Episode 9 – Rochester Farms

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GROWING EXPOSED EPISODE 9: Rochester Farms

Growing Exposed is a new video series produced by Jeremy Deichen. Coined “the MTV Cribs of the marijuana industry” the show is led by host Amanda Mackay. Growing Exposed has found a unique way to open up the once underground world, revealing the secrets of industry leaders. In addition to garden tours, David Robinson, author of The Grower’s Handbook lends his expertise in a segment entitled Teachings of The Garden Sage. David has dedicated his life to dispelling the myths behind cannabis while educating people on how plants grow.

 

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In this episode of Growing Exposed, our tour-guide Justin gives us an inside look of an over 600 light grow operation with a fully automated high tech system and set-up in Olympia, Washington in the Pacific Northwest. This unique system makes makes growing at a large scale fully manageable for a small crew, and David the Garden Sage goes in depth on the pros and cons of automation in his Teachings Of The Garden Sage. We also learn about the Ebb and Flow system, what the term “sea of green” stands for, and how this facility produces a unique strain with a bad-ass name that lives up to its strength and potency: Alien Grenade.

Marshall, an autobody-guy turned cannabis-cultivator is the owner of Rochester Farms and was first introduced to medicinal cannabis through a very personal experience. Marshall began his journey into cannabis cultivation while his son was struggling with a debilitating and life-threatening disease called ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease that causes ulcers and long-lasting pain and inflammation. With various medical procedures and no prescriptions seeming to provide adequate relief, Marshall was at a point where he would try anything to help his son. His friend suggested medicinal cannabis, and amazingly, it worked. Marshall then took up making a business out of growing cannabis, and his son now works alongside him at the farm.

Rochester Farms is a huge facility, and with so many plants to tend to they had to come up with a clever way to be able to run this operation with so few staff. This garden runs a fully automated irrigation system that provides a very clean environment for the crops. The ebb and flow system waters plants kept in rockwool cubes at a steady rate, flooding the growth beds with nutrient-rich water. Also by keeping the temperature and humidity just right, a lot of problems are eliminated in the process.

What are the pros and cons of automation? The pros are pretty obvious: less manual labour, far more more cost-effective; however don’t fully exclude yourself from your garden as your observation skills are the key to a successful crop. The “Garden Sage” David Robinson, an expert in the hydroponics industry, gives his professional insight on the pros and cons of automating your garden:

“There are many benefits to automating our gardens. And ultimately, it’s essential. When we look at our indoor climate control systems, they’re all automated. We use cooling thermostats to control our lights-on temperature, we use heating thermostats to control our lights-off temperature. We can also automate our lighting systems, which is also essential, and we can look at automating our irrigation systems. Obviously, there are huge benefits in reducing labour and there are also huge benefits in minimizing the potential for human error. If we track our automation, we can reveal yield-enhancing patterns and then we can repeat those patterns to get the same great yields as on our previous crop. 

The one pitfall where we can fall prey to the perils of automation is if we just assume that everything is good and that everything is the same. Plant health is not always the same. We can have a batch of cuttings off of the same mothers as the previous round and their health may not be the same; they may not drink as much water as the previous crop did, for example. So, in the case of automating a flood-and-drain garden in four-inch rockwool cubes, if we just assume that everything is okay and we irrigate them in exactly the same method previously without actually lifting those cubes, we can come along to find that we have catastrophic failure through over-watering causing damping-off, which would be a terrible surprise indeed. So, just remember we still have to use our intelligent powers of observation to confirm that everything is indeed proceeding as intended.”

Marshall’s Mums are kept under high quality full-spectrum LED lights in huge flood and drain tables. The 4x4x4 inch rockwool cubes are the only growing medium necessary to keep these lovely ladies happy and healthy. The Ebb and Flow system (a.k.a. the Flood and Drain system) is a very cost-effective way of irrigating plants and ensures the roots get plenty of oxygen. The water irrigates a quarter-way up the cube and pushes all the stale air out of the medium. As the water drains, the rockwool cube is replenished with fresh oxygen to aerate the root zone.

Rochester Farms keeps clones for a very short time in the vegetative stage before flipping to flower, finishing them at a foot to a foot-and-a-quarter tall. This is known as the “sea of green” technique. As clones are already mature plants, they do not require to be kept in the vegetative stage for very long, unlike plants from seed which require a wait of at least two months to reach full maturity. Another benefit of growing smaller plants is that the nutrients are dispersed throughout the plant much easier if they have thin green stalks. The woodier the stalk and the bigger the plant, the more restricted the flow of nutrients becomes. Easier nutrient and water uptake plus better dispersion of nutrients throughout the plant are solid reasons why the “sea of green” technique is one of the best cultivation techniques in the hydroponics world.

