Episode 4: David Perron Discusses Living Soil, Insect Frass, & Commercial Production
Tad: Welcome to the Cannabis Cultivation and Science podcast, I'm your host Tad Hussey of KIS Organics, this is the podcast where we discuss the cutting edge of organic growing from a science-based perspective and draw on top experts from around the industry to share their wisdom and knowledge. Our guest today is David Bernard Perron. David is an Agrologist and has a Master of Science in Plant Sciences from McGill University. He began working in greenhouse production in 2001 and worked for McGill in the Greenhouses and Horticultural Research Center for five years. He is the lead agrologist and one of the head growers at Whistler medical marijuana corporation. Over the last year and a half he designed the certified organic growing program at Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation making them the only fully certified organic licensed producer in Canada. Hey David, thanks for coming on the show today, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.
David: Hey Tad, thanks for having me.
Tad: Yes, I so met David about two years ago now at Cannacon, he came to one of my talks, and we started chatting and I realized David was this wealth of information. Could you maybe tell me a little bit about your background and how you came to your current job and what you do now?
David: Yeah, I remember when we first met you were that breath of fresh air in that maelstrom of craziness, that was my first two weeks in the industry.
Tad: I didn’t know that was your first two weeks, wow.
David: Oh yeah it was pretty interesting so I'm coming from an agricultural background, greenhouse production background, I’ve been working in greenhouse productions since 2001 when I was 14 years old, I think at the end of my road where I used to grow up in the countryside there was a greenhouse that were doing production of annual flowers in the winter and cuttings of poinsettias during the summer so I was lucky enough that one of the managers there was also teaching horticultural school close by and he was really interesting - he really interested me and got my eyes open and all the science and the cool stuff happening in the plants world and in a greenhouse management and from the profitability to how we need to make the plants happy you know that was really the eye opener for me and so I stayed in this world that led me also to do my Bachelor degree in Plant Science and then when I was - just for fun then I started growing a lot of mushrooms at university, oyster mushrooms well, sorts of stuff and one of the professors saw my work have been offered a Master in Organic Horticulture and then ended up in grad school and from there I was bumming around every summer on the West Coast because I'm originally from Quebec but I decided to go and establish myself on the West and meeting someone rock climbing and then keeping in touch with him, I heard through the grapevine, three years ago that he was doing something with cannabis so I got in touch with him once I moved to the West coast and he let me in to Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation which is the only certified organic license producer in Canada right now.
Tad: You're working at this facility right now, what is your role at the facility?
David: Some I’m the lead Agrologist. I have developed, with your help and advice, as they already had growing program there so I got to play certified organic so all the growing practices, nutrient management, soil recycling, climate control, pest and disease management and scheduling, so everything that touch to plant side of things I manage there.
Tad: So you've essentially showed and proven that organic cultivation for cannabis can work on a large commercial scale.
David: Yeah, absolutely. We are not the largest, that being said, we’re a fairly small player in the industry, but still we have one of the strongest brand in Canada right now and everywhere we go it's always a treat to hear that people saying that we're one of the best product available out there.
Tad: And you’re a firm believer in organics do the importance of providing clean medicine to your patients, essentially?
David: Yeah, we've seen it a lot and the more I talk about it with other people and when we compare our lab results from Amanda Lab and then there’s a really great lab on UBC campus that's managed by Jonathan Page one of the first guys to sequence this kind of genome in Canada, we have a very high terpene content compared to other producers and the medicine is very clean and people really like it. So I think organic is a big thing behind it to produce that higher concentration of medicine than other or more plain vanilla fertilizer can do.
Tad: So the premise that is there is more benefit to organics because we don't know all the mechanisms for which cannabinoids are necessarily the most beneficial to a patient and organics – can you expand on that a little bit just to explain to our users how the microbiology involved in organic production can affect terpene levels in plants?
David: We've seen some people that are growing with our program as well, that have done side by side trials growing with our organic methods and with some conventional three-part nutrients with a few additives and the terpenes were higher in organic production, so the way it works, the way I like to see it, so like you mentioned we don't fully understand what's going on in the soil and the reason for that a lot of those soil microorganism we simply cannot culture them in the lab, so it's hard to study them.
When we build our soil, when we build a living soil, the way we see it, we put all the best players in place then we let the plant choose the interaction that they want to favorite, develop depending on which life cycle they are already, vegetative growth, reproductive stage or they’re in the late senescence stage, so by letting the plant choose whatever it wants from the soil, encouraging which kind of group of micros do they want to encourage; bacteria, fungi, actinomycete, they really get what they need, when they need it and we're not force feeding any nutrients in the plant because they are in a plant available form and they're being pushed into the plant right now so a lot of people are often asking me, in organics how do you flush your plant, but the thing is we don't really flush the plant, it's still a concept that I think it's because people put too much nutrients or keep fertilizing too late in the life of the plant so we just let the plant do what it does so it's going to pump some of the sugar from the photosynthesis into the root exudates encouraging specific type of microorganism that they can choose what type of sugar and pushing in the rhizosphere in the roots exudates to promote some specific group and choosing the type of nutrients they need, so we just put everything in place and then let Nature do its thing.
