After purchasing our RX Cherry Hemp clones for three seasons from another local greenhouse operator we decided it was DIY time. After completing the last phase of our 17 acre grow on Evercure Farms, Mike and Adam went to work overhauling the skeleton of a greenhouse. The old hoop house was 35 X 90 with over 3,000 s.f. Of grow space and 12 ft ceiling at the apex. This greenhouse in its heyday was the birthplace of 12-13 varieties of organic vegetables and tobacco starts that Les Synder grew organically. Lyle, Lee, and Mike all made a trip to Liberty, KY pulling a trailer behind the truck. After a few hours visiting Lester in the Amish supply house, they were loaded up with everything we needed. We were able to reuse the Modine gas heater that still had its tags and was wrapped in garbage bags to protect it from the elements. The motors and electrical were replaced in the large exhaust fans, budget-friendly. That first supply purchase for the greenhouse overall ran us a little over $6000. By the end of July, the greenhouse was in tip top shape with a new double-walled poly covering, electrical lines, fans, and paint job. Not to mention the double axle dump truckload of limestone that was spread by wheelbarrow and rake. We were excited about the opportunity to grow some “indo” finally. Now we just needed to source some high-quality strains, along with propagation rights to make our vision a reality. (Pictures: The condition of the greenhouse when we acquired the farm, Mike and Adam working on a tan while reconstructing the greenhouse, Greenhouse after going through rehab)
In August 2019, Our Evercure farm team, five strong, purchased direct flights on low-cost Frontier Airlines headed west to Denver for the weekend business trip. Our destination was the National Hemp Exchange where we had a meeting set with Ron Jones who we met earlier that March at the NOCO Hemp Conference, also in Denver. Ron was a 50 year veteran of greenhouse growing and at the time was running a reclaimed lettuce farm in the Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley. Ron struck us as a stand-up guy who was very knowledgeable and honest. He also had an amazing large beard. I recall getting picked up at the airport and hearing a recap of the Friday happenings from networking the booths at NOCO (https://www.nocohempexpo.com/). One of the first things Mike said to me is, “you gotta meet Bearded Ron”. The next day I found Ron and entertained him with our farm drone videos. We laughed together and I got his business card, planting the seed for a follow-up call later.
The time arrived to see Ron again. After landing in Denver we immediately upgraded our rental to a big Ford Expedition 4X4 to prepare for the backroads. We stopped by the local dispensary to pick-up some travel essentials and give some of our fine Evercure CBD products to the locals. From there it was a 4-hour drive south to our Airbnb just outside Monte Vista, CO. We wanted to knock out the main journey that night so we could wake up and be onsite for our morning meeting. We rolled in and rolled up shortly after midnight.
We awoke early to birds chirping and strolled around the house only to find a large solar panel that was helping power the systems in the house. This place was at least partially “off the grid”, which accommodated our low key tendencies nicely. The main room was shaped like a giant octagon with exposed tree trunks as the vertical supports in the vaulted ceiling. Cool place, but not nearly as cool as the place we were headed.
After passing a couple of large hemp fields that were on pivot irrigation we pulled into the National Hemp Exchange. There was a large metal storage barn recently constructed to aid in curing the upcoming harvest. The center-piece on the farm was a large glass Nexus Greenhouse with a propane tank on the side the size of a small house (I can only imagine how many zeros were on their heating bill). Ron greeted us and proceeded to take us on an elaborate tour of the operation. Inside, there were multiple floating beds with over 100,000 hemp clones in each along with thousands of mother plants in several different varieties. By all accounts, it was a Sea of Green! The capstone experience was walking out back into Ron’s Christmas trees, well that’s what I liken it to. Ron had 119 different cross strains of hemp labeled and growing. All the plants were 4-6 feet tall and several varieties were in full bloom. We wrote down our favorite numbers 39 and 80, the purples of course...BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS! Come to our farm and you will find #39 on display in our living room in a bright canvas print. It’s sticky icky! (Pictured: Here we are walking the "Christmas Tree" plot with over 100 varieties of high quality hemp strains, Adam getting a sticky nose job in this photo)
Having learned much from our professor, Ron and his wife allowed us to follow them from the farm to their sons’ outdoor grow operations that were 65,000 strong planted in irrigated, plastic culture. The group phone here with the mountains was set-off by the fact there was a large mutant hemp plant with its stalk sticking in Adam’s nose, at least it looks this way in the photo :) Full of energy, newfound knowledge, and a satisfying purchase order for our mother plants, we headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park where our feet were set on fire by the tiny hot rocks under foot. (Pictured: Our team at the base of the Dunes getting wind blown, Lyle in front of Zapata Falls)Luckily the upgrade to the Expedition paid dividends. We off-roaded Zapta falls where we hiked up a cool mountain stream to the base of the waterfall in a hidden crevasse. Lyle and I were the only ones that made it all the way back. The water was ice cold. Unbearable if it weren’t for the fact our feet were scorched from the sand and welcomed the dunk. We practically skipped back to our ride supercharged by the day's experiences. In short time we were back in Colorado Springs for our final night in Colorado. We sat out on the porch and watched the stars. Some of us came inside and I think we're still seeing them. With our greenhouse project, we were shooting for the moon so stars would naturally be part of our journey.
