With 7 Years of commercial cannabis growing under my belt, I have had a lot of experiences that have taught me a the do’s and don’ts about commercial cannabis growing. So save yourself some money and frustration by reading through this commercial growing guide, and start increasing your yields and revenue right away.
Know Your Strains
There are so many strains out there that are available for you to grow in your grow rooms. How many times have you heard “yo, man, have you heard of electric dog shit, this strain hits so hard!” This inevitably starts a 30-minute, back-and-forth conversation about Sativa and Indica, and plants I have never heard of. I would go so far as to say that of the thousands of strains I have seen, I have seen most of them only once and never again.
So what’s next? What strains do you decide to grow? Everybody already has girl scout cookies, gelato, purple punch, sour diesel, etc, should I stick with that or try to grow something more unique?
Even more important are the questions about how each strain grows. Which strains will help me to have the largest yields? How long is the flowering time, and how quick does it veg? In the end you will never get your yield to grow higher unless you know all of these answers.
Many seed sites have the flowering time, but few mention other important details like how fast the seed roots, or how long it takes the plant to propagate. These can be important details for the management of your grow. For instance, if you make the mistake of putting in a 52-day strain along with a 63-day strain, you could be making a lot of extra work for yourself at best, and hampering your yield and productivity at the worst. Unfortunately, I’ve had to learn this the hard way, wasting countless years with 15 different strains trying to figure this out, planting seeds and waiting months to get a good plant.
In the end, you’ve built up mother plants and finally when you get into production you find out that this plant sucks, and won’t produce what you’re looking for.
A simple suggestion is to do your research before you start. Buy clones of the strain you are interested in and then find out if it works for you. After that, feel free to experiment. Unfortunately, experimenting costs time and money and will take a long time before you see any results. In the meantime, you still have to pay the bills and please your investors, so it’s best to start with things that you know will work, and experiment when you can afford to. As I like to say, “work on technique before boutique”.
Keep a Cannabis Growing Log
After only a small amount of trial and error, you have found the one or two strains that you are going to perfect. Congratulations! But now that you are a commercial grower, it’s not as simple as just growing a bunch of plants all at once. You have so many other things to worry about and often the last thing you’re thinking of doing is writing a journal of your process. Let’s face it, when it comes to deciding what to do with your time, is it more important to fix your pump, water your plants, or to journal? Luckily, in a commercial grow facility you have help, so delegate some of the work to keep the plants alive, and make it a priority to keep a growing journal.
Why is this so important? Without a growing journal there is no accurate way to determine how this strain can be fine-tuned like a mean green growing machine. You need to be able to look at your mistakes and successes. 15 minutes a day is all it takes, but over time this can be the difference between stagnation and huge growth.
Check how long it takes for roots to first show in clones, how fast they veg, take pictures, record environments, watch your nutrient intake. The more you write, the better your next harvest’s yield will be.
Check Your Water
Just like with humans, the quality of the water you have is extremely important to the health of your plants, and can change the way your grow operation functions. Is your primary water source well water, city water, or rain water? Why does it matter, water is water right? The type of water that you have at your facility can vary widely from well to well, and city to city.
For example, well water can carry bacteria, lead, arsenic radon, and, depending how close you are to other agricultural enterprises, even pesticides that have leached into the groundwater. Meanwhile, city water can be very hard, but varies from city to city. Additives of chlorine, or heavy amounts of magnesium and calcium can send you wrong signals when using it to water your plants. It’s hard enough to perfect your art without the one thing all the plants need messing it up for you.
My advice is to actually hire a specialist in order to get your water sampled before you use it. This sample will help inform some important decisions for your grow operation, most important of which is which filters you should use. Should you use reverse osmosis? Once you get your filters make sure the filtered water is balanced correctly so that the alkalinity and PH are right. You need to have that water exactly where you need it before mixing with your nutrients so that they can do their job. Study your water long before you even start to grow, it could save you millions.
Long gone are the days when we would have 20 plants to take care of on a medical license. Every plant would get plenty of love and attention, getting spoken to every day, with music playing on a portable speaker, and the smell of the dirt and the water making you proud that you can take care of your babies and create a quality product.
Now let’s talk about commercial growing. You just dropped 2 million dollars of your hard-earned money or you have investors that are depending on you to get the job done. The bottom line is dollars. Now we need 20 people to do a job that used to be more than handled by just you and a friend. Before, if you forget about your plants while you went out for the weekend it was a bummer, but now try having a half million dollars on the line. You can’t just shrug your shoulders and say “OOOOPS.“
In commercial growing, all the boxes have to be marked off, all the time. Try explaining to investors that Jim didn’t know it was his day to come in and verify that the plants were watered. Or that Cindy accidentally turned off the wrong breaker and killed the AC before leaving for the day. Of course, we know it would never happen to you! Well, actually it has happened to me, and it sucks. The panic, the rationalizing, and the wondering why you decided not to check on their work is a painful experience. And the truth is It can happen to anybody, including you.
Automation is the key for commercial growing success. With automation, you can get temperature and humidity alerts, you can control watering, and verify if the soil has gotten too dry. You can verify the current PH and PPM and adjust it as needed. Now, automation definitely still takes vigilance and oversight. On occasion, you might have to run to the grow on the weekend to fix a problem, but it is certainly much better than “OOOOPS.“
With so many companies these days that offer automation, make sure to do your research. It’s a great idea to ask other growers for their experiences, and potentially even have them walk through how it all works. Automation will save you a ton of time and resources, so don’t cheap out on the automation and expect great results.
