Del-Gro – Coachella, California


In this Growers Spotlight, we interview Ben Levine and Derek Martinez of Del-Gro, a revolutionary business model empowering growers to focus on the growing while learning to be operations managers.

Ben Levine, one of Del-Gro’s managing partners.

The following is an interview with industry experts. Growers Network does not endorse nor evaluate the claims of our interviewees, nor do they influence our editorial process. We thank our interviewees for their time and effort so we can continue our exclusive Growers Spotlight service.


Abbreviated Article

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How Del-Gro Works


The Business Model

Ben Levine: Del-Gro provides turnkey facilities where growers like Derek can set up shop and prosper. My business partner and I engineer turnkey facilities for growers and help them establish their practice. We teach managers how to run facilities without spoonfeeding them.


The Grow Operation


Building Layout

Ben Levine: Del-Gro currently provides two different sizes of building: One measures 14,000 square feet and the other measures 7,000 square feet. With a 7000 square foot facility, you’re generally running about 3850 square feet of flower, and right around 1280 square feet of veg. We like our growers to maintain 25-30% of their space for veg.


The Plants

Derek Martinez: We’re running a footprint of about 16 plants per light and, on average, we tend to have close to 30 different genetics that we cycle through periodically. My partner and I manage multiple facilities, and one of them is an R&D facility where we bring all of our new genetics to test. We grow them to flower and determine which ones will best suit our growing methods.


Equipment

Derek Martinez: We use rockwool and sphagnum moss for our media. Our mothers and genetics get special treatment, so they might get something different depending on their needs. For nutrients, we primarily use Advanced Nutrients, which has an all-organic nutrient line designed specifically for use with cannabis.

We’re running light emitting ceramics (LEC/CMH) in veg, and double-ended HPS lights in flowering. Our propagation room uses T5s and LEDs. We use smart ballasts that come with redundancy measures just in case of a malfunction or failure.

We use automated 12 station drip manifolds with drip emitters going directly to the plant. They are controlled by a station timer which is timed to activate during different times of day. The runoff is pumped to a reclamation reservoir, which is then filtered and distributed to the city. It recycles the water back to the municipal, as clean as we got it.

We use a split system AC that can be mounted inside or outside depending on your rooms. If we want to maintain a low humidity, then we mount the air handler inside the room. That way the coils are directly exposed to the air in the room and act like a dehumidifier.

In the event of problems, we have some redundancy vectors set up. Our room thermostats are rigged to a relay, and whenever a high temperature threshold is reached, the thermostat triggers the relay, which either turns off or dims the lights.


Pest Management

Derek Martinez: Our pest control method is primarily preventative. We face numerous pests, but since we run a clean operation, we have limited our exposure to them. The pests that we most commonly run into are gnats. Thrips and spider mites are also big threats. In the event they become an issue, foliar sprays are our primary go-to. Depending on where the plants and mites are in their respective cycles, we may dispose of the plant.

What tools do you use for pest management?

Derek Martinez: We use a few different, systemic treatments that are organic. If we anticipate a problem, we’ll use Captain Jack’s spinosad or one of our own proprietary systems. We tend to implement these in foliar sprays or our drip irrigation as a preventative measure.


Philosophy


Challenges

Derek Martinez: When we moved to the desert we started seeing single digit relative humidities. We kept running into an issue when we were trying to dry and cure in the low humidity. Ironically, drying and curing in the low humidity meant we had to keep rehydrating the product, making for a challenging experience.


Successes

Derek Martinez: Our biggest success has come from automation. It has lightened up our workload across the board, allowing us to take on more projects and expand. It’s also reduced our overhead.


Long-Term Vision for Del-Gro

Ben Levine: Our next big project is 250,000 square feet. We’re also working on co-developing a 747,000 square foot project right behind us.

