As a former hydroponics supplier, Loren Unick has seen just about every smoke-and-mirror and snake-oil solution the cultivation industry has to offer.
“I’ve used a few whirligigs in my past for sure,” he says laughing at the various gadgets he’s seen. “Some people have songs or birds singing in their room or they are playing Mozart. There’s always going to be these products that come out that are these whirligig things, but the plant is going to do what she is supposed to do if you take good care of her.”
After helping to convert a portion of a century-old dairy farm for cannabis cultivation, Unick was asked to stay on as the head of growing operations at Treehawk Farms, located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. During his time at the company, he has developed a combination of technological refinements and hands-on growing techniques for growing boutique cannabis.
The growers at Treehawk keep a dedicated 5,700-square-foot indoor grow running year-round. The farm has experimented with outdoor growing in the past and plans on adding a 10,000-square-foot Next G3N greenhouse to the farm this year.
“It’s really about diversification,” Unick says. “We call it a hybrid grow.”
The company’s outdoor flower went straight to extraction, but Unick says the indoor grow produces the top-shelf “sparkling diamonds people get stoked on.” When the greenhouse is complete, it will give the farm a well-rounded selection of price points for consumers.
For 2017, the farm is focusing on its indoor operation and greenhouse construction before opting to do more outdoor cultivation.
“Indoor gives us a jumpstart a lot quicker than outdoor,” Unick says. “We wanted to get to market a little quicker and get our brand out there.”
Despite the high-tech systems running at Treehawk, the farm prefers to be a little more hands-on when it comes to feeding and watering its plants. Treehawk uses a coco coir and perlite mix for its grow media.
“It’s a really flexible and forgiving media,” Unick says. “If you’re comparing traditional soil to hydro, coco finds itself right in the middle of those two applications.”
Unick says the mix offers the best of both worlds due to its malleable nature. It’s a solid substrate capable of handling almost any feeding regimen and it gives farmers the ability to fine-tune their nutrient program — variables that bode well for a farm that has opted to manually water its crops, Unick says.
“Our indoor is small enough that it doesn’t take us too long to do the hand watering,” he says. “As we evolve and get more comfortable with that in a commercial regulated system then we’ll start looking at irrigation systems.”
Come harvest time, the farm uses HD Growbox planters to move the plants quickly. The mobile planters allow grow rooms to be evacuated for sterilization and the adjustable rack heights lets growers easily raise and lower plants and lights during various growth stages.
As someone with experience on both sides of the hydroponics counter, Unick is all too aware of the multitudes of lighting options being pitched at growers. After careful consideration, he decided on using Dimlux 1,000-watt double-ended high-pressure sodium lights for flowering and 315-watt ceramic metal halides for veg. Unick says the company’s identity as a high-end boutique farm pushed him to choose a light that was tailor-made for discerning growers. Although he considered LEDs and other technologies, the familiarity of HPS fixtures gave him a degree of confidence in getting the company up and running.
“They created that light for this industry,” he says. “It has all the controls and the mechanisms in that system to allow me to process information, temperature, humidity, CO2 and have that control at a moment’s notice.”
Unick wanted a streamlined climate control system that would work in tandem with the farm’s lighting technology. The OptiClimate system, also manufactured by Dimlux, was the obvious choice for the farm to dial in the proper environment while reducing energy consumption.
“It is a European-based system,” Unick says. “Europe is limited on power so they have to try and use different technology to be a little more efficient on their power consumption. We went with these units for that reason too, for their power efficiency, but they also make it so we don’t require any dehumidification. It treats both temperature and humidity day and night.”
The system removes humidity using a plant temperature camera that monitors the evaporation of crops. When plant temperatures begin to rise to unsafe levels, the system responds by dimming or completely shutting down the lights until the crops have cooled.
The climate controls also handle room temperature, the day and night cycle and air flow for the grow rooms.
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