Somewhere in the euphoric aftermath of accepting his award for top hybrid at last year's Cannabis Cup, Loud Seeds' James Loud realized that the victory had spawned an entire array of new responsibilities. That's what happens when the whole world suddenly wants your buds. Loud Scout (Girl Scout Cookies x Platinum OG Kush) had topped an impressive field, and now everyone wanted a taste. Loud Seeds could either rest on its newly won laurels, or it could decide to dig its roots deeper.
James chose to dig. He returned to his home in the San Francisco Bay Area knowing that his work was cut out for him. But he was hardly alone in facing fresh responsibilities. That's because Loud Seeds is actually a California collective made up of medical patients with different skill sets. As in most medical cooperatives, Loud Seeds' botanists tend nurseries that raise the seedlings, while a cadre of growers oversees the strain-specific indoor gardens. Loud Seeds also includes outdoor farmers, top breeders and a research and development team. Moreover, it boasts a network of trusted friends. In fact, James says Loud Seeds got under way by virtue of a happy "accident" among friends.
"We were just breeding for our individual gardens—just experimenting," he recalls. "There was a male present in the room which we just plain missed, and we accidentally pollinated everything. We got all these seeds and were wondering what to do with them. Then the light went on: We realized we were capable of doing this and that we could positively impact the industry."
Loud Seeds has been growing strong for three years now. The group's formal launch, which will feature professional packaging and availability in California dispensaries, occurred this spring.
"A lot of time goes into the development of each strain," James says. "It can take years to stabilize a strain to the point where most of the phenotypes [the observable characteristics] are similar. Then again, sometimes it seems to happen practically overnight."
He adds that Original Loud (Spicy Jack x Sour Diesel), Loud Seeds' first great creation, was very easy to stabilize. But the team that developed Girl Scout Cookies faced a more challenging road to success. They took Cherry Pie, an indica-dominant hybrid that had already been crossed several times with other hybrids, and crossed it with Durban Poison, a landrace sativa.
"It was totally unstable, but amazing nonetheless," James says. "Loud Seeds acquired it, cultivated it, crossed it with our Platinum OG and got a wide variety of phenotypes in the gene pool. We literally went through more than 10,000 plants and devoted a year of work to finding the four phenotypes that we work with today. All are very different, with subtle similarities. We do a lot of cutting-edge things to accurately profile and record our genetic work. Loud Seeds uses gas chromatography to test for pesticides, mold, cannabinoids and terpenes. That's what really interests us: the entire profile of cannabinoids and terpenes, not just the amount of THC."
Among Loud Seeds' growers, a variety of cultivation methods are in use. However, you won't find any monster growrooms in the Loud network. "A lot of people have that 'Grow big or go home' mentality," James notes. "But I'm all about quality. The bigger the room, the harder it is to spot issues before they become problems. A bigger growroom means it's harder to deal with variables—even with good help."
For example, a grower named Gypsy—one of James's mentors—gets 2.5 pounds of top-grade cannabis per 1,000 watts of light on a routine basis. But her room is small, allowing her to devote more attention to the plants.
"The maintenance that goes into cultivating is a lot of work for one person," James says. "I'm not just talking about the setup and breakdown. It's the daily work—all of your plants require individual attention. You need to constantly look out for problems and be able to adjust on the fly in order to get quality product. The automated technology we're using today helps a great deal; it allows us to spend more time with the plants, nurturing them like children."
If you want to start growing, careful planning is everything. James advises mapping out the entire setup in advance before you spend a penny. "Do it right the first time," he says. "Make sure you have enough airflow. Also, creating walkways so you can work with your plants comfortably is so important."
For most rooms, he prefers 1,000-watt digital Lumatek ballasts and Hortilux bulbs. He's also a big fan of Raptor Hoods and 10-gallon Air-Pots. James calls the HydroGEN Pro CO2 generator "amazing" because it doesn't put out any heat, and he lauds the Sentinel CHH-4 environmental controller for its ability to maintain indoor garden environments with outstanding accuracy: It monitors and records minimum and maximum temperatures, humidity and CO2 levels. He also recommends Can Fan max-fans and installing insulated ducting throughout.
"The problem I see with a lot of rooms is that they have orange electrical cords hanging and exposed electrical wires and other hazards," James says. "These can easily be fixed. Your room should be up to code whether or not it ever gets inspected—not only for cleanliness, but for safety."
James recommends top feeding for bringing out the best flavor in a strain. For the growing medium, he prefers a blend of FoxFarms Ocean Forest and Roots Organic Green Lite Mix at a 3:1 ratio. "Ocean Forest is an amazing soil, loaded with nutrients and ready to rock. But it's too dense. By adding Roots Organic, you make it more airy and easier for the roots to grow and absorb oxygen."
Most of the growers in the Loud Seeds network are given seed starts. Both the growers and breeders focus on projects cooked up in the "boardroom." Once the projects are conceived and a framework created, specific aspects are delegated and the work really begins. Aside from these breeding projects, Loud cultivators constantly test over 20 strains that are currently being perfected. Specific traits are tracked in all of the gardens as they develop their genetics. "We're always looking for that one-in-a-million lottery ticket," James says wistfully, "like the one we got with the Original Loud."
California may be the cradle of marijuana consciousness, enacting the nation's first medical marijuana program, but the state hasn't legalized adult recreational use as Colorado and Washington have. The Loud Seeds network has to operate quietly and efficiently until that day comes.
Across the country in Rhode Island, DJ Stone has taken full advantage of the state's nascent medical marijuana scene. If ever there was a part of America that needed a new dimension to its economy, it's the Ocean State. Rhode Island has had it rough during the Great Recession: At the beginning of 2010, the state's unemployment rate exceeded 12 percent; it now stands at 10.5 percent.
