Vancouver’s grow expo

On Vancouver’s waterfront this past May, in a convention center distinguished by its billowing, white-sailed roof, the hydroponics industry showed off its latest products at the fourth annual Maximum Yield International Indoor Gardening Expo.
Maximum Yield is a highly-successful British Columbia-based international magazine that contains technical articles about generic hydroponics and indoor gardening. They are also sponsoring indoor gardening expos in Montreal in October, and in San Diego in August. The magazine’s publisher and editor, Jim Jesson, told me the vast array of equipment and the Expo’s many visitors were involved only with “legitimate gardening” instead of marijuana growing.

Yet, one of my companions challenged Jesson’s surprising assertion that his magazine, and the Expo itself, were not dedicated to the marijuana cultivation industry.

“I’d like to know if you know that most people who read your magazine and who are in here today are making their money off marijuana,” my companion said.

Jesson and his wife, who seconds before were beaming with pride when we complimented their magazine and the Expo, froze up and started scowling when the word “marijuana” was spoken.

“This is for legal gardening, and that’s all I’m going to say,” Jesson said tersely, valiantly ignoring the odor of marijuana smoke wafting in from outside on the smoking deck.

“But dude, it’s obvious that most of the products here are for growing herb,” my companion replied. “Advanced Nutrients is the only company that has the guts to publicly state what everybody else tries to hide ? we all know this is about herb. Why not just admit it? You’re making all this money off it. Why not be up front?”

Jim Jesson said not a word. His wife broke the silence by saying, “We don’t advocate that; if you have further questions, go ask somebody else.”

Food for plants

Proper plant feeding and growth control are major themes at hydro expos. On hand at the Vancouver Expo were Advanced Nutrients, General Hydroponics, BioBizz, Dutch Master, Bio Nova, Canna Canada, Atami B’cuzz, and other plant foodists. Some of these companies hail from Holland or Australia and have only recently expanded into the North American market; previously, I had seen them only at European trade shows.

Competition between nutrient companies is vicious. The difficulty presented by competing nutrients companies is that all of them make bold claims about their products’ efficacy and superiority, but none of them reveal all product ingredients or ratios, and few claims are backed up by documented research on marijuana plants.

Advanced Nutrients continues to be the only nutrient company that openly admits it designs and tests its products for marijuana, but even they have had to temper their US and website marijuana-focused advertising as a concession to the US drug war. Earlier this year, US Customs agents tried to turn back a shipment of Advanced products sent from the company’s BC factory to the US. Apparently, US officials believed the products were a bit too “marijuana-specific.”

Company spokesperson Mike Straumietis says the border problems have been solved, and that he’s excited about the launch of Advanced Nutrients organic fertilizers, along with a new line of fertilizers produced in conjunction with grow guru Ed Rosenthal.

At the Expo, nutrient companies seemed to be promoting opposite goals. One goal is to increase plant size and yield by stimulating root-zone health, overall vigor, and floral size with plant growth regulators, enzymes, beneficial organisms, and (allegedly) exclusive formulations of macronutrients and micronutrients. Yet another common goal was to limit vertical growth of plants. One sales rep even claimed that his product would increase the number of internodes while decreasing internodal length.

Party animals

Advanced Nutrients debuted several products at the show, and found novel ways to promote them. Straumietis says his “Tarantula” formula, especially when used in combination with fulvic and humic acid, creates healthy, living microbial environments,especially in rockwool and other artificial mediums. Tarantula contains beneficial bacteria that colonize root zones so roots more easily intake nutrients.

Another new Advanced product, “Organic Iguana Juice,” is a multi-purpose veg formula that is part of the company’s newly-configured organics line. Other companies were also launching organic or mostly-organic fertilizers.

Advanced Nutrients had taken over the northeast quadrant of the centre with massive photographic billboards and illustrations, posters, giveaways, Hummers, and education booths.

The company staffed its sales booth with several beautiful girls. During portions of the Expo, the girls were practically nude while being bodypainted with cannabis logos, product names and swirly colors. At other times, they wore tiny bikinis while they carried around live tarantulas and iguanas. During bodypainting sessions, the girls posed on a massive, covered, Plexiglas terrarium that contained several furry tarantulas.

Some exhibitors muttered about “American-style aggressive marketing tactics,” but Advanced threw a Saturday night party so lavish, wild and generous that even the naysayers were won over.

“They had live music, about 40 different kinds of bud, an open bar, the best of everything,” reported videographer Remo, who is producing grow videos for Internet distribution.

New school techniques

The nuts and bolts of indoor growing involve air exchange, heat dispersal, humidity control, carbon dioxide (CO2), lighting, odor cessation, plant comfort, reflectivity, security, nutrient delivery, and monitoring.

