Putting growing methods to the test: the importance of test rooms

As a commercial cultivator, you strive to consistently produce the best crop with each new harvest. Maintaining your place at the top of your market, however, is only possible if you continuously improve. Maintaining the status quo works for a while, but eventually your competitive advantages will become business-as-usual in your market. Staying at the top means complacency can’t be part of your vocabulary.

To stay competitive requires the willingness to try new promising growing methods, technology products, amendments and SOP’s especially your very own new innovations. To keep on the cutting edge, you must be willing to experiment and push the envelope by evaluating new options in a controlled way. The most effective way to achieve this is by setting up a dedicated test room.

Test rooms allow commercial growers to evolve, experiment, and keep abreast of the latest exciting developments in cultivation that they believe will help them accelerate their profits—whether by increasing revenues or driving down costs. In the booming regulated cannabis marketplace, a test room is a MUST to stay competitive. Setting aside space in your facility for a 10 to 20 plant test room will prove invaluable and can ultimately be one of the best investments you can make for growing your operation.

The purpose of a test room is by no means to compete with your main facility. Instead, it is built to be an exact, but much smaller replica of it where you can try new things without fear of failure. Whether your experiments in your test room fail or succeed, they should never affect the tried and true system you’re presently using in your main facility.

Regard your test room as your horticultural business laboratory where you can isolate the one new technology or method you’re trying, with all other components staying consistent with existing methodology. Each aspect you consider changing and eventually improving should be the only variable. Your test room is meant to benefit your overall operation for the long term. By testing one incremental change or variable at a time, you can roll out what WORKS, discard what doesn’t, and implement the improvements into your main operation when the time is right.

Use the regular metrics that your cultivation team employs during the vegetative, flowering and harvest cycles to measure growth and flowering productivity in weight and potency, in your main facility.

By comparing your main facility results with those from your test room using the same metrics, you will be able to pin-point even the subtlest of changes. After every harvest you will glean new data to determine the extent of your experiment’s success and discover new opportunities to improve your operation with each new year.

Shine a little light on the subject
Grow light technology is constantly evolving. With each new grow light company that enters the commercial horticultural marketplace, there’s a new claim or list of new claims. They are usually backed by scientific-based tests intended to promote the lights in so many words as, “The closest thing to real sunlight…”

Experienced, savvy growers like you know, however, that words combined with numbers can be made to sound like fact, but without real world data, you’re unlikely to make the switch.

While as a cultivation expert, you trust your own recipe, you aren’t necessarily a lighting expert. However, you also realize that your grow lights are not only the driving force behind your entire operation, but also a leading indicator for energy consumption and overall operating costs. You know that it’s in your best interests to find the best performance possible on the cultivation side while also providing lower maintenance and replacement costs and high energy efficiency.

Using your test room, you can set up a particular new grow light that’s aroused your curiosity and, from your own in-depth research, seems to be something worth trying.

In this controlled experiment, the light becomes the variable.

It’s also worth emphasizing that a test room need only be large enough to grow 10 to 20 plants of the same plant strains as are in the remainder of the facility. With the test room set up exactly like the rest of the facility in feeding/watering schedules, and HVAC protocol, you can run the new light brand you wish to test (ensuring that you’re following the manufacturer’s directions in installation to maximize results). When taking measurements, from seed to flower, make sure to record these key specs as a baseline:

  • the power consumption of the new light in kW
  • the average PAR (Photosynthetic Photon Flux) for the footprint of the light,
  • its luminosity in PPFD (Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density). PPFD measures the amount of PAR that actually arrives at the plant canopy,
  • and most importantly, the total weight of the flowers from each plant wet and dry, along with potency (THC and CBD) and overall perceived quality.

Lighting companies that only publish the PPFD at the center point of a coverage area are likely overstating the true light intensity of a fixture. A single measurement does not tell growers much, since, depending on the efficacy and quality of the fixture, many horticulture lights are generally brightest in the center. Light levels decrease as measurements are taken towards the edges of the coverage area (light footprint). To ensure you get actual average PPFD values over a defined growing area, you must test the measurement distance from the light source, at multiple points at canopy level to ensure accurate values.

So, a test room is perfect for this application before the young plants are introduced!

