All other things being equal, growing outdoors can be easier than growing indoors because you have assistance from Mama Nature. The amount and type of nature’s assistance depends on where your slice of the outdoors is. If you live in a climate and geographical zone that provides nitrogen-rich, well-drained soil, at least five hours of strong sunlight hitting the plants per day, and some gentle rain during the marijuana growing cycle, lucky you. Pick your sites, guard your crops against predator insects, animals and humans, and wait for autumn.
I decided not to grow outdoors because there was nowhere nearby that I could do it safely. I wanted a year-round harvest and control over all aspects of crop environment. If you’re growing indoors, you are Mother Nature, creator of your plants’ universe. Everything the plant needs, from the ground up, is your responsibility. If you do it right, if you provide your plants with exactly the right combination of light, temperature, humidity, nutrients and atmosphere, they’ll reward you with huge, sticky buds.
I’ve seen cannabis plants survive in dingy closets, suffocating, curling and burning under a bare 100 watt GE bulb. They survived to produce pathetically underweight harvests of schwag. Sure, cannabis is hardy ? it’ll grow even if you don’t give it exactly what it needs ? but why risk growing pot if you’re not going to do it right? Give the plant what it wants, and it’ll plump up with buds like a pregnant mare with quintuplets.
Grow #1: Hydroponic guidelines
Start by investing in a marijuana library. Robert Clarke’s Marijuana Botany, Ed Rosenthal’s Revised Marijuana Grower’s Handbook, Mel Frank’s Marijuana Grower’s Insider’s Guide, and Indoor Marijuana Horticulture, and Richard Glen Boire’s Marijuana Law are some of the best infosources you’ll find.
Armed with book knowledge, I set up my first grow room. I spent nearly a thousand dollars on a pump-timed, water recirculating reservoir system with individual containers. I spent several days cutting pieces of tubing, inserting them in buckets, installing clamps, soaking rockwool, mixing chemical fertilizers, trying to learn how to use my costly new PH and parts-per-million (PPM) meters. I understood that the water was supposed to be around 6.1 PH and that the nutrient percentage was supposed to be around 1300 ppm, but I had trouble calibrating the meters and becoming an amateur chemist.
Mine was a process of controlled trial and error: I kept meticulous records of nutrient types and ratios, light cycles, water and air temperatures, humidity, growth rates, floral development, psychoactive results.
Looking back over my grow diaries, I notice that I was growing from seeds that had not been totally back-sourced and stabilized, so some of my production variations resulted from genetics rather than from how I treated the plants. These days, I only buy from a reputable seed houses.
Over time, I discovered three important guidelines for indoor growers:
(1) optimum water and grow medium pH ranges from 5.8 to 6.4, depending on growth cycle and plant variety;
(2) ratios of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (the “N-P-K” macronutrients) and trace elements (boron, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese, copper and molybdenum) can be manipulated to affect yield and quality;
(3) temperature should be 70-80?F (21-26?C), humidity between 30-65%.
Give plants a nitrogen-dominant diet during vegetative growth, then gradually decrease nitrogen during floral phase, until you have reversed the vegetative cycle nutrient ratio and are feeding primarily potassium and phosphorus with just enough nitrogen to keep leaves green.
If you’re using chemical hydroponic nutrients, it is especially important to back off nutrient amounts as you near harvest time. Overfertilization affects taste and combustibility. Minimize such problems by eliminating all nutrient application, giving only water for at least six days (or longer) before harvest. Flush growing medium with pure water, and cut those buds when their resin heads are just beginning to turn gold and 40 to 60 percent of their hairs are turning red or brown.
Hang or tray-dry them in low-humidity darkened areas with good air circulation and temperatures around 80?F until they are firm, pliable but not crumbly. Drying takes between three and eight days, depending on variety and locale. As the bud cures its potency and flavour increase. Watch carefully for gray mold (which looks exactly like its name) which occurs especially on the main stems of over-watered, densely-packed buds and eats its way out to destroy the whole flower. You may not always be able to see the mold, but you can sure smell it.
Grow #2 & #3: Simplifying the system
During the early years of my horticultural career, I enjoyed the five or more hours per day I spent learning about and tinkering with my grow systems. But gradually the thrill of discovery wore off, and growing became more and more like a job.
I loved the kind herb, the sweet smell, the warm lights. But all the technical details, leaky hoses, rockwool slivers in my hands, filling reservoirs, fighting off fungus and mold and little flies that lived in the rockwool, made me long for a simpler grow chamber. So I bought a reservoir tray system which held four rockwool slabs. Each slab was watered by a simple drip irrigation system that only took me a day to set up. I put four plants in each one and watched them grow like weeds. They topped out at 9 feet tall, and I harvested buds the size of footballs shaped like Christmas trees. People looked at them and thought they were hallucinating.
But I am so lazy. Even though I liked how successful this straight hydro drip reservoir rockwool system was, I didn’t like how much room it took up and the careful nutrient balancing required. I didn’t like having to throw away the expensive, waterlogged, root-laden rockwool slabs at the end of each season. I wanted to scale down. I was tired of being part of a pot-making machine.
So I tried an even simpler formula. I built a four by eight grow table in an attic and filled it with well-inspected black soil, vermiculite, perlite, dolomite lime, coconut hulls, a pinch of dried bat guano, and earthworm casings. I learned to go easy on the soil, heavy on the vermiculite. You want the mixture rich but not dense. The roots need to be able to glide through the growing medium and suck water out of it, rather than having to fight for everything.