Tad: So really the plant controls this process, it's putting out exudates into the rhizosphere, that control for which microorganisms make these nutrients available to the plant.
David: To the best of my knowledge I think that's what they do so we don't fully know but the latest research that's what it showed, there is also a very interesting thing that I came across recently it's called [inaudible 00:07:46] where just plants engulfing and hold microorganisms and translocate those microorganism inside their vasculature system so there's a whole broad range of things that plant can uptake from single ions to whole microorganisms so when you're selecting in your living soil for diversity of different type of food, broad variety of input, nothing in excess but a little bit of everything and you're doing the same thing for your fungi population, your bacteria, your actinomycete and everything so the plants will really be able to just have whomever they choose to have, whomever they potentially evolved with for millions of years to team up with them and then maximize their genetic potential for yield and also terpene and medicine profile.
Tad: Okay that brings up a few questions for me. One, I totally agree with you with what you're saying here in regards to putting the plant in control, do you feel though that… I know a lot of guys out there want to maximize yield and they're really focused on production do you feel that you're sacrificing yield by allowing the plant to naturally senesce or not trying to force-feed ionic nutrients or you know, a bottled nutrient program on to these plans?
David: To be fully honest maybe a little bit we heard about those crazy like above three pounds of lights yield sometimes that I’ve yet to see under my organic system, I’ve seen often like two and a half pound and more than profitable yield that I've seen but also the thing that I think of so when we're growing organically also there's a price premium attached to that and there's a quality and there's a craftsmanship that goes behind it, so among the strongest brand that I’ve seen are organic and that's been recognized for the quality of the products and I’ve seen a good production facility that was producing consistently above three pounds of light according to them but they were tired of that then they decided to switch to organic because the product was just not the best quality product ever so those guys are willing to take a little bit of a yield loss to, at first because there are transition period and all that but those guys will make their two and a half pound of light, but eventually three pounds of light.
There's also the thing that there's not a lot of plants that been bred under organic production system and all those plans have been done by growers in small or big breeding system but they're all been under chemical nutrients so we were the microbiome is kind of more absent from that and a lot of the research we did in the lab when I did my master degree were focused around the microbiome that was living inside the plant, the endophytic bacteria that will migrate from one generation from there, can be uptaken from their roots and migrate all the way into the seed of the plant so over generation of time you can have an accumulation of endophytic bacteria into the seed that will make a plant better suited for organic production systems so I think that as soon as we're going to see breeders starting to develop for organic strains, we're going to see a whole new revolution out there and I think most of those strains like been developed for conventional production systems.
Tad: I did not know that. So if you're an organic grower finding seeds that were grown organically, they actually contain beneficial organisms inside the seed itself?
David: Yeah, absolutely there’s some, it's a very like the first time we realized that, one of my colleagues in the lab, like basically we got shivers all over because this has open so many doors because you can really build a beneficial population of microorganisms inside the plant itself and also everything that happens around the epigenetic level of the plants, whatever that is not crossing and remixing of their genes but more what regulates the genes expression can be affected from one generation to another, so epigenetics can be a very strong tool to adopt to our organic growing systems to make them more responsive to broader range of interaction where microorganism, different type of nutrients instead of just like available ions like they've been selected forever.
Tad: Now this just brings up an unrelated question that I've been kind of curious about. There's a lot of talk about degradation of genetic potential in plants with cloning over a series of years successively over time, what have you seen with your background in terms of that being a potential problem?
David: It's not something that I have personally touched that much yet, I have been mostly focusing on integrated pest management and managing nutrients and soil over the last few years but it's like you mentioned, it's something that we keep hearing like losing vigor and all that, what I have observed personally is the vigor of a newly selected seed or mother plant, when you germinate a lot of seed there is definitely a lot of vigor there under organic production system we did two pounds of light without CO2 when we just started a new strain from seed, there's some increased vigor there so but I just don't know what that is, but it seems something that people have observed so there might be something there the why and the how I'm not exactly too sure but I think we've seen that like with fungi and a lot that's something that we have observed. It’s like if you keep feeding the same kind of sugar to the fungi and you reproducing it under a petri dish it's going to become lazy for that type of sugar so what you're going to bring back from let’s say malt agar on a petri dish to a good substrate of it, sometimes they get lazy, they lost their kind of chemical matrix, they digest other substrates, it might be something like that we’ve seen and moms kept under a longer, longer-term.
Tad: That's interesting, I heard some speculation from a friend of mine who went online by the name of Spurr, and he talked about the potential for genetic degradation when cloning off of unhealthy mother plants, that they actually have the potential to change the genes itself in future clone but I haven't seen a lot of research on that one way or another myself.
