16 Jul Choosing the Right Greenhouse For My Cannabis Farm
If you’re reading this blog post you probably already understand the many benefits of at least covering your greenhouse to protect your crop from wind and rain. Here we’re going to dive deeper into the many ways you can cover and protect your cannabis production for a more profitable growing operation that works for your budget, climate, local regulations, and product goals.
Your Goals, Your Budget, & Your End Buyers
Planning Around Your Budget
Correctly budgeting for a marijuana greenhouse project is critical, the last thing you want is to run out of money mid-grow or mid-build. A lot of consideration should go into not only the greenhouse and equipment costs, but also your pad prep and install costs, power and water requirements, growing method and medium, nutrients and plant maintenance, harvesting & curing, etc. There’s a lot that goes into a successful cannabis grow. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s better to do the manageable minimum and expand as you can. Even covering a row of plants with PVC and poly is going to yield you decent mids and better results than letting your plants stay exposed to heavy rains and drastic temperature swings potentially costing you half your harvest weight to mold or disease. If your budget is a little more flexible, an automated light dep greenhouse with proper equipment and automation controls can yield 3-5 harvests per year and deliver indoor quality flower that every dispensary and buyer is going to want.
What’s the Master Plan?
Every successful grower should have a plan in place before buying a greenhouse. Are you going all out on a huge buildout, throwing caution to the wind because you have the dough to ride you through until harvest and sale? Do you have the team to handle thousands of pounds of flower and a place to dry it? Or would you prefer to scale up slowly, grow a high end product that you’re managing yourself or with a small crew? Do you have to maximize your use of a small piece of land? All these things should dictate not only what style and size of greenhouse you go with but also what type of equipment and automation you choose.
What Product Am I Selling?
There are so many niches within the Cannabis game; massive fields for oil production, mid-grade flower for medical programs, pre rolls, and budget dispensaries, and the ever popular and always desired – high end indoor flower.
I’m Growing for Oil Processing
If you’re growing cannabis for eventual oil production, you have a huge property, and the legal permit to go big, then covering a massive field with super high end greenhouses may not be necessary depending on your climate- (avoid areas with naturally high heat and humidity during the growing season). Plants turned into oil do need protection from pesticides and you can certainly profit a lot more from getting 2-3 turns a year with a budget light dep setup rather than one outdoor pull a year. Plus, if you’re doing budget light dep coverings you can get a harvest in early summer, during the time of year when quality product fetches the highest price point. However this can’t be done everywhere, and we’ll dig into it below under climate and permitting options.
I’m Growing Mid Grade Flower – The Practical Choice
There’s nothing wrong with growing medium quality flower. In fact, there’s a huge market for it. Countless clients of ours at Fullbloom Greenhouse have massively successful businesses selling mids as pre rolls, or doing business with dispensaries where buyers are on a budget. Using even a basic greenhouse with proper ventilation will give you a product that is night and day over the flower grown outside. Simply protecting the flower from rain, pesticides, and wind does the trick. Depending on your climate and budget, you can grow mid-grade flower on a massive scale either once in a traditional greenhouse or multiple times per year in a light dep greenhouse.
I’m Growing Premium Indoor Quality Flower
If your clientele are pot snobs (no judgment, we are here) then they are going to want that high end flower too (although convenient, oil pens are boring sometimes aren’t they?) and most are willing to pay for it. The beauty of a properly setup greenhouse is you can grow as good (or better) quality flower as indoor growers. Having the right strain, the right automation, the right climate controls, the right nutrition program, the right grower, etc., is critical. Growing high end flower is neither easy nor cheap, but the market is always there and even people with small properties can make a handsome living by growing the type of weed that Snoop himself would toke.
City & County Building Permits
Many a dreams are dashed for budget grows when the county comes knockin. Find out what your county/city allows for greenhouses BEFORE you buy. Most places in the country allow for some agricultural exemption, and if you’re lucky, you own a property in one of these places. With agricultural exemption permits you can generally put up whatever greenhouse style and frame you want, although that may not be advised if your climate is extreme (looking at you Oklahoma and Michigan). California, Colorado, and North Easterner growers often run into building code requirements. That means the installed greenhouse will need to be engineered to pass local code requirements based on property specifications. In the latter case you’re going to need a high end structure (at Fullbloom we have both engineered and non-engineered options).
Types of Frames
Cold frames, Hoop Houses, Semi-Gables, Quonset style, Gothic Arch, Gutter Connected, the list goes on and on. What’s right for you is going to be primarily based on climate and budget. Generally hoop houses & quonset frames are meant for zero snow, very mild wind area’s and are used for covering large square footage for cheap (they don’t have pointed roofs, so heavy snow and wind will punish them). Semi-Gables, Gothic Arch, Gutter Connected houses, all usually share a high angle roof and are better able to sheet snow and stand up to wind pressure. That does not mean all are created equal, you can have a high angle and high arch slope but if you use thin, poorly made steel it will still cave in under the weight of a good wind or snow storm.
Choosing the right greenhouse (and equipment) for your climate can not be overstated in its importance. It’s better to have a single, small greenhouse that will produce a good yield and not cave in, than have 10 structures that cannot keep up with, or will collapse under climate conditions.
