Cannabis Business Times regularly interviews cannabis cultivators to learn more about how they manage their growing operations, including top tips for success, tools and technologies they couldn’t live without, and how they deal with perennial challenges like burnout. In this installment, Joe Gibson, head grower at Gibby’s Garden, details how he took his skills from home growing to a professional level. Read more about Gibby’s Garden in CBT‘s December issue.
Name: Joe Gibson
Company: Gibby’s Garden
Location: Uxbridge, Mass.
Title: Head Grower
Indoor, outdoor, greenhouse or a combination?
Q: Can you share a bit of your background and how you and your company got to the present day?
A: I am a cannabis enthusiast with a family that has great home gardens. When possession and home grows became legal, I started growing. When we started talking about getting into the industry, I took the home grow up to R&D level, experimenting with different lights, nutrients, etc.
I attended the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis in Massachusetts and traveled to Colorado and Oregon to check out the legal industries already in play. Through my research and Mom’s (Kim Gibson’s) design and build background, we started planning the cultivation facility. I focused on the components of the grow, and my folks did the licensing and permit set and contract work.
We started the process of becoming a licensed establishment in 2017, applied for our license in 2018 and were fully licensed in 2019. Being post-revenue since January 2020, we are one of the original recreational establishments in Massachusetts. We pride ourselves on our premium flower and added whole flower-infused tinctures and live rosin.
Q: What tool or software in your cultivation space can you not live without?
A: I can live without a lot. The girls (AKA the plants), however, need their environment closely controlled. Temperature, humidity, lighting, water and nutrients are all critical. However, the greatest tool is the lighting. The [LED] lighting system I use has a high level of control at each tiered rack, allowing me to control the PAR of the lights as needed for the individual batches’ ages and strains. The system also records power and environment over time, which I use to interpret variances in test results and more.
Q: What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your business in the past six months?
A: Coffee! Also, high-end extender clippers for defoliating in the trays.
Q: What cultivation technique are you most interested in right now, and what are you actively studying (the most)?
A: Timing and methods for proper defoliating and topping in order to get maximum number of bud sites and weight. Also, I’m researching increasing terpene levels related to the dry and cure process.
Q: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
A: My first clone batch was a fiasco. I migrated my experience from our home grow of 16+ plants to our first facility batch of 120+ plants. I changed too many variables—plastic pots instead of cloth pots, full coco instead of [potting mix], and making large reservoirs of nutrients. The plants suffered. But with the help of a more experienced industry grower who generously spent time and gave me advice, I ultimately figured out how to bring them back, and they grew healthy. I learned two things: Control the variables in slow, singular changes, and be generous with your knowledge when you can help someone else.
Q: What advice would you give to a smart, driven grower about to enter the legal, regulated industry? What advice should they ignore?
A: The cultivation end of the industry is very data oriented. Data is a helpful tool, but in a small cultivation, there is an opportunity to focus more on the girls. If they are not ready to harvest, you give them a little more time. If a strain is starting to drink more, you pay attention and respond.
The data has a role, but this is your grow, and what and how you grow is a fluid activity. It must be because we work with living things. Being free to do this will make the day-to-day a lot more pleasant, I would say, for the grower and the girls.
My opinion is to stick with strong genetics rather than always introducing new genetics.
Q: How do you deal with burnout?
A: Keeping busy, mainly. I imagine that the tasks in a small cultivation flip more often than in a large grow, so there is less opportunity to get bored or complacent. Because we work with a living plant, there is a caring attitude that drives constant work. And then, of course, we grow cannabis, so [there are] benefits growing and afterward. Naturally, [I] use the product to relieve stress!
Q: How do you motivate your employees/team?
A: Mixing up tasks from day to day and encouraging pride in all aspects of plant handling. All workers are valued at the same level, whether watering, trimming, or assembling deliveries. Quality control samples as per regs help as well.
Q: What keeps you awake at night?
A: The responsibility of the head grower to grow the best flower to get consistent sales to support the business.
Q: What helps you sleep at night?
A: Knowing the quality of the flower we grow.
Editor’s note: This interview was lightly edited for style and clarity.