David: There is definitely something out there that can happen to the epigenetic level that I was talking about earlier. So over time the plants will over and under regulate some genes because it's been - let’s say you have a mum that’s been growing for fifteen years, sometimes those strains have been passed from one grower to another one cut from one plant, there is some level of control the plants adapt itself to, what they see, so I'd don't know more than that but it's something that people have talked about then some old strain that I've seen people growing their old, original Bubba Pink Kush that we see a lot here in BC, some people are doing very well with it and other people say, plus they’re bigger, that cut is too old and people are talking about backcrossing and doing some stuff to get the bigger like backcrossing but keeping the same strain by popping new strain so but it's something I haven't dabbled too much with but it seems to be there.
Tad: Well let's get back into your area of expertise then. So one thing that I want to touch on is when you were talking about grower switching over to the style of growing that you're doing and that you may not push yield quite as far as you would adding ionic nutrients, one of the things that we didn't talk about was all of the labor savings and nutrient savings that you're experiencing and that's huge, I mean as much as trying to up production, reducing your expenses and labor is a huge aspect of that, could you talk a little bit about some of those benefits?
David: Yeah absolutely I'm glad you bring that up because we all hear about the lb per light, but you don't hear a lot of people talking about margins and coming from a commercial agricultural background that's how people talk about it. Some farmer will take a yield loss and not plow and their field in one year because fuel is too cheap they're going to reduce their yield but overall they're going to make more money because they save on fuel in the beginning of the season so there is this whole aspect where while using living soil you don't have to mix a bottle of nutrient day to day anymore, are way less than mixing everything, pH-ing you have to take from like five, sometimes ten different bottles to make your nutrient mix.
We do top-dress once or sometimes twice during the whole growth cycle and that's about it for us, so the labor savings are huge. So all you have to do after that is to irrigate your soil, you don't push a lot of salt in your variegation system so you get less clogging, we don't use a lot of those sweet clogging, mostly our emitters is potassium sulfate that reacts with phosphorus fertilizer so we don't have to clog up the line so much, so there's huge savings just there.
Also when you buy a single nutrients, let’s say you buy just your alfalfa meal, just your rock phosphate and stuff like that, they're so cheap by the kilo compared to those other fertilizers and sometimes the fertilizer value is higher so in case of feather and blood meal we’re going to pay 2 to 3 dollar a kilo and they're 14% phosphorus which is still expensive, in the agricultural world, but I know in cannabis world that’s doing cheaper nitrogen.
Tad: Yeah, you have a high value of crop so you could afford to put on these nutrients at optimum levels.
Tad: You bring up a good point though. Let's talk a little bit about a bottle of nutrients and then what your background and thoughts and experience are with that and how a lot of growers are using them and you've managed to grow for a fraction of the cost without using bottled nutrients.
David: Yeah, yeah. In terms of nutrients from start to finish, were about couple cents per gram worth of nutrients in a product. The bottled nutrients what I've seen from that - we've seen everything from people growing outside they're going to have incomplete nutrients because people want to carry just one part nutrient so that nutrient won't be complete because when you mix calcium and phosphorus at high rates into a bottle they precipitate, they go out of solution and they are not plant available so this is why we have sometimes several bottles of nutrients. But when you go in the horticultural industry you never see those kinds of nutrients, what you see is like single salt if you’re not organic so you're going to buy like potassium – mono-potassium phosphate, sort of 0-50-30 and stuff like that that come in pounds of - like in bags of 50 pounds and then you just dilute that in tank A, tank B, so basically what you're doing is you're making those every bottle that you have in you, the stuff you’re buying on the shelves, you're making giant tanks of that and your greenhouse and you're paying so much cheaper for that because they’ve not been pretty mixed for you and now so you're not shipping water around anymore.
Tad: So most of those bottled nutrients the primary ingredient is going to be water, they’re diluting them down.
David: I mean they're only 3% sometimes 5% of the nutrients so the rest of that up to ninety percent must be water most of the time.
Tad: Yeah, we were talking before when we started the podcast about how you don't really know what's necessary in those nutrients and you had mentioned you don't like to use products when you don't know what's in them, similar to what you put in your body, do you want expand on that at all?
David: Well it’s is just when we - we know so much about what goes in our soil we're so we develop those, those living biology, and all of that, so I know what my nutrient test is and when sometimes you see those nutrients additive that they’re not necessarily used for their main nutrient but they might have a nominal charge, they might have microorganism and they’re just like - marketed as growth enhancer, bud thriving and you have a picture of a giant frosty bud on it and when I don't know exactly what's in there I find it hard to put that in the system that we've built and we fully understand and we know how to react to things so also sometimes there's just not certified organic and we can't use them but just as in general where some growers are seeing when we do - well we do a little bit of consulting, I have this problem here, what should I add, this is - this type of thing, they have an iron deficiency or boron deficiency, they don't know what to add for that because there's nothing on the bottle that says use this iron deficiency or at sometime they will have a lot of other nutrients with a little bit of iron and so it's hard to pinpoint problems and access in specific situation those bottle nutrients.
Tad: Yeah here in Washington when I got my soil registered as a fertilizer, it's really interesting so I did a guaranteed analysis for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium. So on the label it says, a minimal amount would be but as a fertilizer company you don't have to say what the maximum is, so I could have, I could have 10% potassium in there and claim 3% and I'd be okay as far as the Washington State Department of Ag is concerned and I don't, they don't - you don't know what the iron, manganese, any of those other you know secondary elements are and so as a grower it can be - I think it can be a real challenge unless you get independent soil tests to really know what you're putting on your plant.
