©Paul Sachs of CWO 2018
This work is an ongoing article about cannabis, its properties, characteristics, varieties; it also provides information necessary for successful production. It is ongoing because we’ll amend or change it from time to time as new information becomes available to us.
Cannabis plants are dioecious (pronounced: die EE shus), derived from Latin meaning two houses. Dioecious plants have the male and female organs in separate and distinct individuals. There are male plants and female plants and more rarely, hermaphrodites, i.e., those individual plants that have both male and female organs. Like humans, female cannabis plants are reproductive and they need pollen from the male plant to make seeds. (Hermaphrodites can make seeds by themselves.) Male plants don’t offer much more than pollen. Male flowers contain some cannabinoids but have significantly less potency than their female counterparts. Consequently, most growers want all female plants and normally, do not want to produce seeds in their flowers. They want sinsemilla which simply means, without seeds.
Sinsemilla buds are more desirable to the end user for the value (more weight to smoke), the potency (sinsemilla flowers typically contain a higher concentration of THC), and ease of handling (no need to separate seeds from flowers before smoking). Producing sinsemilla is accomplished easily by preventing males from pollinating females. When cannabis plants begin to flower, it’s easy to tell which plants are males and which are females. The first sign of flowering in female plants is the formation of short, white hairs (pistils). Males, on the other hand, develop small sacs that will eventually release pollen. Males typically show their sex before females. These signs are first seen where upper branches grow out from the main stalk. Discarding the males as soon as they show their sex will prevent pollination.
Most cannabis plants flower as a function of photo period, i.e., hours of light/day (more accurately, the length of darkness/day). Some varieties, called auto-flowing, will produce flowers as a function of time. We’ll discuss those in the Species section. The sex of plants grown under artificial light can be determined by increasing the hours of darkness/day to 12 hours. Plants will begin to flower. Once the sex is determined, males can be culled, making more room for females alone…which will not produce seed. If the length of darkness is reduced again (back to 6-hours/day or less), flowering will stop and vegetative growth will resume. Depending on how developed the female flowers were when time of darkness was reduced, plants can be confused and remain in a no-growth state for several days.
Outdoor growers can determine the sex of plants about 3-4 weeks into the vegetative stage by examining the plant’s pre-flowers. It can be hard to distinguish the difference between the male and female pre-flowers because they’re very small and, in some cases, the shapes can be deceiving but if what looks like male pre-flowers are evident, it will be a little while before the plant starts ejaculating pollen. Just keep an eye on it. (A hand magnifying lens is really helpful.) The truth will be evident soon. Google images show, in hundreds of different ways, the difference between the male and female pre-flowers.
Some believe that the sex of the plant can be forecast by looking closely at the seed but most in the know argue that that isn’t true because the gender isn’t determined until after the seed germinates. There are certain conditions during the first 3-weeks of the plants’ life that favor a higher percentage of females over males. Temperature, humidity, light, and stress are a few. Cooler temperatures (65° – 75°) and high humidity (50% – 70% RH) favor the development of females. Stress (especially heat stress) will favor males as will inconsistent daily light or darkness. Light duration/day should be minimum 14 hours and maximum 18 hours. Over- or under-watering and insufficient nutes also favor a higher percentage of males.
Another way to ensure female plants only is to purchase feminized seeds or clones from female plants. We’ll discuss both in other sections.
There are three main species of cannabis. C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis. Within each species there are countless varieties or strains. Some believe that there is only one species (C. sativa) and that C. indica and C. ruderalis are sub species, but, for the purpose of this article, we’re going to consider them as three different species. The best information available finds cannabis’s beginnings in Central Asia 5,000 – 10,000 years ago. The plant’s ability to spread itself is very limited but with the help of humans, it was effectively dispersed all over the world. As the original species adapted to new environs worldwide, they became the landraces we now cultivate and hybridize. Landrace strains are typically identified by the region where adaptation occurred (e.g., Afghani, Colombian, Thai, etc.). It’s likely that generations of feral hybridization (a.k.a. natural selection or evolution) occurred well before landrace strains were collected and named. Nonetheless, these strains are the foundation of all the hybrids we now enjoy.
Sativa plants are generally taller with longer, narrower leaves. Most haze varieties are predominately in the sativa family. The high is typically energetic and thought provoking, though different people often have different experiences with the same strain. C. sativa originates in an equatorial region from Colombia through Mexico, though it’s believed that conquering European armies imported it into that region in the 1500’s. This species adapted to the warm, humid regions and grew taller to compete for sunlight with surrounding vegetation.
Indica plants developed in drier, more austere climes. Kush varieties are predominately C. indica. The psychoactive effects are typically relaxing and sedative though, again, it’s not always the same experience for everyone. Indica originated in the Asian subcontinent but found its way west into the Kush region of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. C. indica plants are generally shorter and stockier with broader leaves to adapt to the harsher conditions in the Kush region.
Ruderalis is native to northern Asia, Eastern Europe, and, specifically, Russia. It has adapted to some very harsh conditions by flowering after a relatively short period of time regardless of the length of daylight or darkness. All auto-flowering varieties have some C. ruderalis genes. The original ruderalis strains were relatively low in THC content and, consequently, not that attractive but breeders interested in the auto-flowering characteristics have been hybridizing it with sativa, indica, or both. Some very promising strains have resulted.
Hybrids are combinations of two or more species. Male indica plants pollinating female sativa plants (or vice versa) produce hybrids. Most varieties today are hybrids though many are predominantly C. indica or C. sativa. Hybrids of C. Ruderalis make up the auto-flowering group.
