The equipment and techniques used at Adakai were implemented by a staff that has one foot planted in cannabis and the other in traditional agriculture.
The 16-member cultivation team is supported by another 19 employees who handle extraction, packaging and kitchen duties.
Mark Riddenour, Adakai’s director of cultivation, started on the ground floor of Colorado’s medical marijuana industry, before moving to Arizona to work with Adakai.
Botanist Matt LaScala is the company’s production manager, having previously studied agricultural technical management and indoor plant production at the University of Arizona. He worked in food production and testing prior to joining the cannabis industry.
Ed Gunter, a 35-year veteran of the Air Force and Adakai’s staff engineer and director of horticulture, designed the indoor facility specifically for cannabis production.
“It has a much greater flow to it than the other buildings that we had before in Colorado, which were just open warehouses essentially, with no real rhyme or reason to how it was set up,” Riddenour says.
The 25,000-square-foot facility was practically an empty shell when Adakai acquired it, though the already-installed air-conditioning system was “an added benefit of being in Phoenix,” Riddenour says.
Adakai’s four flower rooms are adjacent to the veg room, allowing a perpetual harvest on a two-week cycle. The extraction lab, kitchen and testing center are located on the other side of the facility, while controls for the irrigation, CO2 enrichment and numerous other environmental systems are centrally located.
After three years of production, Riddenour says the company shifted to its own custom soil blend to avoid the trial-and-error variables that come with premade consumables.
LaScala helped create the recipes for the company’s soil blend using a coco-based medium and OMRI-listed ingredients. Creating soil in-house allows the company to test the raw ingredients before mixing or amending, LaScala says.
“It’s kind of a nod to conventional agriculture in a sense,” LaScala says. “If, for some reason, the coco-coir source has a moisture issue or they have a washing issue where the solidity goes way up, (the testers) can communicate that to us and we can mitigate that here.”
As with any indoor grow operation, the lights not only consume enormous amounts of power, but can generate additional and unwanted heat.
“We use 600-watt lamps because of the heat input,” Riddenour says. “We went with less wattage for heat issues since we do have a number of those 115-degree days down here that we have to battle through.”
The growers expected switching to Hydrofarm 600-watt ballasts would inhibit plant growth in the flowering rooms, but LaScala and Riddenour both say the reduction of power is mitigated by light movers holding the fixtures in place.
“We’re talking about 320 lights in our flower bays, so we can go a little more boutique-y with having the ability to raise them daily, instead of just placing the lights where they’re at and having to deal with it,” Riddenour says. “We want to take that approach to where we can manipulate the lights and put them exactly where we want and evaluate that daily and weekly to maximize the growth of the plants.”
The light movers allow the crew to “dial exactly how much PAR (photosynthetically active radiation) we want each plant to experience,” LaScala says.
In the veg room, Adakai uses ceramic metal halides, which is an upgrade over the plasma lights that were previously installed.
“We’re seeing fast improvements already, more vigorous plant growth and it’s happening faster,” Riddenour says. “It saved us a whole week in veg.”
To mitigate the smell of marijuana leaving the facility, Adakai uses the ProKure1 disinfection and deodorization system, which is designed as a preventative measure that keeps facilities cleaner that simultaneously reduces the need for pesticides and fungicides. Adakai also uses ProKure V liquid and deodorizing packets when needed.
The cultivation crew uses automated systems and hands-on gardening techniques in equal measures.
“We’re a pretty tight group,” Riddenour says. “Everybody’s cross trained, so a lot of the time the same people will harvest, prune, transplant.”
Adakai’s flower bays are irrigated automatically, “but we do manual irrigation on all of our veg plants” Riddenour says. The hand touch has been kept in practice at Adakai to ensure that veg plants are never under- or over-watered and receive all the critical scouting time and evaluation time before joining the large flower bays.
“We really put a lot of emphasis on plant health on the moms and the veg,” Riddenour says. “If the moms and the veg are in great health we are set up to go into the next stage.”
“The hand touch is almost invaluable,” adds LaScala, before noting that the up-close time with all of the plants in veg allows the crew to report any mold, mildew or pathogen.