Not to trigger any bad feelings about March 2020, but if we’ve learned anything with Covid, it’s that sometimes a good old-fashioned quarantine is the only answer to a highly contagious pathogen.
As we’ve preached in previous articles, “Detection is Prevention!” Within your cannabis grow, consistent monitoring for symptoms of illness is truly the best way to quickly identify an issue. But when it comes to a virus like the hop latent viroid—which can remain undetectable for weeks and moves slowly at times—inside a large grow with hundreds or thousands of plants, this step might not always be feasible for preventing the spread of disease.
Ultimately, you want to take corrective action as quickly as possible. Once you’ve identified symptoms and tested positive for an HLV infection within your grow, it’s time to impose the necessary procedures for removing and quarantining sick plants. When this is the case, Isolation is Prevention!
Developing a Quarantine Room for Your Grow
In order to properly separate your sick clones or cannabis plants from the rest of your crops, you’ll need to assign a designated space within your grow. Ideally, a quarantine area is placed as far away from your healthy clones as possible (this is especially true if you can isolate your plants off-site completely). Depending on the size and layout of your operation, you can hopefully choose a spare room on a side of your grow opposite that of your healthy plants. The further away, the greater your chances of maintaining quarantine conditions; this physical separation of healthy and sick plants not only isolates the virus, but it also acts as a reminder to growers and technicians that separate tools and uniforms should be used in the two areas.
Although every grow would ideally have a spare room lying around for such an occasion, it’s not always possible to clear such space. Closets, spare bathrooms, or other small areas with adequate ventilation and sterilization will get the job done as well. As a last resort, or if you simply have a small amount of plants to isolate, setting up a grow tent in any room will work as a make-shift quarantine area.
In any case, always be sure to thoroughly sterilize your space before and after each round of plants is added, so as to limit the spread of an HLV infection. Additionally, check to ensure ventilation from your quarantine room does not filter into rooms containing your healthy plants. The goal is complete isolation.
Preparing Your Team and Equipment for Quarantine
Simply securing an area for your HLV-infected plants isn’t enough, however, to fully eliminate cross-contamination. In addition to an isolated space, you should equip your operation with a quarantine team and toolkit.
Depending on the size of your outbreak, one or two team members should be enough to solely monitor your infected plants. These designated team members, and only these members, should work within infected rooms and no other areas of the grow. Especially important here is ensuring these team members don’t move from the infected area into a healthy area, which would increase the chances of exposure. You can further halt the spread of HLV in your cannabis grow by outfitting these quarantine technicians with a separate uniform—including gloves, hairnets, and footwear—to only be worn in the infected areas.
Arguably more important than uniforms, designated tools for quarantine rooms is one of your best defenses against the spread of the hop latent viroid. As we discussed in previous posts, HLV lives within the moisture of the plant's leaves and stems. Primarily spread through transmission on tools and equipment during pruning and harvest, infection is as easy as pruning an infected plant, then pruning a healthy plant with the same pair of snips.
For this reason, cultivators should always sterilize their equipment and change their gloves before starting work on a new plant. In the case of a full quarantine, however, the smartest technique is to provide a fully separate set of snips, gloves, and other tools for infected plants in infected areas. These tools should stay as far away as possible from healthy plants, and should be meticulously sterilized before ever coming into contact with them.
You can push these initiatives even further with foot washing or sterilization mats, decontamination booths, and separate entrances for employees who handle cannabis plants infected with the hop latent viroid.
Caring for Quarantined Cannabis Plants
As with all viruses, no curative therapies exist for the Hop Latent Viroid. This unfortunately means once a cannabis plant has tested positive for HLV, it will carry the virus for the rest of its growth cycle. The threat of transmission to healthy plants will be present as long as you have even a single HLV-positive plant, so your quarantine space will be necessary until your grow can cycle out all infected plants.
The positive news is that even with an HLV infection, your cannabis will continue to grow and produce buds. What’s produced will be greatly affected—lower yields, less terpene and cannabinoid development, stunting, and overall alteration of typical plant morphology—but can still be harvested, sold, and safely used. Within your quarantine area, you can continue to care for your sick plants as normal, following them to the end of their growth cycles.
With proper isolation, ventilation, and sterilization—and considering you and your team were thorough in identifying and separating every sick cannabis plant in your grow—your chances of seeing HLV for a second round of harvests is much lower. For this reason, it’s important to take the process of quarantining seriously and act as quickly as possible. When you’re successful in stopping the spread of infection, you should see greater harvests (and therefore, greater profits!) in future growth cycles.
Success is Found in Consistent Monitoring
Reliable and consistent motoring for symptoms is an ongoing necessity to the life-long health and success of your grow. As always, we encourage you to regularly inspect your plants, not only for the hop latent viroid, but for all viruses and pest infestations. The better you know your cannabis plants, the better you’ll be at recognizing an issue.
The hop latent viroid was only discovered a few years ago, but it’s a growing threat to your operation, and the more you understand, the better. The growers here at Summit have already spent months actively monitoring and testing for HLV, so if you’re curious about detection, transmission, or quarantining, please reach out to us! We’re keeping you updated on the science here and over on our Instagram account, but you can contact us directly at any time with your questions.