Advice for Future Growers

Derek Martinez: I would advise new growers to attach themselves to someone they can see themselves growing with, both figuratively and literally. This industry has its highs and lows on a daily basis, which means you’re going to experience a lot of pain as well as a lot of prosperity. The people you work with and the relationships you build within this industry matter.

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If you want to read more, you can read the full article below.


Del-Gro


Headquartered in Southern California, Del-Gro provides innovative grow facilities for boutique cannabis cultivators. In addition to a place to grow, Del-Gro helps cultivators develop their business by providing access to experienced cultivation professionals to help with distribution, licensing, compliance and raising capital.


Ben Levine:

When we first got into this industry, we realized that the biggest challenges that passionate, expert growers face are startup costs. Many growers may not have the necessary business experience to successfully launch a project. It’s daunting because investors for new projects are constantly breathing down people’s necks for returns.

That’s where Del-Gro comes in. We provide turnkey facilities where growers like Derek can set up shop and prosper. It’s a collaborative model. My business partner and I engineer turnkey facilities for growers and help them establish their practice. We bring in municipal utilities to the sites, enabling growers to set up their businesses. We don’t just cultivate the cannabis; we cultivate the operations. We teach managers how to run facilities without spoonfeeding them.

The Del-Gro facility as envisioned in 3D.

We realized that it’s naive to expect any person to be a one-stop shop for setting up operations, so we built a huge network of highly qualified growers. These growers have become a resource to us, people that we can reach out to as growing methodologies and technologies change.

Editor’s Note: We felt the same thing, which is why we designed Growers Network as a community for cannabis professionals!

Derek Martinez:

My partners and I always had the goal of operating a large-scale, commercially licensed facility of our own, but California hasn’t always been a friendly environment for us.

The Del-Gro concept was brought to my attention by one of my business partners. We saw the vision, spoke to Ben about it, and found that it fit our business practices. Coachella seemed like a fit for us as well, because we had contract growing experience in Palms Springs, Desert Hot Springs, and Thousand Palms for many years.


What’s your education?

Derek Martinez:

I acquired most of my experience in the field, but I went to school at Hancock College to pursue botany and agricultural engineering. I wanted to learn how to build large-scale agricultural facilities and automate them. In large-scale cultivation, one of the biggest problems is human error.



How did you get into the cannabis business?

Derek Martinez:

About 10 years ago, I was put in touch with the Koreatown Collective in Los Angeles. Their head grower, a personal friend of mine, had lymphoma and was also a patient of the collective. I met him because, besides cannabis, he was interested in rare carnivorous plants, and I was involved with the carnivorous plant community in Los Angeles at the time. I had no real interest in marijuana back then. Eventually our discussions about carnivorous plants led into marijuana cultivation. He took me under his wing with the hope that I would replace him if his health started to deteriorate.

After working with him for a few years, I met my current business partner, Brandon Purkiss. Brandon connected me with his head grower, Patrick Kelly, the man who taught me everything I know. The three of us worked together for about 5 years. Brandon and I eventually set out on our own, developing, engineering, and operating large-scale cultivation facilities in Orange County and LA County, and now we’re here in Coachella.

Coachella Valley from satellite view. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Ben Levine:

I came from the restaurant and bar industry originally. The cannabis industry had always interested me, and two years ago I recognized that the California cannabis market was ready for innovation. I focused on the real estate and plant processing aspects of cannabis because they are my forte. The Del-Gro model is the brainchild of my business partner, Lars Havens; I research how best to integrate us into the market. Zeta Ceti from Greenrush Consulting was an integral consultant in starting Del-Gro as well. These last two years, I have learned a lot and I am lucky to be surrounded by brilliant people like Derek Martinez.


The Grow Operation


Derek Martinez:

I work on some outdoor and greenhouse projects, but I prefer working on indoor grows. Because California has always been known for its quality cannabis, we have to meet or exceed that quality. That means we need to grow indoors, hydroponically.

