Ketch is applying his unique approach to growing at Sitka’s micro-cannabis park on Vancouver Island, where the name of the game is helping micros like Quadessence get their exclusive craft bud into the hands of consumers.
Each month, we invite master growers from Licensed Producers to share their stories with us. This time, we spoke with Carl Ketch, master grower at Quadessence, a micro-cultivator that works out of the Sitka Weedworks micro-cannabis park.
Micro-cultivator Carl Ketch has two major philosophies that guide his work as the master grower at Quadessence, his licensed micro-cultivation company:
“Every plant gets checked every single day. And plants come first. Those are the two main rules.”
Ketch is one of the micro-growers putting his philosophies and processes into action at Sitka Weedworks — a Sooke, B.C.-based micro-cannabis park where a collective of micro-cultivators are producing small-batch craft flower and pre-rolls.
Sitka co-founder Jason Scott says that the original idea for the company was to compete with the larger Licensed Producers by growing their own cannabis on a massive scale. But they shifted gears when they recognized a unique opportunity: They could offer something different to Canadian consumers by helping small B.C. legacy growers like Ketch transition to the regulated industry and get their products to market. The path to market is a significant undertaking for micro-cultivators; Sitka helps lead the way so that the micros can focus on their passion — growing great flower, often from unique, legacy cultivars.
Ketch developed his distinct approach to growing cannabis over the years while licensed under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (before legalization of recreational use). He learned tricks of the trade from friends, soaked up knowledge from grow supply store employees and turned to books such as Secrets of the Garden Sage. And throughout the years, he always kept meticulous notes on what was working and what wasn’t.
“One of my philosophies is to always be a white belt. You’re always learning. The people, in my mind, who think they know everything are the ones who stop learning,” Ketch says. “I don’t even call myself a master grower and I probably never will. I just want to always be in that learning mindset.”
Ketch was vetted and selected by Sitka through interviews and site visits. To join the collective, growers need to prove that they’re able to produce, they fit with the rest of the team and they can secure the financial investment required to lease and outfit their individual cultivation spaces at the Sitka facility. In exchange, micros benefit from Sitka’s experience navigating Health Canada licensing, as well as its processing, packaging and product development services.
Under Health Canada’s rules, micro-growers are limited to 200 square metres of grow space. Within those limitations and under the guidance of Sitka, which uses trends and input from wholesalers to help create an annual strain strategy, Quadessence and the other micros currently in the space are producing a portfolio of unique cultivars.
“One thing that we’ve been trying to do is not grow too much of one type of flower,” says Scott. “The micros are trying to run seven or eight strains per year, which means that they’re only producing about 20 kilograms of it every couple of months. It’s extremely limited-edition, high-potency, ultra-premium cannabis.”
To use their limited grow space wisely, Quadessence works with carefully selected partners who supply quality teen clones of unique genetics so that Ketch and his team of two growers can focus on the flowering stage of the growing cycle. Their mix includes Cheddar Bomb — a potent blend of King Kush and Sour Diesel with peppery, sour flavours — and G13 Triangle Kush — an indica-dominant strain with citrusy, earthy flavours that combines Triangle Kush with ’88 G13 Hash Plant. “Phenomenal,” Ketch says.
Nailing the rooting phase of the clones is key to the success of their plants. “The objective is to grow the roots big and healthy and have a root zone as quickly as you can to set yourself up for flower,” Ketch says, adding that his approach is one of his greatest talents and joys as a grower. The clones begin in air pots, containers that have holes drilled in the sides. The grow team then carefully dries each plant out, which forces the roots out in search of water. When the roots reach a hole in the side of the pot, they turn around and search elsewhere, growing bigger.
From there, Ketch gives each plant a customized treatment. He uses a mixture of salt-based nutrients and living soil made with beneficial fungus, microbials and enzymes, which allows him to feed the plants an optimal but minimal amount and keep the roots healthy. When it comes to watering, he evaluates the needs of a particular plant.
“You’re going to look at the soil. You’re going to do a lift test, you’re going to do a touch test and you’ll see if there’s moisture there. Then you’re going to look at the plant: How does the plant look?” Ketch says. “There are very strategic times throughout the crop when the plant should get watered or shouldn’t get watered. But it takes a very trained eye and it’s a lot of extra work.”
The Quadessence heating and cooling system is unique, too, and Ketch says they spared no expense when designing and implementing it. Air enters the room through three air handlers rather than ducts and is moved around using a system of fans to ensure that the temperature is the same across every inch of the grow. “My growers call it the Edward Scissorhands room because there are fans everywhere.”
Nothing about Ketch’s growing practice is rushed. To flush salt from the soil, he uses a process developed over many years to bring amounts down incrementally over a two-week period. “Another philosophy I have: Everything in growing has to be done gradually,” he says. “Plants don’t like sudden change. Any [change] is slow, incremental increases or slow incremental decreases.”
When it comes to trimming the buds, which are then hang dried and cured for four weeks, Ketch tells his team to “trim the buds the way you would want to see them in the bag.”
When the bud is ready, Sitka steps in to help package and submit the products for approval by Health Canada and provincial wholesalers. Products are sold by Sitka under the Sitka Micro Collection brand name, with credit given to the pertinent micro-cultivator on the label. All post-tax revenue is split with its micro-growers, who Scott says earn the lion’s share.
Quadessence is currently one of 10 micro-cultivators at Sitka’s micro-cannabis park, with 25 more slated to launch in the coming year. In total, Sitka is permitted to host 53 micros. The company also grows its own strains under master grower Jesse Younker, who works out of the main site 500 metres away from the park and is on hand to work with the micro-growers. The Sitka model, Scott says, lets each cultivator bring their own style and approach to the market while benefiting from the collective’s shared knowledge and resources and Sitka’s oversight.
“In this program, it is all boats rising.”