David: Yeah, absolutely and sometimes those products are better off like having more product in there than less because you know so if they only have like 1% phosphorus and they claim they had 5% that's a problem but when they say minimum guaranteed analysis it's 5 and you have 10, sometimes it's a problem as well so, yeah and especially for other product that - I'm not going to name any brand but there are some product that's been recalled off the shelf because they were not sold as a pesticide, they were sold as – they would help for spider mites I’d say but there was fully pyrethrins that were in the products and they were being on the shelf for years and nobody knew what they was in there, they just never been checked before and turns out it was pyrethrins and it was a non-registered pesticide use on the crops so this is dangerous for yourself, your laborer and your users as well.
Tad: That's a huge problem here in the States. I know for a fact that a lot of growers are using things that they're not supposed to use too, even something they're aware of so things like Eagle 20, Avid.
Tad: Obviously you guys are highly regulated by the Canadian government and you're managing to deal with all of these problems without using any chemical pesticides, so what do you use for PM and mites and things like that, how do you manage these problems?
David: So the IPM program we have integrated pest management it's one of the cornerstones of our productions so for spider mites and any insects and all that, we do -use beneficial insects so we use a lot of persimilis to control spider mites, californicus predatory mites, we use swarskii to control for thrips and we use althea coreria and hypoapsis for controlling the fungus gnats, so we were able to achieve a perfect level of control with those beneficial insects.
When I started to work at Whistler Medical at first there were tents on some of the plants, fully spider-webbed, and bug and stuff like that, guys were vacuuming the bugs every day, but after, that was pretty intense, I've never seen anything like that before, but after a couple months and after meeting you and Jaya Palmer that worked with you at Keep It Simple like just introducing californicus and a few other beneficial, just changing what they were using and increasing the frequency and the rates we were able to completely get rid of spider mites after one full cycle through other facility and we've seen the little damage here and there but I’ve never sprayed a single insecticide in my shop over two years.
Tad: Wow, that's amazing. And you bring up a good point too. I think it's important that listeners realize that these things are not instant….
Tad: Instant treatment solutions are that they do take a little bit of time for these populations to build and you do have to apply them at higher levels.
David: Cannabis is a very sticky plant, they're crawling to trichomes, they spend time cleaning themselves up or maybe they even get high I don't know but it's a very, when you work with the plants yourself you feel it on your glove and on your skin, I can't imagine crawling through a forest of trichome to try to find food but -
Tad: Well trichomes are natural defense systems by the plant.
David: Yeah, absolutely. That being said, I feel like it was fairly easy for us to get rid of that but I was there every day checking on that and I have an academic background doing that but when I went and introduced that same identical integrated pest management system, in other shop, we didn't have those the same success rate so the way you implement the system, the way you have your work flow through your facility is also very important so moving from infested to clean every surface, start and working to clean area at first when you get there during the day, hair nets and changing boots, we do change clothes from one room to another we just put the lab coat on and change your hair net, gloves and disinfect our boots that's huge, we have asked some growers here that were working in greenhouse we started to do the bio-control insect program, we had really good success in their vegetative a little bit tougher in flowering but we were pretty sure that after one cycle they would be pretty clean but then on the next cycle things got worse and we're scratching our heads trying to figure out what happened and all that to finally realize that it's the bamboo stick that the grower was using as a stake so we took the bamboo from harvesting a flower room that were infested with spider mites and put that into the new veg plants that were going in there even though the clean the room and all that, the spider mites run away from the predatory insects, they crawl inside the bamboo stick come out when it's in a new room so we have a super high infestation already from spider mites right from the get go so there's little details like that that if you don't pick out on early, if you don't know it's just hard to manage but so your work flow out of your labor and people move from one room to another it's super important, everything also super important from your mother room or you start there starting with clean product I usually just double their rates of insects in my mother room compared to the rest of my facility which has already kind of doubled compared to the rest of the industry just to make sure that we're starting with clean product all the time.
Tad: That's really important, never would have thought of stakes.
David: That was such a heartbreaker.
Tad: And our farm, being in a greenhouse and being essentially outdoors, I find it's a very different situation we can plant a lot of pollinators around the property, a lot of plants at that attract beneficial insects, and so I may see a mite here or there but then I’ll also see a ladybug and I’ll see beneficial insects and you don't have the same outbreak problems that you have to deal with in a closed facility like where you are.
David: Yeah. fortunately, just a pest insect make it in closed environment all the time they are off and it will make it in from your staff or yourself if you're going and working in another production facility or if you have some guys that have their personal production license at home they will drag the spider mites and thrips in there.
Tad: Yes let's talk powdery mildew and fungal diseases a little bit here.
Tad: What's your game plan on that?