There are thousands of cannabis strains that have names and likely thousands more that don’t. Names like Blue Dream, Sour Diesel, and Girl Scout Cookies are only a few. Hundreds of new strains are being named every year. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the list. Leafly.com has a huge data base of different strains and they’ve developed these cool “strain tiles” that resemble tiles in the periodic table of the elements. They’ve identified each strain’s genetic roots and, based on reviews, the kind of effect to expect. Leafly is very worth checking out.
Seeds germinate. That’s what they do. Contact with soil and moisture triggers a remarkable transformation from a dormant capsule to a living, growing plant. After we sow vegetable seeds, plants soon start to pop out of the ground. Unbeknownst to us, not all the seeds we sow germinate successfully but, even if we are aware of this, we don’t (or shouldn’t) care. Vegetable seeds are relatively inexpensive and those that do become plants usually yield more than what we need. That’s not always the case with cannabis seeds. If you’re paying upwards of $15/seed (sometimes more), you’re going to feel more than disappointed if all of them don’t become plants. There is, however, a procedure that can help.
Around the beginning of the 21st century, scientists discovered that hydrogen peroxide (H₂O₂) at certain concentrations can increase both the speed and success of seed germination. The exact mechanism it employs is not known but it’s thought to dissolve the outer coating of the seed, provide extra oxygen, and send some chemical signal to the seed that it’s time to germinate. Regardless of how it works, countless studies have proven that it does. NOTE: The dilution rate is important.
Hydrogen peroxide is easily found at drug or grocery stores and the common concentration is three (3%) percent but that’s not diluted enough for soaking seeds. A tablespoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide in a cup of water is an appropriate dilution rate. The most secure way to soak seeds is to fold a (square) paper towel in thirds and then in thirds again. When reopened, there’ll be nine sections (like a tic-tac-toe frame). Place the seeds in the center section and refold the paper towel. Put the folded towel on a dish and soak it with the diluted hydrogen peroxide solution. The paper towel isn’t critical but it prevents the loss of seed should the contents of the dish be spilled. Let the seeds soak at room temperature for 18-24 hours. After soaking, remove the seeds from the towel and put them in a strainer with mesh fine enough to prevent them from passing through. Then rinse the seeds with cool water. Some of the seeds may have already begun to germinate. Plant the seeds immediately after rinsing. It can take 7-days or more for plants to emerge.
Typically, seeds and clones are started in small pots and are eventually transplanted into the ground or into bigger containers. Plants don’t really like it. It shocks the shit out of them. It’s not uncommon to see arrested development for two weeks or more. Natural hormones from Mermaid Medicine™can trigger immediate root growth and, seemingly, eliminate transplant shock. Soaking the old soil before transplanting and the new soil after transplanting can trick the plant into continued growth as if nothing had ever changed. The plant just kind of wakes up in this new environment and thinks “How the fuck did I get here?”
A dramatic change in soil characteristics can create problems. Changes from a potting mix to natural soil can contribute to the shock associated with transplanting, especially if the soil’s structure and chemistry are significantly different. Changing from a light potting mix to a heavy clay soil with a significantly different pH, for example, may create longer than usual recovery times for the plant. Mermaid Medicine™ can perform miracles but not magic.
There are two main growth stages of cannabis plants—the vegetative and flower stages. The vegetative stage describes the period of growth between seedling (or clone) and when the start of flowering. Depending on the species, plants can grow large and bushy in the vegetative stage. During this stage, plants grow only stems and leaves. They need lots of sun (or artificial light), water, and nutrients. But, it’s important to remember that if a little water and nutes is good, more is not necessarily better. Luckily, cannabis plants in the vegetative stage are very resilient from problems.
There are several sub-stages in the flower stage. If you’re growing indoors, it’s necessary to increase the length of darkness/day to 12-13 hours to trigger flowering. (Note: auto-flowering strains do not respond to the length of darkness/day.) When plants enter the flower stage, their growth accelerates and they appear to stretch. This is called the flowering or transition stretch. Soon after this stage, plants will begin to show their sex. If you haven’t already culled the males, do it now before they can pollinate female plants (unless you want to produce seeds). Females will begin to show white pistils. Next, buds will begin to form and swell. Then the sugar coating or frost (trichomes) will become apparent. Finally, the pistils will begin to turn orange or brown and trichomes will turn from clear to cloudy. This last stage is when buds are ready for harvest. As plants grow through the flowering stage, they become less resistant to problems, so it’s important to pay attention to the amount of water and nutrients they receive.
Nutrients and Water
Cannabis is naturally a weed and grows like one…especially during the vegetative stage. Weeds grow everywhere and they don’t need a shitload of anything BUT growing good weed requires good soil (or media) and good nutrition.
Let’s start with soil. Mother earth has a lot of different soils out there, most of which will grow cannabis just fine. Extremes like sand or heavy clay aren’t ideal but even they can grow good weed. Some soils won’t grow pot well at all and these often have an extremely low pH. High pH is not typically as much of a concern. Ninety-five (95%) percent of soils in the Kush region have a pH of 8.0 or higher…some as high as 9.5 and still grow some kick-ass indica. When soil pH gets below 5.5, toxic elements like aluminum can become available and cannabis doesn’t respond well. Testing the soil’s pH before planting is a good idea but it’s best to dig up several small samples in the growing area and mix them together rather than testing one or two spots. If your pH is too low, be careful how much lime you apply. Two soils with the same pH may require different lime application rates. A sandy soil will need less lime than a loamy soil but a clay soil will need the most. 3-5-lbs of lime/100ft² should be adequate for a sandy soil, 6-10-lbs for a loamy soil, and 11-15-lbs of lime/100ft² should be about right for a heavy clay soil. If you have your soil tested by a lab (highly recommended), then use their recommendations. If the lab gives its recommendations in pounds of lime per acre, divide by 435.6 to determine pounds per 100ft². For a more accurate lime application rate, use our Lime Calculation page. Pulverized lime starts working soon after it is applied but it usually takes 6-12 months for it to complete its neutralizing potential.