In places with moderate, sunny climates with a relatively low humid harvest season (areas like Northern California and Southern Oregon), growers can utilize budget hoop houses, rain covers, or hand pulled blackout systems with little to no equipment and still pull off one to two harvests without a whole bunch of risk. However, if you’re anywhere humid, hot, windy, extra rainy, or if you have huge temperature swings – this method won’t work. Even with mild temperatures, without proper automation and a properly equipped greenhouse these growers can only pull 2 turns per year. So many growers with a decent budget will choose to use greenhouses and climate control automation that will allow for growing year round.
In places with very cold winters, huge temperature swings, and/or high snow/wind load conditions, a budget greenhouse simply won’t work. Using an engineered structure that is built for these conditions is essential to keeping your crop safe from cave ins and huge temperature swings. Budget growers can still use a traditional non light dep greenhouse, and pull one (or two) turns with the necessary heating and ventilation automation. This works well for areas that can drop dead cold in the winter, but you don’t have to combat high summer temps or humidity. Still, using full on environmental controls and a light deprivation system would allow for 3-5 turns if the budget permits.
In places with very hot or humid summers, there’s no way around using an automated system and a tall greenhouse if you want a decent chance at a successful harvest. Using a tall structure like a 35’ wide, 40’wide, or Gutter Connected Greenhouse will allow to keep the heat and humidity off the plants and cool the greenhouse down easier. As heat and humidity rise together, taller structures provide for less drastic temperature swings at canopy height. Engineered structures can have ridge vents and other passive means of removing hot and humid air. Additionally many hot climates will need things like evaporative cooling walls, shade cloth, fogging systems, and more. The cost to produce in a hot/humid climate is going to be higher but you’ll have a much better product than your local outdoor growers, while keeping your overhead lower than the average indoor grower.
To use Light Deprivation or Not
Definitely, 100% go for light deprivation for your cannabis greenhouse, if you can afford it. If you can’t, get a standard greenhouse first and use your profits to get a light dep system on it later. Using light deprivation allows you to control the photoperiod and force the plants to flower multiple times per year. This gets you high quality harvests when everyone else is out of product to move. If you do have to opt for a traditional greenhouse, and plan on getting light deprivation added later, you want to make sure you choose a greenhouse that can support a light deprivation system. Light deprivation systems are heavy and require a very strong, straight, and level greenhouse. Fullbloom offers both budget friendly automated exterior roll-to-peak systems, and automated interior cable driven systems for more extreme climates.
Exterior Roll-to-Peak Cannabis Greenhouses
Roll-to-Peak blackout systems use motors (if automated) and steel or aluminum tubing to roll the blackout material from the ground on either side, up to the roof of your greenhouse where it will sit open exposing the sunlight to your plants. This is vastly more economical both on the equipment purchase and on the install than the interior curtain systems. However, the roll-to-peak systems can only be used in low wind, very low snow climates, or by growers who plan on taking the winter off and winterizing their greenhouse to sit dormant. You can use a roll-to-peak blackout system on everything from a tiny hoop house to a massive 35’x144’ semi gable. Although the latter isn’t advised unless you get a professional roll-to-peak blackout system like the ones we fabricate at Fullbloom.
Interior Blackout/Light Dep Cannabis Greenhouses
Using a blackout system that tracks on the inside of a greenhouse can be necessary depending on your climate. Anywhere with wind gusts over 40mph or more then 1ft of snow that can come down at any given time should be using an internal blackout system. When the blackout system is on the inside of the greenhouse, it can be operated in any weather condition provided your greenhouse frame is fully covered. Our customers in northern states, coastal areas, and other windy areas almost exclusively use interior blackout greenhouses, as doing otherwise will risk losing your blackout system and your entire crop. An interior curtain system is complicated, heavy, and expensive. Since the weight of another frame mounted to the interior of the greenhouse frame is quite heavy, the greenhouse it’s built in has to be able to support the weight and connection points. That is why you won’t be able to just buy a regular budget greenhouse and install an interior curtain system later. At Fullbloom we custom engineer greenhouses specifically to handle the weight of an interior curtain system and whatever wind/snow and weather you might have. You can even find structures through us that allow for an exterior dep system to start, while still giving you the option to upgrade to an interior system down the road.
Worry Free Automation
Automation can come at a high upfront cost, but it can make scaling up and reducing risk so much easier for a proper cannabis project. Nearly everything can be automated now, from heating, cooling, dehumidification, CO2 injection, passive air removal, blackout systems, watereing, nutrients, the list goes on and on. What you choose should be dependent on your budget, your available staff to harvest and tend to the plans, and your climate. Growers in moderate climates can get away with minimal automation and maybe use a standard temperature probe for their greenhouse, or simply open side walls. Anyone with a farm in an area with high temperature swings, extreme heat, or cold will need an intuitive environmental controller that will allow you integrate all of your equipment into a seamless operation. While this comes at a price, it also allows you to grow much better flower that will get a lot more profit per/lb and you significantly mitigate the risk of losing your entire crop. Most environmental controllers also allow you to record data points, giving you a better leg up on your next round of growing.