Photo courtesy Tantalus Labs

Tantalus Labs’ Managing Director Dan Sutton knew that for a plant to flourish, the internal environment needed to maintain the type of control that would often be found in a laboratory. And so, Sutton discussed that idea with his uncle, Dr. Ben Sutton, a Ph.D. plant biologist in British Colombia, who had specialized his career in growing highly controlled tree seedlings in a greenhouse setting. The two brainstormed the viability of creating a greenhouse structure that would best respond to the unique needs of the cannabis plant. Although his uncle worked primarily for the forestry industry, Sutton believed that several of the principles he used could be applied to greenhouse-grown cannabis.

Tantalus Labs, located in Fraser Valley, British Columbia, was founded in 2012, with the initial objective of researching and developing the operational procedures that would provide the specific climate requirements to support the production of cannabis. Quality assurance was of the utmost priority, which included developing an extremely sanitary environment, cement flooring and high ceilings to allow for proper air flow. The structure was built in 2013, and the company received government approval to begin planting this past spring.

The greenhouse is equipped with natural gas-based infrastructures with an additional system in place to create carbon dioxide. This summer, Tantalus Labs has been using air flow to maintain the health of the plants. The climate control system cools the environment and prevents stagnant moisture by utilizing active air filtration throughout the bay, approximately 10 to 15 times more than traditional air flow seen in greenhouse structures. All the air within the facility cycles every 7 minutes, which helps reduce the risk of pest and disease infestation, while the cooling pads help to further decrease the temperature within the environment. “We are not trying to replace nature, but we are trying to manage our natural environment in the right direction,” Sutton says. “We aim to do our best to control for the variables and shift it to a controlled state for our greenhouse.”

Operating within a 75,000-square-foot structure, the greenhouse is separated into a 2,000-square-foot propagation area, a 23,000-square-foot vegetative bay and a 25,000-square-foot flowering bay. The flowering bay is equipped with blackout curtains to ensure that the light is limited to only 12 hours. This controlled lighting environment will help to elicit the flower response from the cannabis plant.

When it comes to measuring climate, there are at least 30 different metrics that growers should be looking at including temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and even the type of nutrients that are growing in the substrate, Sutton says, adding, “It is a tightly orchestrated dance with each variable having a direct impact on the health of the plant,” Sutton says.

However, Sutton also advises new growers to be cautious about numbers and measurements because more time is needed to fully analyze cultivation data to further improve production methods. “Once we have five to 10 years of growing under our belts, then we will have a great data set,” Sutton says. For now, Tantalus Labs aims to keep the interior climate cool and dry, generally maintaining the temperature between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Humidity, on the other hand, largely depends on the plant cycle. Tantalus Labs keeps it humid during cloning time and dry throughout the vegetative time right into flowering. “Humidity is the core risk for environments that are more susceptible to infestations,” Sutton says. “The key is to develop an environment that will encourage the cannabis plant to thrive while discouraging the growth of any of the adulterants.”

In addition to a dehumidifier, the facility is equipped with the capability of providing CO2 supplementation throughout the day to enhance the growth of the plant. “We are going to thoroughly measure every environmental data [point] in our growing operation and let the data tell us what is truly best for the plant,” Sutton says. “We see this as an awesome opportunity to clarify which strategies actually work best.”

Tantalus Labs is continually monitoring and evaluating each environmental parameter to best determine the optimal growing environment for cannabis throughout its first production cycle. “We have parameters that we believe influence growth, but we are continually taking data and analyzing it as we go,” Sutton says. “We intend to be informed by the process.”