Potting media rarely need pH adjustments. There’s usually enough organic matter that, even if the pH is low, it doesn’t have the same effect on plants as an acidic soil would. That’s primarily because natural soils are mostly minerals and some of those minerals can become toxic if the pH is too low. That’s not to say that all potting media are fine. Some are crap. Usually, the cheap stuff has a lot of wood in it, holds too much moisture, and grows better mushrooms than pot. Don’t skimp on potting media. Compost based potting media is best, but only if it’s made with well-cured, mature compost.
Compost is a great soil amendment too but it’s extremely important that what you add is mature, stable compost. Immature compost can do more harm than good. A quick and easy way to judge is to dig into the compost pile about elbow deep and see if it’s generating any heat. If it’s hot or warm, it’s not ready. If it’s cool, pull out a handful and smell it. If there are any objectionable odors, it needs to be aerated (turned) and if it heats up after turning, it’s not ready. NOTE: aged manure may look nice but it’s not compost.
Don’t overdo it with compost. Some people will dig a hole, fill it with compost, and plant in it. This can work but more times than not, it doesn’t. Don’t incorporate more than an inch or two of compost into a six inch layer of soil. Compost works great with sandy soil as it increases the soil’s capacity to hold water. It also helps to lighten heavy clay soils.
Watering is very important but, like everything else, it shouldn’t be overdone. Pond and well water are ideal but municipal tap water is far and away better than nothing. The chlorine in municipal tap water isn’t as great a concern as some people think. Most chlorine is driven off when it passes through the aerator in the sink faucet. If it feels better, fill your watering can the night before and let it sit until morning.
pH of water is another concern that’s received undeserved attention. Soil can buffer pH anomalies from water and so can most media. Water sources are rarely acidic. Most are slightly alkaline. Ideal pH range for potting media is 5.0 – 7.0 and mineral soil (i.e., less than 10% organic matter) is 5.5 to 6.5. If the pH of your soil or potting media is within an acceptable range, the pH of the water you’re using shouldn’t have a big effect. All bets are off with hydroponics. The pH of the water in a hydroponic system is critical because there’s nothing there to buffer it.
Over-watering can cause a host of problems. Roots need oxygen and if you drown them, they suffocate and can develop diseases that thrive in a wet, warm, airless environment. Moreover (indoor growers), pesky little fungus gnats and root aphids love a constantly wet media. Over-watering is usually more of an issue with container plants. Plants growing in the ground outdoors are less likely to experience soil saturation. But, constant watering can leach out valuable nutrients in a well drained media or sandy soil.
Speaking of nutrients, cannabis, like most plants, grows better with them. But, in a native environment, cannabis can still grow with very few inputs and many of us are under the mistaken impression that plants need people to grow. Think about that. Land plants have been growing for 700 million years without any help from us. Now, all of a sudden, these plants need 40 different (special) products, in different ratios, and at different stages of their life cycle to successfully produce buds. Come on! Let’s get real. The soil didn’t look up at the cannabis plant and say, “Oh, I see you’re starting to flower. Let me call my boss for some more of this and a little less of that.” The fact is that plants can select what they need from the soil through their symbiotic relationship with soil organisms. If they need more phosphorus, for example, roots release specific photosynthates that attract phosphorus solubilizing bacteria. Unless luxury levels of nutrients exist in the rhizosphere, plants can pretty much regulate the amount they need. Unfortunately, living things (humans and plants included) often binge when a smorgasbord of goodies is presented. Over-consumption is just as unhealthy for plants as it is for humans.
Fertilizers are marketed in different shapes and sizes. Some are dry, some are wet, some are organic, and some are chemical, but all of them need to claim a guaranteed analysis to be sold as a fertilizer. By law, the percentage (by weight) of total nitrogen (N), available phosphate (P₂O₅), and soluble potash (K₂O) need to be clearly displayed on a fertilizer label. Its “grade” consists of those values and appears as N-P-K.
Cannabis uses an N-P-K ratio of roughly 2-1-3; it also needs some secondary nutes, such as calcium, magnesium, and sulfur, and some trace elements. Bud Breakfast™ has the exact ratio of nutes that cannabis needs. According to hundreds of leaf tissue analysis reports, this ratio is relatively constant throughout all growth stages…it’s the amount that changes through the plant’s life cycle. Like people, infants and old farts don’t consume a lot but teenagers ravage the fridge daily. Cannabis plants consume the smallest amount of nutes when they just start out and when they’re nearing harvest, but at the peak vegetative stage, they’re relatively ravenous. Changing the plant’s feeding rate at different stages is warranted but changing the ratio of nutes is unnecessary…especially the level of phosphorus.
Enter the phosphorus myth. The need for high levels of phosphorus – at any stage of cannabis growth – is a myth that has been circulated for decades. Empirical data from hundreds of tissues tests at different stages of growth show that plants take up relatively little phosphorus compared with nitrogen and especially, potassium. Pot uses about 3 times more potassium than phosphorus. Moreover, too much phosphorus in the soil can lock up other essential nutrients rendering them unavailable. Outrageous Bud Bro™ offers the exact P:K ratio that flowering plants need.
