Growing large scale is one of the skills cannabis businesses covet most in a potential cultivator. While there’s a lot of knowledge that goes into expertly raising one, three, or twelve plants in your home, it’s a wholly different scenario to bring a warehouse of 3,500 clones to harvest—the number of plants Cassandra Maffey, head grower at Verde Natural has under her watch 365 days a year. Running a grow of this magnitude requires more than scientific aptitude she says, it means you have to learn to be an excellent manager.
It takes Maffey plus a hardworking team comprised of one veg phase manager, one flower phase manager, a harvest manager, ten grow technicians, and twelve trimmers to keep up with the 40+ organically grown strains that produce 300 or so pounds of cannabis each month for their medical dispensary and wholesale business. And that’s not to mention the sales and administrative people who are also a vital part of the process.
“Verde’s cannabis is the best because everyone on the team gives their all to make it happen,” says Maffey, who originally learned to grow outdoors in Humboldt County, California, and ran a boutique-style medical and recreational indoor cultivation facility in Boulder for 7 years. Maffey honed her skills to bring her famed artisan-quality cannabis to the Colorado market at scale through a collaboration with Rudy Ellenbogen, Verde’s General Manager and CEO.
Since building out its first cultivation facility 2015, Verde Natural has become an industry leader in terms of quality, reliability, and sustainability. Verde invests in thorough training of employees, detailed harvest batch logs that track plants from clone to harvest (providing feeding schedules, pruning tips, and more), and mindfulness about how resources are sourced and used.
Commercial growers need to cultivate solid interpersonal and organizational skills, in addition to plant prowess. It may sound like a lot of extra work, but there’s an upshot to having the support of a team. “You don’t have the same level of creativity you get in a small grow,” says Maffey, “but with people to help out, you do get the freedom to implement procedures that just aren’t possible on a one-person team.”
Here are six tips for home or small-scale growers interested in moving into a large-scale grower position—and harvesting a whole lot more than a few pounds a month.
Uniformity is Urgent
The ability to experiment is one of the most alluring freedoms of growing only a few plants, but harvest conformity is one of the measures of a good large-scale grow. Not only is it good business to provide a consistent product to your customers, but medicinally it is important to ensure uniformity in a customer’s medicine. Establishing and sticking to standard operating procedures and systematic feeding schedules that you know produce results will ensure you’re able to provide reliable, uniform flowers. But growers are curious by nature, so you can still explore—just set up a small area in the warehouse specifically dedicated to research and development.
Keep Detailed Records
Since you’re not the only one feeding and caring for the plants, it’s imperative to keep comprehensive records of everything that happens to each plant so you can track progress, pinpoint errors, and improve processes. Making thorough notes over the course of a plant's life on pruning, feeding, foliar spraying, signs of pests or diseases, and how any problems were managed, will help you fine-tune your system and ensure harvest uniformity, even on days you can’t get into the warehouse.
Raise Your Plants in Beds
Raised beds won’t just give your plants a roomier foundation with lots of space for roots to gobble up nutrients, but they’re much easier to manage when it comes to watering. Individual pots dry up too quickly to monitor on a large scale and when you have over a thousand plants living in separate containers, it’s easier to skip one (or five or ten) when it’s watering time, leaving your garden peppered with malnourished buds.
Keep it Clean
The importance of having a clean warehouse can’t be over exaggerated. Dirt, grime, and messy working conditions won’t just open the doors for pest, mold or fungal infestations, but they can make it difficult for your team to work. Pests can take up residence in small piles soil left on the floor that can spread across the warehouse as growers walk through, molds and fungus on pruned plant material not properly discarded can re-infest the garden, and reserves can grow scum if they aren’t emptied and rinsed after each use. If your team can’t find the tools they need to do their job, that means they’re wasting time trying to find them or worse, they are just cutting corners. Implementing a system that keeps the warehouse clean will boost team performance and reduce the chance of a contaminated or diseased harvest. All waste, whether its compost, trash, or recycling should be stored far away from the garden or any of the nutrients to ensure no contamination. All rooms should be swept, mopped, and organized regularly.
Invest in Good Tools
Having the right tools available for your team increases morale and productivity. Make sure your garden staff has their own set of scissors, clean garden clothes, and a respirator that fits their face. It’s also a good idea to have a dedicated shop vacuum for each room in the warehouse so there’s no excuses for not cleaning, especially if one breaks. And get rid of the bulky backpack sprayer. Instead look for foliar sprays that have an atomizer, or a good money-saving trick Maffey suggests: appropriate a paint sprayer.
Do More With Your Time
With a support crew, you’re actually freed up to implement some procedures that most small-scale growers simply can’t perfect. First, you can now manage a dedicated worm farm to produce organic casings for your plants. Sure, you can spend $125 a pop for a bag of casings from a store, but because you can feed plant waste from your plants to your own worms, they’ll have even more of a connection to the life cycle of your harvest. And second, focus on perfecting your nutrient tea. It’s easier to create a more optimized and consistent batch of organic teas in large quantities than in small batches.