Top Photo: Los Sueños Farms' greenhouses and outdoor grow include 30,000+ plants and 36 acres of sun-grown cannabis that utilize natural pest mitigation and keep staff employed year-round.
Colorado’s Los Sueños Farms consists of 36 acres and tens of thousands of marijuana plants, and according to owner Bob DeGabrielle, they are harvesting about 36,000 plants this fall, doubling their yield from last year. DeGabrielle said they increase their staff from about 50 to 130 this time of year for the harvest, with the extra hands helping to manually de-fan the plants. In an interview with Cannabis Business Times, DeGabrielle shared his top tips for increasing yield with an outdoor crop, from taking advantage of state regulations to relying on the plant’s natural grow cycle.
1. Use State Regulations to Your Advantage When Possible.
Per Colorado regulations, cultivators can increase their plant count if they sell 85 percent or more of the crop they have grown in the previous six months, so Los Sueños was able to expand the number of plants in each of their three fields, DeGabrielle said. They went from 6,000 plants in their largest field to 10,200 plants, and are reaping the rewards this year after getting a late start on the expansion last season.
“Because of how late it was in the season when we actually got our approval for our plant count, we were not even able to plant all the plants we could’ve been allowed,” he said.
2. Find the Combination of Agricultural Techniques That Works for You.
Los Sueños has been able to increase the weight per plant and achieve overall better growth through agricultural and irrigation techniques that work for them, DeGabrielle said. One of their growers worked on improving fertilization techniques, while another was charged with soil content, analyzing the soil 18 inches down and determining how it relates to their overall yield. Another staff member’s efforts to mitigate pesticides with approved chemicals to minimize loss to pests also helped to increase the farm’s yield, DeGabrielle said.
“It’s a combination of good agricultural and fertigation and irrigation processes,” he said. “I honestly don’t know that any one was much more beneficial than the next.”
DeGabrielle also cites the fertilization mix that Los Sueños uses as a factor in their bountiful harvest. They have plants that are over 40 pounds this year, with 50 colas.
“In order to even cut them, we’ve got to use a chainsaw,” he said. “The trunk mass is so big.”
Los Sueños Farms Owner Bob DeGabrielle next to the large, healthy cola of a sun-grown plant.
3. Keep Learning and Sharing What You’ve Learned With Others.
DeGabrielle said learning never ends in this industry, and a cultivator may think they have reached a point where they know everything they need to about the cannabis plant, but there is always something new to learn.
"If you’ve grown inside for most of your career, growing outside is something completely different,” he said. “And if you’re growing outside and then you’re having to go inside, it’s a completely different thing.”
As the industry matures and the price of cannabis continues to drop, DeGabrielle said cultivators need to learn how to maximize yield and ensure profitability, and that the best way to do this is to talk to other growers.
“I think that those of us that are in the industry, a good portion of us are sharing methodologies and processes and SOPs with one another because we’re all linked at the hip, we’re all part of the supply chain, and that supply chain is dependent on that retailer moving product and that grower producing product, so we have to be cognizant of what’s going on in the industry,” he said. “If we’re not sharing those things, none of us are growing.”
DeGabrielle said the success of cultivators is dependent on good agricultural and horticultural products and processes, and there is not much proprietary information in the industry that business owners should want to keep to themselves. He said combining basic practices creates products that are in demand and that have a good terpene profile and the highest concentrates of everything from THC to the cannabinoids, and growers should be willing to discuss these practices with one another.
“We need to work together or we’re going to fail together,” he said.
4. Understand Soil and Water Quality and How They Affect Your Plants.
DeGabrielle advises other cultivators to pay close attention to what they feed their plants and what nutrients they might be missing. He said understanding and properly balancing the water quality and mineral content of the soil is one of the keys to healthy plants.
“These plants outside are growing in the ground and they’re getting their nutrients either through some sort of irrigation where you’re adding the nutrients in with your water or they’re leaching it out of the soil, so if you don’t have soils that are good quality, you’re not going to get good quality plants out of it,” he said.
An indoor Indica plant.
5. Pay Attention to the Plant’s Natural Grow Cycle.
Much can be gained from relying on the cannabis plant’s natural grow cycle, according to DeGabrielle.
“This plant’s been growing for 4,000 years and they weren’t growing it in caves with lights 4,000 years ago,” he said. “It’s always grown outside, and the sun is the best provider of all the necessary ingredients that you’re going to get in the plants.”
It is important to pay attention to which species of strains mature faster than others, he said.
“Your indicas [mature] quicker than your sativas,” DeGabrielle said. “When they are ready to be harvested, you need to get them out of the ground and you’ve got to get them out of the ground before the snow comes in and bad weather and you lose your crop."
Los Sueños will harvest 800 plants per day for the next six weeks, DeGabrielle said, and they had to start as soon as possible as many of their plants were getting too big.
6. Be Mindful of Your Challenges.
DeGabrielle’s final piece of advice to his fellow cultivators is to know what challenges exist and be prepared to face them. He said Los Sueños faces pests in the form of aphids, grasshoppers and caterpillars, and cultivators have limited options when treating these problems due to pesticide regulations. Other natural challenges exist in the form of bad weather, he said.
“The other day, [the wind] blew 45 [mph] here,” he said. “We had plants that blew over because the colas were too big on them.”
The sun can also be a challenge, according to DeGabrielle. Workers out in the field must be aware of heatstroke and sunburns that can slow down production and, most importantly, impact employee health. Despite the risks, DeGabrielle said he wouldn’t grow anywhere else.
“You’re not going to have the prettiest bud in the world. It’s not going to look like something that’s grown inside and pampered, … but the THC contents aren’t any different, [and] the terpene content in my opinion is much stronger coming out of the natural environment than they are in the indoor environment, and the plant is healthier.”
Photos courtesy of Los Sueños Farms