But while the state's med-pot scene is nowhere near as advanced as that of California or Colorado, DJ Stone has quietly set a new company in motion, laying the groundwork for future ganja commerce.
Under the current Rhode Island medical marijuana law, no person may have more than two caregivers, and caregivers may not possess more than 24 mature plants, 12 seedlings and five ounces of usable medicine, regardless of the number of patients they have.
DJ Stone heads up a co-op of medical growers. Just outside Providence, he has taken old warehouse space and converted it into a maze of growrooms. His facility measures about 2,000 square feet and consists of nine separate rooms: four for vegging and the rest for flowering. Of the nine rooms, three are hydroponic gardens in which he uses flood-and-drain tables or a deepwater culture (DWC) system. The other six are soil gardens.
"I really love the taste of soil," DJ says. "But hydro grows so quickly, and it's easier to maintain if you're on an extended leave of absence. We've produced fantastic results from flood-and-drain tables as well. The lights in each room differ depending on the size of the room and, of course, the needs of the plants. In the deepwater-culture room, we use three 1,000-watt bulbs and two T-5s for side lighting. Our largest room uses ten 1,000-watt bulbs and five T-5s for side lighting. We use metal halides in all of our veg rooms, but in the deepwater-culture veg room, we use them only for two weeks because the plants develop so quickly. We've outfitted all of our rooms with fans, ventilation systems and air-cooled lights."
Every week, the co-op harvests 24 plants, with each plant yielding 3 to 5 ounces. Any extra product is distributed to patients in need through the co-op's self-styled "gifting program."
Twelve strains are under cultivation here. Among them are Blue Cheese (which has proved effective for cancer patients), Blueberry Chemdog, Sour Kush, Super Lemon Haze, Super Silver Haze, Strawberry Diesel and three Loud Seeds strains: Granddaddy Purps, Loud Dementia and Loud Scout.
"Loud genetics," DJ says, "have become tremendously popular for us."
Although he'd like to grow bigger, the risks are too great in Rhode Island. More importantly, he doesn't want to hinder patients' access to medicine by violating state law or letting dollar signs obscure his vision. He's content for now to cultivate great medicine and let the public slowly but surely come to the realization that legalizing marijuana makes sense. To that end, DJ began 1000 Watts magazine last year, the first cannabis-themed publication ever to be published in the state.
"I've been an advocate for over 25 years," DJ says, "and I am passionate about bringing change to our cannabis laws. I intend to continue what I started until that guy in the Oval Office opens his eyes."
In Colorado, the playing field is decidedly different—mostly because the state government knows where the legal grows are. Marisol Therapeutics, located in Pueblo, has certainly made no secret of its operations. It's a vertically integrated, family-run business (see "Family Values," Feb. '12, HT) that includes a sizable garden and dispensary serving 600 regular patients.
A year ago, Marisol relied on a huge greenhouse to fulfill the needs of patients. But new zoning laws in Pueblo County necessitated a move. Michael Stetler, the "patriarch" of Marisol, used the relocation as an opportunity to grow larger. He built a barnlike structure (150 by 60 feet) on a tract of farmland and planted a massive indoor garden. But this setup is only temporary. Michael's a great believer in the power of Mother Nature, and he's long championed cannabis grown without "artificial" aids. (A deeply spiritual man, he has pictures of Jesus hanging on the wall right next to his license from the Colorado Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. In fact, local Catholic priests have stopped by the gardens and blessed his plants.) By summer, he plans to have six greenhouses erected and a full acre of outdoor plants in the adjacent field. At that point, the barn where his plants currently grow will be transformed into a drying and processing facility.
Inside the barn, plants in the vegetative stage occupy half the space, and those in flower occupy the rest. Marisol cultivates 76 strains, the most popular being Bubba Kush, Nehi Grape and Santa Maria. The latter two are venerable strains that Michael has nurtured and safeguarded for years.
Overhead, sixty-four 1,000-watt lights (a combination of high-pressure sodium and halogen lamps) light the vast garden. A giant "swamp cooler," which uses evaporation to cool the air, keeps the temperature regulated and uses far less energy than air-conditioning. An air-exchange system kicks in every 18 minutes.
For soil, Marisol relies on stagnant peat moss mixed with worm castings and blends it with perlite, vermiculite and dolomite lime. The growers produce their own compost tea and use the manure of cows, horses, lambs and llamas.
The Marisol gardens require a staff of 32. It's a 24-hour operation, six days a week; Sunday is a half-day for the workers. But as James Loud noted, big gardens can present a multitude of problems. That's why Michael, a veteran grower for 30-plus years, is a stickler about having things done his way. Over the four years that Marisol has been in business, he's seen his share of headaches created by garden workers who didn't know better, didn't care to find out or thought they knew everything.
"This isn't an experiment; this is medicine," Michael says simply. "Every 15 to 20 days, we harvest up to 80 plants. If everyone's doing the job that I've entrusted them to do, then there shouldn't be any problems." And because Marisol has followed state guidelines to the letter, its operations have never come under fire. The facilities have been inspected by county authorities on multiple occasions and have met with nothing but approval.
Marisol is now creating its own line of edible products under the White Buffalo label, assisted by the Candy Girls, an outstanding Denver-based kitchen that has been stocking the state's medical marijuana centers with a variety of treats. And with recreational marijuana businesses on the horizon for 2014, Marisol is poised to become a major player.
"We've got all kinds of ideas," Michael says. "We have our eyes on the ski resorts. We want to open coffeeshops. Our goal is to someday be able to harvest 1,000 plants per month to fulfill the needs of this new economy."