TFO LLC – Las Vegas, Nevada


We interview Kurtis Johnson of TFO LLC about his experiences producing large quantities of cannabis in a confined space.

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.


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Grow Operation


Where are you located and why?

We grow in North Las Vegas, in a former ice-cream manufacturing plant. The facility was built with 3 medical-grade, sealed freezer rooms which are perfect for growing in a confined, environmentally-controlled space. We added HVAC, dehumidification, powers, generators, and more, and started the grow.


Indoor/Outdoor/Greenhouse and why?

Our grow is indoors, and our medical license is intended solely for an indoor grow. Nevada is a “no-see” state, meaning that if you can tell what is being grown from the outside, the state will take away your license.


What does your grow layout look like?

We have a 5000 sq. ft building divided into 3 – 20’ x 40’ rooms that are double-stacked. We run a perpetual harvest, sea of green system, and we’re able to pull out roughly 2 ½ pounds of cannabis a day.


What’s your approach to pest management?

Three things are a critical function when it comes to pest management:

  1. Prevention
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Management

Prevention is is focused on Integrated Pest Management. People have been growing crops forever, and we’ve only truly cultivated cannabis relatively recently. Instead of repeating old mistakes, learn from other people’s experiences. If you ever have a concern about a specific pest in your area, check in with the local department of agriculture and learn what you can.

Cleanliness is all about making sure nothing enters the grow room that you don’t want in there in the first place. Ideally, everything, including your employees, should run through some form of cleanliness procedure, and your air and water should be sterilized.

And of course, management is about staying on top of what’s going on in your grow. If you have an infestation of some pest, they appeared because you weren’t keeping a close eye on things. Pests don’t appear out of nowhere. As I always say to my new employees, “the opposite of pests is persistence.”


Plants and Equipment


You mentioned that you skip veg, how does that work?

We grow large clones. Once they’re well-rooted, we transplant them into trays where they’re completely rootbound. By keeping the clones rootbound, the plant realizes that it’s confined and quickly pushes towards flowering.


How do you give your clones enough time to root?

We’ve built an aeroponic dome system that gives the clones plenty of time to root. A tray with holes for the rooting medium has aeroponic sprayers on the bottom so that the clones stay nice and humid while their roots grow.


How many plants are you growing and how do you grow them?

We’re growing 6,000 plants in our 5,000 square feet of growing space. We grow small plants and we’re double-stacked. Nevada is not a plant-counting state. It doesn’t matter how high your plant count is, so training isn’t a big concern.


What strains are you growing?

We grow:

  1. Grape Ape
  2. Grape Stomper
  3. Lemon Larry
  4. Blue Dream (a few varieties, since there’s no one definitive Blue Dream)
  5. Cherry Diesel
  6. And more depending on their sales value and usefulness.

What is your current feeding style?

Adult plants get drip-fed via a drain-to-recycling system. The way it works is like this:

  1. We take in municipal water or recycled water and run that water through an RO system.
  2. Check the pH and EC, adjust appropriately.
  3. Add in nutrient mix.
  4. Drip-feed the plants.
  5. Extra water drains back to the RO system.
    1. We also recycle transpired water via our dehumidifiers.

About the Company


What makes TFO unique?

TFO is a grow that has been challenged by competing interests in its management. The grow itself is technically sound and well-designed, but the management team didn’t understand growing, and the profit model wasn’t based on a full understanding of how cannabis is grown or sold in the medical cannabis community. I have worked diligently to help turn that around and make it a successful grow using mathematics and meticulous note-taking.


Any advice for new commercial growers?

First, figure out what you know and what you don’t know. It’s ok to not know everything. That’s what books and reading are for.

Second, take plenty of notes. My notetaking allows me to develop best practices over time that I can share with my employees, which we can turn into procedures for new hires. I need to make new mistakes, not repeat old mistakes.

Third, when you’re setting up a business, make sure that you have aligned your priorities with your partners. Everybody has different needs from a business venture, and relationships require compromise.