The Expo’s exhibitors had the latest equipment and advice, with no respect for old school traditions. Consider the circular Omega Garden and Bonzai Garden, one of several rotary growing designs that hold plants in rotating or tiered bases that maximize photosynthesis and space while creating healthy plant vascular systems that produce yields as high as three pounds per 1,000-watt light.

These systems are easy to use and very productive, but initial start-up costs are high: the rotating kits do not include all the lights, pumps, rockwool, timers and other equipment needed to flesh out the system. Setting up a 240-plant rotary garden, for example, could cost about $5,500 US.

A cheaper alternative is grow boxes, which duplicate traditional grow rooms, but on a smaller, more enclosed scale. Some grow boxes have high-intensity fluorescent lighting combined with high reflectivity interiors. Their manufacturers say fluorescents have very low operating temperatures, and are not easily detected by police devices which can hone-in on electrical frequencies generated by high-intensity MH or HPS ballasts.

Another innovative (and less expensive) gardening idea was offered by PlasmaponiX. The company has created a bag grow system that can be attached to walls and ceilings. Each bag is a miniature grow zone, connected to other bags and nutrient reservoirs by tubing.

Fresh air

Air exchange, filtering, and aeration techniques have improved in the last five years.

Mike, of Max Air, showed off various high intensity light packages that featured vented and air-cooled lights. Until a few years ago, most growers who wanted to minimize lighting-caused heat problems could only put a piece of light-dimming glass at the bottom of their reflectors, or use lots of external fans.

Mike’s systems go way beyond that. In his reflectors, bulbs are held in vented tubes. The tubes are connected by ducting to an exhaust fan. Mike says excess heat removed from grow rooms can be used to heat houses or water heaters.

Flexible thermoducting was also on sale at the Expo, as was a new generation of exhaust fans, some of which include filters that remove pathogens and odor while moving air. Airtech’s stackable filtration systems are an example of units that include multiple filters and easy connections for in-line filtering. In the aeration and filtration sector, the emphasis is on power, energy efficiency, odor removal, and noise reduction.

For serious growers who run more than 20 lights, companies like H&M were on hand to demo heat exchangers and industrial strength air conditioners. Their rep also told me about his new, low-noise diesel generator, capable of cranking out 90,000 watts of secret electricity. The generator is encased in a noise reduction housing and outfitted with an expensive muffler to further dampen sound.

To handle electricity and monitor indoor climate, gardeners can use multi-task control units. European grow expos often feature computerized systems that regulate temperature, humidity, air flow, light cycles, venting, CO2 and watering; those systems are video remote-accessible so growers can see and manage their crops from far away. At the Max Yield Expo, I didn’t see that level of sophistication, but I did see competently-designed electronics, sensors, and regulator packages.

One of the main selling points for these products is safety. Police often criticize indoor growers for creating moldy indoor environments that destroy homes. The Expo featured plenty of climate control equipment that can eradicate the conditions that promote mold growth.

Police also say that bare-wire ballasts, overloaded circuitry, and other electrical short-cuts make grow rooms a fire hazard. The newest generation of ballasts, circuit boxes, flip-flop units and other marijuana grow equipment emphasizes safety, with “redundant” features designed to detect overloads and minimize the chance of failure or fires. Flip-flop units are especially useful because they ensure electrical safety while fostering super-efficient use of lighting ballasts in set-ups that have two or more grow areas.

Speaking of safety, how about safe flowers? It is troubling that a segment of the industry uses poisons during the floral cycle to control pests, pathogens, and diseases. Growers at the Expo joked about using Avid, a toxic poison, to control mites. Other cannabists sell or use “specialty insecticides” and other interventions (such as sulfur) that contain pollutants, chemicals or plant-based toxins.

Some natural pesticide products might be “safe” when used in the early stages of vegetative growth, but there is no credible proof that these products have no adverse health effects on smokers. All growers should stop using sprays on plants or in grow rooms, at least during floral period.

What more appropriate way to finalize an article on indoor gardening than with a mention of products that help trim your buds at the end of the crop cycle. I’ve been disappointed at other grow expos by cutting tools that amount to nothing more than fancy electrical scissors.

At the BC expo, however, I tested a new generation of “motorized industrial crop trimmers,” which feature sharp, rotating cutting devices hooked up to powerful vacuums that suck trim leaf into holding tanks.

“This device isn’t just more convenient and faster,” explained an Aardvark sales rep. “You don’t need a crew of trimmers to come in and harvest your crop. Just our machine. And, our machines don’t talk, nor do they come back late at night to rip you off!”

? Maximum Yield Magazine: #11 ? 1925 Bowen Road, Nanaimo, BC, V9S 1H1; tel 250-729-2677;
? Aardvark Trimmers:
? Advanced Nutrients:
? Aeroflow:
? Airshades:
? Can Gro:
? Fantech:
? Heat Exchangers Inc:
? Megawatt Hydro:
? Omega Garden:
? Plug’n’Grow:
? Thermoflow Technologies:
? Vortex Thermofans: