Lately, it seems every other article we read is about growers having to dispose of large percentages of their crops due to testing failures. The recent tightening of regulations on pesticides and fungicides in Oregon has had a serious effect on cultivators as they try to figure out new ways to grow healthy plants without depending on chemicals. But this isn’t just an Oregon problem. More states are joining the cannabis market and, with that, comes stricter testing regulations. In fact, a new study by Steep Hill Labs shows that if California were to adopt similar testing standards to those used by Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ORELAP), nearly 83% of crops would fail. That is no small issue.
So, how do we as growers maintain healthy and high quality product while still meeting increasingly strict standards?
First, the surest way to maintain your plants is to keep them healthy. Like humans, plants have natural immunities that allow them to fight off pests and fungi. But, also like humans, bad stress can lead to a lower functioning immune system, making the plant more susceptible to infection. Many diseases like powdery mildew and Botrytis can live hidden away in a plant for a long time until some type of stress causes them to appear. In order to keep your plants immune system functioning at an optimal level, make sure you’re starting and growing the best way possible. This means minimizing bad stresses like lighting cycle interruptions and large swings in temperature and humidity levels. We also recommend you check each plant often so as to identify issues early and quarantine any affected plants.
Second, having an indoor, sealed growing environment helps you maintain control and manage the introduction of any fungi or pests that might be present in the surrounding environment. Many indoor facilities exchange air regularly to cool and dehumidify the space. Instead, we recommend using a hydronic cooling system which allows you to keep your garden cool while still totally sealed. In addition, designing and sticking to a strict garden cleanliness procedure will help keep you from experiencing an outbreak-- check out how experienced growers and engineers recommend you do that.
Bu what happens if you’ve done all the right things but you’re still worried about experiencing pest and/or mold issues? Well, there are a few ways that people handle this.
The first option is a chemical one, like Eagle 20 pesticides and fungicides. However, as most of us know, these types of chemicals are a big no no, as they can be harmful upon ingestion by the cannabis consumer. There are always new and “different” spray options popping up but, time and time again, we’ve seen growers find out too late that those sprays have harmful chemicals hiding just below the surface, leading to testing failures and losses. Organic sprays are available as an alternative but they range in efficacy and are usually quite expensive. Some people have turned to using compost tea as a spray to keep plants healthy. This tea adds micro- and macro-nutrients and the natural soil food web (fungi, bacteria and beneficial microorganisms) to plants to enrich them and boost their natural immunities.
The chemical option leaves much to be desired as it is usually either too expensive or potentially harmful to your business operation to use them. The other option for heading off an infection is through air and surface sanitizing equipment. The three major ones in cannabis cultivation are Ultraviolet radiation (UV), ionization and photocatalytic oxidation.
UV is very common in cultivation environments but should probably be avoided. First, UV that is strong enough to kill microbes can also change DNA in both plants and humans. Exposing your workers and your plants to UV on a regular basis can be detrimental to their health. Prolonged exposure can damage plants, making it impossible to reuse or clone them, and lowers plants’ immunities. Second, it can actually make your pest or mold issues worse. For example, UV is actually needed for some fungi, like Botrytis, to grow and can attract pests like thrips, making a small problem potentially worse. Add that to the fact that UV doesn’t actually do much against the incredibly strong outer shell of spores and it makes you wonder why you ever considered it in the first place.
Another common technology we see is ionizers. These produce ozone and other free radicals to dismantle VOCs and other microbes. The upside is that ozone and free radicals are great at killing organisms. The downside is that ozone and free radicals are so good at killing organisms that they can be harmful to humans, plants and our planet. Ozone is a major contributor to climate change and should be avoided at all costs. Prolonged exposure to ozone is detrimental to humans’ health and can damage plants and add to greenhouse gasses. If you’re considering ozone, also keep in mind that it is completely ineffective against some of the worst garden intruders-- spores. So, while ionizers may seem like a good idea, they’re really slowly killing your employees, plants and our planet while not doing much to stave off mold.
The last piece of technology we see to help keep gardens clean is photocatalytic oxidation, like Surna’s AiroClean device. This piece of equipment creates a reaction within a chamber that produces hydroxyl radicals which are extremely effective at dismantling VOCs and microbes and can actually penetrate and destroy the hard shells of spores-- all without creating any harmful by-products. These products circulate the air in the room through a small fan and, in the case of the AiroClean in particular, clean 10,000 cubic feet in about 5 hours. This device is so effective at sanitizing air that is is considered a class 2 medical device. By sanitizing the air and not just surfaces, we can be sure microbes and spores do not spread around to other plants.
Here at Surna, we want to see your garden flourish, which is why we offer all the elements needed to keep your cultivation area clean and consistent. Our belief is that happy and healthy plants are the best way to prevent disease and we’re committed to helping growers achieve that.