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CAN: Wheatley outdoor grow-op entering second season

Using natural sunlight and the breeze from Lake Erie, growers with an outdoor cannabis farm near Wheatley are about to enter their second season after learning a few lessons from last year.

Mariwell, located on Talbot Trail, was likely the first company to legally grow the plant in an outdoor setting last year. The eight-acre operation is run by president Jeff McAllister and vice-president of finance Theresa Robert, who previously owned McAllister Courier near Chatham.

Master grower Brendon Dittmer said he learned last year how beneficial a lakeside operation can be for cannabis plants. In other areas, mould can be more of a problem, he said. “We get amazing breeze and it helps maintain the plants,” he said. “It helps maintain a good temperature at the canopy level as well, which increases our yield and our quality of our product.”

Dittmer started growing cannabis for a multiple sclerosis patient, who had a 25-plant licence, about 17 years ago. He then worked in indoor facilities and greenhouses, including helping set up greenhouses and moving an operation from indoors to outdoors. The way the plants are arranged will also be different this year. Dittmer said they are using the “California method,” which gives the plants more space.

“We don’t want to crowd the plants because a lot of strains are dependent on touch,” he said. “As soon as they feel another plant touching them, they actually stop their footprint wide” and move “towards vertical growth instead.”

Robert said with fewer plants this year, they’ll need fewer employees come harvest. Last year, about 12 worked in the fields, but they will likely hire six or seven this year, she said. About five people work year-round.

McAllister said the operation used about 50,000 litres of water per day during the last growing season, and the company has an automated system which lets them target different areas in the field and monitor the moisture levels in the ground.

The indoor facility on site has two drying rooms that can each hold about 1,000 kilograms at a time. McAllister said it usually takes about seven to 10 days to get the product’s moisture down to 10 or 15 per cent.

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