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How To Select The Best Monitoring System For Your Cannabis Greenhouses

By Rob Fusco
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Maintaining an environment that supports cultivation and keeps plants healthy is not an easy task. In cannabis growing, there are a variety of factors that greenhouse managers and personnel must monitor to ensure that their plants are in a healthy environment that fosters growth and development. Temperature, humidity, lighting and CO2 levels are a few of the conditions that need to be tailored to each cannabis greenhouse operation. However, it can be difficult to constantly monitor the status of your equipment and the greenhouse environment, especially after hours or during the off-season.

A remote monitoring system that’s properly selected and installed can help greenhouse managers keep their cannabis plants healthy, multiply their yields and increase return on investment. This type of system also helps operators identify patterns and trends in environmental conditions and get insight into larger issues that can prevent problems before they arise.

Cloud-based monitoring system base unit in weatherproof enclosure

Here are some tips on key conditions to monitor and what you need to consider when selecting a monitoring system for your cannabis greenhouse operation:

Temperature

Temperature plays a crucial role in any cannabis grow operation. The climate in your greenhouse must be warm enough to nurture photosynthesis and the growth of cannabis plants. Setting the incorrect temperature will significantly impact the potential yield of the plant and the rate at which it develops. A temperature too low will slow the growth of the cannabis, but too hot can lead to heat stress for your plants. The ideal temperature for a standard greenhouse is between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, depending on the stage of plant and desired growth densities, the temperature of the greenhouse needs to be adjusted accordingly.

Humidity Levels

Humidity directly affects plant photosynthesis and transpiration, so controlling humidity is vital in greenhouse growing. The ideal relative humidity (RH) for cannabis growth is around 60%. A low humidity level can cause water to evaporate too quickly for photosynthesis, while a humidity level that is too high can cause poor growth and possible mold and fungal disease. Monitoring the moisture content in the air of your greenhouse will help the plants during the transpiration process, increasing absorption of nutrients and overall health of the cannabis. 

Lighting

Your cannabis may be getting an abundance of natural light during the summer months, but maintaining adequate sunlight during the winter months can be a challenge. As a solution to this, many greenhouse managers equip their facilities with additional lights to supplement natural light during off-seasons or off-hours. To achieve the best possible yield, a cannabis plant in the budding stage should receive twelve hours of light each day, while other stages could require additional lighting. For example, the growth stage could require your cannabis to be exposed to sunlight for up to eighteen hours a day.

CO2 Levels

Like any other plant, cannabis requires CO2 to breathe. Greenhouse managers must set and monitor the CO2 levels in their facility to make sure that there is an adequate amount for the plants to develop, grow and be healthy. The amount of carbon dioxide required for your cannabis depends of the size of the facility and the amount of light the plants are receiving. However, a standard grow area for cannabis can maintain a CO2 range from 1000 to 1500 parts per million (PPM). A level below that threshold can result in slower growth of the plants, while a level above would lead to unused and wasted CO2.

Soil moisture sensor

Irrigation and Soil Moisture

One way to ensure a good yield from your cannabis is to water it regularly and monitor your soil moisture. Overwatering your plants can have the same effect, if not worse, than letting the soil become too dry. Plants’ roots need oxygen to survive, unlike leaves that breathe CO2, and when the soil is waterlogged the roots can’t provide their function. The lack of oxygen interferes with the roots’ nutrient uptake and photosynthesis causing the cannabis plant to wilt. The exact moisture content of the soil depends on the size of your greenhouse, temperature and humidity. Whether you hand water or are using a drip irrigation system, being aware of your soil moisture is vital to the long-term health of your cannabis.

Air Circulation

Your greenhouse environment should mimic the ideal conditions in which cannabis plants flourish. With an indoor facility, you have the ability to control air circulation by venting hot air out and blowing fresh air in. Creating a circulation of air inside your greenhouse will increase your cannabis plant’s growth speed and yield. Additionally, an exhaust system helps control the temperature and humidity, while also preventing the invasion of mold and pests that thrive in hot, stagnant air.

Greenhouse Security

When growing something of value, like cannabis, there will always be a threat of intruders. Whether your greenhouse is in a populated area or around hungry wildlife, any intruder could be detrimental to your overall yields and profit. Remote monitoring systems can give you peace of mind and instantly alert you when there is an unwanted presence in your greenhouse.

Knowing all the possible threats to your cannabis greenhouse helps you evaluate your specific needs, and ultimately identify the proper remote monitoring system.

Selecting the Right Monitoring System

Other factors to consider when choosing a monitoring system right for your operation include:

  • Base unit and sensors
  • Wireless or hardwired sensors
  • Communications to your site (Phone, cellular, Wi-Fi, etc.)
  • Alarm notification
  • Programming and status checks
  • Data logging
  • Return on investment

Base Units and Sensors

Each condition in your greenhouse that you want to monitor requires its own input on the base unit of the monitoring system. You must match your needs with the number of inputs available. A good fit for a smaller cannabis greenhouse may be a lower-cost, non-expandable monitoring system. However, larger facilities have many monitoring points and more people to alert when there’s a problem. If your cannabis operation is poised for growth, purchasing an expandable system could add value to the initial purchase because you wouldn’t have to replace your entire system in the future.

Your monitoring system should also have an internal rechargeable battery backup to ensure continuous monitoring and alerts in the event of a power outage. It is also recommended to have each base unit in a sheltered enclosure to protect it from moisture, dirt and other hazards.

Placement of sensors is also crucial. For example, temperature sensors in your greenhouse should be placed throughout the facility. They should be next to your thermostat and in the center of your greenhouse, preferably away from direct sunlight.

Wireless or Hardwired Sensors

Remote monitoring systems offer the option to have sensors hardwired directly to the base unit or sensors wirelessly connected. A hardwired monitoring system connects the sensors to the base device with wires. Generally, trenching long distances for wires is time consuming and costly. So alternatively, a wireless system uses built-in radio transmitters to communicate with the base unit. Some monitoring systems can accommodate a combination of hardwired and wireless sensors.

Communications to Your Site

Monitoring devices that use cellular communications must be registered on a wireless network (like Verizon or AT&T) before you can send or receive messages. Because cellular devices perform all communications over a wireless network, it is important that there be sufficient signal strength at the greenhouse. It is a good idea to check the signal quality in the area before purchasing a cellular product. If the cellular network has less than desirable coverage, it is possible to install an external antenna to help increase cellular signal.

Alarm Notifications

When monitoring systems identify a change in status, they immediately send alerts to people on the contact list. If you don’t want all of your personnel to receive notifications at the same time, certain devices can be programmed to send alerts in a tiered fashion. It is important to consider the reach of the communications, so that you’ll be notified regardless of your locations. Multiple communications methods like phone, email and text provide extra assurance that you’ll get the alert. Also, note of the number of people the system can reach and if the system automatically cycles through the contact list until someone responds. Make sure the system allows for flexible scheduling so that it doesn’t send alarms to off-duty personnel.

Programming and Status Check

If you’re responsible for maintaining a commercial greenhouse facility, you want a system that will provide real-time status of all monitored conditions on demand. There are a few different ways to access your sensor readings. Options include calling to check status, viewing a web page, either on a local network or on the cloud, or accessing the information via an app on your mobile device. With a cloud-based system, the devices supervise themselves. This means if the internet or cellular connection goes down, the device will send an alarm to alert the appropriate personnel.

If you don’t select a cloud-based system, you will be limited to logging in through a local area network, which will allow you to make programming changes, access status conditions and review data logs. If internet connectivity is not available at your location, you will want to choose a cellular or phone system rather than Ethernet-based option.

Data Logging

Sample greenhouse monitoring data log

Data history is valuable in identifying patterns and trends in your cannabis greenhouse conditions. Manually monitoring and recording environmental parameters takes a significant amount of personnel time and detracts from other important workplace demands. However, many monitoring systems automatically save information, recording tens of thousands of data points, dates and times. Cloud-based logging provides an unlimited number of records for users to view, graph, print and export data trends.

Analyzing data samples may lend insight to larger issues and prevent problems before they arise. For example, if the data log shows power fluctuations occurring at a regular time, it could be indicative of a more serious problem. Or, if the data shows signs of a ventilation fan or supplementary lighting beginning to malfunction, they can be repaired or replaced before total failure occurs.

Return On Investment

When deciding how much you should pay for a remote monitoring system, tally up the entire cost, fully installed with additional peripherals and sensors and any labor fees for installation. Then consider the value of your cannabis plant inventory and greenhouse equipment. Finally, factor in the cost of downtime, should an environmental event shut down your operation for a period of time.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right greenhouse monitoring system and sensors could mean the difference between life and death for your cannabis plants. Understanding the conditions you need to watch and monitoring systems’ capabilities are they best way to protect your investment.

 

Hemp-Derived Products with a Contract Manufacturer

By Aaron G. Biros
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Based in Santa Monica, California, Sagely Naturals was founded in the summer of 2015, with the goal to produce a sustainably sourced, topical CBD cream with no psychoactive effects to treat daily aches and pains. The co-founders, Kerrigan Hanna and Kaley Nichol, have extensive backgrounds in the food service industry, and as a result they pride themselves in quality controls and proper safety procedures. Since the launch of Sagely Naturals, they have been selling their Relief & Recovery Cream online and in a wide variety of retail outlets beyond just cannabis dispensaries. Their ability to distribute outside of dispensaries is due to the fact that the product’s active ingredient, Cannabidiol (CBD), is derived from hemp, instead of cannabis with higher levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

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Co-founders Kaley Nichol (left) and Kerrigan Hanna (right)

Their attention to detail in consistency and quality makes them stand out as cannabis processors, using a contract manufacturer with good manufacturing practices (GMPs) along with the proper standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place. “All of our contract manufacturer’s corrective and preventative actions (CAPAs) are outlined in the company’s SOPs, which are in place for everything including specific manufacturing processes, receiving and shipping materials and testing batches,” says Hanna. “The contract manufacturer also provides certificates of analysis (COAs) for every product they make.” According to Hanna, they exclusively use current GMP-certified facilities. One such SOP lays out the responsibilities for the quality control department in order to release and approve ingredients of their products.sagely_naturals_logo_400x400

There are some SOPs that could pertain specifically to the processing of hemp or cannabis products, according to Hanna. “Receiving and handling raw materials like hemp, batch coding, the actual formulation and manufacturing process, quality controls and cleaning and sanitation [could be tailored to pertain to cannabis],” says Hanna. Proper SOPs laid out in the manufacturing process include the cleaning and sanitation of machines, as well as adjusting settings, formula ratios and initialing and dating product labels on every batch, among more specific operating procedures.

The cream is made with natural ingredients like safflower seedily and peppermint.
The cream is made with natural ingredients like safflower seed oil and peppermint.

According to the co-founders, they spent a large amount of time vetting their hemp supplier, making sure they are using cutting-edge technology, growing it sustainably, and adhering to strict SOPs. “The team includes a Ph.D. chemist, who also is a founding member of our supplier and extractor,” says Hanna. “We work with CO2 extraction because we wanted the most control over the compounds that end up in our product. We are able to purposefully choose which cannabinoids end up in our product.” Through supercritical carbon dioxide extraction and post-extraction processing, the team is able to eliminate any trace of THC, guaranteeing the consumers will receive no psychoactive effects.

In looking toward long-term growth, the co-founders emphasize the importance of environmental sustainability. “Having honest ingredients is one of our company missions along with having honest practices,” says Hanna. “None of our ingredients are tested on animals so we are an animal cruelty-free organization.” Their hemp is grown using organic and environmentally friendly practices. “We prioritize using plant-based ingredients, so the formulation of our Relief & Recovery Cream relies on using organic and raw materials—such as essential peppermint and safflower oil.” Companies like Sagely Naturals using contract manufacturers to process hemp could represent the future of the cannabis industry. When safety, sustainability and quality issues come into the spotlight more, so will the need for outlined SOPs, proper documentation and extensive lab testing.

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BEST Extractions

Defining BEST Extraction

By John A. Mackay, Ph. D.
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jMackaypic

Over the next few months, I would like to walk through a series of articles to cover the number of ways to extract potentially pharmaceutically active compounds from cannabis plants. However, in the first article I would like to review concerns being addressed in state regulations: contamination in concentrates with pesticides, mycotoxins, and residual solvents. The next article will cover the most common extraction with two different modes: CO2 versus hydrocarbons.