A lot of folks are making and using compost tea. Making good compost tea is both a skill and an art, which requires practice and experience. Bad compost tea is easy to make and nothing will improve it. If you haven’t started your batch of tea with mature, high quality compost…throw it out and start over. If, during the brewing process, you detect a rotten egg odor, throw it out and start over. Manure tea (totally taboo) is worse than nothing. To ensure the highest quality compost, have it tested by a reputable lab like Soil Food Web or Soil Food Web NY. There is also a DIY compost maturity test kit available online from Solvita.com.
Compost tea is more an extraction of beneficial organisms from compost than anything else. To get a good balance of this helpful biology in tea, it’s critical that the compost from which this extraction takes place be stable and mature. Well made vermicompost (worm compost) is an excellent extraction medium. Worm composting can be fun, easy, and a good way to recycle your kitchen scraps. There are many ways to make vermicompost and all are described in great detail online.
Since the better part of beneficial biology in compost tea is aerobic, it’s essential that the tea contains adequate levels of dissolved oxygen. To accomplish this, high quality compost tea is actively aerated and remains aerated until it’s applied. Actively aerated compost tea (AACT) can be amended with organic nutrients and bio-stimulants but care must be taken not to trigger biological proliferation beyond what the level of dissolved oxygen can sustain. Once that threshold is crossed, anaerobic organisms begin to dominate and the entire batch of AACT is ruined. Usually, the foul odor of rotten eggs is the first sign that the batch has gone anaerobic. Unless you’re a veteran tea brewer, the best practice is to add your amendments at the very end of the brew cycle, just before the tea is applied.
Making AACT requires a brewer that constantly infuses air into the water. There are plenty on the market, some very expensive, but many are simple, inexpensive, and can be homemade. There are literally dozens of designs online and many how-to videos on YouTube. If you’re using chlorinated tap water, it’s best to aerate the water overnight before starting a brew. This will drive off all of the chlorine, which might otherwise inhibit the proliferation of organisms. Water temperature is important too. If the water is too cool, proliferation will be inhibited and if it’s too hot, many organisms will perish. Water temperature between 70° and 80° F (20° – 26° C) is ideal.
Amending soils with commercially available microbes is not a substitute for AACT, but it can be valuable. If you’re growing in a rich, loamy soil or compost-based potting mix, chances are the addition of microbes won’t accomplish much. If your soil is low in organic matter or you’re using sterile, coir (coco) or a peat based potting mix, microbes will likely benefit your plants. AACT, on the other hand, is such a huge infusion of biology by comparison that even plants growing in the richest soils will benefit. Moreover, the beneficial organisms in AACT can overwhelm pathogens and coincidentally protect plants by consuming the root and leaf substrate that would otherwise feed pathogenic organisms.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Growing
It would be tough to argue that any type of artificial light provides brightness, spectrum, or luminosity as well as natural sunlight does. It would be equally difficult to dispute that an indoor setting adds security and control that one can’t imagine outdoors. Inclement weather, herbivorous mammals, and thieves are hard to control outdoors. Greenhouses might offer the best of both worlds but they’re not practical for most of us.
In states where it’s legal to grow your own, the law may no longer be a concern but bad weather, cannabivores, and thieves still are. Nonetheless, cannabis grown outdoors will typically produce bigger plants, greater harvests, and (some would argue) more potent buds than plants grown indoors. If outdoors is the best option, starting plants early, indoors is a good practice…even if it’s just on a window sill. The plants are protected from late frosts and foraging critters looking for something to eat in the early spring. In most places outside the equatorial region of the planet, only one crop per year can be expected outdoors. More if auto-flowering varieties are grown. Indoors changes all that.
Though per plant production may not be as great, control and security are best indoors. Growing can occur year-round, flowering can be triggered at will, and moisture and temperature are on demand. Indoor growing is not without some challenges. Mice have been known to dig up and eat seeds when first planted but gophers, deer, and other mammalian herbivores are unlikely visitors in a grow chamber. Insects and fungi unique to the indoors can be problems but there are ways to protect plants and avoid problems. The number one thing to avoid is overwatering.
Overwatering is possibly the most common and most costly error indoor growers make. Controlling the urge to water every time the surface of the growing media looks or feels dry is a hard as controlling the urge to eat when you’re hungry. Depending on the size of the growing container, the size of the plant, and the drainage potential of the media, watering is usually unnecessary unless the soil is dry ½ of an inch or more below the surface or if plant leaves begin to lose turgor and droop. Cannabis leaves will snap out of the wilting state quickly once watered and, unless the wilt is extreme, there is usually no damage or setback. This is actually healthier for the plants than drowning the roots. Problems like fungus gnats, root aphids, root rot, powdering mildew, and botrytis (to name only a few) are all associated with wet soil conditions.
