Courtesy of Lift Magazine
Vancouver-based RavenQuest BioMed Inc. is making strides toward maximizing the effective use of space in cannabis production facilities. While a number of LPs have developed methods that make use of vertical space with racked shelves, the new ‘orbital gardens’ developed at RavenQuest go a step further.
The design is adapted from rotational gardens—commercially sold home growing chambers wherein plants are positioned in a 360 degree circle arcing vertically around a central bulb. While small-scale consumer models have been available for years, RavenQuest has expanded on the rotational architecture with the aim of applying the model to large-scale production environments.
Each orbital garden is 4 feet tall, 4 feet wide, and 9 feet long, with a total inner growing surface of 82 square feet, but with a floor-space footprint of only 32 square feet. That surface-to-footprint ratio is further compounded by the stackable nature of the design—RavenQuest’s current ‘six-stack’ deployment fits six orbital gardens together, stacked two units wide and three units high, for a total of 492 square feet of growing surface within a floor-space footprint of just 72 square feet.
“There’s been an interesting phase of large producers who are building out massive facilities,” RavenQuest’s Mathieu McDonald told Lift, “which may or may not work out, depending on what the economics turn out to be.”
McDonald pointed to the federal government’s recent decision to allow micro-cultivators within the recreational legalization framework, as well as the high cost of building and maintaining large facilities, and the increasingly crowded market space.
“All that adds up to lower realized per-gram revenues for big producers,” said McDonald, “so that just highlights the importance of being able to produce efficiently.”
Floor space is expensive—especially ACMPR-licensed floor space—but the biggest ongoing costs for indoor cannabis producers are wages, and electricity for the lighting, ventilation, and environmental systems.
“These gardens reduce your electricity costs by 70 to 80 percent,” offered McDonald, “because the plants rotate around one light.”
McDonald says the orbital gardens also reduce nutrient costs by roughly 25 percent, and that the systems are largely automated.
Everything in the grow room is controlled by one operator on a remote human-machine interface, with minimal entries into the grow room. This eliminates a major vector for threats like infection and powdery mildew.
“The more people that go in and out of any grow room,” McDonald explained, “the greater your risk is, as a producer, for infection. We’ve done security for several existing licensed producers, and with any given grow cycle we were seeing potentially hundreds of entries by individuals into the grow site.”
Research and development
RavenQuest has also experimented with other plants, with varied results. McDonald said some plants (peppers, for example) don’t react well to being upside down. But some plants thrive under the gentle agitation and movement—floral yoga.
According to McDonald, in the case of cannabis, the rotation of the drums strengthens the plants significantly and results in robust plants with stalks he described as “thicker than a grown man’s thumb.”
Earlier this fall RavenQuest announced it had entered into a research partnership with McGill University, launching studies at two McGill laboratory facilities with a focus on cultivar recognition, yield improvement, and plant stabilization.
Cannabis is currently a genetically unstable crop. Even sophisticated growers are unable to predict with precision what the yield will be for any given crop when that crop is started. In any grow room with dozens or hundreds of plants grown from the same strain as each other, under the same conditions as each other, the plants will generally be different heights, widths, and have a variety of differences in flower expression.
“Stabilization has been done with other plants,” related McDonald, “it just hasn’t been done with cannabis because cannabis has been illegal to research.”
“But if you drive down the highway in Alberta and look at the farms,” he added, “you see that all of the wheat is the same height. You know exactly what you’re getting every time, because it expresses in a stable fashion.”
RavenQuest’s research with McGill seeks to work toward stabilizing cannabis through the identification of genetic markers responsible for traits such as height and flower expression.
Meanwhile, research at the second McGill lab is set to focus on yield improvements using the new orbital gardens.
Featured image courtesy of RavenQuest BioMed Inc.