Marijuana Business Magazine March 2019

Marijuana Business Magazine | March 2019 116 “If you’re trying to build a business, and you’re trying to build something that’s going to last and be profitable, living soil is by far the most cost-effective way to be around in 20 years,” said Dave Perkins, lead cultivator for The Emerald Cup, a company in Santa Rosa, California, that’s best known for its namesake cannabis competition but also is a vertically integrated marijuana firm. Cost Savings Perkins ran the numbers for a 10,000-square-foot grow, and he estimates it would cost about $120,000 to fertilize for a year with liquid nutrients—compared with about $20,000 with living (or amended) soil. “The yields are comparable, and the quality and longevity of the soil is way better,” he added. At Aster Farms in Upper Lake, California, outdoor cannabis grower Noah Cornell buys 40-80 yards of bulk compost per year for his 1-acre outdoor grow and a separate 5,000-square-foot, mixed-light culti- vation facility. After he lets the compost cure over the winter, Cornell applies it directly to his cultivation beds. He pays about $40-$45 per yard for that material. When Cornell first started growing cannabis over a decade ago, he was a sharecropper who used bottled nutrients. “I would say my production costs are probably a quarter (of the bottled nutrient cost) these days,” he said. A Recipe for Success At Solstice Cannabis in Seat- tle, co-founder Alex Cooley runs an indoor operation that uses hydropon- ics. And while he doesn’t run a strictly living soil system, he uses some similar techniques and ingredients. “By blending your own fertilizers and building your own teas, it’s one of the most cost-effective ways you can hydroponically grow cannabis,” Cooley said. He likes to include water-soluble microorganisms such as bacillus subtilis in his grow medium, and he creates compost teas that foster bacteria and fungi. “We are using bits and pieces of it to create a biodynamic exchange,” Cooley said. He administers beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa about six times throughout the life cycle of the plant. With Cooley’s hydroponic system, he needs to reapply the microbes because there is no growing media for them to inhabit. At The Emerald Cup, Perkins ensures his compost includes both worms and worm castings. Using live worms is a good way to save a little money rather than just buying castings, he said. He has his soil tested regularly and amends it accordingly. For example, if the test reveals the soil is deficient in phosphorous, he will add fish or blood meal to get the level back up. Cornell is a strong proponent of using manure from dairy cattle to grow cannabis. Because cattle have ruminant digestion with four stom- achs, they break down organic materi- als effectively, and their waste makes for a good fertilizer. He’ll also add rice hulls and grape pomace, or grape harvest waste material. All of those materials are regionally available. “The most important way to get the greatest benefits from compost is to source high-quality material,” Cornell said. He lets the compost sit for three to five months before applying it. As it decomposes, more “soil critters” come into play, according to Cornell. The fungal levels increase, as do amoebas and protozoa. Alex Cooley uses compost teas at Solstice Cannabis to prevent powdery mildew. Courtesy Photo Alex Cooley Courtesy of Solstice Cannabis Best Practices | Cultivation