Overfeeding is probably the second most common error of both indoor and outdoor growers. Too much of anything can cause problems. Let’s start with nitrogen (N). Plants use N in a nitrate form but nitrate in the soil is ephemeral. It doesn’t cling to soil particles so, if it’s not used by microorganisms or plants, it will leach into soil horizons beneath where cannabis roots have access. In a wild setting, plants get the N they need from organic matter. Bacteria and fungi begin the mineralization process which eventually converts organic N (protein) into mineral N that plants can use. The beauty of this system is that all living components of the plant growing system are fed and help keep each other healthy. Feeding mineral (chemical) nitrogen directly by-passes this system and only feeds the plant leaving it without protection from problems associated with low biological activity. Moreover, the tsunami of available N can flood the plant faster than it can be processed (through photosynthesis) back into protein. This leaves the plant with digestible amino acids in the vascular system attracting both insects and fungal pathogens. Organic N is naturally time released by organisms that are active at the same time that plants are in need of their assistance. On the other hand, if applications of organic N are over-applied, the end result is the same. If a little is good, more is not necessarily better. Cold War Organics Application Chart offers the ideal rate of nutrition for plants based on their growth stage.
Phosphorus (P) is as essential for cannabis as it is for any other plant but it doesn’t need a lot. In fact, during the vegetative stage, plants need half as much P as N. When they’re flowering, they need less N but not more P. Too much P in the soil can lock up other essential nutrients making them less or un- available.
Potassium (K) is the most utilized nutrient by cannabis plants. They need three times more K than P. Depending on the soil’s capacity to hold positively charged ions like K, it can remain available to plant roots for a while. Unfortunately, too much K can take up more than its fair share of that capacity leaving little room for other positively charged ions like calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and a host of essential micronutrients.
Plants growing indoors need ventilation. In a natural outdoor environment, plants get blown around, pummeled with large raindrops, and wide fluctuations of ambient temperature. They grow thick stalks and stems in response to these conditions. Small fans can mimic outdoor turbulence but can’t refresh the atmosphere. The most used nutrient by any plant on earth is carbon dioxide. In a sealed environment, plants would quickly deplete carbon dioxide and stop growing, unable to build the carbon compounds that comprise its stature and enable its functions.
Lights may arguably be the most important component of indoor growing. The three main types of lighting used for growing plants indoors are fluorescent, high intensity discharge (HID), and light emitting diodes (LED). Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Fluorescent lights and CFLs are probably the easiest, least expensive, and most energy-efficient. They offer a good light spectrum and they don’t generate a lot of heat so plants can be kept very close to the bulbs (or tubes) without burning. But because fluorescent light doesn’t penetrate well through foliage, they are best for growing clones and seedlings or trained, low-growing systems (see training section below). Reflective surfaces (floor, walls, ceiling) help. The biggest drawback of fluorescent lighting is the yield per watt is lowest of the three types of lights.
High intensity discharge (HID) lighting include metal halide (MH), high pressure sodium (HPS) and ceramic metal halide (CMH) also know as light emitting ceramic (LEC). This category of lighting yields the most production per watt but not without some issues. They are typically more expensive and use a lot of electricity. If you’re growing where governing bodies are still wallowing in ignorance, you may not want your electric bill to become probable cause for a search. Moreover, the amount of heat these lights generate would likely require some sort of ventilation system, which adds more expense and consumes more electricity. An ample amount of space between plants and lights is necessary to prevent burning.
LED lights appear to be a good compromise between HID and fluorescent lighting. They consume far less energy and create very little heat as compared with HID but yields per watt are higher than with fluorescent lights. Most LED fixtures have built-in cooling fans and ventilation is rarely required. Some believe that LED lights produce more resinous buds but there’s no empirical evidence…yet. Depending on the system, LED lighting can be initially more expensive than the other two alternatives but will likely pay for itself in the long run.
Copious information about the pros and cons of different growing lights is available online. Before you invest in an indoor growing system, do your homework. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then…umm, fuck—just do your homework.
Ventilation is an issue regardless of the type of lighting that you use. Plants need fresh air and they need it to be moving. Air in a growth chamber needs to be refreshed from time to time to replenish the carbon dioxide plants consume. Moving air helps plants develop strong stalks and can help prevent rot. Running fans to move air inside a growing chamber is an inexpensive way to improve the atmosphere. There are ways to increase carbon dioxide but, unless you’re growing on a very large scale indoors, they’re probably not necessary. Opening the grow chamber a few times/day to exchange inside with outside air should be adequate.
There are a lot of methods for training plants to produce more usable pot. These work both indoors and out, though some may require physical support assistance, especially outdoors. Training includes but is not limited to low stress training (LST), super cropping, scrogging, topping, fimming, and monster cropping. The design of all is to create multiple colas (a.k.a., apical buds), typically the biggest buds on the plant. All training exerts some stress on cannabis plants and Root Muscle™ can increase plants’ stress resilience.
Low stress training is simply bending and securing the branches downwards to get multiple apical stems with equal exposure to the sun or lighting. Everything will eventually bend back toward the light and eventually, this creates a wider plant with multiple colas. The top is usually pruned (see topping) before bending the branches and some will prune again as apical branches begin to form. Note: too much pruning can reduce bud size overall as the plant has a finite amount of energy it can spend creating flowers. Gardening twist ties work well. Create a hook or loose loop at one end that won’t choke the stalk as it grows thicker and attach the other end to the edge of the planting container or to some sort of anchor or weight. You can also use landscape staples to hold down and train the top or as an anchor. YouTube has many videos that better illustrate LST if this description is confusing.
Super cropping (a.k.a., stem mutilation) is a little like LST but instead of tying down the plant, the main stalk is carefully squeezed and bent until it kinks and falls over without being tied. You don’t want to break the stalk or tear the skin. Eventually, the stalk will heal and begin to re-grow but not before the rest of the upper branches have a chance to catch up. The end result is multiple tops that all create colas. Again, there are many YouTube videos that show how to do this.
