Extract contributor Chad Crow put his green thumb to the test working a shift inside GrOKC’s Oklahoma City growhouse.
On a hot August day, I had the chance to finally tick a box off my bucket list — working in a fully organic cannabis grow-op.
Forewarned to dress for the heat and avoid clothing I had previously gardened in (wouldn’t want to cross-pollinate or bring in strange bugs), I arrived at GrOKC bright and early, showered and in thoroughly laundered clothes.
Following a warm round of welcomes from the team, I kicked off my shift with the watering pros. We all know how important water is to plants, but in a cannabis grow operation, this life-giving compound also functions as a conduit for key nutrients. After being piped in from the city, the water at GrOKC undergoes a multi-stage purification scrub before it is stored in a pair of 500-gallon reservoirs. For distribution, the water team fills several 40-gallon plastic trash barrels and rolls each to water the plants, on average moving 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of water a day, one barrel at a time. Since water pH is critical for correct nutrient absorption, each barrel is aerated and individually tested for correct base before use.
Most of the plants on this indoor farm are on a 10-week cycle, fed with nutrients three times a week before being flushed on the off days. This flush keeps the plants from locking up and rejecting further nutrients. From feeding the plant to stem development, each of the more than a dozen carefully measured nutrients serves a specialized function. Luckily, I showed up on a flushing day, so I only had to worry about watering the plants and not mixing up nutrients.
This particular grow is set up in two basic stages. Plants in the vegetative (or bed) room, where we started our detail, get watered by hand, a gallon pitcher at a time. About the time I felt like I was truly mastering the double-fisted, two-pitcher hand-watering technique, we ran out of thirsty plants, so we moved on to the more mature plants in the flower room. In this part of the grow, each plant is hooked to a watering system, feeding two beds at a time and significantly speeding up the watering chore. The procedure here was pretty straightforward: Fill and check a barrel, move it into place, hook it up to the system, turn on the water pump, check each plant was watered to saturation and move on to the next bed.
After getting my hands wet, next up was a bit of pest management and repotting. As a completely organic operation, GrOKC takes the IPM (integrated pest management) approach to handling invasive critters, combining an organic pesticide with a timed release of three different species of beneficial mites. My workday coincided with the scheduled release of the neoseiulus fallacis predatory mites, so I got to spend a half hour or so walking around the veg room, sprinkling 10,000 bugs from a tiny spice jar.
The morning was just half over, and I felt like I’d already put in a full day’s work. A short coffee break and it was time to get my hands in the dirt, transplanting clones from grow cups into full-size buckets. For this duty, we filled what seemed to be hundreds of gallon-sized pots with high-caliber soil then transplanted a tiny army of burgeoning clones into each. Now that I’d really gotten my hands in the dirt, it was time for lunch.
Over a relaxing lunch of communal tacos and burritos, I enjoyed some laughs and personal anecdotes of cannabis’ impact on the lives of the staff before the owner received an urgent call and had to dash off to jump the battery on one of his team’s cars.
While waiting on his return, I caught the grow’s extraction specialist working his magic. He had spent most of the morning carefully straining and sorting the fruits of his cold-water extraction, and it was time to hydraulically press that handiwork. While the press rolled, their extraction specialist — who got his start in cannabis as a way to medicate his mother’s dementia — explained they only use fresh frozen flower for their process, with each batch being lab-tested and certified before heading out the door.
After a successful car rescue, I sat down with one of the grow owners to trim clone cuttings from a White Walker Kush mother. The hypnotic motion of the scissors felt strangely comfortable, like popping pole beans in granny’s kitchen. As the leaves piled up on the folding table, we fell into a relaxed, meandering conversation, chatting about a range of topics from plant bonsai to Oklahoma City’s exploding restaurant scene. Finally, we talked about the history of GrOKC, about its bootstrap start, how the owners hit the ground running on day one after the passage of State Question 788, cleaning out a warehouse full of defunct, greasy restaurant equipment while fighting back a veritable army of roaches. We cut plants and talked about milestones — popping seeds on 207 autoflowers the first allowable planting day — and industry challenges, like Federal tax law, never having enough dehumidifiers for an Oklahoma grow in the summer and how new growers should just go ahead and double whatever they think their budget is. With a pile of leaves in front of me and a jar full of clean cuttings, it felt supremely satisfying to place each one of those baby White Walkers in its individual home on the cloner, ready to blossom into someone’s medicine.
For the last hour of my day at the grow, I learned the basics of pruning. While we sculpted an Inzane in the Membrane strain mother, I reflected back on my day working with the team at GrOKC. Thinking about each team member and how they came into the medicinal cannabis world, it felt like they found their place, working passionately to produce the finest quality organic product.