I had the good fortune of staying a couple of days with Skylar Walker and Ivelis Acevedo of Pharm Aid Pharms™ on their beautiful organic cannabis farm in Walsenburg, Colorado to find out what the secret is behind growing such delicious and potent organic flower outdoors. Pharm Aid has been producing incredible cannabis in Northern California for a while now and they have their eyes on Oklahoma next. After seeing the Colorado operation up close, I have no doubt they’ll continue to conquer with kindness wherever they go. The farm was isolated and peaceful and the plants were the best I’ve ever seen up close. Fragrant sticky buds growing in the sun with an average THC potency of 27%. I asked Skylar about the specifics of his set up and he was happy to share the details.
Soil and Potting System
Skylar told me, “We tried for the first year to use native soil, but it wasn’t conducive to good growing habits because it used too much water and had some pests. So we went to a 100 gallon smart pot, which is a tan colored felt fabric pot. The tan color reflects a lot of the intensity of the sun, so it’s not a black pot absorbing all the heat. The particular soil we’re using is a Berger water holding blend. It’s a BM6, mainly a peat and *perlite blend, it holds a lot of water deep in the pot where the main root system of the plant is, and the top will evaporate lightly due to the dry environment in this climate. We use a water drip line so we’re able to soak the soil a lot more efficiently. The soil starts out inert and we charge it with Age Old ™ and Roots Organic ™ granular nutrients so the soil becomes charged (so to speak) for vegging as it flows into a phosphorus and blooming times (in July). Then we just keep liquid feeding all the way through. As we’re able to flush the plants over the last two weeks, which is the phase we’re in now, we’ll slowly pull out some of that green nitrogen color and yellow up the plants a little bit to have a sweeter end product to smoke.”
*Perlite is an amorphous volcanic glass that has a relatively high water content, typically formed by the hydration of obsidian.
Watering System, Liquid Feeding & Irrigation
“The watering system we installed this season is really similar to any indoor grow or greenhouse grow with inline injection mixing. We use Mix Rite ™ as a company, we mix up our nutrients in a 50 gallon drum, and put a concentrate of liquid weather it be from Veg + Bloom ™, their base line of products or their Shine + Bloom Booster, or Age Old ™ has a line of liquid nutrients we’ll run at points. We’ll mix it up in the drum, then through a simple hose that goes back into the main plumbing system and to the garden itself, and there’s three different sections of one inch and a quarter spigots throughout a whole acre. Each section then comes off and goes into one inch polyline that breaks down for each row of twenty six plants, there’s a ¾ inch polyline with a valve that we’re able to irrigate weather it’s plain water, or like I was explaining with the fertilizer, and we’re able to irrigate the plants and feed them through liquid feed throughout the whole season and it cuts back a lot on the cost of employees being out here with a water wand hand watering. A quarter inch line that goes into the plant that has a drip line on it, and each one of these drippers puts out a half gallon an hour, and at the end of the season to flush we just open up the end and let a lot more water go through and flush any excess nitrogens out of the plant a lot more efficiently and a lot faster than traditional hand watering or other water methods take. Out here in Colorado evaporation is key so we don’t use a full 360 degree mister, we do drip, so that way it’s always directly on the soil,” he said.
Trellis Support System
“Trellis netting was chosen to be used originally due to the bamboo not being cost efficient. we would have had to have put thousands of bamboos individually in front of these plants. We found that *trellis, same thing a lot of indoor guys and greenhouse growers use, stretched width wise and length ways throughout a stretch, we particularly use 6 plants that we make a run of so you can still access different alleys. It’s put down low, 30 inches off the ground and another 12 inches above that and we usually have a third layer through to catch all the tops as the plants become a lot heavier and bigger. In the high wind areas, the green screen actually blocks most of the wind but anything else, as the wind is blowing this plant and moving it around it can only fall and move within the square. So it helps hold the plant up, support more the canopy, and it’s a lot cheaper and we’re able to use steel wire just to pull it taut from side to side and pull it longways between two T-posts on each end and holds the plants up, trains them, and as they’re vegging we can pull them through and create more of a wider canopy so we get a benefit of being in the early stage of being able to train and we also have our product held up throughout the seasons out here. There is rain and hale so it helps hold and catch that in case there is a severe storm,” Skylar explained.
*A trellis is an architectural structure, usually made from an open framework or lattice of interwoven or intersecting pieces, made to support and display climbing plants.
Green Screen Wind Screens
“The wind screens were developed through trial and error over the last four years that we’ve farming out here. We noticed that in the Spanish peak regions and Rocky Mountains the winds would blow with extreme force off the mountains and flow through the valley areas, but being out here in the high plains there’s really no trees or any vegetation to block that, so through some different trial and error of different fence methods we decided that the wind screen that could be taken on and off seasonally when it’s not in use and can be folded up and preserved and when it is in use being secured to this steel fencing, blocks the initial force of the blow while still allowing a lot of ventilation to flow through the plants and still have enough air circulation. They’re 70% block and still allow light to come through. It’s secured to a steel 14 gauge fence that goes down and wood columns to hold it through the wind. It protects the crop and provides greenhouse quality flower while still growing outdoors in a sustainable method without high electric costs and other high expenses that indoor grows and high tech greenhouses can incur.,” Skylar said.
“Drying racks were created at Pharm Aid Farms to maximize our space. We only have one barn for drying this year so we have to condense two acres of product into a 20 by 60 room traditional whole plant hanging wouldn’t have been an effective use of space, so we’re using machines to debug the product after harvest, we do hand deleafing and then all the flower is dried in these racks, which are screened and lumber construction, that are 8 feet wide, 32 inches long. Over a 5-7 day drying periods it’s in this room drying the whole room is full we come through and lightly toss and fluff an area of the product a little bit when it starts to break down as it’s drying, some of the cannabis can flatten, or become soft and flat as the weight of it pushes down, so it’s real important to come back everyday and toss that product and dry it on all it’s different sides. This season we’re using dehumidification if needed, but it’s a dry environment here in Colorado so we may not use much of it. Air circulation is good and eventually we’ll install our HVAC and other room temperature settings inside this area here. Each flat can hold roughly 16 to 18 pounds of drying flower. So all in all with the vertical system, currently we can do around seventeen hundred pounds at a time on the walls with these trays total in the room. We’re working on our prototype to figure out how to make carts on wheels sturdy enough to dry and similar to a scaffolding unit but still incorporates drying racks with lumber and screens you can pull out,” he said.
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