Pickens Mountain Cannabis – Going off the Grid


In this Growers Spotlight, we interview Brian Knopf in Washington to find out what’s going on off-the-grid at Pickens Mountain.

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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Growing Outdoors


Where are you located and why did you choose that location?

We’re a 20 acre property on the side of Pickens Mountain. I didn’t intend the land for cannabis; I merely purchased it when I was investing in land. It was a sweet deal at $12,000. So when I got my license, it was really a no brainer. Just needed some initial setup and we were in business.


Why did you decide to grow outdoors?

We don’t have an electric bill, period. If you ask any indoor grower, you’ll learn that their electric bill is one of their largest costs. Our cost per gram is miniscule compared to almost any other grow, and Pickens Mountain paid for itself by the first harvest season because of this.


How do you financially weather the off-season?

I usually earn around $450,000 to $500,000 per harvest season, and our operating costs are incredibly low. Split between myself and two other employees, it’s more than enough to do it all over again the next year.


What are some downsides to growing outdoors, off the grid?

The biggest downside is your vulnerability to the weather. We can get high winds that are really destructive to 8 foot tall cannabis plants. We also can get early freezes and fires.


Why go off the grid?

It would have cost me nearly $30,000 to bring power lines to the property. Instead, I took that money and made the grow self-sufficient. With some exceptions, the renewable energy sources are enough to do everything I need.


Any advice for new commercial growers?

My recommendation is to keep your overhead as low as possible and grow the best cannabis you can. Don’t get lost in the shuffle of mediocre cannabis, and don’t anticipate getting rich quick. It takes time and dedicated effort to really shine.


Plants


How many plants are you growing?

This season we grew approximately 1600 plants to full term. Each plant measured roughly 8 feet tall, and 8 feet in diameter. We also grew about 12 strains this year, down from 24 last season.

The reason we’ve grown fewer strains over time is because we’ve picked hardier, more productive strains that sell well. These strains are resilient to weather changes, differences in nutrients, high in terpenes and cannabinoids, and just all-around happy plants to work with.


How do you keep the soil healthy for each season?

The soil in the region wasn’t bad to begin with, and each season we truck in premium CANNA soil and fill in augered holes with that; essentially we make “ground pots” every year. The result is that the soil in the entire grow keeps getting richer and richer every year.


What’s your approach to pest management?

Because our location is subject to a lot of wind, we don’t get fungi for the most part. Many insect pests struggle with the wind as well, so we don’t usually see mites. Our most common pests are grasshoppers, aphids, and rogue seeds blown in by the wind. For insects, we use beneficials to deal with them and we spray neem oil as a preventative. We’re all organic here.


Equipment


How are you watering your plants?

Our grow is located on the side of a mountain with a relatively high water table. We only need a well about 20 feet deep to get lots of water.

We pump the water up to a 10,000 gallon reservoir that’s high up on the mountain. Gravity does all of the work from there. We simply set timers to enable the flow of water from the reservoir. We stagger their timing so that the water pressure doesn’t drop too low, but otherwise everything is done with the assistance of gravity..


Do you use any supplementary lighting? How do you implement it?

We use supplementary lighting purely for cloning and propagation. We generally use T5s for clones and seeds. There’s also general lighting for workers in certain areas dependent on our workers’ needs.


What automation are you using?

There are a few key points of automation, but the rest is all done by hand:

  1. Our irrigation system is on timers.
  2. We use a John Deere Tractor with an auger drill trailer.
  3. We use a golf cart to pull supplies and other things around.
  4. And we use two Centurion double-barreled automatic trimmers for the post-harvest.

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Growing Outdoors


We’re built on the side of Pickens Mountain, and it’s a 20 acre property. I originally didn’t intend to use the land for growing cannabis; I had merely purchased during a point in my life when I was investing in land. It was a sweet deal too — $12,000 for 20 acres of pristine land. I also happened to have been collecting solar panels and off-the-grid equipment for some time prior to growing as well.

Aerial view of Pickens Mountain Cannabis.

So when I got my license, it was really a no brainer. I had most of the equipment I needed, the land, and the license. Just needed some initial setup and we were in business. All-in-all, the whole investment cost me about $40k and I made that back within my first growing season, plus change.

Well, there were several reasons. The most obvious reason that I started growing outdoors is because it has virtually no overhead. We don’t have an electric bill, period. If you ask any indoor grower, you’ll learn that their electric bill is one of their largest costs. Our cost per gram is miniscule compared to almost any other grow, and Pickens Mountain paid for itself by the first harvest season because of this. It also takes very little investment to grow outside.

Additionally, my grow license allows 31,000 square feet. That’s a lot of space for just a few employees, so a large outdoor grow makes sense. I start the cuttings and seeds in a hoophouse/greenhouse, and the rest goes outside.

I’m not doing any light deprivation at Pickens Mountain. I either grow the cannabis to full term or select autoflowering strains.