Scrogging: SCROG means “screen of green.” A scrog is set up with a wide mesh screen (3-4 inch openings) positioned horizontally 1-2 feet above the pot. When the cannabis plant begins to grow through the screen, the apical ends of the branches are either bent over and tied down to the screen or woven through the mesh as it grows. This spreads the top of the plant laterally. As more of the branches grow through and become secured to or woven through the screen, a green canopy is formed which will eventually grow numerous colas.
Topping is cutting off the apical end of the stalk just above where the fan leaves branch. Take care not to cut new branches that may be starting to form. Topping will cause the plant to replace the apical end with two apical ends. Topping can occur several times but it can affect cola size. Typically, the more colas on the plant, the smaller they get. Overall production of buds; however, is far greater.
Fimming is like topping but instead of taking off the apical end of the stalk entirely, about 70-80% is cut which results in four apical branches instead of two. FIM is an acronym for “Fuck! I missed!” I suspect that’s how this method was discovered. YouTube has numerous videos that illustrate fimming.
Monster cropping can only be done indoors under artificial lights. It is done after the plant matures and buds are harvested. The duration of darkness is reduced to 6-hours or less/day and the plant slowly reverts back to the vegetative stage. Typically, many branches form and the new plant won’t have that Christmas tree shape but, often, some training may be necessary to achieve the desired canopy. Re-vegged plants aren’t particularly large or good looking and, I suspect, the monster name came from the disfigured leaves that first begin to grow during re-vegging. Eventually, normal looking leaves begin to appear and the plant more resembles cannabis again. Re-vegged plants tend to grow more slowly and don’t usually produce as much as the first harvest.
Feminized seeds are produced by forcing a female plant to become a hermaphrodite. There are two ways that this is done. The first is rodelization. Cannabis plants are annuals and the female’s biological function is to procreate. If there are no male plants to provide pollen, the female will often make pollen for itself. At the end of its life cycle, if no pollination has occurred, female plants can grow pollen sacs and fertilize themselves. Given that the plant is genetically female, the vast majority (if not all) seeds will produce female plants. This can be a risky endeavor for a couple of reasons. First, not all female plants can be forced into becoming hermaphrodites. Pushing the plant 10-14 days beyond ideal harvest time reduces the THC content from its peak. If you only have one female plant and it doesn’t create pollen, you risk losing some of the potency of your weed. Moreover, it may produce pollen too late to fertilize the female flower. However, all is not lost. You can save the pollen from the hermaphroditic female (store it in the fridge or freezer) and pollinate other female plants when they mature. Second, if you can’t isolate the female plant or plants you’re forcing to produce pollen, all your plants may be fertilized. This will reduce the plants’ value as pointed out in the “Two Houses” section.
The second method is accomplished with colloidal silver. Colloidal silver is available online or you can make it yourself. If you’re purchasing it, it’s important to understand that there are three different materials being marketed as colloidal silver, i.e., ionic silver (technically, not colloidal at all), silver protein, and true colloidal silver. Ionic silver is what’s needed. It is manufactured through electrolysis, which almost anyone can do at home. The other two types of colloidal silver aren’t appropriate.
To start the process, mist female flowers (at early to mid flowering stage) with the ionic silver solution once/day for 10-14 days. Pollen sacs should begin to appear. The pollen can be used to fertilize flowers on the same plant (if they’re viable) or saved for use on other female flowers. It’s important to note that any flowers sprayed with silver solutions should not be consumed, smoked, vaped, or absorbed in any way and must be discarded once the pollen and/or feminized seeds are harvested. The advantage to using a silver solution over rodelization is greater consistency in the production of feminized seeds.
To make your own silver solution, you’ll need two silver coins (US coins minted in 1965 or before); two lengths of light-gauge, copper wire (each 1½-2ft long); some duct tape; two alligator clips; and a nine-volt battery. A nine-volt battery connector is also very helpful. Start with a glass of water (some insist on distilled water, others say it doesn’t matter). Strip ¾” of the wire’s insulation from the ends of both lengths of wire and attach an alligator clip to one end of each wire (some say solder, others just run the stripped end of the wire through the hole in the clip handle and twist the wire tight). Grab each coin with an alligator clip and secure them to opposite (inside) sides of the glass with tape. If you can’t find alligator clips, you can drill a small hole in the top of the coins and thread the stripped end of the wire through (twist tight). The coins should be at least 75% submerged in water (some believe the alligator clips or wire should not come in contact with the water, others say it doesn’t matter). Connect the two wires to the separate poles of the nine-volt battery and let it set for at least 8-hours. You can achieve a higher concentration of dissolved silver by leaving it longer but it shouldn’t be left more than 24-hours. If you make a stronger concentration, you should dilute it with more water before using.
Cloning is also known as asexual reproduction. Clones are rooted cuttings which are genetically identical to the parent plant(s). The two main advantages to cloning vs. starting with seeds are that clones will have the same sex as the plant from which they’re cut and…they’re free. You can create a new crop with the same exact genetics as your strongest and best performing varieties, and you can perpetuate the pedigree indefinitely.