David: Powdery mildew, so cleaning the room very well between cycle, one little thing that we’ve started to do ourselves, I've started to ozone my rooms between cycles so it's just an overnight, and we shut off any exhaust, we keep the fan re-circulating everywhere and we have an ozone generator in there on a timer, you've got to be very careful with that because ozone is very toxic to people so you don't want to be in the room, you don't want to have any of your stuff in there but ozone will disinfect everything on contact because it's so oxidative, it just rips electron from everything.
It’s going to go in nicks and micro-cracks and just kill everything, so that's a pretty good one, so using hydrogen peroxide, doing like a fumigation or for the spray of the wall and everything if you don't have the time to clean every pieces of dust and everything, getting rid of any wood in your growing rooms is also a good one, pretty hard to disinfect wood and making sure you have the least surface area possible aside your plants and your growing medium so any overhead structure if you have a lot of wire or anything that can harbor spores, if you can get rid of it, get rid of it. Have an easy to clean room but that's for prevention or cleaning your room between cycle. For prevention on the plants, there's very few programs product that we can use in Canada here that’s Actinovate, which is a bacteria. The problem with Actinovate is if you sprayed too late on your crops, you going to create a false positive for your microorganism, microbial test, and the post harvest test, so you got to be careful that you're again starting very early, starting earlier on your mum, rotate through, we have Actinovate, also MilStop which is potassium bicarbonate, it's going to change the pH on the leaf surface make it harder for the spore to germinate those are the tool that you can use, sulfur vaporizer is also another good one but make sure you turn them off for late flowering stage otherwise you can give a off taste to your product, those are all the stuff that we can use but also it's to stay on top of it but also compost tea is a really good one but again be very mindful of your microbial test, don’t spray any of that when you have a room in flowering or anything past week 2 because that's a super highly charged microbial spray if you use compost tea in foliar, so what it will do it will basically put probiotics on the leaf, so you're going to have to go when you're applying compost tea as a foliar basically just to colonize the leaf surface even if your microorganism that you're going to put on there are not going to do anything actively beneficial for the plant, our actually five PM, It's like having a room that's already so crowded that nobody else can get in so you're trying to have a big party of microorganism so that the powdery mildew is left on the porch because it's too crowded in there.
Tad: So what do you do when you have a plant that obviously has PM and you’re let's say, mid-flower, what's your protocol then?
David: Oh let’s just hope it’s not going to happen, but what we did, we did some hydrogen peroxide spot spraying, we're usually going to get rid of that plant, but we're going to, before we touch or do anything we're going to spray down with hydrogen peroxide which will only kill the spores hydrogen peroxide won’t kill the live mycelium of PM, so what we would do, we would bag it up and just get rid of it and hope for the best but we can take a little bit of PM if it's not causing too much crop loss or stress like that and we're going to do like a super thorough clean up of our rooms but it's so far finger cross it hasn’t happened to us, we also use U.V. lights in our hvac system so air systems can still be re-circulating, so by having U.V. lights just house-hold U.V. light they're super cheap, there you can get one for one hundred bucks, it’s just going to sterilize the air that flows around it so it's got a consistently decrease your airborne spore counts in your room of any microorganisms, so that's another good preventive thing to have at all time.
Tad: And then genetics plays a key role.
David: Absolutely. So if ever you're doing a little bit of breeding, like at epigenetic level, if your parent plants have been subjected to mildew or if you're doing breeding and trying to breed for mildew I suggest just infect your plant when they're in there in the breeding tent or whatever you're using to breed, disinfect your plants mildew, if you can afford that and just let them breed seeds under PM condition and then those seeds will be more resistant to PM from the epigenetic side and you can do that another generation and you're going to have like, already you have built-in resistance in your plant for that. And some strains are just like so weak for P.M. it's like you can't even grow them, they're going to get PM no matter what.
Tad: So let's talk about, yeah let's talk about humidity, airflow and pruning them in terms of helping reduce fungal pathogens.
David: One thing that I've seen too often and unfortunate is growers trying to mitigate fungal problems by keeping their room super dry. You're going to see like forty percent humidity level which stresses the plant can jeopardize your yield and all that, whereas if you prune the bottom of your plants for ourselves we are doing a kind of sea of green so we need to have the good 6 inches off the soil clean up so you have good airflow in there but if you have bigger plants, de-leafing and keeping them that be blasting with a fan but airflow moving through them, it's very important what you want to get rid of is this dew point, when you have your lights coming on and off where your temperature is dropping you have a lot of moisture in the air, as the air cools down it compacts and then you have this dew point and high humidity level.
And this is when your stomatal pores, your stomata is still open on your leaf surface it's very humid in the air and then you're going to have a spore PM germinating and making it into a stomata space and infecting the plant. This window of infection that you want to get rid of so -some, I think it’s the Gavita that have the sunrise /sunset setting and seems to be a good way to get rid of that dew points, ourselves we've been doing that by having a couple of extra lights on a separate timer in our room that would stay for an extra fifteen to half an hour on where the rest of the lights have been shut down, you can also set up your timer to refresh the air when your lights are shutting off so you're going to have more cool air moving into your room instead of having that warm air cooling down and then just dumping all that humidity back on your plants, so those kinds of things.
