Disclaimer: The below producers all grow indoors. “We really feel that you’re able to hit a more fuller flavour expression and terpene profile with the living soil.” – Brian Rusk, Into the Weeds
There are a variety of different approaches that licensed producers can take towards cultivating their products. Those techniques can vary depending on the purpose of the product. This past summer, Grow Opportunity spoke with three Canadian LPs about how they employ cultivation techniques for their purposes.
Ontario’s Muskoka Grown
Muskoka Grown has a goal of being the top independent supplier of flower and pre-rolls in Ontario. “I think when you have good people, you focus on happy customers and you focus on consistency, you can be successful,” says John Fowler, president of Muskoka Grown. “That’s what’s allowed us over the last two years to go from being a bankrupt company to a profitable company, from being, quite frankly, a pretty crummy grower to, I think, one of the best growers in the country. And to go from being a nothing in Ontario to a top-30 brand and a top five private company in the province.”
Fowler says that the company thinks of themselves as being in the craft flower business and as manufacturers. One of the first things they did in service of that goal was to increase the company’s transparency.
“The second thing we did, in that idea of being a manufacturer, we actually got rid of the title of master grower,” says Fowler. “We have horticulturalists that are wonderful, we have consultants that are wonderful, we have experts, but day to day, we try to run on a procedural basis.
Ram Davloor, Muskoka Grown’s general manager, says that the specific cultivation techniques the company employs have broadly remained the same – a hydroponics system with climate controls. However, the lessons learned over the last several years regarding management practices and using data to guide decision making have paid off.
“Our average yields have increased two times, our average THC is over 30 per cent and our sales increased almost four times over the last year,” says Davloor. “Today, when I walk into a cannabis store, I’m proud to say I work at Muskoka Grown.”
B.C.’s Sweet Grass Cannabis
British Columbia-based Sweetgrass Cannabis focus on an organic approach, growing cannabis in living soil. Master grower Julien Leclair describes their approach as being like a farmer in his field, adding nutrients to the soil and letting them break down.
“Most people would apply lime in their field or adjust pH or calcium,” says Leclair. “It’s the same idea here, what we add to the soil takes a while to be available but once it’s in balance, the plants can choose what they like instead of being forced to take it.”
While it would be tempting to say that Sweetgrass Cannabis’ approach is one taken for ideological reasons, Leclair notes that is not necessarily the case.
“We’re in the middle of a very rural area, and we have very good, pure water from the ground,” says Leclair. “There could be some runoff if people used fertilizers. We don’t want to pollute the environment we’re in.
Leclair says the company grows their product in a large room with 14-inch-tall, four-foot-wide and 24-foot-long flower beds. Those beds are filled with living soil that the soil then needs time to ‘cook,’ to allow the worms and other bacteria to break down the nutrients and make them available.
Cloning is done first in a smaller ‘veg space,’ before the plants are brought to the larger beds. “We call that the flower room, but they’re still going to veg in there for a few weeks, then we transition into flower,” says Leclair. “We brew compost tea throughout veg and early flower. We also do the top dressing every two weeks and we add dry amendments to the surface.”
Alberta’s Into the Weeds
Another company taking the living soil approach is Into the Weeds, formerly known as Rusktic Greens after c0-owner Brian Rusk. The Alberta-based small craft grower has been in production for about a year.
“It actually started when Chanttelle [Rusk’s wife and business partner] was in a car wreck years back,” says Rusk. “She wound up being on a pile of pain medication and a neurologist told her, ‘why don’t you try cannabis instead of these pain pills?’ She did and it worked great, and she was able to get off all the pain pills eventually.”
Chanttelle found securing a consistent supply to be difficult and expensive, so Rusk started growing at home for her. “A core of our cultivation process is that we use living soil,” says Rusk. “We use more of a compost base in our soil and then we’re adding dry amendments to keep the soil at a sufficient range and the microbes in the soil deliver that to the plant. We feel we can get a fuller expression on the plant by allowing the natural process to deliver what it needs.”
Rusk says that their use of the living soil approach and other general low-tech aspects of their operation are both because they benefit the plants but also due to an interest in more sustainable practices.
“In my experience, the best cannabis I’ve had is grown this way,” says Rusk. “Not to say that there can’t be really great cannabis grown other ways, but we really feel that you’re able to hit a more fuller flavour expression and terpene profile with the living soil.”
Into the Weeds’ production is decidedly low-tech – they use drip irrigation and other simple techniques. They utilize soil testing to ensure that the soil is feeding the plants exactly what they need. Their biggest challenge, however, has been scaling-up their operation and the labour costs associated with that.