If you’re a cannabis grower who also fancies yourself as a DIY enthusiast, there may be many advantages to building your own greenhouse, including grow efficiency and predictability. While other cultivation processes — i.e., outdoor and indoor grows — tend to have more complexity and costs attached, greenhouses are a great middle ground for the beginner grower thinking of starting a business in cannabis cultivation.
It’s important to note there is no “one size fits all” for cannabis greenhouses. Varying factors such as climate, location and humidity play a role in determining which design is best for you. The following 10 steps represent an informative guide to understanding greenhouse growing and how to get the most out of this method.
1. Startup Costs
If you’re still on the fence about whether a greenhouse is right for your grow, perhaps better understanding the costs will help. With each decision to be made about your prospective greenhouse, there will be a fee attached. Such decisions will include the style of structure; utilities to use, including power, water and gas; materials to use in the construction, like whether to go with plastic or a corrugated covering; and additional equipment setups, such as air conditioning, heating, dehumidification, and environmental control systems.
Plus, depending on what state you’re growing in, the market will play another factor. Many legal states, including parts of Oregon, Colorado and California, require indoor operations, thus causing the market for indoor cultivation to skyrocket.
Here are some more factors to think about when determining cost of setting up your greenhouse.
If you’re thinking about getting into the grow business, choose your location wisely. Some legal states, like Colorado, have building codes based on regions and zones. In Denver, you’re required to grow indoors, while in Pueblo (around 100 miles south of Denver) you can legally cultivate cannabis outdoors.
Another cost to consider is the purchase of insurance. Ryan Kinnison, facility manager for Pueblo grow operation Los Sueños Farms, recommends insurance to protect against forces of nature such as hail, high winds and drought.
Always keep an eye on the budget when building your greenhouse. Kinnison says, “The biggest waste of money I see people dump into greenhouses is buying new gadgets they think are going to enhance their grow or solve their problems.
“Plants are very basic things,” he continues. “You don’t need infrared spinning gizmos that could help keep aphids outside. Stick with the fundamentals like light, environment, controls and irrigation.”
The cultivation costs associated with greenhouses are less than indoor grows, yet more than outdoor grows. Growing outdoors provides you with ready resources, such as sunlight, air and natural irrigation. Indoor grows tend to have higher startup costs, yet on the upside also allow for complete environmental control. Though greenhouses don’t rely on a completely artificial grow environment, they do allow for some level of control over the environment, and that doesn’t come cheap. Everything, from humidity systems to reverse osmosis water systems, is calculated precisely in order to produce a high-quality yield.
Pushing Out Product
When it comes to cultivation income, there are many factors to consider to boost your return on investment. You should think about which type of flower is most popular among recreational customers and medical marijuana patients, and which plants will give you the biggest yield and at what amount.
“Potency is a great driving force for sales,” advises Kinnison. “Terpene profile is another factor, where the quality of the product may outweigh the quantity.” The market for different strains also plays a role in your sales. Indeed, marketing and the latest fad within the community may influence how a customer chooses to ingest the plant and may also temporarily boost or diminish your sales. But ultimately, you should aim to push out as much high-quality product as possible to a diverse range of clients, as world of mouth counts.
2. Designing Your Greenhouse
Understanding the build of your greenhouse is crucial. What works for Colorado may not work for California — or Oregon or Alaska, for that matter. Be sure to read up on climate control in your environment.
There are many greenhouse designs, ranging from A-frames to decorative or gothic. The design you choose could simply be down to aesthetic preference, but what’s most important, Kinnison says, is the little adjustments that could make a huge difference.
“You want to choose a style of greenhouse that allows for ventilation, like a roof vent that opens up that can burp out all the humidity,” he says.
3. Finding Your Master Grower
It’s important to understand how cannabis grows. This isn’t to say you need years of horticulture experience, but you do need some background in cultivation. If you don’t, make sure you hire someone who does.
Finding a Master Grower could prove difficult. Because cannabis has remained federally illegal due to its Schedule I classification, many growers learned the trade through practices passed down by other farmers and cultivators. Look for a grower who has an undergraduate degree in botany or horticulture and who has practical experience working as an adaptable farmer.
Sean Babson, lead grower at Los Sueños, says the most important qualification to have as a grower is adaptability. “Lead growers must be able to understand what needs to be done to keep the plants alive, whether that’s opening up the vents on exceptionally humid days or moving plants around in order to acquire the best sunlight.”
While there are many training programs that claim to offer certification in Master Growing, gaining a certificate or credentials from a state-funded program would be a huge plus. This tells you the candidate has put time and effort into educating themselves about growing regulations, specifics, and how to grow safely and efficiently.
4. Temperature, Humidity And Ventilation
Arguably the most important factor of greenhouse cannabis growing is controlling the temperature. As a rule of thumb, greenhouse temperatures should stay between 65–85° Fahrenheit. For each stage of the grow process, from vegetative to flowering state, the temperature will fluctuate.
Greenhouses require a heating and cooling system to keep plants happy. Environmental control systems, like Link4 and Argus Controls, act as the brain of the greenhouse. These systems look at outdoor conditions and adjust accordingly to what it believes augmentation levels should be. Kinnison says his grow operation stays within a 5-degree zone. If they can hold the temperature within 5 degrees of what they want, then “that’s a good day.”
