As chief cultivation officer of the Denver-based, vertically integrated cannabis company Kind Love, Idan Spitz jokes that his daily responsibilities consist of “walking around and putting out fires.” Joking aside, though, Spitz has his hands full running an 80,000-square-foot indoor cultivation facility that houses two medical licenses and one recreational license—not to mention overseeing a 20,000-square-foot nursery expansion that, once complete, will be able to produce anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 clones monthly.
Spitz is pulled in many directions by having to work daily with his growers, Kind Love’s dispensary team and wholesale buyers. As such, any product delay due to growing complications can be detrimental to the operation, especially considering Kind Love owns a large share of Colorado’s clone market, according to Spitz. To help ensure that Kind Love operates smoothly, Spitz has implemented a comprehensive integrated pest management (IPM) program, pours over compliance documentation in his spare time and constantly plans for the future.
Here, Spitz talks with Cannabis Business Times' senior editor Scott Guthrie about Kind Love’s approach to IPM, how the team develops its nutrient mix, why he relies on consumer data so heavily, and more.
Scott Guthrie: Kind Love prides itself on being at the forefront of cultivation technology. What is an example of technology you recently implemented and how is it helping your grow?
Idan Spitz: We finished construction [on our current facility] at the end of 2014, and started producing at the beginning of 2015, just a few months before I came to work for the company. So, more or less, our facility is brand new. We have automation in terms of our temperature, our humidity control. [In] each one of our cultivation rooms and our drying and curing rooms, we have complete climate control in terms of CO2, temperature and relative humidity. We have a pretty comprehensive program to control the dynamic range of those variables in those rooms. We really try to cater the environmental conditions to provide the optimal product.
Guthrie: When it comes to incoming air filtration, what is Kind Love’s approach and what have you found works best? Do you adjust your approach often?
Spitz: For the air coming in, we have air filtration sequence in our HVACs. So, for each [cultivation] room, the air that is going into the room gets either dehumidified or humidified, or heated or cooled. And that [air] goes through a series of filters before entering the [cultivation] room. That reduces fungus, bacteria and pollen that might potentially go into the room.
We really tried to set ourselves up to succeed [with this system], and we’ve stuck with it. One thing that I’ve learned is if you’re going to implement a change, you better be damn sure that it’s going to work because to make changes, it’s a nightmare. You have to go through the city, you have to go through zoning, you’ve got to get stamped and approved by the chemical engineers and the electrical engineers. Jumping through all the hoops is just a nightmare, so usually we will make a change and stick with it.
Our filtration is pretty good right now. We don’t experience too many problems in terms of pests or diseases. We don’t really see a lot of pollination, so we really haven’t had the need to update our filtration system.
Guthrie: You cite your nutrient mix as one of the reasons for your high-quality product. What went into developing that nutrient mix, and what was one of the challenges you faced?
Spitz: I have a Master of Science in plant biology, so actually I come from the biofuels world. I was working with biofuel grasses, the physiology of biofuel grasses and doing pre-breeding work, so I focused a lot on that. I focused a lot on the requirements per grow stage in terms of each nutrient and micro-nutrient, and then I took quite a few different products and broke them down by nutrient and tailored it specifically to what I need. Then I did a lot, a lot, a lot of R&D [research and development] using the scientific method to find what gives me the optimal yields, optimal potency and optimal production. So, a short answer is I use a mishmash of six or seven different companies. I kind of make my own little line that I use for my specific needs.
Guthrie: What is Kind Love’s approach to disease and pest management?
Spitz: We have a very comprehensive IPM [program]. Part of that is identifying problems before they occur-training employees to look at plants to see if something is starting to get a disease, if there is starting to be a pre-infestation. We do spray on a weekly basis up to the second week of flower. So, we spray through the cloning procedure, through the vegetative phase, and up to two weeks of flower. Once the plant starts to develop flowers, we don’t spray anymore. But, we use a comprehensive approach. I do a foliar spray once a week, I do a root soak once every few weeks. We use beneficial organisms like good fungus and good bacteria that gets rid of things like powdery mildew and other insects. We use organic oils to kill insects and bacterial spores.
We really haven’t had any problems with pests or rot or bacterial infections [in general]. Every now and again, you have a little outbreak, but for the most part we’ve stayed really clean, and that’s a big focus of ours. A lot of weed in Colorado is just infested with russet mites, and a lot of plants get really bad root aphids. A lot of plants [also] get really bad powdery mildew, so we’re really trying to avoid that. Because of our comprehensive IPM program, we do not have any such infestations at our grow. A big chunk of my effort is to supply our customers and medical patients with clean, adulterant-free cannabis.