Three things you’ll need to clone plants are water, rooting medium, and a rooting hormone. Select a plant that is healthy and about 6-8 weeks into the vegetative cycle. Hold off fertilizing this plant for at least a week. Too much nitrogen in the plant’s leaves will trigger foliar instead of root growth. Try to work in as sterile environment as possible. It’s relatively easy to spread problems during this process. Cut lower branches that look both healthy and sturdy and are about 5-8” long with several new growth nodes. Use a razor and cut the branch at a 45° angle just below a set of growth nodes and trim the fan leaves. Don’t use dull scissors; they can crush the stem. Put the cuttings into water right away. There are a number of rooting hormones one can use. Some like to cut the end of an aloe vera plant and squeeze out the aloe gel to coat the end of the cutting. If you don’t have access to an aloe vera plant, the gel can be purchased online. There are also numerous cloning compounds on the market. When using aloe or a synthetic cloning compound, plant the cutting immediately after treatment into a rooting medium that doesn’t have a high fertilizer charge. Some people just leave the cuttings in water until roots form or Mermaid Medicine™ which increases the speed at which roots form. If rooting in water or seaweed extract, let roots develop for about a week before transplanting into a light growing medium and be gentle. These cuttings are already stressed. It’s a good idea to use a humidity dome over the clones because, if there are no roots, the plant can’t draw water but it can absorb moisture through the leaves. Misting clones frequently is a must if you don’t have a humidity dome.
More information on cloning is, of course, on the Internet.
There are two ways to determine when plants are ready to harvest and using both will often give a more accurate verification than using just one. The first is to examine the pistils (hairs) of the female flower. If the pistils are straight and white, the plant is not ready to harvest. The second method is to watch the trichomes (a.k.a., frost or sugar). You’ll need a strong jeweler’s magnifying lens to do this. The trichomes will change from clear to cloudy when the plant is ready to harvest. If the pistils are still straight and white, then there’s no need to examine the trichomes. When half or more of the pistils turn orange or brown and curl back inwards, then it’s time to look at the trichomes. When the trichomes turn cloudy, the plant’s THC content is at its peak. It’s time to harvest. NOTE: cold, damp fall conditions outdoors may hasten harvest time not because plants are ready sooner but because they are more susceptible to disease. A plant should be harvested at the first sign of disease (usually bud rot). THC content may not be peaking but something is better than nothing, which is what you may end up with. Disease can spread rapidly.
Pruning the leaves of the plant while it’s still standing is a common practice. The leaf stems (petioles) are sticking straight out and are more easily accessed. The big, lower fan leaves can actually be removed days before harvest. More of the trimming done now reduces the finish work later and allows the buds to dry more evenly. Once preliminary trimming is done, the plant can be harvested and hung indoors to dry. If the plant is very big, cut the branches off and hang them separately. Don’t rush the drying. Room temperature with normal humidity is ideal. Buds can be removed once the branches are dry enough to snap or crackle when you bend them or when the buds break off the branch easily. Final trimming or manicuring can be done when buds are removed from the branches. Try to remove as much of the leaf material as possible even if there’s frost on them. Leaves often burn harsh and can irritate the lungs and throat. Sugar leaves don’t have nearly the THC concentration of the inner nugs. Well-trimmed buds more nearly approach uniform moisture content and are overall, more flavorful. Frosty trimmings can be used for edibles or tinctures.
Proper curing brings out the best flavor and potency from your buds. Once manicured, buds should be put in a sealable jar and stored in a dark, cool location. Through the first few weeks, the jar should be opened for a few minutes (several times/day) to allow oxygen in and moisture out (a.k.a. burping). If at any time an ammonia or moldy smell is evident when you open the jar, take the buds out and spread them out to dry for a few days. After a few weeks of burping, you can reduce the frequency to once every few days. Buds are typically ready to smoke after about the 4th week of curing but continue to improve for another month or more (if you can stand waiting).
Storage is important if you want to maintain the quality of buds for longer periods of time. If you’ve harvested enough weed to last more than a couple of months, here are some things you can do to preserve your weed’s quality. Don’t store buds in plastic containers or bags and don’t put them in the refrigerator or freezer. Keep them in glass air-tight jars in a cool, dark environment. Don’t keep jars near anything that gives off heat and don’t store roaches, pipes, grinders, or any other paraphernalia in the same container with your buds. They tend to smell bad and so will your weed. There are some commercially available two-way, humidity control materials such as Boveda that can help preserve freshness. These products will either draw moisture from flowers if they’re too moist or increase humidity in the container if they’re too dry. Manufacturers of these products make them in different relative humidity (RH) levels for different stored materials such as food, tobacco, or herbs. The recommended RH level for cannabis buds is between 59% and 63%.
Breeding is a tricky business with dioecious plants. Even if one isolates and pollinates a single female plant with a single male plant, it’s unlikely that the seeds produced will all grow into plants with attributes identical to the parents and each other. Breeders will often germinate 100 or more seeds from the same plant and pick specimens (i.e., the best male and female) with the strongest attributes to produce the next generation. Moreover, do you really know what you’re starting with? For decades, trust was the only verification of cannabis genetics. There’s no doubt that some have succumbed to the temptation of selling mutt seeds as pedigree strains. Now there’s DNA testing that can determine strain and geographical roots but it is expensive—designed for the professional breeder—and not really practical for the backyard enthusiast. Back to trust, eh? At least now, breeders can present a genetic lab analysis or certificate with the seed they’re vending.
If you find a strain you really like, cloning is the only way to guarantee identical genetics. Problem is, how do you know you really like it until after it’s harvested, cured, and inhaled (or consumed)… it’s too late to clone. Start clones from each of your plants early (make sure you label them) and save what you want. If you really want to create hybrids and save seeds, it’s best to start with only one male from a trusted genetic strain and one or more females with known (trusted) genetics. Many breeders are producing only feminized seed to reduce competition.
