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How to Choose and Shop for the Right Commercial Cannabis Greenhouse

By Hunter Wilson

Foreword: In this Growers Spotlight, we interview Shane Hutto, owner and expert of Horticultural Solutions Ltd as well as the owner of Horticultural Extracts LLC. Shane has Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Horticulture with a focus on extraction from Oklahoma State University.

He has worked in one of the largest single-site greenhouses in the United States, the Metrolina Greenhouses. He has also worked in extractions for many years for Oklahoma State University, and currently consults for commercial cannabis grow operations on greenhouse designs.

In this Growers Spotlight, Hutto discusses terminology, equipment, brands, and what options a grower should look at when purchasing a greenhouse.

On Greenhouses

The basic definition of a greenhouse is any building or structure that is designed to capture the heat and light from the sun for the purposes of growing plants. But such a definition belies the versatility and variety of greenhouses.

Some greenhouses can vary in style. One of the simplest is a polytunnel, which is a plastic covering over PVC hoops in the ground. A polytunnel allows farms to cheaply implement greenhouse benefits in their fields. A “hybrid greenhouse” has solid side walls and a translucent ceiling. A hybrid greenhouse provides additional security, legal protection, and safety for the grow operation. And of course, there are your conventional greenhouses with a steel skeletal structure covered by glass or plastic.

Greenhouses can also be rated by their size and technology implementation. A greenhouse that is “large” not only has more square footage, but also higher ceilings. These higher ceilings provide an environmental “buffer zone” of air, making environmental control more precise. You can also vary in your level of technology. A high-tech facility has automated irrigation systems, automatic water processing, and automatic environmental controls. A low-tech greenhouse requires significantly more manual input to regulate the environment.

The Greenhouse Market

There are a very large number of greenhouse manufacturers on the market today. The best approach to find one appropriate for you is to start going to greenhouse trade shows. There are a substantial number of shows every year that are centered solely around greenhouses. One of the best trade shows in my opinion is the Canadian Greenhouse Conference. It’s just across the border in New York if you’re flying to Buffalo. Another big trade show is Cultivate in Ohio. It’s a little more nursery-centered, but there’s still a ton of greenhouse activity there.

Another important thing about greenhouses is their construction and assembly. Many of the manufacturers do not install the greenhouses on your site, and will instead refer you to a contractor to do the work for you. Prepare for a lead time of several months on both the parts and the construction.

Why You Should Pick a Greenhouse

If you look at a grow operations’ costs, you have an initial cost and the ongoing costs. We can build a brand new greenhouse for the same cost that you could build an indoor grow operation. Then the question of costs goes to operational costs. This is where greenhouses are always better. When you factor in the sun’s light, your cost of operations goes down by about a half.

There’s a lot of people who believe that the quality of indoor-grown cannabis will always beat greenhouse-grown. Personally, I have experienced far better product out of greenhouses than I have out of indoor grows. If you have a greenhouse dialed in, you can see faster, larger growth in your plants.

Technology in a Greenhouse

Your average person might picture a greenhouse as simply being a structure with glass windows. But there’s all sorts of technology you can bring into it.

I definitely believe in automated irrigation. Having a system that reads moisture content, EC, and pH on a regular basis throughout the day is great. Understanding how that fluctuates throughout the day is a big piece of dialing in a greenhouse control system. Having the ability to track those values is mastery of your grow operation. Some of the best systems out there do it all. They can control your environment, your irrigation, and even your inventory. Now that said, the technology definitely isn’t cheap. But if you’re in a high-tech facility that you spent some big money on, then you’re probably not going to balk at top-notch irrigation and environmental systems.

We should also talk about air conditioning. You definitely don’t want conventional air conditioning in a greenhouse. We don’t want to have thin coils with ducting running all over the place. In high humidity areas I recommend a sealed greenhouse and a hydronic chiller system. We are “air conditioning,” but it’s a more efficient technology, and in order to function properly, the greenhouse has to be sealed off or have limited air exchange.

The Future is Green

I see greenhouses in the cannabis industry taking over. Within a few years you’ll see very, very few warehouse grows being built. For the most part I think that a lot of the warehouse grows will go out of business or convert. We’ll always have some boutique growers that stay in the indoor model, because they’re well-known and have a great product. But in all the other situations, I see greenhouses taking over..

This article has been paraphrased with permission from Growers Network.

Want to read more? Head on over to Growers Network to read the full article.

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