Back in Kentucky, we did our calculations. If we wanted to have the capacity to produce a half-million clones and each mother plant can support 20-25 cuttings every two weeks we would need to bring our mothers in-house during October, allow them to veg up, and start cutting, dipping, and watering after the holidays. We executed our plan perfectly and were set up and running by the end of the month with 200 “T1 Improved” and a small stock of “Spectrum” mothers. Spectrum was a hot smokable variety in 2019 with pounds going for $500-$600. To our knowledge, we are the only farmers that grew Spectrum in Kentucky and have propagation rights to it. In January 2020 we took our first cuttings and set up the trays in the corner of our Greenhouse on metal tables fabricated by our farm team. Adam was keeping the girls healthy and noticed some aphids or whiteflies on the clones. There was also some powdery mildew forming on the mothers. This was the start of another “learning by doing” experience. (Pictured: Our first green wave inside the greenhouse, Adam posing with the fresh cuts)
A group decision was made to discard the new clones to avoid a possible bug infestation. We also realized that with flower prices on the decline, a large farm customer defaulting on payment to us, and no plant pre-orders at that time we were just creating more work for ourselves by cloning with large uncertainty on what this labor would return.
The mother plants continued to grow and thrive under Adam’s close watch until March. This is when the consequences of our early start in October started to show up in the leaves. The mothers all vegged beyond the capacity of their 3-gallon fabric pots. We tied some of the mothers to the ceiling, now most were over 7 feet tall. Some would fall and take out their neighbors. Looked like someone was playing a game of dominos in the Greenhouse. March COVID hit and we had several orders from farmers out of state cancel due to travel restrictions. We supplied some central Kentucky Farmers with clones and fulfilled our mission. (Pictured: Our large T1 mothers looking strong with smaller Spectrums coming along nicely in February.)
Of course we wanted to help more, but we also helped ourselves in the process. We had made it through the winter conquering bugs, mildew, humidity, storm damage, and overcoming our own mistakes. One very beneficial outcome of our Evercure Greenhouse journey is we were able to test CBD/THC potency and terpene levels for our strains inside flower tents to determine when is the proper time to harvest. We dialed this shit in with precision! Can you believe that when we harvested this year our T1 improvement was certified at 0.397 THC, yes, 2 / 1000s of being over the legal limit. It’s not luck, it’s the preparation that creates the separation! A few other learnings to share: 1) no need to heat your greenhouse more than 60 degrees during the cold months. You can even drop the temperature down to 48 degrees without causing harm to the mother plants. During the early months, we kept our greenhouse at 75 degrees following more conventional cannabis indoor guidelines. According to one of our friends that tracked expenditures in his greenhouse a few years prior, every 5-degree change in temperature doubles your BTU consumption of gas heat. By this logic, we most certainly burned a lot of cash on the propane tank in the early months of the winter. Another key take away was the time it takes for the hemp clones to root varies. Rooting efficiency actually decreases with each iteration of cutting. Some strains are better than others, but we saw our T1 cut in the spring takeup to 6 weeks to fully root out. Also, there are enzyme levels in the plant that affect rooting. Once a mother plant is clipped for clones it will be stressed unless the right nutrients are added back. Under stress and with the enzyme imbalance fewer mother plant clippings will root in successive cuttings. This went something like 80% (first cut), 60% (second cut), 30% (third cut)...a diminishing return on your labor and fewer hardy clones per tray per cycle. We ended up making enough T1 and Spectrum clones to fill our 2020 boutique grow on an acre. Lost only a couple percent during transplanting from the greenhouse to the field. Compare this to the 40% planting loss in 2018 when we lost 4,000 clones in the field and one could tell our DIY greenhouse project was a success. As a project, we spent more money than we budgeted and sold fewer plants than projected. Was it worth it? Yes! We are in this for the long-run. R & D is a strategic investment that rarely pays in the short-run.
Please reach out to us to schedule a farm visit, just do not plan on showing up in December and seeing any plants in the greenhouse...we know better than to start early this year. In all, going green in the winter was fun and created many meaningful experiences! What we learned we are willing to share in order to help our fellow farmers.
Let us know how we can help you GROW!(Pictured:Our Greenhouse in all its LED glory during a beautiful winter sunrise in Kentucky)