Although there are some cannabis pests that can be found almost everywhere, different regions typically have different pests. The list of all pests in all regions is too large for the scope of this article. There are plenty of pages online about specific pests and how to deal with them but most articles approach the subject from the standpoint of controlling rather than preventing pests.
Parents often blame themselves when their children get sick or injured and, plagued with guilt, painfully review what they could have or should have done to have achieved a different future. Though the analogy is far from bullet proof, if you regard your cannabis plants as adopted children, considering what you might have done differently might not be a bad approach. Many pest problems can be prevented.
Take diseases, for example. The simultaneous occurrence of a pathogen and a suitable host does not necessarily result in infection. Other conditions need to be favorable for pathogens to succeed. Like the human body, a cannabis plant has the ability to protect itself from diseases by producing many different chemical compounds that are toxic to fungal pathogens. The ability of the plant to successfully resist disease depends on many different factors. When plants are stressed, compounds called oxidants accumulate and cause the breakdown of lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. This further stresses the plant. Cannabis responds by using a lot of energy to create more lipids and other cell components that were oxidized. As stress increases and energy production decreases, the plant cannot produce defensive chemicals and becomes less resilient to pathogens. Anti-stress products like Root Muscle™ can help plants re-establish proper energy management.
Other protection comes from the soil or, more accurately, from soil organisms. As clichéd as it may sound, there is truth to the axiom that a healthy soil promotes healthy plants. A rich soil, as its name implies, contains a wealth of resources. Most of us imagine a rich soil to be one that contains an abundance of plant nutrients capable of producing excellent yield. The term, however, has a deeper meaning. Resources are linked, either directly or indirectly, to one important soil component —humus. Although the fraction of a mineral soil that is humus is relatively small, the function of this component is responsible for the lion’s share of the system’s benefits. The compounds that comprise the soil’s organic fraction are resources for billions of soil organisms. Paying attention to the needs of these organisms with applications of compost, Root Muscle™, and organic fertilizers will go a long way toward reducing or eliminating disease without using fungicides.
Defense mechanisms against insect pests are similar. Plants that are growing in soils with optimum fertility and experiencing little or no stress generally have significantly lower incidences of insect pest damage. Luxury consumption of plant nutrients is rare in nature and can be as unhealthy to plants as it is to people. Insect bodies are almost 50 percent protein, the synthesis of which demands a good source of nitrogen. Herbivorous insects must be able to locate an abundance of relatively soluble nitrogen to survive. A 1983 study showed seventeen of twenty-three plots fertilized with soluble nitrogen resulted in an increase in insect damage. Of all the essential plant nutrients, superfluous or insufficient levels of nitrogen and potassium in the plant seem to have the greatest effect on insect activity. Excess nitrogen can accumulate in plant tissue as soluble amino acids and nitrates-two forms of nitrogen that not only induce insect feeding but also egg laying. Use Bud Breakfast™ at recommended application rates.
Deficiencies or superfluities of potassium have an indirect effect on insect activity due to their relationship with nitrogen. Potassium acts in conjunction with nitrogen to accelerate the processing of soluble amino acids and nitrates into proteins by the plant. The less soluble nitrogen there is in the plant, the less attractive it is to herbivorous insects.
Although no specific link has been made to other nutrient deficiencies and insect pest activity, it is reasonable to assume that all components of nutrition for both the plant and soil organisms are equally important. Micronutrients that are needed in only trace amounts, for example, play a major role in the creation of over 5,000 different enzymes necessary for life functions-many of these enzymes provide protection for the plant.
The balance of soil organisms can affect the availability of nutrients to plants and increase efficiency. Biological activity often corresponds with plant growth and synchronizes availability with need. Biological nutrient management can ensure that plants receive optimal fertility but it cannot occur in environments that lack resources for soil organisms. The proteins, carbohydrates, and other organic compounds in plant residues, compost, and organic fertilizer are food for these valuable organisms. Biological resources combined with AACT and Root Muscle™ are a match made in ganja heaven.
Soil and plant health, unfortunately, have little effect on mammalian pests. Deer, gophers, and other four-legged cannabivores are sometime deterred by repellants made from garlic and other essential oils. Sometimes, a fence is the only protection.
Common sense is sometimes the best remedy. If you see a cluster of eggs, curled leaves, webbing, or leaf mining trails, cut off the affected leaves and incinerate them before the problem spreads. An adult insect lays eggs on plants that will be good meals for its offspring. Diseases require the same vigilance. If you see something…do something.
Organic hydroponics is sort of an oxymoron. Words like nature, natural, healthy, biological, and other warm, fuzzy, mindsets that make you feel good about what you’re smoking aren’t typically associated with hydroponics. Some firmly believe that weed taste, quality, and potency are directly linked to organic, soil-grown cultivation but there’s no empirical evidence that’s true or false. One can’t argue that the hydroponic system lacks a multitude of benefits only found in a natural soil growing system. That said, hydroponically raised fruit and vegetables labeled as “organic” are abundant in the produce isle of the supermarket.
If one searches online for the benefits of growing hydroponically, most of the reasons given are nonsensical. Better control of light, humidity, air movement, and CO₂ levels really have nothing to do with the hydroponic part of growing and can be manipulated just as easily with any indoor growing system. There’s one reason, however, that is hard to argue with…space. Indoor hydroponic production per cubic volume of space is typically greater.
The intricacies of growing cannabis hydroponically are beyond the scope of this article. Having some experience growing weed indoors with potting media might be helpful before exploring hydroponics. As with anything new, it’s a good idea to start small.