High Country: Sungrown cannabis cultivator Roots Rx shares the pros and cons of farming at altitude
The mountain town dispensary company is one of the few true seed-to-sale operations in Colorado.
Unlike California, where sungrown cannabis thrives in growing regions like the Emerald Triangle, flower from Colorado most commonly comes from indoor greenhouses in industrial parks. With a challenging climate — made even more difficult the higher the elevation — it’s a challenge to find cannabis that’s cultivated the way it was intended to: from the earth.
Enter Roots Rx, the multi-store chain of dispensaries that has gained a foothold in the high country with six mountain town locations in Aspen, Basalt, Eagle-Vail, Edwards, Gunnison and Leadville. Its first location opened seven years ago in Eagle-Vail, with Roots Rx Aspen and Basalt soon following in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Today, the Roots Rx corporate team remains based in Eagle-Vail with an indoor cultivation headquarters adjacent to its Leadville location.
But what sets the traditional adult- use retailer apart from its competitors is that it also owns a large parcel of land (ownership declined to disclose acreage and output specifics) near Basalt, where it operates a full-scale outdoor cannabis farm. As one of the only true seed-to-sale dispensary companies in the state, Roots Rx features a special “sungrown shelf” in each of its stores (availability is dependent on harvest yield and time of year) with its indoor supply supplementing the remaining inventory; Roots Rx offers 14 unique strains in total, in addition to flower from brand partners across Colorado.
Following the first snow, which had the Roots Rx team scrambling to wrap up their final harvest of the season last Sunday, cultivation manager Cody Bolt shares his pros and cons for growing cannabis at altitude. (He also personally recommends the Sunset Mac and Chem Dawg #4 as his personal favorite Roots Rx sungrown strains.)
Outdoor natural sunlight provides more light than plants can use in a day, and since they are in the dirt, it provides more potential for root growth and greater yielding plants. We don’t have as high of an electric use, since there is no need for lights. The plants become more resilient because they become used to the Colorado temperature flux we experience in our area. They ease into the seasonal change, which makes them heartier plants. And at elevation, we have low pest pressure since they don’t thrive in the colder temperatures like they (can) in an indoor, climate-controlled setting.
With outdoor we don’t have as much control, we have to work with Mother Nature’s changes, which can happen very quickly. It also means we have to do it the right way once, instead of having to go back and manipulate a better environment in an indoor setting.
The benefits include the native soil and water (on the farm). They are of great quality and that makes a huge difference. Challenges include late spring freeze and early fall freeze and we only get one growing season when growing outside.
Using the soil on the land is extremely reusable, but we do have to do a lot by hand to avoid emissions from heavy equipment. As an industry overall, we have to work on improving everything we are doing and move to more organic practices. Along with keeping all of our facility and store practices sustainable.
The soil is extremely fertile! When you look at a panel of (our) soil we have great microbial growth. Good bacteria in the soil is beneficial, in the same way probiotics are good for humans. Its natural nutrient profile levels are very good. We start testing these levels in the spring, when the snow melts to ensure we are starting with the best opportunity for healthy plants!
Welcome to the inaugural and annual Harvest Series, where each week in October, High Country will introduce you to leading local cannabis cultivators and entrepreneurs as a celebration of the season. Synonymous with a final gathering of fruits and vegetables before the first frost, autumn is equally as ripe for cannabis farming — it’s a crop, too, after all.