Fourth, don’t start a business if you don’t have the passion for it. Money may be important, but you can always make more money tomorrow. Spend your time in good health and in joy.

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The Grow Operation

The opposite of pests is persistence.Kurtis Johnson
We grow in North Las Vegas, in a former ice-cream manufacturing plant. The plant has been used for several things in the past, including as a slaughterhouse and most recently as an automotive power-steering rebuilding facility.

The facility was built with 3 medical-grade, sealed freezer rooms. These rooms are perfect for growing in a confined, environmentally-controlled space. We added HVAC, dehumidification, powers, generators, and more, and started the grow.

Our grow is obviously indoors, and our medical license is intended solely for an indoor grow. Nevada is a “no-see” state, meaning that any cannabis cultivation cannot be easily observed from the outside. If you can tell what is being grown from the outside, the state will take away your license.

That said, I’ve consulted in the Emerald Triangle for friends who grow in hoophouses, greenhouses, and outdoors. Each space is has its own upsides, downsides, and quirks. If you’re underfunded or starting a small grow, it’s hard to go wrong with an outdoor grow. As you make some more money, both greenhouse and indoor grows offer different utility. But, because of Nevada’s climate and laws, greenhouses are much less useful here.

We have a 5000 sq. ft building divided into 3 – 20’ x 40’ rooms that are double-stacked. We run a perpetual harvest, sea of green system, and we’re able to pull out roughly 2 ½ pounds of cannabis a day.

Three things are a critical function when it comes to pest management:
  1. Prevention
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Management

Now, what do I mean by these three things?

Prevention is is focused on Integrated Pest Management. I’m a state-certified pesticide applicator and pest manager through our state’s department of agriculture. The honest truth is that people have been growing crops forever, and we’ve only truly cultivated cannabis relatively recently. Instead of repeating old mistakes, learn from other people’s experiences. Departments of agriculture for most states have tons of resources for how to effectively manage and prevent different local pests without the need for dangerous chemicals. If you ever have a concern about a specific pest in your area, check in with the local department of agriculture and learn what you can.

Some of the TFO bud.

Cleanliness is all about making sure nothing enters the grow room that you don’t want in there in the first place. Ideally, everything, including your employees, should run through some form of cleanliness procedure, and your air and water should be sterilized. Air should be passed through carbon filters, subjected to ozone and UV sterilization. Water should be passed through an RO machine and then checked for EC and pH before adding nutrients.

And of course, management is about staying on top of what’s going on in your grow. What I mean is this: If you have an infestation of some pest, be it algae, fungus gnats, flies, etc., they appeared because you weren’t keeping a close eye on things. Pests don’t appear out of nowhere. They form over time, and if you aren’t on top of it, you’re going to have a problem. As I always say to my new employees, “the opposite of pests is persistence.” In our grow, we assign an individual with the task of being emphatically responsible for pest monitoring. If there’s a sign of anything whatsoever, we want to know about it.

I was never a fan of the idea of hydrocarbon solvents such as butane, so I looked into CO2 extraction. We make supercritical CO2 extracts with an alcohol cosolvent. Our oils and tinctures are CBD-based, and we’re working towards extracting some of the rarer cannabinoids such as CBG, CBK, and more. These rarer cannabinoids may be incredibly valuable in dealing with chronic illnesses and inflammation.

I don’t have the laboratory or knowledge necessary to produce cannabinoid acids, but I’m working towards it.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced has to do with a difference in business priorities. The management for TFO hadn’t had as much experience growing cannabis before and expected financial results that weren’t realistic. There was also a difference of priorities between some individuals.

For the industry at large, companies need to realize there’s a limitation on what they can do. As my plumber used to say, “You can have it done well, done quickly, or done cheaply. Pick two.” Life is about compromises.

