Hunter Wilson of Growers Network interviews Brian Knopf from Pickens Mountain Cannabis about his outdoor, off-the-grid grow.
Where are you located and why did you choose that location?
We’re a 20-acre property on the side of Pickens Mountain. I didn’t intend the land for cannabis; I merely purchased it when I was investing in land. It was a sweet deal at $12,000. So when I got my license, it was really a no-brainer. Just needed some initial setup and we were in business.
Why did you decide to grow outdoors?
We don’t have an electric bill, period. If you ask any indoor grower, you’ll learn that their electric bill is one of their largest costs. Our cost per gram is minuscule compared to almost any other grow, and Pickens Mountain paid for itself by the first harvest season because of this.
How do you financially weather the off-season?
I usually earn around $450,000 to $500,000 per harvest season, and our operating costs are incredibly low. Split between myself and two other employees, it’s more than enough to do it all over again the next year.
What are some downsides to growing outdoors, off the grid?
The biggest downside is your vulnerability to the weather. We can get high winds that are really destructive to 8-foot tall cannabis plants. We also can get early freezes and fires.
Why go off the grid?
It would have cost me nearly $30,000 to bring power lines to the property. Instead, I took that money and made the grow self-sufficient. With some exceptions, the renewable energy sources are enough to do everything I need.
Any advice for new commercial growers?
My recommendation is to keep your overhead as low as possible and grow the best cannabis you can. Don’t get lost in the shuffle of mediocre cannabis, and don’t anticipate getting rich quick. It takes time and dedicated effort to really shine.
How many plants are you growing?
This season we grew approximately 1600 plants to full term. Each plant measured roughly 8 feet tall, and 8 feet in diameter. We also grew about 12 strains this year, down from 24 last season.
The reason we’ve grown fewer strains over time is because we’ve picked hardier, more productive strains that sell well. These strains are resilient to weather changes, differences in nutrients, high in terpenes and cannabinoids, and just all-around happy plants to work with.
How do you keep the soil healthy for each season?
The soil in the region wasn’t bad, to begin with, and each season we truck in premium CANNA soil and fill in augered holes with that; essentially we make “ground pots” every year. The result is that the soil in the entire grow keeps getting richer and richer every year.
What’s your approach to pest management?
Because our location is subject to a lot of wind, we don’t get fungi for the most part. Many insect pests struggle with the wind as well, so we don’t usually see mites. Our most common pests are grasshoppers, aphids, and rogue seeds blown in by the wind. For insects, we use beneficials to deal with them and we spray neem oil as a preventative. We’re all organic here.
How are you watering your plants?
Our grow is located on the side of a mountain with a relatively high water table. We only need a well about 20 feet deep to get lots of water.
We pump the water up to a10,000-gallon reservoir that’s high up on the mountain. Gravity does all of the work from there. We simply set timers to enable the flow of water from the reservoir. We stagger their timing so that the water pressure doesn’t drop too low, but otherwise, everything is done with the assistance of gravity.
Do you use any supplementary lighting? How do you implement it?
We use supplementary lighting purely for cloning and propagation. We generally use T5s for clones and seeds. There’s also general lighting for workers in certain areas dependent on our workers’ needs.
What automation are you using?
There are a few key points of automation, but the rest is all done by hand:
Our irrigation system is on timers.
We use a John Deere Tractor with an auger drill trailer.
We use a golf cart to pull supplies and other things around.
And we use two Centurion double-barreled automatic trimmers for the post-harvest.
This article has been paraphrased with permission from Growers Network.
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