Owner Brandon Caffrey (right) and Head Cultivator John Best in Creekside’s 1,000-square-foot grow room.
Photo courtesy of Creekside Cannabis

Creekside Cannabis—like any all-indoor cannabis cultivator—can face a bevy of problems when it comes to producing perfect grows: pests, mold and bad genetics can all play a role in less-than-ideal buds. But one problem this Washington state cultivator doesn’t face, says owner Brandon Caffrey, is one with nutrients. “There’s pest management, of course, and we sometimes battle genetics with a plant that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do,” he says. “But our challenges aren’t super nutrient-[based].”

Inside Creekside Cannabis’ 10,000-square-foot facility, 17 employees use an ebb-and-flow method—with flood tables—to feed nutrients to their plants. Creekside Cannabis grows about 10 strains at any given time: up to seven are customers’ favorites, while three or four are new strains that the cultivator hasn’t grown before—but there’s enough curiosity or customer demand for these strains to give them a try. “You’re always in search of the Holy Grail of strains, right? But you have to run a mixture [of strains and products],” Caffrey says. “It’s a real balancing act.”

What’s more, says Caffrey, “we try to focus on ‘small batch,’ and having a really high-quality flower.” From each strain, Creekside Cannabis sells flower and pre-rolls and, more recently, has begun sending trimmings to be processed into butane hash oil (BHO). “We basically have three products,” Caffrey says, “but BHO has really taken off.”

How did Creekside Cannabis find the nutrient formula that works for them? Here are Creekside’s four tips for finding the best nutrients:

1. Start Strong (Beginning With Your Clones)

Caffrey credits much of Creekside Cannabis’ success to high-quality clones. “It really is about momentum,” he says. “If you have a really good, solid clone with really great roots—if it’s a healthy plant to start out with—then it’s really easy to take it through the process.” That’s why, Caffrey says, Creekside Cannabis’ cloning department “is the most important in our process.” In fact, he notes, the team there spends the most time making “sure that our clones are well-rooted and very healthy. Once [clones] get their start, it’s just rinse and repeat.”

2. Feed Based on Growth Stage and Plants’ Needs

Aside from healthy, quality clones, Creekside Cannabis uses a three-part nutrient system, because a three-part nutrient system gives the cultivator “more control over the entire process,” Caffrey says.

Most, if not all, two-part nutrient systems come premixed—in other words, they don’t allow you to tweak the formula based on your plants’ needs, explains John Best, Creekside Cannabis’ head grower. “When we use a three-part system, we’re mixing every single part individually,” he says. “It gives us more control to adjust the nutrients based on what the plants are telling us that they need.”

The three-part-system that Creekside Cannabis uses provides plants with the nutrients they most need during the different phases of the plant’s life cycle, Best says. And while the plants may receive a dose of all the nutrients at once, this system allows Best to add more of what they need, when they need it. For example, he says, “When your plants are in the vegetative state—when you’re trying to transplant them and get them big enough to flower—you’re giving them everything you would give them in the flower stage, but you’re giving them more grow nutrients than bloom nutrients.”

3. Choose Your Nutrients Based on Results—Not Hype

Caffrey says Creekside Cannabis tried multiple nutrient lines before settling on what works best for the business. Not every nutrient line works as well as another would for your specific growing environment. That’s why Creekside Cannabis screens every nutrient line before it exposes the plants to it. “We really drill down, and we use a lot of tests,” he says, adding that Creekside Cannabis will test a sample plant with the nutrients, looking for yield, and what Caffrey calls “good, stable production all the way through on the commercial scale.” Those tests led Creekside Cannabis to settle on a brand that works best for its plants and the company’s goals. (“We definitely also read the ingredients and see what’s going in,” Caffrey notes.) “We care about the overall frost of the trichomes and the way that the plant looks—and basically, the way that it finishes off. Everybody wants really, really frosty buds,” Caffrey says, satisfied that is what he can give his customers.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Network

Caffrey admits that even as an experienced cultivator or grower, you won’t always have the answer to a problem—or even to a simple question. That’s why his team relies on networking with others in the cannabis industry to discover the best methods for producing top-quality cannabis. Growing the perfect cannabis plant, Caffrey says, “is part trial and error, but the other part is networking. We have definitely networked as much as we can,” adding that the team has reached out to others in Washington as well as “in Denver and other markets.”

By Jillian Kramer, a New York City-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the online or print versions of Glamour, Food & Wine, SELF, The Wall Street Journal, and more.