Tips for Cannabis Growers Left in the Dark during Prolonged PG&E Power Outages

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Yesterday marked the grim two year anniversary of the Sonoma Complex Fires that ravaged communities in Sonoma, Napa, and Lake counties destroying over 5,300 homes, scorching over 110,000 acres, and tragically killing 44 people.

The combined destruction of the Tubbs, Nuns, and Pocket Fires in October of 2017 wreaked havoc on the Northern California weed scene just as the regulated California cannabis market was taking root. Farmers not directly impacted by the flames still dealt with air pollution and ash fallout from miles away. The cannabis community in and around The Emerald Triangle rallied in the fall and winter of ’17 to support those affected by the fires, but many people are still mourning their losses.

Speaking of losses, PG&E Corp (Pacific Gas & Electric) was already teetering on insolvency prior to the fires in 2017, but their inevitable bankruptcy got even costlier this past August when a judge ruled that they can potentially be held accountable for the Tubbs Fire which currently stands as the second-largest wildfire in California’s recorded history.

While NorCal’s outdoor farmers struggled through the aftermath of the hellacious blazes that razed entire communities, PG&E continued to rake in superfluous amounts of cash payments from indoor cannabis growers all across their service area. But the attorney representing the collective victims of the Tubbs Fire estimates that the utility company could be on the hook for $18 BILLION in reparations.

This week PG&E flexed their monopoly-fueled muscles and declared that with high winds and unseasonably warm weather in the forecast for the near future, they would be cutting off the power to portions of 34 different counties in California in an attempt to mitigate the risk of another powerline-sparked disaster.

Up to 800,000 customers will potentially be affected by these intentional blackouts and that number doesn’t include their significant other or their kids if they have any. Residents in the area can expect to see the rollout of planned outages beginning after midnight tonight and sporadic outages will be seen for up to 48 hours, according to repetitive alerts from PG&E.

These outages will be a major inconvenience for millions of California residents all so that a utility company can cover its ass. Local power grids supply juice to more than just flat-screen TVs and warehouse pot grows, they also control water flow, sewage systems, traffic signals, and a wide range of emergency apparatus. Shutting all of that down should be a last resort and it illustrates just how dangerous it can be for a society to yield the most basic things we take for granted – lights coming on when you hit the switch or water coming out of the faucet when you turn the handle – to a privately owned, profit-driven corporation. Of course they are going to cover their own ass, they have a Golden Parachute to pack as an escape from their sham bankruptcy.

For those of you tending to small to midsize indoor cannabis gardens, here are a few tips that may help you find your way out of the darkness to come and back into the light.

SOME LIGHT > NO LIGHT

Depending on what stage of the growth cycle you are in at the time, you will still want to mimic the light/dark schedule that your plants are on as best you can. Literally ANY amount of light during the “lights on” phase of your day can help the plant believe that it is still supposed to stick to the plan. This can be sunlight (direct or filtered) or battery-powered lights like lanterns or even flashlights.

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Since you will most likely not have the benefit of an electric timer for your lighting, be sure not to leave your plants lit too long/off schedule or you risk serious stress to your plants … and yourself.

A good rule of thumb is:

  • If your plant is in the vegetative stage, it's better to give extra hours of light rather than too little since your plant needs long days to remain in the vegetative stage

  • If your plant is in the flowering stage, it's better to give extra hours of darkness rather than more light, since the plant needs “short days” to remain in the flowering stage

Stay prepared for the worst with a selection of battery-powered light sources and plenty of batteries to keep them going until your electricity is restored.

CLIMATE CONTROL

When the power fails, so does your HVAC, meaning no heat or air conditioning. Depending on the time of year, either or both can be fatal to a vulnerable pot crop. Fans also fail leaving air at a standstill and creating a humid breeding ground for nothing good.

In the event that temperatures are dropping to dangerous levels, anything you can do to insulate the plant and allow it to retain as much of the heat from your lighting as possible will be worth the effort. All strains vary, but typically any ambient temperature under 50 degrees will be detrimental to indoor plants unused to such stresses.

A backup source of heat like a propane camping heater can be used to bump up temps in a pinch, but long term use in a confined space is not healthy for humans or for plants. Getting your pots/plants up off of a cold floor can buy you some precious time as cold roots can cause systemic problems.

In the event of rising temperatures, you’re likely fucked if it’s midsummer and daytime temps begin to soar. Misting your plants with cool water can help to stave off the ill effects of overheating but the added moisture can be a problem if the air isn’t moving.  The larger the scale of your grow, unfortunately, the larger the scale of the problem.

LIFE NEEDS OXYGEN

If your cultivation method is hydroponic a power outage will kill your air pump. When this happens, oxygen ceases to bubble throughout your tank and the plant roots begin to starve almost immediately.

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If you know the power will be out for more than a couple of hours – like they do in NorCal tonight – you can begin by lowering the water level in your hydro reservoir by half, thereby exposing the top half of your root system to open air (oxygen!). If you know the delay could be days long, a repeated manual draining and refilling of the water reservoir to FULLY expose the roots temporarily can do the trick.

Remember to check the temperature of the water you are re-adding! If it is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, consider adding stove-heated water to the reservoir to bring the combined temp up above that mark.

Also, do not keep your roots fully exposed for too long. This can cause MUCH more damage than a lack of oxygen.

Having a battery-operated water pump on hand will make these dark hours a bit less stressful. Typically meant for shipping fish, just two D batteries will power these gadgets for up to 24 hours providing essential oxygenation to your water tank and negating the need to change out the reservoir as described above.  

GOT THAT GAS, GOT THAT LOUD

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Pro Tip: Don’t wait for a shitty last-minute announcement from a greedy utility company before you go to the hardware store to buy a gas generator. Cannabis growers aren’t the only ones put out by power outages and generators sell out FAST in situations like this.

Having a reliable gas generator around can come in handy for countless reasons and when you need one, you typically REALLY NEED IT, so why wait? Those little Honda bad boys are incredibly fuel-efficient, run forever, and are much quieter than a lot of other brands and models.

WARNING: Much like a propane camping stove, using a gas generator in an indoor, poorly ventilated space can quite literally kill you. It happens every damn year on cannabis farms when workers fall asleep in a greenhouse or trim shack with the generator running at their feet instead of outdoors where it belongs. These devices drain their immediate environment of clean air and replace it with polluted air and while you probably won’t feel a thing, you won’t wake up either. Be safe, buds!


There you have it. We know it’s not much… mostly common sense, but we’re thinking of our friends up north, sending positive vibes, and hoping that you all have a Plan A, B & C to deal with the fuckery of PG&E.