Derek Martinez:

Our propagation room currently measures in at 2,700 square feet. Our veg room is roughly 3,000 square feet, and we use another 1,200 square foot room for genetics and storage. The rest, about 7,100 square feet, is devoted to flowering.

Ben Levine:

Del-Gro currently provides two different sizes of building: One measures 14,000 square feet and the other measures 7,000 square feet. With a 7,000 square foot facility, you’re generally running about 3,850 square feet of flower, and right around 1280 square feet of veg. We like our growers to maintain 25-30% of their space for veg.


Lighting

Derek Martinez:

In our veg room, we’re running light emitting ceramics (LEC/CMH), and for our flowering room we’re running double-ended HPS lights. Our propagation room uses T5s and LEDs.

We use smart ballasts that adjust automatically based on where we’re at in flowering. We can turn them on and off remotely and they come with redundancy measures just in case of a malfunction or failure.

As far as light brands go, we use a relatively new brand on the market. We switched to this brand because of an issue we we had with the standard Gavita ballast. It used mounts with a vertical offset, which didn’t work with our mounting brackets. Now we’re using a brand named Illuminati. They balanced the mounting points and added a third mounting point so now it’s more adaptable for our use in lighting frames.



HVAC

Derek Martinez:

We use a split system AC that can be mounted inside or outside depending on your rooms. If we want to maintain a low humidity, then we mount the air handler inside the room. That way the coils are directly exposed to the air in the room and act like a dehumidifier.

Ben Levine:

Just to add on to what Derek said, we’re located in the Coachella desert. Because of the temperature, we run around 0.6 tons of air conditioning per light. That means if we’re running a 200 light grow, we’ll be using upwards of 100 tons of AC. It’s very expensive and one of the largest costs we face when setting up facilities and grow rooms.



Automation

Derek Martinez:

We use 12 station drip manifolds with drip emitters going directly to the plant. From there, a PVC line runs through some electronic solenoids. The solenoids are controlled by a station timer which is timed to activate during different times of day.

In the event of problems, we have some redundancy vectors set up. Our room thermostats are rigged to a relay, and whenever a high temperature threshold is reached, the thermostat triggers the relay, which either turns off or dims the lights.

Additionally, the lights we’re using also run in conjunction with a Gavita EL2. The Gavita EL2 has temperature thresholds as well. If you reach the first heat threshold, it’ll dim your lights. If you surpass the second heat threshold, it’ll turn them off.

We’re also looking forward to new automation technologies. There’s a lot of money going into technology and development. New products are coming up constantly. They make the life of a commercial grower much easier in the long run.


Strategy

Derek Martinez:

Our pest control method is primarily preventative. We face numerous pests, but since we run a clean operation, we have limited our exposure to them.

The pests that we most commonly run into are gnats. Thrips and spider mites are also big threats. They’re not really common for us, but if we do run into them we have plenty of organic treatments for them.

Knock on wood, hopefully spider mites don’t become an issue. In the event they become an issue, foliar sprays are our primary go-to. Depending on where the plants and mites are in their respective cycles, we may dispose of the plant.

Editor’s Note: Check out our related article on Integrated Pest Management!



Employee Procedure

Derek Martinez:

In our facilities, we have special suits for each employee. They come in, change their shoes, throw their suits on, then go about their day.



Pest Management Tools

Derek Martinez:

We use a few different, systemic treatments that are organic. If we anticipate a problem, we’ll use Captain Jack’s spinosad or one of our own proprietary systems. We tend to implement these in foliar sprays or our drip irrigation as a preventative measure.

Editor’s Note: Check out our related article on pesticides in Washington state!

Derek Martinez:

We’re running a footprint of about 16 plants per light and, on average, we tend to have close to 30 different genetics that we cycle through periodically. My partner and I manage multiple facilities, and one of them is an R&D facility where we bring all of our new genetics to test. We grow them to flower and determine which ones will best suit our growing methods.



