There are many things that can threaten today’s cannabis cultivators, some of them legal, others operational. While legal matters are often best left to lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians, operational woes demand the full attention of a cultivation team’s lead grower and others on the staff. The challenges a cultivation operation can face range from keeping energy (lighting) costs down to disease control and management. While indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivators face some of the same obstacles, others are more specific to either an indoor or outdoor growing environment. In this article, we’ll examine the main challenges of indoor operations.
Standard Operating Procedures
Cannabis businesses, whether they fall under manufacturing, cultivation, or retail operations, run the smoothest by establishing standard protocol and procedures. Often, these policies are required by law, so it behooves any business or division—including cultivation departments—to develop effective strategies for managing their operations that will prevent mishaps from occurring before they become problems.
Writing and maintaining solid standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be written by skilled technical writers under the direction of head growers and cultivations managers. Technical writers are extremely necessary in the cannabis industry, and this type of specialized team member is sometimes missing when you review a roster of company personnel. Not having good technical writers—whether they work under contract or as a permanent part of a cultivation team—can result in inconsistencies in work procedures.
Dozens of SOPs can apply to a cultivation operation. Everything from plant fertilizer recipes, watering schedules, grow-medium preparation (for hydroponic operations), timing for harvest, and trim and cure procedures are just a few examples. Other SOPs could apply to security, staff training, lighting choices, cloning, and myriad other things. A cultivation department’s book of operational procedures should be thick. Management should review SOPs regularly to make necessary changes and/or updates. A cultivation team should strive to operate like a finely oiled machine. If individual team members execute the same tasks differently or inconsistently, problems can occur that impact production and harvest quotas. Turnover and staff changes are inevitable in the workplace, so a solid foundation of instructional material for new, incoming employees will provide them with information they need to conform to established procedures.
Indoor cultivators must rely on artificial lighting to grow their plants. There is no way around this reality. Without proper lighting, plants will cease to grow, and less-than-optimal lighting will result in low production and inferior flower.
There are several choices available for lighting, and a cultivation manager must decide which one is best for his or her operation. Deciding which lights to use at the lowest possible cost is a challenge for all growers. For a large, commercial grow, lighting expenses can be huge, so most companies want to minimize their carbon footprints by making sound lighting decisions.
LED (light-emitting diode) lights initially cost more than other standard grow lights, but their operating costs are lower. They’ve grown in popularity on recent years, winning approval from an increasing number of growers. Although the initial investment is substantial, using LED lights will lower costs in the long haul.
High-pressure sodium (HPS) lights are another popular option and have ruled the world of cannabis cultivation for many years. The orangish-yellow light emitted from HPS is particularly good for rapid growth during the flowering phase of cannabis cultivation.
Metal halide lights are another popular option. Compared to HPS, metal halide lights emit a bright white light. These lights will grow cannabis very well and are particularly good during the vegetative phase of the life cycle.
Temperature and Humidity
Cannabis thrives in warmer climes, which must be artificially duplicated in the indoor grow environment. Proper temperature and humidity are important factors when growing top-drawer cannabis, and optimum conditions evolve during the plant life cycle. Humidity that’s too high will result in possible mold and fungus growth, and overly high temperatures with low humidity will cause them to wilt and fail to thrive.
Seedlings or young cuttings thrive at humidity levels that are higher than at other times in their lives. Humidity in the 70-percent range helps the plants retain moisture during this critical stage of growth, when root systems develop and grow. Temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal at this time.
Plants in the vegetative phase that are growing fast enjoy humidity that’s slightly lower, with 50 to 60 percent being a good range. Conversely, temperatures should be a bit higher, with a range of 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit being conducive to rapid growth and healthy plants.
During the flowering stage, the needs of cannabis plants continue to evolve. Less humidity in the indoor grow space will help eliminate mold and fungus problems on growing buds, which have nooks and crannies for moisture to get a foothold. Humidity levels of approximately 45 percent and temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s are ideal at this time.
Two weeks prior to harvest, humidity levels as low as 30 percent and temperatures near 65 degrees Fahrenheit may help coax maximum yield and optimum flavor of the strain grown.
Soil Additives and Nutrients
Those who grow and consume cannabis appreciate a natural approach to feeding the plants. Organic soil amendments and additives result in the best flavor from the flowers.
There are numerous bottled fertilizers that work well for cannabis, and some are nearly 100-percent organic. Quite often, fertilizer companies will create different bottled recipes that provide specific, vital nutrients at specific stages of the cannabis life cycle. Using these products at the correct ratios and amounts will help guarantee a successful, high-quality harvest.
Using compost whenever possible is a fantastic way to create healthy, organic soil. Compost is widely available in bagged form through nurseries, and making compost piles provides a free source of organic goodness, although it does take time to create.
Ventilation and Air Circulation
Proper air circulation is imperative for growing high-quality, potent cannabis. The plants will also require an infusion of new, fresh air entering the grow room in order to grow under ideal conditions. The removal of old air is also necessary, and a competent grower can accomplish both with ventilation ducts and forced-air systems.
A number of products, ranging from the simple to the elaborate, will ensure a grow room has a steady supply of fresh air. An infusion of fresh air will keep humidity levels from getting too high and feed into the room CO2-rich air that plants love. An advanced home grow or commercial cultivation operation should have a system to address this need.
Cannabis emits strong odors, there’s no denying that fact. While some strains are more pungent than others, all of them can alter the olfactory landscape if grown in large quantities. Some cities even find it necessary to enact air purification legislation for cannabis growers. The odor is distinctive, and not everyone cares for it.
To control odor, a number of options are available. Filters with activated carbon are popular and effective for cannabis grows. A wide variety of styles and sizes exist for either a home or commercial cultivation area.
Disease and Pest Prevention
Indoors, spider mites are the most common pest that will impact a grow. They can be a serious nuisance, and a challenge to eliminate. They have a detrimental effect on plants because they ingest liquid from the leaves and other areas of the plants they prey on, weakening them.
Powdery mildew can strike a number of plant species and results from various fungi species. There are several causes for powdery mildew, but the most common is high humidity. This is one of the reasons why proper humidity and air circulation are so vital to successful cannabis cultivation. Be sure to space plants a proper distance from each other to promote adequate air flow between them.
Be sure to quarantine any plants you bring into your grow, or better yet, avoid the practice of adding plants altogether. One outside plant with problems can seriously impact an entire harvest, so for many people, it’s not worth the risk.
You can use natural treatments to attack these pest and disease problems, but they can be difficult to cure and eradicate. The best approach is to prevent them from ever getting a foothold. A sound growing strategy should all but eliminate the risks of having problems of this nature.
The challenges facing indoor growers can result in some serious problems and differ quite a bit from those of outdoor growers. Each has to work with different environmental factors. Because the indoor cultivation environment is manmade, each indoor grower must have a sound and proven strategy for success, as well as all the necessary equipment to detect, regulate, and treat unacceptable variances. Be smart and don’t let your challenges become problems.