Editor’s Note: Autoflowering strains originate from strains that were crossbred with Cannabis ruderalis.

Great question! Our entire operation shifts over to packaging and processing during the off season. We’re selling bulk flower to other processors or make our BHO extracts, particularly sugar wax concentrates.
The biggest downside is your vulnerability to the weather. Because we are located on the side of a mountain, we can get high winds sometimes. The high winds can be really destructive to 8 foot tall cannabis plants. Some seasons have more brutal winds than others, although this season has been relatively mild.

The other thing is that sometimes we can get early freezes. In the fall, we’re careful to watch weather reports regularly and not overwater the plants, lest they ice over. There’s also been some fires lately.

Some of the weather in the region.


I bought the property long before I intended to grow cannabis on it. At the time, it only cost me $12,000 for the 20 acre property. Part of the reason the land was so cheap was because it was relatively far away from utilities. It would have cost me nearly $30,000 to bring power lines to the property.

A view of some of Pickens’ renewables.

Instead, I decided to take that $30,000 and make the grow self-sufficient. With some exceptions, the renewable energy sources are enough to do everything I need. If I need any extra power, I have a propane generator. Because I use renewables, the cost of operation is incredibly low.
Well, there’s only me and two other permanent employees. We hire temps for pre-harvest and post-harvest work, but otherwise it’s just the three of us. We’re used to traveling fair distances and we have accommodations as well, should the need arise. We have a trailer with its own power source in case anybody needs to charge a cell phone or laptop. It even has a connection to the internet, so we’re not entirely isolated either.
In addition to the Pickens Mountain property, I also own a house in the North Seattle area. Near it, I rent a 1200 square foot warehouse that has an extraction and processing room. After we finish harvesting in early fall, the operation shifts to the warehouse where we process and package the cannabis.

Pickens Extraction Machine

Because Pickens Mountain’s business is largely focused on bulk flower and oil, we do some rudimentary preparations before sending flower and crude oil out for further processing. I make the oil via a closed-loop BHO extraction. The majority is made into sugar wax and sold under the pickens mountain cannabis sugarwax concentrate product line.

Sugar wax line.

The Plants


This season we grew approximately 1600 plants to full term. Each plant measured roughly 8 feet tall, and 8 feet in diameter. We also grew about 12 strains this year, down from 24 last season.
Well, we grew 12 strains this year, down from 24 last season and 50 the season prior. We have over 200 strains in our genetics library.

The reason we’ve grown fewer strains over time is because we’ve picked hardier, more productive strains that sell well. These strains are resilient to weather changes, differences in nutrients, high in terpenes and cannabinoids, and just all-around happy plants to work with. I’ll occasionally rotate in other strains depending on the season and what’s selling well. Some of my regulars include Blueberry, Lemon OG, Cherry Diesel, Orange Kush, 9 Pound Hammer, Strawberry Banana, Hellfire, Boss Hogg, Dr. Who, Pink Lemonade, and Sunset Sherbet.


The soil in the region wasn’t bad to begin with, honestly. I had it tested before we started growing here, and it’s pretty rich in nutrients. The main thing we’re adding is the microbiological community, since this is relatively virgin mountain soil that has been terraced out.

Each season, I auger holes deep into the ground with a tractor trailer. Every plant gets an auger hole, measuring 12 inches wide and 24 inches deep. We truck in premium CANNA soil and fill the holes with that, which we plop our plants into; essentially we’re making “ground” pots every year. The result of all the fresh CANNA soil is that the soil in the entire grow keeps getting richer and richer every year, and the whole field’s quality has improved over time.


Because our location is subject to a lot of wind, we don’t get fungi for the most part. Many insect pests struggle with the wind as well, so we don’t usually see mites.

Our most common pests are grasshoppers, aphids, and rogue seeds blown in by the wind. For aphids and grasshoppers, we use beneficials to deal with them. Praying manti, nematodes, and ladybugs often deal with the problems right away, and we spray neem oil as a preventative. We also use Grandevo as a soil drench for systemic prevention. We’re all organic here.

As for rogue seeds blown in by the wind, we regularly weed around the base of each plant and do periodic landscaping. We also keep a fireline around the fence perimeter.


The Equipment

The grow itself is terraced into 3 tiers, so gravity does all of the work.Brian
So, as I mentioned before, our grow is located on the side of a mountain, with a relatively high water table. We only have to build a well about 20 feet deep at the base of the mountain to get lots of water.

What we do then is use a well pump to push water up to a 10,000 gallon reservoir that’s higher up on the mountain than the rest of the grow. The grow itself is terraced into 3 tiers, so gravity does all of the work. We simply set timers to enable the flow of water from the reservoir. We stagger their timing so that the water pressure doesn’t drop too low, but otherwise everything is done with the assistance of gravity.

The reservoir.

