Choosing Cannabis Products
Meet the Masters: The Women of HEXO
HEXO is a big-time Licensed Producer with a hands-on touch. Here’s how Gillian Limebeer, Daniella Catherwood and Agnes Kwasniewska — master growers at three different HEXO sites — keep it that way.
Each month, we invite master growers from Licensed Producers to share their stories with us. This time, we spoke with Gillian Limebeer, Daniella Catherwood and Agnes Kwasniewska — three of HEXO’s master growers.
Master grower for Redecan (a HEXO brand), at HEXO’s Fenwick, Ont., facility
Most growers are passionate about cannabis cultivation. Gillian Limebeer’s passion is next level.
“I hope to be a lifer and retire here,” Limebeer says. “The novelty of the crop has yet to wear off.”
With a background in agriculture and plant-production systems, Limebeer was hired as employee number 20 at Redecan, a Niagara-based, family-run Licensed Producer acquired by HEXO in 2021. She started off as a section grower and manager of integrated pest management before working her way to the rank of master grower.
“I had to prove my know-how, demonstrate my abilities, perform well,” Limebeer says. “I love how this industry started underground, where titles and degrees do not matter, where your ability to grow — and grow well — is more valued.”
For Limebeer, growing well at HEXO’s Fenwick facility means running a tight ship that allows her team to create uniform crops and succeed. “Without giving away any trade secrets, what I can say is we have our production system dialed in,” she says. “We do not waste time, energy or money.”
In practice, this means:
“We keep and refresh our mothers at a regular interval. We transplant rooted clones at a certain age and height into their final pot stage. We top our plants at a certain time. The timing of pruning and leafing is done on a set schedule to be most effective. We flip to flower at a certain crop age and height. If we spray, we time our sprays to be done where and when it is most effective.”
Being economical and environmental
“We grow in a greenhouse that is purpose-built, not retrofitted, with high-pressure sodium-vapour lighting that is supplemental to the light we get through our roof. We grow in pots in the ground, so the roots are well-insulated in the summertime to keep them cool and are warmed by floor heat in the wintertime. Our irrigation system is a direct-inject system, applied through drip irrigation, and uses a precision-watering technique. We’ve reduced our pot size and we reuse.”
The result: great flower cultivated with care. Limebeer says to watch for new in-house HEXO cultivars launching next winter and spring.
Master grower at HEXO’s Cayuga, Ont., facility
Daniella Catherwood’s interest in plants runs deep and wide.
Her path to master grower included studying traditional Chinese medicine in Canada and abroad, growing cannabis on Vancouver Island alongside legacy growers under the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, enrolling in a greenhouse-technician program and taking courses in organic land management.
The result of those diverse experiences: a unique skill set that helped her land a job at Redecan (now a HEXO brand) in 2017. Today, she leads a team of 96 people and the cultivation of over 60,000 plants per growing season — a mandate that requires her to continue being a student of the plant.
“I am constantly striving to improve my craft,” says Catherwood. “Plants continue to develop and change during their life cycle. It’s important that I’m adaptable to the environmental conditions I grow in and with the varieties I cultivate.”
HEXO’s Cayuga division is a large farm sitting on 198 acres, about 15 minutes inland from the shores of Lake Erie. It’s an outdoor operation, with approximately 54,600 plants grown in polytunnels and another 6,000 or so grown entirely under the sun.
“Because we grow outdoors, we produce one mega crop per growing season and have one shot at a great crop,” Catherwood explains. “I need to be extremely adaptable to nature, as Mother Nature dictates the environmental conditions in which we grow.”
To help increase their odds of success, Catherwood and her team have created a specialized biological program specifically for outdoor production. She also pairs scientific data with her own hard-earned experience to gauge quality.
“We fully utilize scientific methods of soil and tissue analysis, which provide me with targeted insights into the metabolic activities occurring in both the soil and plant. When it comes time to harvest, we can maximize peak THC and CBD ripeness through both the evaluation of trichomes and our in-house lab testing,” she says.
The team is currently growing all cultivars in HEXO’s library. The goal: figure out what does best outdoors in Cayuga to, Catherwood says, “achieve great THC levels with a full bouquet of flavours.”
Master grower at HEXO’s Masson-Angers, Que., facility
Agnes Kwasniewska was already well-versed in growing flower when she joined HEXO’s Masson facility as manager of cultivation in 2016 — growing annuals, that is (like petunias and verbenas) at a commercial greenhouse south of Montreal.
“I acquired a lot of my cultivation tactics there, since it was the first place I cultivated plants at a commercial scale,” she says. “Management of the greenhouse environment was a major part of that, as well as propagation and proper irrigation techniques when dealing with thousands of plants.”
Her experience turned out to be invaluable; it wasn’t long after she joined HEXO that the master grower position became available. She jumped at the opportunity. “Even though I was new to growing cannabis, my greenhouse knowledge was well-founded, so I felt that I was very capable of handling this.”
Six years later, Kwasniewska has helped grow the facility from a small greenhouse to a state-of-the-art cultivation campus, and she now leads a large cultivation team. As the environment has changed, her methods have evolved. After growing plants in soil and coco coir, she switched to rock-wool as her medium, which has less margin for error but more room to tailor irrigation and fertilization. She’s also shifted from growing larger plants to keeping them smaller; they require less vegetative time and can be grown in higher densities, plus they’re less labour-intensive.
Adapting how they grow has allowed Kwasniewska and her team to be choosy about what they grow; their focus now is on quality, not quantity.
“Because of that, we have the ability to really dial in our batches to what they need,” she explains. “We are in the process of pheno-hunting for some really nice varieties and crosses, some of which we have bred ourselves. After growing cannabis in this facility for so many years, we know which genetics are best suited to growing in our environment, so our selection process is capable of really finding the perfect strains with ideal specs.”