Controlling the humidity is important for the life of your plants. When planning out your greenhouse’s design, be sure to leave room for dehumidification systems that manage air moisture levels during various stages of the plant’s life cycle. Like environmental control systems, dehumidification systems are technologically smarter when understanding humidity levels and how to fluctuate accordingly. According to Greenhouse Product News, humidity during the vegetative state is higher, and will be lower during flowering state. Understanding the cost, space, and specifications of humidifier systems is a vital factor for your greenhouse.
Space is at a premium when building a greenhouse. There are many components to fit inside this enclosed area and knowing what to put in and what to leave out can make a world of difference. Most cannabis plants require a 5-gallon pot. This is just enough space for the roots to grow from seedling (or clone) into full-grown flower. Think about how many plants you want growing at a time and make sure you have the room.
If you’re thinking of efficiency and would like to grow your plants in bags to increase root zone volume, consider the fact that bags don’t do well on the ground. Rather, store bags on tables where air space is more available. Extra tables means extra ground storage, yet it could also mean less ceiling height for plants to stretch out.
When space runs out, vertical or sea of green growing is a great solution. However, you must also think about the best way to vertically grow your plants with the least amount of resources and the maximum amount of yield.
Within the fast-developing cannabis industry, lighting and energy consumption have elevated to frightening levels. According to cannabis industry data specialist New Frontier Financial Group, heating, ventilation and lighting for cannabis accounts for 1 percent of total electricity use across the US and in greenhouse gases. And according to The Seattle Times, that’s as much carbon emission as driving across America seven times.
Fortunately, growers are seeing the negative impact of their energy consumption and are doing something about it. Now, new energy-efficient forms of lighting are accessible at a cheaper price point, allowing growers to opt for the energy-saving option.
When it comes to greenhouses, lighting isn’t necessarily your best source of year-round energy, thanks to free accessibility of sunlight. However, during the fall and winter months, sunshine is limited. Sun-blocking curtains can be installed in greenhouses to allow for control of lighting cycle and also to produce multiple year-round crop cycles and potentially more yield.
When choosing the right lighting, think about energy efficiency, wattage and LED, the latter of which is currently the most popular and capable for growing cannabis. LED grow lights come in a variety of styles and attributes, so LED Grow Lights Depot has taken out the guesswork, providing great information for understanding which light is best for your grow.
H2O is essential to your grow. If you keep sustainability in mind when building your greenhouse, recyclable water systems and rainwater collection is a great way to maintain sustainable farming practices — yet could be heavily regulated in your state. Head to the National Conference of State Legislatures to read the latest information regarding rules on rainwater collection, state by state.
Kinnison recommends using reverse osmosis (RO) water systems for irrigation. In a nutshell, water spots that appear on your car or your bathroom mirror carry minerals that don’t precipitate, leaving a chalky residue. When you water plants consistently, those minerals from the water build up in the soil. Eventually, it accumulates to the level that could affect the health of your plant. Using an RO system to remove these contaminants — such as iron, calcium, magnesium and chlorine — could lessen the risk of soil contamination.
Keep in mind, cannabis is a cash-only crop. Filing cannabis as a commercial product is still federally illegal. Selling your crop usually means cash-only transactions. However, the cannabis industry has come a long way from “pushing wheelbarrows of cash through your back door,” as Kinnison puts it. Frequently more credit unions are opening up their banks to the cannabis industry. Look for reputable banks that are not federally tied to legal obligation.
Other regulations on cannabis crops includes agricultural laws and cultivation licensing. For example, California has agencies like the Department of Food and Agriculture, which control licensing on commercial cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and more. Understanding your state’s regulations can help keep those pesky fines from chipping away at your bottom line. Check out NORML’s state-by-state guide to cannabis cultivation laws for help in understanding your local regulations.
The security of your greenhouse is top priority. There are rules set in place per state that require stringent security procedures to keep your greenhouse running smoothly.
Weather Port Shelter Systems outlines the importance of making sure everything is in accordance with regulations when it comes to security. This involves employee check-ins, tracking product and ensuring a safe environment. Many states require the use of visitor badges, ID check-ins and product manifests.
Other security measures that don’t involve employee personnel tracking includes biosecurity and pest management. Los Sueños has a specific biosecurity plan and standard operating procedure for making sure biosecurity measures, like thrip screens, keep its greenhouses safe. Thinner than your average window screens, thrip screens make sure bad bacteria and bugs stays out while good bacteria stay in. Los Sueños also makes sure employees wash their hands and sanitize their footwear in a foot bath in order to keep the plants safe from contamination.
As a business, you want your product to remain consistent so that your commercial buyers, as well as your individual customers, can rely on the same product every time.
Babson, lead grower for Los Sueños, follows a four-step process for keeping plants healthy. “People tend to love their plants to death. At Los Sueños, we understand the simplicity of keeping a plant healthy and feeding it what it needs, like water, light and fertile soil.”
Babson says Los Sueños started its greenhouses by stripping down its cultivation practices to the bare bones, before building up growing practices to allow for more consistency in areas where higher quality is necessary.
Ready to Start Your Greenhouse?
Remember to keep things simple when it comes to growing cannabis. As Kinnison says, “Plants are simple.” Watch for changing rules and regulations in your state. Lastly, be sure to keep a simple-to-follow log of cost, space, and ventilation systems when deciding which style of greenhouse is right for you.