An inside look at 22Red’s state-of-the-art Phoenix weed cultivation | Phoenix New Times
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An inside look at 22Red’s state-of-the-art Phoenix weed cultivation

“It's about being ahead of the curve instead of being behind it."
22Red cultivation manager Stephen Hess examines growing plants in the company's 22,000 square feet Phoenix cultivation building.
22Red cultivation manager Stephen Hess examines growing plants in the company's 22,000 square feet Phoenix cultivation building. O'Hara Shipe
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When it comes to cannabis, the world-renowned bassist of Grammy Award-winning rock band System of a Down, Shavo Odadjian, is all about staying ahead of the curve.

So, when he established the Phoenix arm of 22Red's cultivation, Odadjian turned to expert grower Stephen Hess to push the plants to the absolute max.

“We let the plant maximize its potential and don't try to force a square into a circle. But we do push the limiting factors of the growing rooms and create enough environmental stress to where we should see a positive reaction from the plant,” Hess explained while closely examining one of 22Red’s flowering plants in December.

Part mad scientist and part hippy grower, Hess came to 22Red after cultivating in the Pacific Northwest and California. He’s been growing cannabis for various companies in Arizona for the past eight years.

“'I’ve split my time evenly between the Pacific Northwest, California and desert growing. So I've seen mountain grows, I've seen coastal grows, and I've seen desert grows. And it all is different. Every single ambient environmental stress is different,” Hess explained.

Continually changing environments is the kind of challenge that excites Hess. But when it comes to Arizona, Hess has dealt with some unusual factors, including extreme heat, and water that is loaded with harmful elements, such as chlorine, fluoride, boric acid and cyanic acid.

Even Phoenix’s water pH levels create headaches when it comes to producing premium cannabis.

“In some states that I’ve grown in, I just had to create a sediment filter and could use natural spring water. That doesn’t fly in Phoenix. To properly nourish the plants, we have to do a complicated process of reverse osmosis. But the extra effort is worth the yield, which is a premium product,” Hess said.

His team also has to combat the scalding hot water that comes out of the tap during the blistering summer heat and the significantly colder groundwater the city contends with in the winter.

“What people don't realize is once you get over 72 degrees in the root zone, you limit the amount of free oxygen available for the plant, and it dies. If your water is too cold, you end up with too much oxygen, and you shock the plant. If you're too hot, you have no oxygen, and you'll get root rot. It’s a delicate balance,” Hess explained.

Controlling the ambient elements of growing has been the impetus behind Hess and 22Red deploying some state-of-the-art cannabis technology, such as the Neatleaf Spyder.

Assembled on a high wire above each grow room at 22Red, the Neatleaf Spider is an artificial intelligence-powered camera that monitors the canopy for any signs of plant stress, heat irregularities in the room and carbon dioxide levels — all things that could drastically affect crop yield and quality.

The interface allows Hess and his team to spot any potential growing problems as soon as they develop.

“Think of the system like a Monday Night Football sky cam where you can see the plays before they happen. Essentially, we have a sky cam over our canopy helping us call the shots,” Hess said.

The Neatleaf Spyder, coupled with Hess’ impressive knowledge of cannabis, has helped 22Red to become one of the premier brands in Arizona. Consumers will not find 22Red flower that tests below 20% THC, according to Hess. But if the company does decide to produce flower with a lower THC percentage, Hess said that consumers can expect the flower’s terpene profile to literally burst out of the packaging.

“We're not on the numbers chasing for potency train. However, we do demand a certain potency because we are a premium flower brand and we know that we're asking for a premium price at dispensaries. We stand by our flower and our growing processes, which we feel have helped us create something really special,” Hess said.

But the proof is in the pudding. If you want to see what 22Red is all about, Hess recommends starting with the strain that put the company on the map: Hippie Crasher. The diesel-forward flower tests at a whopping 26.95% THC and 32.61% total cannabinoids, making it one of the most potent flowers available in Arizona.

“It's about being ahead of the curve instead of being behind it. So we will always make sure we have the newest and latest greatest stuff coming down the pipeline,” Hess said.

click to enlarge cannabis clones
Clones are taken from several of 22Red's mom plants. They are dipped in growing solution and placed in a growing medium before being transplanted to mini-greenhouses.
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click to enlarge Growing cannabis clones
The growing clones will stay within the tropical environment of the mini-greenhouses until they sprout roots.
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click to enlarge Growing cannabis clones and moms
Once viable, the clones are moved into the "mom room," where they will continue to grow in a cocoa-based soil. These plants will become the next generation of moms and flowering plants for 22Red.
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click to enlarge Cannabis clones
Budding cannabis clones thrive in 22Red's high-tech mom room.
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click to enlarge cannabis plants in the vegetative state
Some clones are selected to become flowering plants and will be moved to a special vegetation room and then a flowering room before they are harvested.
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click to enlarge One of 22Red's growing room
22Red's Phoenix cultivation has five grow rooms, each with 2,300 square feet of canopy space.
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click to enlarge A close-up of a flowering cannabis plant
A flowering cannabis plant that is close to being harvested. The white, diamond-like texture are trichomes, or the resin glands of the plant that contain THC, CBD and other active cannabinoids.
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click to enlarge 22Red's Arizona sales rep, Gustavo Briseno
22Red's Arizona sales rep, Gustavo Briseno, takes a deep inhale of the potent flowering plants about to be harvested.
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click to enlarge Dried cannabis nuggs
Once the plants are harvested, they will be trimmed to remove their stems and cured during drying. The resulting nuggets are then sorted based on size and quality before making it to dispensary shelves.
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click to enlarge 22Red Ice Water Hash pre-rolls and deli flower
Ice Water Hash Infused pre-rolls and premium deli flower are two of 22Red's hottest products.
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