Spanish grower’s paradise
The sun shines virtually year round in this grower’s paradise, located on the Iberian Peninsula in Western Europe. The West and Southern coasts enjoy the mild influence of the Mediterranean Sea. Natural inland microclimates keep temperatures warm enough to cultivate 6 to 10 months of the year. The northern coast is influenced by the chilling Atlantic Ocean, there is more rainfall and it’s much cooler and greener.
Free sunlight and liberal laws make growing a few plants on the balcony or in the back yard a widespread hobby. Unlike many other countries, plant-loving gardeners are not persecuted in Spain.
Outdoor growing in Spain presents many different challenges and is much different than indoor cultivation. Finding a safe place to grow with good midday sun is the first concern. The sun-baked clay soil is the next obstacle to overcome.
Most growers grow a few plants in the back yard, on the balcony or terrace. Others grow a few plants in hidden country settings. There is no big commercial marijuana business in Spain, growers here grow for their friends and themselves.
Plants grown from last year’s seeded buds account for the majority of the production here. These seeds originated from plants they grew for a few generations, or from buds that got them high. Well-wishing growers mistakenly plant seeds from two hybrid crosses, or a cross with a local variety and one of the hybrids. Growers that consistently grow from this type of seed have continued to suffer mediocre bud quality and low yields.
Many of the balcony and terrace gardens I visited in Spanish cities were full of buds salted with seeds. According to Alberto, an inner-city grower, this is caused by careless urban growers.
“All the neighbors are growing on their rooftop terraces,” says Alberto, “many of them work and have little time to care for their gardens. Others just don’t know how to distinguish a male plant when it is young. By the time they figure out they have some male plants, the pollen is out of the sack! I’ve talked to most of them, but the pollen could come from anywhere.”
An increasing number of growers are planting seeds from the Netherlands. Although most of the well-known varieties were developed for indoor grow rooms, they can grow well outdoors if given the proper conditions. Growers report they need a bit more care than the larger, stronger sativa plants that normally grow outdoors in this mild Mediterranean climate. The indica/sativa crosses tend to have large buds on small branches that easily bend and break. The root system is usually small and needs watering more often.
Several outdoor crops a year
Temperatures are more severe in the northern reaches of Spain, in the Basque Country and the Pyronese mountains. Growers in these cooler climates that plant on balconies get plants to flower before bad weather sets in. They simply cover the plants with a dark box to limit the light to 12 hours.
This simple practice makes plants flower before chilling winds desiccate plants and burn leaves. One grower I spoke to moved his plants from the balcony to a dark closet every night and back on to the balcony each morning. We sampled some of his excellent dry buds the first week in September.
Growers are just learning now how to bypass growing from seed each year by growing mother plants and taking clones. They integrate the best of indoor and outdoor growing with the help of fluorescent and HP sodium lamps.
The warm temperate and sunny weather on the Mediterranean side of the peninsula opens the door to growing several outdoor crops a year. An early crop, harvested in mid to late April, takes full advantage of the short sunny spring days. Summer and fall harvests are becoming more and more popular among advanced cultivators.
Growers in warm regions take clones and sow seeds indoors between Christmas and the first week in January. These seeds and clones are grown for 6 to 8 weeks before they are set in an outdoor greenhouse for a few hours each day to harden-off (acclimate) a few days.
Once acclimated, the little plants are left in the greenhouse under the short winter days. The super short days (10 – 11 hours) hasten flower production on slightly smaller buds. The plants are given a flowering fertilizer mix and watered as needed.
The sun heats the greenhouse during the day and requires ventilation. A removable top, open window or extraction fan are good options to provide adequate ventilation. Makeshift greenhouses are made from scrap building materials, while more sophisticated greenhouses are equipped with curtains to control daylight hours. Growers in cooler climates bring the plants into a warm house at night to realize the best production.
Plants on wheels
Jordi, an experienced grower I spoke to, plans to make a large planter on wheels for the winter. It will be about 18 inches by 3 feet. He will wheel it out onto the sunny patio every day, and back into the warm house at night. He will construct a simple frame greenhouse covered with plastic on top of the planter. Jordi will cover the greenhouse with a blanket when he brings it into the house. The blanket serves two purposes: to keep the plants in the absolute darkness which ensures flowering, and to retain the heat in the greenhouse.