Each tier of the grow has 6 frost-free hose bits that come out of the ground and feed into drip emitters around the base of each plant.

We use supplementary lighting purely for cloning and propagation. We generally use T5s for clones and seeds. There’s also general lighting for workers in certain areas dependent on our workers’ needs.
There are a few key points of automation, but the rest is all done by hand:
  1. Our irrigation system is on timers.
  2. We use a John Deere Tractor with an auger drill trailer.
  3. We use a rideable lawn mower and lawn tractors to pull supplies and other things around.
  4. And we use two Centurion double-barreled automatic trimmers for the post-harvest.

Centurion Double-Barreled Trimmers


About Brian Knopf and Pickens Mountain

Don’t get lost in the shuffle of mediocre cannabis, and don’t anticipate getting rich quick.Brian
I grew up in Southern California in the ‘80s and my family ended up moving to Nevada during my teens. I eventually ended up going to a recording school in San Francisco, and got my degree in audio engineering. I owned and operated a music studio and live music venue in the ‘90s.

In the early 2000s, my wife and I had a kid with another on the way. We moved to Seattle and started a home recording studio there. A friend of mine from Nevada invited me to join his plumbing business, and because relying on musicians isn’t the most reliable source of income, I decided to join him. I did gas piping for about 12 years, and even started my own plumbing business in Seattle. Eventually my wife and I found ourselves at odds and filed for divorce throughout 2012-2014. This happened right about the same time that licensing options became available in Washington for recreational cannabis producers and processors.

After all the shakeup from the divorce, I decided to change up my life a bit. I owned the property at Pickens Mountain for some time, so I applied for a license to grow cannabis. Sure enough, I got the license, quit my plumbing job, and went off the grid to build out the farm.

I’ve been involved in cannabis in some way, shape, or form for most of my life. I was first introduced to cannabis when I was in the 6th or 7th grade in Southern California. Throughout my teens and into adulthood, I grew plants here and there.

As I moved into my adult years, I continued doing small home grows for a while. I also worked with a coop that provided material to a local dispensary. I’ve got 30 years of personal experience and a large genetic library. The difference is that now I’m growing on a commercial scale.

As for the why, I needed a change after my divorce, and I already owned the Pickens Mountain property and numerous solar panels right when 502 launched. It just made sense really.

Pickens Mountain is the largest legal, off-the-grid, tier 3 grow op in Washington, and possibly the country. We’re located on the side of a mountain on a 20 acre property that has been terraced into 3 tiers. We run on wind, solar, and alternative energy sources, with a backup propane generator just in case. All of our irrigation systems are gravity fed, because our water tanks are on the mountain above the grow.

Editor’s Note: There are other large, outdoor grows as well. You can read about them in our latest article on the 2018 Largest Grow Operations in North America. As far as we know, however, this is the largest off-the-grid grow.

The initial buildout of a terraced grow on a remote mountain from scratch was certainly a challenge. Figuring out how to irrigate it and electrify it was also difficult.

I’m also constantly fighting nature in some regards. It could be high winds, high or low temps, early frosts, fires, and more. We’re always dealing with nature.

My biggest triumphs are just pulling it off every time. Every season we come in and grow a ton, pass test results without any serious pests, and then have the money to do it all over again next year. It’s hard to find a bigger triumph.

We don’t have million dollar funding. We started with less than $40,000 and we’ve been doing well. Big million dollar grows are in debt, and we’re debt-free here. We don’t rely on all the technology that some growers need. We’re an underdog, but in an excellent way.

One of my bigger personal successes was getting recognized by Sungrower Magazine. They did a profile on Pickens Mountain for their first edition, called “High on Pickens Mountain.”

Recent cover of Sungrower magazine.
One of our neighbors offered me their land (73 acres), which I purchased. Now we have 93 acres of contiguous property. Additionally, because the herd is thinning in Washington, now we’re able to pick up more licenses. We’re definitely considering the possibility of obtaining those licenses to start our own greenhouse setup as a clone zone for propagations to sell to other grows and to supply Pickens. There are lots of niches in the market that can be filled, and that’s one of them.
My recommendation is to keep your overhead as low as possible and grow the best cannabis you can. Don’t get lost in the shuffle of mediocre cannabis, and don’t anticipate getting rich quick. It takes time and dedicated effort to really shine.


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Want to get in touch with Pickens Mountain Cannabis?

You can reach them via the following methods:

  1. Website: http://www.pickensmountaincannabis.com/
  2. Email: [email protected]

Resources:

  1. Unfamiliar with any terms in this article? Check out the new and improved glossary!
  2. Check out some of our other Grow Op Overviews!
    1. Sustainable Growing – Underground
    2. Del-Gro – Coachella, California
    3. Reef Dispensaries – Arizona and Nevada
  3. Interested in learning about other large grows? Check out our list of the Largest Grows in North America in 2018.

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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.