For the small crew at Rochester Farms, their labour intensive tasks and quality control is maintained in the easiest way possible so they can reproduce the same results over and over again with minimal effort. Using a computer to automate their irrigation and timers, they can control each watering zone individually and even remotely. The EC, pH, time, duration, and how many litres per minute each row is fed and can be tailored to the specific needs of individual strains. Even better, it keeps a record of the growth cycle of each row and strain, so the crew at Rochester Farms can reproduce the same results over again, or even see what went wrong on a previous batch. Daytime and nighttime humidity is also highly controlled and is kept between a comfortable and ideal 50 and 60 degrees fahrenheit, which ensures no major problems occur.

One of the nicest things about Rochester Farms is its versatility. The whole garden has borrowed an innovative technique from the tulip industry in Holland that was invented in the 1970’s in order to make their jobs a whole lot simpler. Rollers are used to move all the tables easily along castors so it only requires one person to take a table all the way from one room to the next. 

Cleaning is also just as easy and is definitely one of the coolest things our tour guide Justin has seen in a garden to date. Once everything has been harvested and all the plants have been taken off the table, the whole table can be rolled into the washing station. Normally, cleaning one of these tables can take a minimum of 10-15 minutes, but this time-saving system makes cleaning a breeze. Tipping the table onto the side, it allows workers to clean the whole system in minutes using a bleach solution and washing with a pressure washer, leaving the table entirely sterilized and ready-to-go for the next crop.

Thankfully, the ease of automation is not out of grasp for home growers. Autopot Watering Systems bring automated watering directly to your home garden and only use the power of gravity to transport nutrients to your plants… no electricity, pumps or timers needed! Not to mention, you could potentially leave your plants unattended for weeks and they would still be fully watered! Autopots use something called an Aquavalve to regulate everything for the system, and works to allow water in and closes off once it fills a quarter way in the water chamber beneath the module. This savvy system also requires 50% less water than other systems, as plants utilize everything they’re given. Autopots are a no-fail, consistent hydroponic system that is simple to use and gives consistent results. Each module is independent, so nothing is exchanged between plants. If you have one plant with root rot, for example, it will not affect the rest of your plants. Pretty neat, right?

When the plants have big resinous buds, a good looking level canopy, and have completed their flowering cycle, it’s time to get them ready for what every grower looks forward to: harvesting. Even though everything in this facility is designed to save time and labour, harvesting and curing are the exception, and for a pretty solid reason, too. 

Rochester Farms likes to keep harvesting and curing done the old fashioned way to protect and retain the precious cannabinoids and terpenes. Once all the plants are harvested, they are trimmed and sent off for curing, where whole plant is hung upside-down in a dark room to dry. Curing the whole plant instead of cutting off all the nuggets ensures that none of the trichomes get damaged, resulting in maximum trichome retention and preserving the medical properties of the plants. These Girl Scout Cookies plants in particular we saw in the episode are going to be extracted for oil using a CO2 extractor called the Apex, due to their high resin and terpene production in smaller buds.

In this episode of Growing Exposed, we looked at a fully automated growing facility with some unique time-saving, water-saving, and space-saving techniques borrowed from tulip cultivation in Holland. We learned the pros and cons of automating your garden, why automation is a great way to manage your garden and keep plants healthy. We learned how automated systems can help you conserve water, save time and money, and how technology can reduce the amount of labour required in the grow room by boosting the efficiency of indoor gardens. For more Growing Exposed, and for behind-the-scenes, tune in at GrowingExposed.com and make sure to follow Growing Exposed on Facebook and Instagram.

Thankfully, the ease of automation is not out of grasp for home growers. Autopot Watering Systems bring automated watering directly to your home garden and only use the power of gravity to transport nutrients to your plants… no electricity, pumps or timers needed! Not to mention, you could potentially leave your plants unattended for weeks and they would still be fully watered! Autopots use something called an Aquavalve to regulate everything for the system, and works to allow water in and closes off once it fills a quarter way in the water chamber beneath the module. This savvy system also requires 50% less water than other systems, as plants utilize everything they’re given. Autopots are a no-fail, consistent hydroponic system that is simple to use and gives consistent results. Each module is independent, so nothing is exchanged between plants. If you have one plant with root rot, for example, it will not affect the rest of your plants. Pretty neat, right?

When the plants have big resinous buds, a good looking level canopy, and have completed their flowering cycle, it’s time to get them ready for what every grower looks forward to: harvesting. Even though everything in this facility is designed to save time and labour, harvesting and curing are the exception, and for a pretty solid reason, too. 

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