Washington’s Suspended Brands recycles soil from its automated greenhouse to its outdoor field
For the team at Suspended Brands, the site in Belfair, Washington made perfect sense as a location for its cannabis growing operation. After all, before they bought it, the site was working nursery.
“They saw this place as a nursery and saw what it could become,” controller Dan Schick says of the two sets of brothers that founded the company. “The actual nursery is still being used as our nursery instead of having to come in and put up some massive building in Belfair where it wouldn’t mix.”
Suspended bought the property in 2014, got its cultivation license in 2015 and has since added a greenhouse to the land, complete with supplemental lighting, that holds 3,000 blooming plants. Head grower Brad Dearth has it dialed in to be able to harvest 80 plants each day, allowing Suspended Brands a consistent and healthy supply of product to ship out to Washington’s cannabis retailers, no matter the time of year or weather.
The company has a one-acre outdoor plot as well, where it plants a crop in a compost made from the organic waste and used grow media.
All told, it helps make Suspended Brands one of the most environmentally friendly — and successful — cultivation companies in the Northwest.
The key to Suspended Brands’ operation is its 20,000-square-foot greenhouse.
From the outset, Suspended Brands kept its focus on keeping production costs contained while remaining as green as possible. With that in mind, indoor cultivation did not make as much sense as growing in a greenhouse, even if it meant using supplemental lighting to get through Washington’s dreary winters.
“We’re trying to target the lowest-cost, best product we thought we could produce at the time,” CEO Jeff Way says.
According to Dearth, the Suspended Brands greenhouse holds 30 rolling tables, each 60 feet by 5 feet and holding 100 plants per table. He uses light-deprivation curtains during the long days of summer and 226 1,000-watt high pressure sodium lights during the winter to maintain production of up to 15 cultivars at a time.
Dearth says the company installed the first free-spanning blackout system on a gutter-connected Conley’s greenhouse and Suspended worked with the manufacturer to make a free-standing system that works in just seven minutes, even quicker than the roof at the home of the Seattle Mariners, located a few hours away on the other side of Puget Sound.
“It’s like Safeco Field, only faster,” he says with a laugh.
The Suspended greenhouse also contains six gas heaters and nine different exhaust fans, which together can complete a full air exchange within 90 seconds, all automated to keep labor costs down and production high.
“We’re constantly harvesting 80 plants, so every week we’re moving 400 plants into the bloom house,” Dearth says.
That’s not bad for a greenhouse team of eight people.
Dearth has also selected mostly strains that thrive in both the greenhouse environment and the company’s 56-day grow schedule. That schedule has led to signature strains such as Plushberry, Kracken, Mob Boss and the rare Lake of Fire phenotype.
“We do everything from real gassy stuff to real fruity and we try to find a little bit of everything in between,” he says.
The company grows in a medium that includes Commercial Drip Media Pro from Miller Soils, which is a non-soil mix that contains peat moss, perlite, biochar, worm castings and more. Dearth places soaker hoses along the base of the plants to deliver fertilizers that are derived from organic urea sources. But while it works great in the greenhouse, it produces about 200 cubic yards of media waste every year. Instead of letting that go to waste, Suspended Brands takes it all outside, organizes it into hedgerows and plants a “very low maintenance” outdoor crop of about an acre.
“After the first year of operations, we realize that we had this big compost pile that had amorphously digested into a really good organic mix,” Dearth says. “We let the sun, let the earth, let the wind and the well water do their job.”
The outdoor crop gets no pesticides or fertilizers either, as it is all penciled out for extraction, where even the smallest percentages can get multiplied exponentially.
“We can’t have any pesticides on our flower that we use for distillation because those numbers exponentially grow,” Schick says. “So we’re extremely diligent.”
This is the second year the company planted an outdoor crop and Dearth calls the growth “outrageous.”
It’s all part of the company’s philosophy of trying to be what Way calls “the greenest company in cannabis.”
“We’ve always had that green approach,” he says.
According to Way, the company keeps an eye on its electrical usage, uses an on-site well for water and recycles as much as possible.
And it’s not just helping to grow the cannabis, but Suspended’s bottom line as well.
“Our utility bills don’t scare us when we see them,” Schick says.
According to Schick, while the company’s June electrical bill of $8,000 may seem high to some, it’s not nearly as high as it could be if they did not have the greenhouse.
Suspended Brands is also branching out, doing processing for other cultivators at its facility. Schick says the company is one of the top three processors in the state and the company values its relationships within the industry, like with Root Sciences, makers of the VTA Short Path Distillation Plant VKL 70-5 machine it uses.
“We have a lot of processing connections,” Schick says. “It’s a side of the business we love.”
While Suspended Brands uses automation to help keep costs under control and its employee count to 28, total, there are some jobs that still get done by hand, like harvesting and trimming. Dearth credits his team for making him and his buds look good.
“The key to it is having a good team, a well-trained team,” he says. “Finding good people and keeping them around you is definitely key in this business.”
Schick agrees and adds that it also helps build a good relationship with the surrounding community.
“We don’t want to get to the point where we take the people out of the business,” Schick says. “This was a nursery. We’re staying with our roots.”