybe one person for lunch at the local restaurant, where now there’s 60-plus employees down the street, filling up the restaurants for lunch, and then going out for a drink after work.”

And the towns have shown their appreciation in return.

When McGraw tried to winterize his Barry site while it was still under construction, his crew was struggling to place a tarp over the construction site with 40 mph winds blowing it away at every try. Locals volunteered their time and supplies to help, laying down bails of hay and old tires to keep the tarp from flying off.A lab technician holds up a round-bottom flask filled with cannabis extract. The flask is also called a “dragonball” due to its resemblance to the popular Japanese manga object.

“That stuff doesn’t happen in the city,” McGraw says. “You don’t get the locals reaching out and saying, ‘Oh, how can we help?’”

McGraw also credits the support Revolution Enterprises has received from these small communities as the reason the group became operational so quickly after receiving its licenses.

“Not only did it help with the applications, but it helped us in meeting the requirement of being operational within six months. We built two 75,000 square feet of the most advanced cannabis facilities in the world, and we did it in four and a half months,” he says.

Advancing the Science

And advanced his facilities are, although you wouldn’t think so when you look at them from the outside.

A 12-foot-high barbed-wired fence surrounds an otherwise plain, green and beige sheet-metal building. How to cross that fence is just the first feature of Revolution Enterprises’ facilities.

“To get in …, you need to check in,” explains Eric Diekhoff, general manager for Revolution Enterprises – Delavan, where he oversees day-to-day operations. “If you’re an employee, you have a card that you scan, and it has a personalized PIN you need to enter to get into the gate.”

If you’re a visitor, you need to speak to and check in with the facility’s on-duty security guard in a “man-trap” room before being escorted to whom you need to meet.

These security measures and features are all put into place to secure the approximately $17 million investment the company put into each of the facilities. Delavan is especially valuable to McGraw’s group as it houses all of Revolution Enterprises’ research and development labs, in-house testing rooms, and extraction labs, where it creates everything from CO2 oil to live resin, shatter, sap and moonrocks, among other products.

Research and development plays a large role in Revolution Enterprises’ business plans. The laboratories resemble more of what you might find in a pharmaceutical setting rather than a typical cultivation business. Lab technicians and researchers experiment with phenotypes to discover which cultivars produce the highest yield in the facilities’ conditions, new extraction products are developed and tested, and growers breed new cultivars to address different patient needs.

“The whole purpose of building these facilities to the specs that we did was to build laboratories that are dedicated to advancing the science of cannabis,” McGraw explains. “We’re not just here to pump out flower and make money.”

Despite his background in real estate development (both commercial and industrial), the learning curve in designing the facilities was still steep for McGraw. He says that is primarily because most engineers have not built cannabis facilities like these before.

“Every room within the facility is its own unique environment – the CO2 levels, the humidity, the temperature, all of that – depending on what strain or what you’re doing in each one of those rooms, or whether it’s flower, or veg, or whether you’re growing a sativa or an indica,” he explains.

Using environmental controls by Automated Logic, McGraw can control the HVAC for every room in either of his facilities directly from his phone. (“Not that I would touch it, because I’d mess it up,” he laughs.)

That system also helps avoid spikes in the rooms’ environments, says Revolution Enterprises COO Dustin Shroyer. It does so by enabling controllers to program levels “to the second instead of down to a 15-minute increment or waiting for a spike for our [HVAC] to kick on. We really don’t have spikes in cooling or heating or humidity.”

Cannabis Business Times