Currently, there is a lot of focus on the cannabis strain of hemp. This is defined as having less than 0.3% of THC, (the psychoactive compound). To be clear, the science of extraction is eons old, but the current revitalization is due to new scientific inquiry regarding the applications of the cannabis plant.

I am often asked, “What is the ‘best’ extraction for a natural product?” The BEST extraction? The key to this answer is that you must assume unintended consequences until you can prove that they are at least minimized compared to the intended consequences.

I have a suggestion for you to consider and I look forward to your response to it. I also assume the right to adapt and revise it.

Botanical integrity from seed to shelf

Efficacy of the process beyond efficiency, economics, effectiveness

Safety of people and product

Testing for confirmation at each step of process

The hemp industry has changed significantly over the past few years. Just casually flipping through the channels on television, reading a newspaper or magazine, (on any topic – news, business, sports, food and science) and there is some facet of hemp’s value being examined. The reduction of traditional pulmonary intake (smoking) in the legal marketplace can be tracked by sales of these products in the states where it is legal. The balance of ingestion is drastically tipping toward what might still be considered smoking with vaporizer products as well as toward edible consumables. The ingredients in these products come not from just adding the plant to the formulation, but rather a concentrated mixture. This is the difference between adding a raw vanilla and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The compound getting the most coverage is cannabidiol (CBD), which is the compound derived from cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). The effects of the other compounds in the plant are being studied as well.

Unintended consequences from the concentration – extraction – are something we need to consider seriously as consumers. The labeled use of “natural” is one that is critical, but can be totally nullified by the unintended contamination in the extraction workflow. Years of making sure the hemp adheres to strict growing environment can be destroyed in seconds with the addition of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) by the use of solvent that has these toxic chemicals in them. These come not through intended consequences, but not knowing the stabilizers and other additives in material being added to these previously pure plants.

What if I pour sour milk on a natural granola for breakfast? What if I use water with high lead or contaminated water to pour over natural coffee grind? Not a great way to start the day, but it is no different than using the most premium hemp and unknowingly adding low grade solvents or adding components from cleaning the surfaces of instruments that come in contact with hemp.

Note that, by definition, we are concentrating the material from the hemp plant. From 4,000 grams, we are getting 400 grams of CBDA if it is 10% by weight (and later converted to CBD). That compound is 10 times more concentrated in a solution. What other compounds are now also 10 times or 5 times or 100 times more concentrated? Maybe no “bad” ones, but how do you know that something else is not also in the mixture?

figure1 extract
Figure 1. With each step of concentration of the green balls, so it could be with other components in the mixture.

This is illustrated in the filtering of green balls in Figure 1. As the green balls become a greater and greater percentage of the solution, it is possible that other compounds like pesticides are also increasing in percentage of the extraction solution. The solution is more concentrated and “simpler” versus all of the other things in the original mixture.

The simple answer is in the testing of the components. The labeling of major compounds is only the beginning of what is on the label that you read. Heavy metals? PAH’s? Residual solvents? Pesticides? Molds? And a long list of other material that could come into the process after the plant left its pristine organic farm. Many studies can be read about slip agents in bags, contamination from workers in the workflow, and other sources of inconsistency.

There are a significant number of companies that I have seen that take this very seriously. New companies are being formed that have safety of product at the top of the list of importance. They are building facilities that are sterile and putting standard operating procedures in place that continually test the product along every step to ensure that they are in compliance.

ecxtractionfig2
Figure 2. Science and economics merge when considering all the possible uses of concentrated compounds to final product formulations

Supercritical fluid extraction is GRAS (generally regarded as safe). It is, only as long as the solvent specifications are known, the vendor meets those standards, and the instrument surfaces meet any necessary standards.

Supercritical carbon dioxide is used to clean surfaces of electronics and bones for skin grafts. It is used for the decaffeination of coffee as well as pulling trace amounts of pesticides from soil. It is used to extract antioxidants from krill and the active ingredients from algae as well as oil from core samples deep below the earth. It also extracts the terpenes and CBDA from hemp – as well as possibly anything that has been added to it.

The key take away from this article is to know the BEST extraction.

Botanical integrity from seed to shelf

Efficacy of the process beyond efficiency, economics, effectiveness

Safety of people and product

Testing for confirmation

Taking each of these into consideration will bring the best results for concentrations of hemp products. I hope you can extract the best from your day.