This month, we had some questions about growing top shelf herb. How possible is it to produce medicine that you love as much as your favorite strain at the dispensary? How long should it take to get really good at growing A+ nugs?
Well, just like any other skill, cultivating cannabis like a pro takes some time. You have to make a lot of mistakes, learn how to recognize symptoms early on, and correct problems as quickly as possible when you find them. Flowering plants develop very rapidly, often changing in appearance every single day of their 8-10 week cycle. One wrong move on the part of the gardener can damage the potential of the final product, even if the mistake is corrected within a day or two.
Over the past 19 years that I’ve spent growing, seeing other operations, and talking to countless other cultivators, the most common problematic theme I’ve encountered has been excess complexity. Growers have to be smart in a scientific way, but also in an intuitive way, being able to sense something slowly going out of balance, take a guess at what it could be, and then systematically correct it in a way that either “rules in” or rules out the accuracy of their diagnosis.
If, for example, your plants looked good yesterday, but today they don’t look quite as good, be worried, get to work right away, and don’t change too many things at once. Without expensive scientific instruments analyzing the leaf tissue, root zone, and nutrient mix, we often cannot know exactly what is making the plants suddenly less vigorous. We have to draw on the insights of experts in combination with a review of the treatments that led up to the occurrence of the problem.
The first major things to check are: 1) Is the water drainage from the plants within the desired range for pH and ppm (parts per million)? Outside of the range of 5.7-6.3 pH, plants cannot get the nutrients they need. Outside the range of 700-1800ppm, they are getting either too little or too much food. 2) Did the lighting change? 3) Were the plants recently sprayed or treated with a new substance of any kind? 4) Are there any new insects flying or crawling around? 5) Have there been any recent changes in ambient temperature, humidity, or ventilation?
Hardly any grower gets the same quality of harvest every time, but the best growers come very close, and this is due to finding a system that works and sticking with it. You can spend an entire lifetime trying new products to make your harvest even better, but if you change things too much too frequently, you’ll remain lost in a sea of confusion for the lifetime of your operation.
With each flowering cycle you complete, your skills will improve at zeroing in on a system that works for you, and as soon as you find it, cut your variables to a bare minimum in order to maintain your quality and consistency into the future.
Anyone can grow world-class weed, so let me end this month’s column with a list of requirements for obtaining great ganja, and this will give novices a solid starting point from which they can divert as they become more experienced.
1. Use at least 750 watts of HPS light (or the equivalent) per 25 sq ft of grow space. If plants seem unhealthy, back the light off until they bounce back. They don’t like being pressured to photosynthesize when something is out of balance.
2. Use a pot that is no less than one-third the size of the full-grown plant. In other words, if your pot is 5 gallons in size, the plant can grow to triple that size in its dimensions. Any bigger for that same pot size, and bud development will be limited.
3. Maintain the pH of the medium between the ideal of 5.8 – 6.2.
4. Maintain the ppm of the medium between 900 – 1500.
5. Check the pH and ppm of your water run-off every time you water and immediately correct anything that has gone out of range with a counterbalancing water mixture. This is how you manage your medium. You’ll need a good nutrient/pH meter for this, which is a must-have for any grower. I like the Bluelab Guardian.
6. Use a fertilizer that has been made for cannabis plants, and consider all your additives and the affects they have on the NPK balance of the entire nutrient mix.
7. Leach your plants every 3 weeks simply to reset the nutrients, which often get out of proportion with each other.
8. Maintain lots of ventilation and air movement.
9. Don’t overwater. Full-grown plants that are healthy and well proportioned in size to their pots should need water every 3-4 days. If they are drying out more quickly, they need bigger pots. If they are drying out more slowly, they are either too small for their pots, or one of the issues listed above is out of balance, which is keeping them from growing normally.
10. Keep a notebook of all the changes you’ve made and the results those changes have had, and try to make only one change at a time. Most changes, whether in the ambient environment or inside the root zone, show their effects in 1-3 days. By day 4, if the plants look the same, you can most likely consider your change to be inconsequential.
With all these factors in mind, if you are committed, you can be growing great quality herb within a year or so. If you are lucky, even sooner. ;)