Guthrie: What is the biggest challenge of running such a comprehensive IPM program?
Spitz: [Spring] and the beginning of winter are the worst times of year because [all the insects are] waking up. Around now when [the temperature fluctuates between cold-hot and hot-cold, insects] are waking up, but [then] it gets cold [again]. This is when you really see a lot of problems, so around this time of year is really when we are most careful. All our employees go through a decontamination process. They come in, they scrub down, we give them booties. My cultivators actually have to take showers before they can go into any cultivation rooms.
Guthrie: What is your protocol if there is a pest outbreak, and how do you implement a resolution?
Spitz: When we have a problem, we just slash and burn. The way that this facility is set up, we have relatively small cultivation rooms. Each cultivation room holds about 250 plants, and so once we identify a problem, if it’s late enough in the grow cycle that it’s not going to harm the product, when we see a problem, we just deal with it the best we can. Sometimes we’ll get a little botrytis-it’s a little gray mold-and we deal with that in post-harvest processing to make sure none of that gets to the client. If it’s early in the cycle, then we just slash and burn whatever is in there to make sure that it doesn’t spread to other compartments.
So that’s the really nice thing about having our set-up as is. I know a lot of grows just have one major, open warehouse that’s constantly being harvested, so it’s never empty. So, you never get to decontaminate the entire space.
Guthrie: You flush your plants with water. Why is this beneficial for the plant and how much water does each plant receive?
Spitz: I can’t say how much water each plant gets, that’s kind of proprietary information/trade secret. The end-of-flower soil flush is a common cultivation technique with growers that specialize in hydro and semi-hydro cultivation systems. It strips the grow medium of residual nutrients, ions and salts that have accumulated throughout the grow cycle. However, the plant still needs many of these micro- and macro-nutrients in order to sustain its metabolic processes, so it starts to slowly metabolize its own cellular structures to shuffle these nutrients from within. This decreases the abundance of chlorophyll and other cell wall components that are thought to create a "harsh" smoke. It also causes the plant to produce purple coloration and increase trichome metabolites to avoid stress. With this technique, we fool the plant into ending its life cycle quicker, while producing a more desirable end product.
Guthrie: With the size of your operation and so many moving parts, how do you ensure your staff is up to date with compliance and the ever-changing regulations?
Spitz: I read a lot of rules, a lot of regulations. Just recently in January, I read 600 pages of re-edited rules in cannabis production by the [Colorado] Marijuana Enforcement Division. For my portion of the company, I make sure that we are compliant with everything that we do. We follow all the rules. We also have a manager of operations, and she makes sure that we are totally compliant in terms of how we sell things, how we package things, how things are transported, everything that [is involved] once it’s packaged. She deals with that, and I make sure we are compliant with everything else, and that really involves just a lot of in-depth training and great communication with my managers and employees.
Guthrie: Being vertically integrated, how much consumer purchasing data do you consider when deciding what to grow and manufacture?
Spitz: Months ahead, we know what we are going to plant. Even more granular, we’re actually looking at what portions of each plant can be used for what. Some portion can go to extraction, some to wholesale, some can be sold as premium product at the store. So, we plan this months in advance. But you know with nature, a lot of times there are problems-pests and fungus and things not growing as well as they should. So it’s all about making sure that: one, we have a plan and that we follow through with it; and two, we have a back-up plan. So if plan No. 1 didn’t work, we can always go through other avenues to make sure that we optimize our crop for profit.
Our supply chain manager and I work very, very closely. We look at consumer trends over the last several years. Additionally, we look at what trends have been popular in months [leading] up to today to see how they have been changing this year. We also try to forecast what the consumer trends are going to be in upcoming months. It’s all about producing the optimal product, so if no one wants to buy Blue Dream, what’s the point in producing it? If I plant a clone today, I’m not going to be able to sell it for half a year because it has to root, grow vegetatively, flower, get harvested, dry, cure and get packaged. [It] takes about six months to produce a final product from a cut un-rooted clone.
Guthrie: Since being a part of Kind Love, what’s the best thing you’ve learned or advice you’ve received that you’d want to pass on to other growers and cultivation facilities?
Spitz: Happy cultivators grow happy plants. It’s all about making sure everyone is happy and doing what they love. Keep staying positive and having fun. It’s really just a lot of learning how a plant works. I have my education to fall back on, so a lot of these molecular processes are kind of understood from my studies. Besides that, I have about 50 different species of plants in my house. I’ve always had a green thumb and liked to grow things, so advice I could give to other cultivators would be: Don’t only grow weed, grow a variety of other plants. You can really understand plants a lot better if you understand how many plants work, instead of just one.