After the spring harvest, Jordi will plant another crop of clones for a summer harvest. Each day he will remove the clear plastic cover from his greenhouse and replace it with a dark plastic cover, to give the plants in the planter 12 hours of darkness during the summer. The intense summer sunlight produces large dense buds when coupled with the 12-hour light regimen.
The fastest way to make an indica cross grow a large root system is to graft it onto a large sativa root system. One grower plans to graft several clones, including Skunk #1, Jack Herer, Orange Bud and White Widow, onto the rootstock of a Mexican sativa plant with a huge root system.
The grafting process is simple and easy. He simply cuts a “V” in the main stem of the sativa plant. He cuts the clone’s stem into a point, and fits it into the “V” in the stem of the rootstock. He then uses splints and string to bind the union. He sets the plant in the shade for a few days to heal. After a few days the plant loses a few leaves and recuperates. Now he plants the plant in the prepared planting hole.
Self-sustaining seeds and crosses
Spaniards have been planting sativa seeds for generations. Mostly Moroccan, Mexican and Colombian strains. Later came the Hawaiians, Thais, and most recently indica/sativa crosses. Growing from seed outdoors is a fact of life here. Indoors, however, growing from seed is as foreign as paying for your own stash. Clones rule among indoor growers in North Europe, as well as North America and Australia.
Adventurous growers take advantage of the fact that half of the plants turn into males. They use this opportunity to cross their favourite plants and produce their own seed for next year.
A few crosses are successful for a generation, but the majority are miserable failures. This is because selective seed breeding is only achieved by having a large selection of male and female plants to cross and select from the resulting offsprings. Most Spanish growers only grow a few plants and keep sporadic records.
Several gardeners I recently visited are breeding their own seeds. They continue to find males in the garden. When a male is found, it is assessed for quality. Many of them follow Scott Blake’s (Greenhouse Seeds) advice: Smell is directly related to taste. If he smells something interesting or different in a young male plant when he rubs the stem a little, he keeps it. This resin production characteristic is very important in the young males.
Rejuvenating pollen donors
Antonio, another grower from the interior, selects male plants as pollen donors. He digs them up, transplants the males into pots, and moves them into a small greenhouse with a double door to keep the pollen isolated. He then uses his finger to collect a little pollen from one of the open pollen sacks.
Once the male plant has supplied enough pollen, he cuts it back and removes flowers as they appear. He moves the male under a bank of fluorescent light 20 hours a day. Within 4-6 weeks the male plant has rejuvenated and resumes vegetative growth.
The traumatized pruned plant shows no signs of growth for the first week under the fluorescent light and requires little water. During the second and third week signs of growth appear. Small leaves start to grow from the pruned branches. One blade grows at first, then 3-bladed leaves, and by the end of the eighth week the first 5-fingered leaf appears.
Hemp pollen problems
Low THC hemp pollen is one of the silent pitfalls outdoor growers must avoid. Hemp pollen pollution could be one of the things that affects outdoor growing in North America and the rest of the world. Hemp production is growing in every Western and Central European country. More acres of hemp are being planted every year as the demand grows.
Males are normally not culled from the hemp fields and pollen carried by the wind is shed far and wide. Once pollinated, a female plant stops flower development and puts all her energy into producing seeds. The product is a bud full of hemp seeds and little smoke. The resulting seed from this cross will grow better fibre than smoke.
Cannabis pollen also causes an allergic (sinus) reaction among many people. During Spain’s summer months, the hemp pollen count is broadcast on the nightly TV news. Large clouds of Moroccan cannabis pollen are electronically tracked as they cross the Mediterranean Sea and dissipate over the Iberian Peninsula.
The problems these clouds of pollen cause growers are not reported. Fortunate growers are able to plant on a hillside in a “wind shadow”, an area where the wind blows around and over. Other growers protect females from this low-quality male pollen by cultivating in greenhouses.
Random airborne hemp pollen in Spain can blindside a gardener, but it’s a far cry from North American’s pest problem, swarms of soaring DEA agents.