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Cannabis officials see ‘renaissance’ emerging in home grow technology

The tools and technology behind growing cannabis at home can range from something as basic as a shovel to Silicon Valley-style automated appliances that can be placed in a living room and monitored on a smart phone.

From low-energy grow lights to automatic trimming machines, Humboldt County cannabis farmer and nursery owner Kevin Jodrey said modern technology and the long-awaited legalization of marijuana is now allowing Californians from all walks of life to tend their very own homegrown cannabis gardens.

“I think you’re going to see a huge renaissance for gardening cannabis, especially for the elderly,” Jodrey said.

Plug-and-grow

Regardless of where you live in California, the recently passed Adult Use of Marijuana Act allows anyone 21 and over to grow up to six cannabis plants inside their residence. If you’re a renter, make sure your landlord or rental company allows for indoor cultivation, as landlords have the right to prohibit it.
The next question to ask is how much time you’re willing to give your cannabis garden, and how much you’re willing to spend on it.

The Grobo One home cultivation appliance is set to begin shipping this fall. The appliance seeks to reduce much of the labor behind hydroponic gardening, whether it be for specialty hot peppers or cannabis. (Courtesy photo)

Automated growing systems such as Grobo are looking to find a niche in the market by appealing to customers whose space and time are limited. Resembling a small fridge, the appliance is to indoor cultivation as the slow cooker is to making dinner, though your slow cooker likely doesn’t require a wi-fi connection.

“If you’re trying to grow inside and trying to have great results on it and not spend so much time on it every week, this is what this is for,” Grobo CEO Bjorn Dawson said. “It’s for anybody, whether you have 20 years of gardening experience … or you have no experience at all and you’re having success and probably learning a little bit along the way at all.”

The Canadian startup company’s first product known as the Grobo One is about 4 feet tall and grows one plant at a time. The appliance comes complete with a carbon filter to capture odors, LED lights, a coco pod, and set of five boxes of nutrients that are automatically administered to the plant. Once the cannabis is grown, the device also has a drying mode.

Grobo states users will be able to generate about 2 ounces of product from a clone in about 2 months and the same harvest from a seed in about four months. The company is planning to start shipping in the fall.

While this output falls short of other indoor grow techniques which can produce several pounds in a cycle, Dawson said the balance comes with how much effort the grower wants to put into their plant, how much power they want to use and how much equipment they want to purchase.

With the asking price of $1,700, the Grobo One is an investment, but Dawson said the user will only need to spend about $15 per month on power, nutrient replacement and water.

Grobo is not the only plug-and-grow system hoping to hit the market, with the Colorado-based product LEAF also offering a similar product.

Dawson said he welcomes the competition.

“It’s a great market, having multiple players in it will get create solutions for all the customers,” he said. “It’s going to expand and  it’s going to expand quickly. And it’s a real challenge to get into this space. On our team, we’re a startup, but we have expertise in horticulture with master growers and marketing people and designers and app developers and electric engineers. You need a lot of people to take this type of product to market.”

A tray of Blue Cheese strain cannabis clones sit inside the Humboldt Patient Resource Center in Arcata. (Bryan Wilkomm/contributed)

Let there be light

Jodrey said he understands people may have space limitations or may live in areas where growing outdoors is not feasible, but said automated growing systems create “bonsai cannabis” that won’t produce the pounds of bud like tried-and-true indoor setups. But he said that’s not to say there has not been innovation in these traditional methods, much of which has come in the grow lights sectors.

Jodrey — owner of Wonderland Nursery and Port Royal’s Ganjier Farm in Humboldt County — has particularly been impressed by LED lights from the Texas-based company Fluence Bioengineering, which he said produce much less heat, noise and are more energy efficient then high intensity discharge lights that have been used in the past.

“With the modernization of the new LED, some of these systems are incredible,” he said. “I am amazed at what I’m looking at with these new systems.”

Others like Humboldt County’s North Coast Horticulture owner Stephen Gieder don’t see LED as having developed yet to the scale of more traditional lighting setups.

Gieder instead sees induction lighting as the next step in indoor lighting. Compared to its hotter counterparts like metal halide lights, induction lights produce less heat and therefore can be placed closer to the plants in order to allow more light. Gieder also said induction lights such those produced by iGROW can last 20 times longer than normal lamps, are less prone to start fires and less prone to fail.
The price for these lights are around $1,000 depending on the wattage.

The induction lights also produce UV spectrum, which Gieder said is what makes sun-grown plants so much more resilient than their indoor counterparts.

“I’ll probably have my own six plants. There’s no way I wouldn’t use this,” ” Gieder said of induction lights.

Sungrown sensimilla

Total equipment for a indoor home grow — including lights, hydroponic equipment, tent fixtures, timers, fans, pots, nutrients, biological pest control and the actual clones or seeds — could cost from nearly $1,000 to up to $15,000 depending on the setup, Gieder and Jodrey said. By comparison, supplies for an outdoor marijuana garden can run as low as a few hundred dollars and may require as little as a patch of soil and some water.

Pearl Moon of The Bud Sisters in Garberville said she quit indoor growing in 2010 after realizing the carbon footprint she was creating.

“I think outdoor is just truly the real fun,” Moon said with a laugh. “Indoor you’ll never get the real fun. The true stuff is grown outdoors in the sun in wonderful organic soil.”

Moon and her sister Joyce Centofanti make up The Bud Sisters and produce medical cannabis topicals.

For this reason, Moon said going completely organic is of the utmost importance not just for her patients, but for the planet.

As far as technology goes, Moon and Jodrey both said it all comes down to the local climate and how much sun your plot of land receives.

“It’s completely more cost-efficient and if they don’t need the greenhouse they can just use the pots,” Jodrey said. “If someone has the ability to do straight outdoor, their cost is only $200.”

Jodrey said six outdoor-grown plants are also likely to produce about 12 pounds in a season, which is a couple pounds more compared to indoor farms as there is likely more room to grow and because they are grown in natural sunlight.

Gaurav “G” Mehta demonstrates the heating safety of induction lighting at the North Coast Horticulture store in McKinleyville on June 9. (Jose Quezada — for The Cannifornian)

Jodrey said a small-greenhouse can run around $700, with six fabric pots likely costing just over $100 and seeds or clones costing between $60 to $90. Greenhouses also allow for home growers to add supplemental lighting fixtures in order to all them to harvest their cannabis several times in a year and produce around 30 pounds of cannabis from six-plant cycles.

“With supplemental lighting one can run a greenhouse year round and you turn the supplemental light off during the summer.

Moon said she prefers to make her own soils and use supplemental nutrients such as green bicycle and worm castings rather than lugging around large bags of shipped soil.

Moon said the costly period of outdoor cultivation comes when using light-deprivation techniques, in which plants are covered by a tarp to block out the sunshine and cause them to flower earlier in the grow cycle. Some tarps have black undersides to shade the plants and white tops to reflect sunlight, but Moon said this “panda plastic” will come with a cost.

“In the cannabis industry, everything has to be expensive,” Moon said with laugh.

Jodrey said he encourages any newcomers into the home grow scene to ask a cultivator for tip and to embrace the new opportunity to become a cannabis caretaker.

“Enjoy what you’re about to do,” he said. “It’s been illegal in California for nearly 100 years. Make sure you enjoy yourself. It’s a renaissance.”

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.