Tad: That's really interesting. I know I see at our farm we always see PM whenever we have a big fluctuation in humidity, so we have a sunny day followed by a really rainy day or vice versa then we’ll typically see PM over the following week on all of our squash and things like that and the same with cannabis will see people running - you know you go from a veg cycle where they may be at, I don’t know, 60 – 65% humidity and then switching into floor just dropping that humidity to 40% it's a huge shock for the plant and I want to save humidity for Jaya Palmer when I get him on here because he's got some really interesting thoughts on it.
David: Yeah, Jaya’s pretty sharp on that. I still have yet to try a lot of the cool stuff he came across.
Tad: Yeah so I want to save that piece, but I'm really excited to talk about it I guess that I want to ask you too, are you re-using your soil or what is the workflow in terms of plant size? You mention that you're doing sea of green, can you talk a little more about all that and then also why I want to talk to you more about soil mixing and nutrients too, but we're going to do that in a second.
David: So yeah we just started to re-use our soil finally we moved into rolling beds So we have tables that roll side to side in a room so we occupy more of our floor space instead of having a hallway in the room now we have just a floor of beds that we move wherever we want to walk into a room and we have beds of soil that are about 8 inches deep by four and a half foot wide by a fifty-foot long with a smart pot custom liner and then they're all in aluminum trellis so we get really the all the surfaces of the soil are exposed to air so we get completely aerobic conditioning of soil and since we, it's a lot of work to move soil into those beds, we’re re-using the soil, before we were not, we were just giving it away to some local organic grower, but now we're re-using our soil when we find that it just gets better the more cycles we do it in.
The first cycle is pretty good but the second cycle, especially if you're careful with the tilling, we don't till it completely we just mix in the first two-three inches of soil whenever we are meant to mix it and if we have to re-amend that's all based on the soil test, we just mixed those nutrients into the first two-three inches of soil we leave the rest of the soil undisturbed, to not to disturb that mycelium that runs throughout the old soil and when we're re-planting the plants that we're just reconnecting to that mycelium which is the internet of our growing beds and then the plants just, the second round and third round and just take off and they look so good.
Tad: So you bring up something that I talked about with Steve Solomon already and I have an opinion on and yours is going to be a little different so I want to hear it, I know this whole no-till concept is really right popular now with indoor growers and living soils, my take on it is no-till is not totally accurate because we're not tilling the soil like we would agricultural land which is very disturbing to the microorganisms.
Tad: But when you're growing plants a little larger than you are, where the root systems are getting down you know, 6 - 8 inches a foot down into the soil how do you get the nutrients down into that area of the rhizosphere quickly either in terms of a grow cycle because traditionally in agriculture you know you could till it in or top dress it, you have 6-8 months or that offseason for those nutrients to work their way down into the soil.
Tad: We don't have that luxury you know typically replanting you know twenty four-thirty six hours later in some cases yeah so if you were going to see a green do you think you would have the same thing, would you need till the nutrients in further or would you still stick to that two, three inches?
David: If I have a deeper soil I would go maybe a little bit deeper and you just, you don't want to turn your soil surface into a brick, I mean sometimes are using a lot of different rock duct, glacial rock dust or basalt rock dust and of course if you're reusing high rate of that and just only 2 inches of soil it doesn't look like super nice fluffy airy but it’s a little more so it's a bit of a judgmental call on that.
I'm not going to say I am using no-till, no-till I think like you mentioned it's really coming from the agricultural system I think that it is beneficial to break up the soil a little bit but haven't done just side by side test completely but to me like if I have to leave a layer of soil undisturbed that, I'm fine with that I think it's potentially good but it doesn't mean that I don't want to disturb my soil, I want to disturb my soil this is as little as possible it's going to increase microbial activity breaking your soil and some stuff, we’ll see aerobic bacteria will thrive after you do that.
Tad: So how deep are your beds to get them?
David: Just 8 inches deep.
Tad: Okay, and so you're putting the nutrients in the first few inches and then running a sea of green.
David: In the first half, yeah in the first half of the soil then with proper irrigation they're going to go down in there but also another cool thing that you can do is you can add worms to your beds and they're going to move nutrients up and down for you.
Tad: That's a really good point, yeah. Or I found if you could use worm castings, they typically have cocoons and they're already and eggs and so you don't even need to necessarily add worms they seem to just show up.
David: Yeah in a lot of cases just add them they're pretty cool guys, free labor.
Tad: Alright so let's talk specific nutrients, now when I was talking with this Steve, my experience and he seemed to agree with me, is that cannabis seems to be a pretty potassium hungry plant, what are you finding are the major nutrients, because his whole idea of you know nitrogen in veg, phosphorus in bloom and apply Cal-Mag has sort of have been the standard for the industry forever but it's really not that, really not that accurate.
David: Yeah, potassium is you're not going to see it fairly fast and even though you have like level of good potassium that sound like absurd for other crops like cannabis just like seems to thrive under those level, what I found myself was done with potassium, but as I think we have pretty similar level of potassium in our soil Tad, you and I, but what I've seen up and I’ve walked through a lot of programs and I've seen that it's iron deficiency.
