For a man in his 20s, Sandip “Sunny” Saini seemed to have everything a guy his age could want. He was living in Connecticut and working as an NBA researcher/producer for television sports giant ESPN. Life was pretty good.
“It was literally the dream job,” he says.
But when voters in Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, Saini saw an opportunity.
“My parents and myself didn’t have any experience in the industry at all,” he says, but they could see the possibilities in getting in on the ground floor of a burgeoning industry.
His parents were in the retail business, with his father, Surgit Singh, owning a convenience store in Bellingham, so the family originally hoped for a retail license. While they did not win the retail lottery, they did receive a license for a Tier 3 production facility and decided to try their hands at farming. With that, Khush Kush was formed.
Saini, an East Indian immigrant who moved to Seattle in 1995, named the company after the Hindi and Punjabi word for “happy.” The name had a nice ring to it and the focus on happiness was a foundation for the company.
Saini, now 31, and head grower Jeremy Bevlin set out to build a similar grow operation focused on simplicity. The company officially began production in April 2016 with the goal of producing pesticide-free, boutique-quality cannabis at its indoor grow.
Bevlin says the pair designed Khush Kush’s building to include the best parts of traditional greenhouse agriculture inside their 9,200-square-foot warehouse space. Khush Kush uses two main rooms, one for veg and another for flowering.
Inside, the rooms resemble a tomato hothouse, with rolling greenhouse tables and plants laid out in 10 rows linked by drip irrigation system. The wheeled tables help maximize space and the irrigation helps cut down on employee costs.
“All the water is automated,” Bevlin says, adding that it uses a simple waterfall pump to raise the water into PVC pipes that link to a drip emitter to keep the plants hydrated using basic household timers.
Khush Kush’s setup is a soilless hydroponic growing system, but the use of coco coir slabs and cubes as a growing medium help keep the roots saturated in nutrients.
Coco coir is produced from the husks of coconuts and can hold eight times its weight in water. It’s often recommended for the type of drip irrigation system used at Khush Kush.
Bevlin uses the coco coir not just as the medium, but in large slabs to hold the plant, instead of using pots. Khush Kush’s trellis system features snap-on netting to help keep the plants growing strong, instead of strapping them to posts. The trellis also allows the growers to add layers as the plants grow.
“We’re moving away from the hobby/basement grow style,” Bevlin says.
The Khush Kush growers only move the plants once, allowing them to root in coco coir cubes before moving them to the slabs for vegetation and then flowering.
“We tried to take out all the labor,” Bevlin says.
Bevlin notes that Khush Kush is not doing anything “super groundbreaking” with its lighting rigs, though it uses ePapillon double-ended high-pressure sodium bulbs with reflector hoods to maximize growth. It’s a product he says he took from traditional commercial agriculture and applied to cannabis.
“It has a brighter spectrum,” he says. “The penetration into the canopy is a lot deeper.”
To counteract the heat generated by the lights, Khush Kush runs an air conditioner to keep temperatures in the grow and flower rooms between 74 degrees and 84 degrees.
Bevlin tries to group strains that grow well together based on feeding habits. For example, Bevlin says the Chem Dog, Chem 4 and Chem 91 strains all have similar traits and grow well together, again helping to maximize space and nutrients.
Everything at Khush Kush, including the build-out of the grow operation itself, is focused on the company’s philosophy of keeping things “as simple as possible” while producing great results, according to Saini.
By taking cues from what works in commercial agriculture, Saini and Bevlin’s basic automation and simple irrigation systems allow them to focus on the product.
“You can make it as complicated as you want or keep it simple and save yourself some headaches,” Bevlin says. “Make it energy efficient and maximize work space.”
For Saini, keeping it simple will allow the company to continue growing with the goal of becoming one of the top producers in the state and positioning itself for the day when the brand will allowed to go national.
“The simpler you can make it, the longer you’re going to last,” Saini says, adding, “Anything I do, I want to be the best at it.”
So after everything — leaving the dream job, moving home, starting a new company with his family and then getting his first product to market — is Saini still living up to his company’s name? Is he, in fact, happy?
“I’m extremely happy,” he says. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this.”