Source: Marijuana Venture Magazine
In this emerging age of state-legal marijuana manufacturing, professional growers need to strive for continually improving results in order to stay viable as businesses. Growing cannabis is somewhat of an art, but it’s also a science in the sense that you can systematically up your game by testing and implementing new equipment and methods. Just like the human body, the full potential of the cannabis plant is unknown and not yet realized. Truly professional growers approach their cultivation technique the same way athletes employ special diets and physical exercises to keep reaching new world records.
Here are some tips that help build and maintain a top-notch cultivation facility:
Know your medium
What are the particular traits of the different root-zone media, and how do their tendencies affect the nutrient regimen and the watering system? Water culture has its own special needs in order to work properly. Cocofiber, inert media (like rockwool), and soils do too. How fast does the water move across the roots and how frequently does it need refreshing with food and oxygen? This will vary quite noticeably from one medium to the next and needs to be identified and balanced as quickly as possible. Since cannabis plants grow and change throughout their lifecycle, balance can be a moving target. They’ll use less food and water when first planted and more over time, with nutrient proportions changing as plants progress through the flowering cycle. Additionally, each medium has its own tendency towards grabbing and releasing nutrients to the plants that depends on several factors such as cation exchange capacity (CEC), pH and microbial activity.
Know your water and nutrients
Send your source water, your soil mix, and your nutrient solution to a local lab for testing. Your pH and TDS meters will tell you some of the story, but the lab will give you very specific data. When it comes to nutrients, keep in mind that the labels never really tell the whole story. Labeling laws require listing the proportions and percentages of 3 significant nutrients- Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (N-P-K), but they don’t require listing details about the 11 others- Calcium (Ca), Sulfur (S), Magnesium (Mg), Boron (B), Chlorine (Cl), Manganese (Mn), Iron (Fe), Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Molybdenum (Mo), Nickel (Ni). Of course marijuana plants prefer a certain proportion of all these elements, but there’s no way to know if your water, medium, and nutrients comprise the right combination without scientific testing.
Soil testing labs will accept liquid and soil samples to analyze the quantity of available nutrients, and sending in regular samples for testing will allow pro growers to obtain and create nutrient maps that show where supplementation or adjustments in the feeding regimen are warranted throughout the course of the plant’s lifecycle. Some labs in cannabis-legal states will even accept leaf and flower tissue samples for nutrient analysis. Matching tissue analyses with soil and nutrient data will paint an even-more detailed picture of the needs and trajectory of the garden, which will vary somewhat between different cultivars and environmental conditions.
Get to know the strains
Dogs are all dogs, but Chihuahuas aren’t much like German Shepherds. The same is true with the physical nature of cannabis strains. They are all cannabis, but some strains are like vines, others are like bushes, and many are in between. Along with different physical profiles come different handling methods, and even feeding regimens. To get the most out of a cannabis garden, growers need to learn how to shape each strain with its own unique pruning technique. Lanky strains react better to more regular pruning early in life while stout strains need time to stretch out. Some strains branch more readily while others need encouragement. Each plant canopy yields the most when the optimal number of flowering tops is maintained. This number can only be determined with experimentation over time. The best growers have found that sweet spot with each strain and learn to train it to its ideal height and density for maximum yield.
Always make sure to properly balance experimentation with reliability. Perhaps the most common trait of a less experienced grower is allowing too many variables in the system, thereby not knowing which product or method is causing what result. Any time a variable can be removed from the equation, steady ongoing improvement becomes more possible. This means measuring and documenting as much data as possible, including photos that reflect the garden’s physical changes that are associated with different handling techniques. The data must be reviewed, analyzed, compared with images, and lab tests in order to achieve optimal results.
Cultivate Whole-System Awareness
With investors now taking their seats at the table and the wholesale value of cannabis flowers trending downward, good growers should make sure they use the most effective tools and methods to obtain great results. That means using quality testing meters, atomizers for effectively applying sprays, high-efficiency full-spectrum lighting, and reliable environmental control systems. All of these pieces must be assembled into a system that is ergonomic, efficient, safe, and sensible for site workers. Good workflow depends on the right tools and the right environment coming together, and workers always perform better when systems are sensible, simplified, and well explained.
Engender Employee Satisfaction
Create incentives for site workers to care about results and reward them for improving their outcomes. Legal cultivation facilities receive hundreds of resumes from people excited to legitimately participate in the industry, and this phenomenon has driven down the pay rate simply due to the law of supply and demand. What many facility managers don’t realize is that low-wage replaceable workers rarely go the extra mile to make sure that problems are immediately addressed and details attended to. Flowering plants won’t wait to get help. The flowering process continues to unfold with its own countdown clock, and even one single day of light, nutrient, or pH imbalance will stop plants from reaching their potential. Workers who care about outcomes will stay late to solve a problem as soon as it’s identified, thereby minimizing the potential loss in value to the crop.
Cultivators in the legal cannabis industry must embrace complexity as a way of life. Cannabis plants are living beings that are sensitive and reactive to their conditions, just as humans are. But unlike humans, cannabis lives out its whole lifespan in a few short months, rapidly changing every day. Truly professional growers are those who combine a sharp eye with quick reactivity, the right materials, good tracking methods, scientific data, and years of experience.
Jennifer is a monthly columnist for Marijuana Venture and SF Evergreen Magazines and owns/operates the product review website and blog WeedGear.com. She writes on beginner and advanced cannabis cultivation topics, entrepreneurship, trends & technologies, and DIY cannabis crafts. Here are some recent articles.