Then, if the light performs as expected (exceeding the results from your present lights), a new test can be initiated during the next cycle to see how well it performs with another strain you specialize in.

The variable, in this case, will be the strain itself. Certain light brands perform better with certain specific strains.

It’s important to note that a plant’s metabolism is impacted by a number of complementary variables (lighting, feeding, temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, ventilation, and other factors all influence plant behavior and harvest results). When you change just one variable, you might not get the results you’re looking for without then adjusting the next variable, and the next, and so on.  This would not be feasible in a production environment, but with a test room, you aren’t limited by the need for a successful harvest—instead, the motivation is to continuously improve your specific “recipe.”

Putting down roots
Growing mediums directly affect the health and bounty of the plants in any given facility. As the old adage, “The Bigger Roots, The Bigger the Fruits” goes, as a commercial grower, you owe it to your bottom-line profit margins to use your test room to experiment with different forms of media. This is especially true for growers who prefer to grow in “soil”. Talk to any commercial grower whose media of choice is soil and they’ll tell you there’s practically an infinite number of paths to create the perfect soil mix recipe. Growers who cultivate in soil often consider their recipe to be as important as any other element in the environment. To test and perfect requires a test room.

The recipes for the ingredients and especially the proportions (the key to any recipe!) of each ingredient is a jealously guarded secret for most commercial soil growers. So much so, that they remind journalists that they don’t feed their plants, they feed their soil!

They develop and test their recipes in a test room where, the recipe of ingredients added to the soil base becomes the variable.

New hydroponics and aeroponics systems are perfect fodder for a facility’s test room as well. This is because for hydroponics, the media of either peat, coco coir, clay pellets or rock wool is often not the main variable being tested.

It is the new hydroponics system itself that becomes the variable!

For example, growers who strive to be on the cutting-edge of every new development in commercial cultivation improve their operations substantially, and just have plain old fun experimenting with a new hydroponics system in their test room every time one is introduced onto the market. It’s all fun and games before somebody figures out that from their own carefully calculated experiments using their test room, many “die-hard” soil growers have made the complete switch from soil to hydroponics when a particular hydroponic system employed in their test room has proven itself to be more efficient, economical, and impactful to the bottom line.

Plant Nutrition can be fine-tuned in a test room for "fat" buds
Especially suited for hydroponics growers, a test room is ideal for trying new hydroponic nutrient solutions. Although nutrient producers carefully define the exact ratio of nutrient in an irrigation tank, depending on the stage of growth, large commercial hydroponics growers need to be very careful when trying a new pre-mixed nutrient product since one reservoir can water and feed over a thousand plants in the main system. Even the slightest error in nutrient dosing can result in catastrophe, especially in hydroponic applications where there is no soil or soil-less media as a buffer.

Flowering stage can pose even greater challenges since many cannabis strains require a special mixture of nutrients that most nutrient companies don’t account for. In many cases, one size just doesn’t fit all.  Some cultivars will consume more of a particular element than others, some will produce higher quality with slight tweaks to the recipe. The list is nearly endless. With a test room, hydroponics growers can experiment with nutrient solutions when sampling a different brand, using their existing preferred brand with a new strain, or mixing their own to come up with a proprietary and targeted recipe for a specific strain.

Testing of this nature isn’t feasible without a testing room. If production plants do not get enough (or get too much) of a given nutrient, quality and harvest volume will be negatively impacted, which will devalue an entire crop and hit you right in the pocketbook.

A test room can offer a buffering zone with only a small number of plants where new nutrient mixes can be applied, and then fine-tuned until a perfect solution is reached and then synchronized with the flower development stages before it is fed into the main feeding system of the facility.

In Summation…These are only three key areas. As a grower you know the variables and ideas that can be tested are nearly endless. Therefore, you can use your test room to measure a wide variety of specific applications that promise improvement. Knowing is far better than guessing, and with a test room, you can know what to expect once you are ready to introduce your new discoveries into your production SOP’s.

For more information:
Surna
1780 55th Street, Suite A Boulder, CO 80301
T: (303) 993-5271
F: (303) 955-2544
info@surna.com 
orders@surna.com  
surna.com    


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