People are born to make mistakes and they will. I guarantee. If you only have to rely on one person, it is you the grower. Take it from me, I have already failed this and was lucky to survive. Ultimately every mistake made is your fault, get the funding, take a loan don’t go without. This major mistake could make your company another cannabis statistic but hey do you. Lots of people out there waiting to buy your license off you. But who wants to break even. GET RICH!
Grow Room Layout: Plan Around Your Tables
One of the most overlooked aspects of designing an area to grow in is planning the room around your growing racks or tables. I have been in so many inadequate rooms where you can barely move to take care of your plants. You cannot fit a ladder in to maintain either dehumidifiers or air conditioners. While I agree you must use all indoor space as much as possible, many often tend to forget that if you have a lot of growing space shoved into a room, but cannot get people or equipment in the room, then it clearly wasn’t a wise design for your grow room.
Make sure you have adequate space in the front of your room, 5 to 6 feet at minimum. If you have rolling racks make sure that you leave enough room between rows so that you can work both sides of the table at the same time. Try to lollipop a room when you can’t move. Make sure you have a way to get up to the second level. Make sure that you can access all your equipment.
Before designing your room, contact a supplier of grow racks, and they’ll be able to help you make the best decision for your layout. If you are going single-level or double-level, check with the supplier and find out how much they cost. Finally, pick a product and have the grow table company give you dimensions and help draw out the room. Many companies provide this service to help you get on your way to grow a new business, and you are not expected to already know how your layout should be. But if you design your grow room two feet short, you can miss out on valuable canopy space. Most grow rack companies only have things in certain sizes and customizing can be VERY EXPENSIVE, so you’ll want to get things right the first time.
Take it from me, I have already messed up all this stuff for you, so don’t same the same mistakes I did!
Try Vertical Farming
So you have done your research, practiced growing in your home, talked to everyone you can think about. You have convinced your investors that you can turn a profit and it will make them all rich. You’ve looked at every picture of a grow room that you could find on google and Instagram, and you have a building picked out. Now it’s time to start the hard work!
STOP! Let’s not forget one of the largest mistakes that I have seen when people are designing their grow rooms. Are you going to try to grow vertical, or stay single-level? Most growers are already confident in their abilities as a bench grower. So what’s the difference? You might think that if you add on another level, then voila, you’ve doubled your production. However, it’s just not that simple.
After you have figured out your ceiling height, and designed your room around your grow racking system, you can then decide if vertical racking is a good place to start. Ask yourself these questions first:
- Is my ceiling tall enough to grow two levels of plants?
- Do I have the capability of doubling…
- My electricity?
- The cost of my lights?
- My air conditioning?
- My staff?
- My water
- My fertilizers and nutrients?
- My fans?
- My mop buckets?!?!?! (just kidding on this one)
- How are you going to reach those plants?
- How many people can work on each side of a table? Consider Ladder Safety, etc.
Make sure you don’t just see dollar signs when you plan on doubling your production because you have to also double a lot of bills. Work out the details, and then decide if vertical growing is right for you. If done right, it can definitely help to increase yields and profits.
You may have decided that you want to go vertical, but that you would like to start out with a single-level bench until you make a profit, and then can afford to farm vertically. In this case, it’s important to design everything with expansion in mind. Buy a single-level rack system that can easily be expanded. Most simple bench systems cannot be expanded, so you’ll want to a vertical grow rack system that is designed specifically for that purpose. Plan your room accordingly and when you are ready to expand it will be a simple operation, and you can avoid having to tear down everything and losing three months of production.
What about the others who have the room, have the resources and want to go balls to the wall? Why not? Make sure that you have done all your research and have a grow racking system that will fit your needs. For instance, are you going to design your grow room with mobile grow shelves, or keep them stationary? For answers to questions like these for your situation, it might be worth having a chat with a grow room layout consultant, who can help you make all the right decisions.
To get started, I highly suggest checking out GrowHigher’s mobile grow racking systems. These grow racks are of high-quality, and provide exactly what you need to increase your yields and run a successful grow operation. While the big, fancy electronic or hydraulic systems are really cool, they can definitely cost a pretty penny for just a little more convenience. When you’re getting your grow room started, that money would probably be better spent on growing a profit, and GrowHigher’s grow racks are perfect for the job.
Ryan is a master grower and builder of commercial cannabis operations, having designed and grown in a 10,000 square foot warehouse for 7 years. He uses a science based approach to growing because of his training while receiving his degree in Biology from University of New Mexico.
Ryan is the father of two college students, enjoys writing, and makes State Fair-winning pickles and sausage on his free time. He is an avid disk golfer and loves fishing when he can get away.
Ryan has earned Bachelor Degrees in Biology and History from the University of New Mexico.
“I am a failure; I have failed everything I have tried at least once. My success is attributed to accepting that about myself and learning from my mistakes to help others achieve better results. Without failure success loses its sweetness.”
The profile picture is from when he was the first grower in Oregon to put flower on the Oregon state capitol steps.