One of our current big challenges actually has to do with government regulation. We’re being regulated by people who, while trying their best, have no understanding or experience with cannabis. We as an industry need to come up with standard operating procedures and texts that are useful for regulators writing policies.

Plants and Equipment

[…] If I’m not smoking regularly, I need something to do.Kurtis Johnson
We grow large clones. Once they’re well-rooted in rockwool, we transplant them into trays where they’re completely rootbound.

And it’s that rootbound factor that’s important. Most other grows use large pots or large open spaces to grow their plants, and that encourages the plants to spread out and veg. By keeping the clones rootbound, the plant realizes that it’s confined, can no longer grow any further, and quickly pushes towards flowering. Plant stress is vital to keeping a good production schedule.

Because we cut large clones, we do have to pay more attention to how they root. We’ve built an aeroponic dome system that gives the clones plenty of time to root. A tray with holes for the rooting medium has aeroponic sprayers on the bottom so that the clones stay nice and humid while their roots grow.

One thing to note is that in Nevada at least, clones are practically a seasonal function. Even with temperature and humidity controls in the grow, the climate still seems to affect the ability for clones to successfully root. It gets super dry in the winter months, and we can get strange temperature fluctuations. We find that cloning works best during the summer.

We’re growing 6,000 plants in our 5,000 square feet of growing space. I know it seems like a lot, but as I mentioned, we grow small plants and we’re double-stacked, so the vertical space makes up the raw square footage difference. Plants get 55-72 days before they come down, depending on their genetics and needs.

Now, the nice thing about Nevada is that it’s not a plant-counting state. It doesn’t matter how high your plant count is, so training isn’t a big concern. In states where plant counts do matter, training is vital. But not so much here.

We grow:
  1. Grape Ape
  2. Grape Stomper
  3. Lemon Larry
  4. Blue Dream (a few varieties, since there’s no one definitive Blue Dream)
  5. Cherry Diesel

Until somebody establishes a genetic profile, strains aren’t the most important thing in my book. We pick based on what sells well and phenos well. Cherry Diesel is a production wonder, for example. Part of the science of being a good cultivator is identifying those strains that work and sell well.

As I mentioned, clones get fed via an aeroponic system. For adult plants, however, we drip-feed them via a drain-to-recycling system. When we designed the system, we wanted to reduce labor costs and increase consistency.

So the way it works is like this:

  1. We take in municipal water or recycled water from the grow or dehumidifiers.
  2. Run that water through an RO system.
  3. Check the pH and EC, adjust appropriately.
  4. Add in our nutrient mix to the water via an automatic timer and a pre-mixed tote of nutrients.
  5. Fertigate the plants with a drip-feed system.
  6. Any extra water drains back to the RO system.
    1. Additionally, we also recycle transpired water via our dehumidifiers, which is a great source for relatively clean water as well.
My current favorite light is the Philips Agro-Grow Elite CMH. I usually place my lights as close as possible to the plants without burning them, and that’s based on the leaf temperature. I try to keep leaf temperature below 95 degrees depending on the stage they’re in, so that determines the lighting placement.

A new generator shipped to the facility.
We buy a nutrient mix from a group in Colorado who produce their own proprietary powdered mix. They produce a consistent mix that’s high in magnesium sulfate and calcium nitrate, and includes all the micronutrients and trace metals. They sell them in 100 lbs. bags. We’d like to produce our own nutrients someday, because the shipping costs are high, but for now they make the best nutrients.

We control the nutrient mixing with timers and pumps. I mix the dry totes and let the timers and pumps do their work. I take meticulous notes to get the timing right, because if I’m not smoking regularly, I need something to do.

I prefer to keep the leaf temperature between 72 and 95 Fahrenheit depending on what point in time the plant is in its cycle. I try to keep room humidity as low as possible, but we typically average between 32-36% RH. There are localized microclimates and RH can spike at night time, but we do our best to avoid these problems.