Feeding

Derek Martinez:

We use an automated drip irrigation system that feeds multiple times a day. The runoff is pumped to a reclamation reservoir, which is then filtered and distributed to the city. It recycles the water back to the municipal, as clean as we got it.



Media

Derek Martinez:

We use rockwool and sphagnum moss for the most part. Our mothers and genetics get special treatment, so they might get soil, coco, sphagnum, rockwool, or some mixture of these depending on their needs.

Closeup of sphagnum moss, image courtesy of Wikipedia.



Nutrients

Derek Martinez:

We primarily use Advanced Nutrients. Advanced Nutrients has an all-organic nutrient line designed specifically for use with cannabis. We also supplement with all-organic additives from other nutrient lines. There’s a long list of additives that we could potentially use, depending on the application.


The Del-Gro Perspective

The people you work with and the relationships you build within this industry matter.Derek Martinez
Ben Levine:

I was recently on a conference call with some of the major marijuana companies in California. There were about 30 people on the call, and while this was a first draft, we were pretty excited.

We greatly appreciated the fact that they specified canopy square footage in terms of mature plants only. That allows people with type 1, type 2, and type 3 licenses to use extra space for different projects or services.

There are a few concerns we have with the draft bill, but those will probably get worked out before the final version. Because Del-Gro doesn’t directly grow anything, most of the legislation would not affect us. Large scale growers could face some challenges if the bill is enacted as is.

Derek Martinez:

A few years back, we were growing in Thousand Palms. Our only growing experience at the time was growing near the coast, where we experienced relative humidities in the 30s. In the desert, on the other hand, we’re looking at single digit relative humidities. We kept running into an issue when we were trying to dry and cure in the low humidity. Our post-harvest techniques had to change to adapt to that lower humidity. After that, we learned to maintain humidity in our drying and curing rooms between 52 to 60 RH. Ironically, drying and curing in the low humidity meant we had to keep rehydrating the product, making for a challenging experience.

Derek Martinez:

I would say our biggest success has come from automation. When automation became more mainstream, we were able to quickly adopt the new technology and implement it in our facilities. It has lightened up our workload across the board, allowing us to take on more projects and expand. It’s also reduced our overhead. A facility that would have taken 12 employees, can shrink to 9 employees or less by implementing these automation techniques.

Ben Levine:

We’re currently in expansion and development mode. With upcoming regulations and opportunities in the desert, we’re bringing a lot of business experience to the table and expect to see a lot of new faces in the industry.

Our next big project is 250,000 square feet. We’re also working on co-developing a 747,000 square foot project right behind us. We’re always looking for opportunities. We’ve got a lot to build on, and we’re looking forward to 2018.

Derek Martinez:

I was fortunate enough to apprentice with some really qualified growers in the industry. My advice to new growers would be to attach yourself to someone you can see yourself growing with, both figuratively and literally. This industry has its highs and lows on a daily basis, which means you’re going to experience a lot of pain as well as a lot of prosperity. The people you work with and the relationships you build within this industry matter.

Ideally your partners make you smile this much.

Additionally, the cannabis industry may feel large and uninviting at first. Once you start communicating with your peers, you realize that people who have similar ethics to you are rare. They are in limited supply, so be selective about your business partners and the people you choose to involve yourself with, and hopefully that will lead to prosperous relationships.


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Want to get in touch with Del-Gro?

You can reach them via the following methods:

  1. Website: https://www.del-gro.com/
  2. Email: [email protected]

Resources:

  1. Want to learn more about Del-Gro? Check out their website!
  2. Interested in learning more about California draft legislation? Let us know at [email protected]!
  3. Want to learn more about subjects we touched upon in this article? Check out our articles on subjects such as:
    1. Integrated Pest Management
    2. Compost Teas: Taking Fertilizers to the Next Level
    3. Pesticides in Washington

Do you have any questions or comments?

Feel free to post below!


About the Author

Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.