The pictures and magazine of plants that have iron deficiency I’ve seen that by the end of flowering in week two and I’ve seen it in soil testing that does like big drop in our program might not be true for every growing program but we have seeing huge drop in iron and we had this like apical paling off the plants when the flowers starting to bud a little bit so this is something that we've seen a lot, I mean we've seen that as soon as we add a little bit of iron sulfate or glacial or basalt rock dust and the plants start greening up, already and you have this big fat stem that develops into a that bud without paling, that loss of color to dark green. So iron was one that I've chased for a while.
Tad: Have you done anything with manganese? Steve speculated that manganese would be a good one for the cannabis, I haven't done a lot of research or work with it.
David: I think when we quickly talked about that once you know I said I do use manganese sulfate and manganese I remember - I think that was the first-year at Cannacon that, I can't remember the name of the guy, but he was giving a talk about manganese and importance in hops and cannabis cultivation that might have to be verified by someone else but I think he mentioned that enzyme that were synthesizing THC. and some cannabinoids we're using manganese and the more copy of enzyme that were expressed the more manganese hungry your plant was and had to experience some level from 20 ppm of manganese all to 150 ppm of manganese in your soil and that plant seems to take it that it's not a problem having seen too much of manganese toxicity but I make sure that manganese is there because of those enzymes, that's the premise I’ve been working with and we have pretty good results. And also think those micronutrients are very important to the quality of your product which is the iron, copper, boron, manganese, and zinc because they all are enzyme co-factors and all of the enzymes and that developing your cannabinoid, your terpenes, your flavonoids, everything that makes the aroma of your plant and if they're there and if you have the proper beneficial life that will produce [inaudible 00:44:55] to make the plant available when you're already getting an increase in your quality of the aroma.
Tad: You said it perfectly, I kind of want to change directions because you remind me of something, You’re turning me on to a really good source of insect frass, a few months back and I think I bought like twelve thousand pounds or something of it.
David: Oh my God, I got so excited the first time I see that I’ve bought a ton and still haven’t used half of it but I love it.
Tad: Yes, so talk to me about some of the benefits of insect frass besides just the N.P.K associated with it.
David: The microbial life in there is very interesting but we got it analyzed and those guys are manufacturing that insect – making that insect frass for us. Got it analyzed and the microbial charge is three times more concentrated then worm testing and when we worked with that stuff ourselves, so we saw a lot of - we found an amazing chitinase producer in there so this is a bacteria that we haven't identified yet, I think it got sent out for sequencing. I think you’ve talked with people that are working with this biotechnology company in Quebec, they found this chitinase producing bacteria that if you're using shrimp meal, crab meal or insect meal or anything it's going to break down those chitin into a oligochitosan and oligochitosan can be sensed by the plant and uptaken it going to trigger systemic acquired resistance that a plant immune system and the plant immune system itself will take some time to produce more secondary metabolites like cannabinoids and terpenes to prevent from an attack from insects.
So that was very interesting to have that and made us move a little bit more toward those fertilizers that are richer in chitin like shrimp and crab meal so that was pretty cool and then just the rest of beneficial life and there are some really good bacillus subtilis species that were solubilizing phosphorous, so just to make our soil have very good microbial life, the only little thing that was some bacteria that may have nitrogen volatilization but so you just got to be careful how you use it, not just dump an incredible load of insect frass on your plant, and you should be alright but it's a pretty good product.
Tad: So how much are you using your products really, are you top dressing with it or are you mixing it with your soil?
David: Both, so I use it as a fertilizer and microbial inoculants in our soil, I use it in my compost tea mix and in my top dress as well.
Tad: Okay wow, you are using this in a lot of stuff.
David: I know, I know.
Tad: I have it now, it was a great deal because insect frass is so expensive here in the States.
David: Yeah I think for whoever is using stuff like crab and shrimp meals and especially if you're re-using your soil it's going to make your soil, the duration, the more cycles that go into your soil, the more single molecules of chitinase, the more chitinase you’re going to have, the more your chitin is going to break down the more plant immune response you're going to get and I think that can lead to something pretty cool after like three-four cycles.
Tad: Wow, I need to start experimenting with it. Okay, I want to switch gears for a minute here and talk about what’s going on with cannabis up in Canada and anything in store for you in the near future or your facility?
David: Everybody’s talking about it, the facility, they're being created every week there’s still not a lot, there are still so far only 42 across the whole country but more and more are getting certified, getting inspected and it's still only for medical production, but with license producer been told that the medical producer will be able to sell on the recreational markets, so a lot of people are building facilities you know to position themselves for recreational market so yeah and there's very few technical experts right now in the industry, a lot of people that have learned under prohibition, there’s not so many people are coming from academic or horticultural background so far, so there's a need for labor and worker and expertise, consulting. So it's pretty much, it's a big boom right now.
Our current facility we're going to go ten times the size that we are right now we're going to switch expand to a 60, 000 square foot, production facility, we're also experimenting with LED lights from Fluence Bioengineering that have some very interesting lighting technology.