About Kurtis Johnson and TFO LLC

I need to make new mistakes, not repeat old mistakes.Kurtis Johnson
I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Physics and Mathematics from Saint Olaf College back in ‘86. I’ve since worked hard to expand my skills and knowledge since then. I’ve worked in the automotive industry for some time, working in specialized areas such as electrical vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and advanced modifications of internal combustion engines. I’ve even done some racing.

Unfortunately, my father got a traumatic brain injury from an accident on some salt flats when he was traveling about 250 mph. We found that CBD oils and other cannabis extracts really help him with issues, on top of helping me with my migraines. Cannabis really is a medicine for my family.

I was introduced to cannabis as a 13 year-old smoking recreationally in junior high, much to the chagrin of my parents. At the time I was just a social smoker. I started growing as a young adult, and I carried on personal grows even to this day, although now I do it less to get high, and more to treat chronic health concerns in my family.

I got to know the Thomsons from my automotive work, as we worked together in an automotive warehouse. I have a working knowledge of plant pharmacology and chemistry, and I grew privately for my family’s health concerns, so, along with some other partners, we started this venture together when Nevada opened up applications for cannabis grows.

TFO is a grow that has been challenged by competing interests in its management. The grow itself is technically sound and well-designed, but the management team didn’t understand growing, and the profit model wasn’t based on a full understanding of how cannabis is grown or sold in the medical cannabis community. I have worked diligently to help turn that around and make it a successful grow using mathematics and meticulous note-taking. Most of what comes out of the grow now gets sold as top-shelf cannabis under a separate label, or goes to CO2 supercritical extraction to make oils and tinctures.

Editor’s Note: You can hear Kurtis talk more about his approach to growing in another interview found here as well.

Ironically, my biggest challenges (people) have also been my biggest successes. I’ve worked with a lot of great people and developed great relationships with many of them.

Additionally, my frustrations with this grow have propelled me into broader consulting. I’ve learned a lot from errors which myself and others have made and it’s helping me teach others to avoid those mistakes.

I’m working on becoming a cannabis MD. I’m taking classes for pre-med, and I plan on getting into med school and becoming a resident. I want to be involved in patient care in more than just cannabis as well.
Yeah, I’ve got a few pieces of advice.

First, figure out what you know and what you don’t know. It’s ok to not know everything. That’s what books and reading are for.

Second, take plenty of notes. I grab a bunch of composition books that I hang up nearly everywhere. My notetaking allows me to develop best practices over time that I can share with my employees, which we can turn into checklists for new hires. I don’t need automatons, but I also don’t want them making the same mistakes that I did. Learn from other people’s mistakes. I need to make new mistakes, not repeat old mistakes.

Third, when you’re setting up a business and business partners, make sure that you have aligned your priorities with theirs. Remember that everybody has different needs and desires from a business venture, and relationships require compromise and shared values. Don’t make assumptions about other people, and be prepared to make some sacrifices for the good of the group.

Fourth, don’t start a business or a large grow if you don’t have the passion for it. Be passionate about what you do. Money may be important, but you can always make more money tomorrow. Spend your time in good health and in joy.

As I said, you should definitely make sure your mistakes are new ones, not repeats of old ones. To that end, see what other people are doing and have done. Watch YouTube channels relevant to your interests. Read books from professionals such as Ed Rosenthal and Jorge Cervantes. They’ve been there, learn from them.
I’d definitely say give me a call or email. My phone is 702-480-7676, and my email is [email protected]. If I think we can help each other, I’d be happy to help consult.


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Want to get in touch with TFO LLC?

You can reach them via the following methods:

  1. Phone: 702-480-7676
  2. Email: [email protected]

Resources:

  1. Interested in learning more about other grow operations? Check out other articles such as these:
    1. Sustainable Growing – Underground
    2. Del-Gro – Coachella, California
    3. Reef Dispensaries – Arizona and Nevada
  2. Learn a little bit more about aeroponics in this article!
  3. Curious about micronutrients? Read more about it in this series.

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.