Tad: Yeah, I've talked with those guys to see if I can get them on here next but I have my first shipment from them, I just got set up as a distributor with them so I've had my first shipment arrive hopefully this week.
David: Oh! Awesome. Yeah cool, well I just spoke with Mitch? Mitch is a really great guy there
Tad: No, I would love the introduction. I've only talked to Michael, he was going to send that up the chain though in terms of being on this podcast because, lighting is something that I know very little about and I just pretty much, when Jaya said that he had talked to you about Fluence and have done the research yourself between the two of you guys I took that as pretty much the best recommendation ever, so I went ahead and placed an order but I don't really understand….I always thought LEDs were way behind the times and they were - the cost and everything compared to you know HPS or high-intensity lights just didn't seem, didn’t seem to add up like we weren’t quite there yet do you think the technology is there?
David: There's been a big tipping point in the industry last year, so it still depends on how much you pay for like electricity, we're paying - electricity is very cheap in B.C. it like four cents a kilowatt so it’s hard to justify lights that are using way less, those lights that are using way less electricity, unless they perform way better, I think in Oregon you get 400 bucks cash discount, I think if you're buying L.E.D perfect choice, so it's huge like I just really wish we could have this kind of program set up here because it would make those fixtures way more affordable or the same price of other fixtures but I’ve been to the Photo X conference last October in Austin, Texas and the amount of expertise coming out of the industry and I did the first trial with those their last generation of L.E.D. that was like a pink Christmas light looking L.E.D., that the SpyderX replaced but now there came up with the white L.E.D. that is full spectrum and that are having amazing performance and what it really like, appeal to me is when I heard like people doing in commercial greenhouse production using their lights and pulling their margin to it with those kind of lights. I was told there is something out there, so there's basil production, facility have all getting basil production and in Virginia, they're using those L.E.D. so when you see their set up it's pretty amazing so especially for a vertical growing so, ourselves we switched to L.E.D and did some vertical pre-veg racks in our mother rooms, so we have better light quality than under T5, the internodes, the plants are stacking better, the plants are more like they've been growing under full sun, the leaves are darker, thicker and tighter internode and the LEDs are producing so little heat, you can have your plant growing very close to those L.E.Ds and having high light intensity that allowed us to have like way more floor space in our mother room. So we took old nursery transportation racks and then move them onto vertical growing racks so that we can wheel them around the facility, they’re under L.E.Ds and then the plants are responding pretty well to that. They are pricey though.
Tad: They are.
David: But, yeah they are. But if you look at the Instagram of the Poetry of Plant, Nelson is a great guy that I've met at that conference and he's pulling 30% T.H.C., 3 ounces per square foot using those L.E.D. from Fluence.
David: And he's close to - he’s not fully, fully organic but he's close to be.
Tad: That's great. You know you brought a really good point that I want to highlight that what got you interested in them was the fact that you saw commercial and you know people growing plants and much, much lower margins then what you're dealing with successfully using them is huge because you won't find that basil grower using Advanced Nutrients or General Hydroponics, you know.
David: Oh God, no.
Tad: Those products can't exist outside the cannabis industry for the most part. They're just too expensive and you know agriculture has found better options.
Tad: I think that's a really good point for listeners to take into consideration when evaluating a product.
David: Oh yeah, just go tour your local greenhouse, go volunteer there for a day or just go buy the product directly from the greenhouse and have a glance at how they're doing that, have look at their mixing tank and their injection system and stuff like that and those guys know what they're doing and they're pulling way smaller margins than we do and if like they can sell a pound of peppers for 50 Cent wholesale, if you apply the same principles to cannabis you're probably going to do good.
Tad: Yeah, it's a really good point. And I love the fact that you have this background in agronomy and that's the one thing I see lacking in lot of times in the facilities that I visit is they hire someone who's been growing cannabis you know for 20 years in their basement and haven't experienced commercial agriculture or know what it's like to scale that, they may be really good with growing you know, with one particular line of bottled nutrients but stepping outside of that can be a real challenge if you don't understand what's actually going into your soil or into your plant.
David: Oh, yeah and that in the real challenge is also like employee management, and scheduling and this is more than just looking after a few plants, there’s way more going on, so you manage, - you’re managing plant and people.
Tad: Yeah, it's a good point.
David: Yeah and plants don't shout back at you usually so that's why I like them.
Tad: I really appreciate taking the time to chat today David, it was wonderful to get to catch up a little bit through this podcast, much appreciated.
David: Yeah likewise, thanks for having me and again it's been a pleasure to meet a fellow like you in the industry and hopefully they keep bringing people to the table and everybody's going to be better off for it.
Tad: Again that was David Bernard-Perron, lead Agrologist and one of the head growers at the Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation. You are listening to the Cannabis Cultivation and Science podcast. I'm your host Tad Hussey. Stay tuned for future podcasts from leading experts in the industry and don't forget there’s more information on our blog at www.kisorganics.com. And if you enjoy these podcasts, please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes and send me your feed back through the email on our contact page.