Then I bought 80 Afghani clones from my breeder friend who always has the finest start plants, and stuck those in. They grew well, with uniformity and high yield. I buy clones because it’s more convenient than making them myself! For my first three years, I tried cloning. I created a good cloning situation: filtered halide or fluorescent lighting, warming mat, humidity dome, cloning gel. Still, I found that I was using a lot of space and electricity running clones.
Of course, it helps that one of my friends does nothing but maintain primo mothers, lovingly cloning Bubbleberries, Poisons, Squeaky Sweet, Kush. He has even has been known to keep a male father alive for its prized pollen. In the end, I calculated that I was actually saving money and time buying the clones from my friend, for which I paid a percentage of my harvest.
But even the best plants can be killed by poor grow room air circulation. It’s not natural for plants to be in a closed, stagnant room. Indoors, they’re fish out of water, gasping for carbon dioxide and air flow. Stagnant air decreases transpiration and blocks efficient flow of atmosphere, water and nutrients. So get strong exhaust and circulation fans ? your plants breathe!
My 80 clone grow room was a good producer and I enjoyed the fact that the only maintenance chores I had were to spray the plants with a light sea kelp/fish meal mixture or spray around their roots. But they were crowded together, which meant that I lost vertical light penetration and floral development in the lower halves of the plants. So for the second crop I planted less plants. I also began using High Pressure Sodium (HPS) bulbs and ballasts for both vegetative and flowering phases.
This choice was not entirely deliberate! I had blown three 1,000 watt halides in a row (courtesy of not having the ballasts plugged in to a protector strip during utility company power surges). All I had left were my HPS’s. The clones were in mid-vegetative cycle and I didn’t want them confused by low light; it would have taken me a week minimum to get bulbs because where I live nobody has enough guts to run a grow store and I am afraid to order by mail.
So I threw the HPS in there and thought I was going to lose growth rate, but as it turned out, HPS gave me better growth rate. HPS bulbs lasted longer than halides and plant internode lengths were shorter. This means that I had more leaf and flower per plant, and less stalk. Hooray.
Grow #4: Downsizing and rejuvenation
I was forced to move to a smaller house, and this forced me to again downsize the scale and complexity of my grow operation. I started some 40 seeds in rockwool cubes, heating them with a clone heat mat. As soon as they popped up, I poured lots of light on them. The more light they get early on, the less they stretch.
As soon as four sets of leaves appeared, when the plants were about five inches tall, I trimmed the tallest growing tip of each plant. When new growth appeared, I trimmed again. I trimmed every time I got new growth, and by the fourth week I had well-developed 20 inch high bushes, rooted in small cups filled with vermiculite, perlite and coconut hulls. I stopped trimming, and at 60 days I had 39 inch tall plants, each with multiple main branches, strong and bushy.
They flowered for 47 days, producing gobs of colas. I averaged six ounces of kind dried bud per plant, and was able to save several plants for rejuvenation. How to rejuvenate a harvested plant so it will rise from the dead? Don’t cut every branch when harvesting. Leave the bottom quarter of the plant intact: a few buds, a few leaves. Flush the roots, re-pot if necessary, put under 18 hours of light, foliar and root feed with high nitro fertilizer.
Within two weeks, you’ll see a weird transformation: flowers turning to shade leaves, new stem growth sprouting from old, still-crystallized floral structures. Within a month, after trimming the ugly-looking bunched-up mutations while allowing vertical growth, you can go back to 12-hour flowering light cycle and anticipate another juicy harvest? all from plants you harvested before. Healthy, vigorous plants can be rejuvenated three or four times.
I began this article intending to tell you everything I know about growing, but I realize I’d have to write a book to do that, not just an article. If you grow several seasons, keep careful notes, and love your plants, you’ll soon know as much as I do anyway, if not more! I’ll finish by briefly summarizing some more ideas to help you overgrow the government:
* Spider mites are a vicious, insidious and increasing problem in grow rooms across the world. They vector in from other peoples’ clones, can ruin a grow room quickly and totally, and are incredibly efficient at harming a plant’s vitality and potency. Spider mites love warm temperatures; I’ve seen people eliminate them by lowering their room’s temperature range so that it averages 65 to 70? F (19-21?C), and by using natural insecticides that are sprayed directly onto leaves. Study your pot library so you know how to identify these suckers and all plant diseases and insects, and then work diligently to eradicate anything that attacks your precious plants.
* Soil is in many ways an inefficient and awkward grow medium, but it is a great buffer, and can save a crop from overfertilization, water problems and other mishaps that will kill a hydro crop grown in non-organic materials like rockwool. The debate over whether soil-grown crops taste, smoke or stone better than pure hydro crops is hilarious and never-ending. Blind taste tests have shown that most people really can’t tell the difference, as long as the hydro bud is properly flushed with pure water for a week or more before harvest. On the other hand, chemical-dependent agriculture is somewhat against the spirit of the pot and hemp movement, and is also bad for the earth.
* Use seeds instead of clones. Using clones seems easier, and you are guaranteed 100% female grow rooms, but clones tend to be the same old boring varieties over and over. They weaken over time and do nothing to further the genetic evolution of cannabis. They are also vectors of infestation by insects or disease. The most successful growers buy the best seeds, grow healthy mothers, clone the mothers, and do at least one seed season per year.
* Try growing exotic strains like Hawaiian Sativa, Durban Poison, Flo, or Burmese. Yes, your growing season will be elongated by at least 3 weeks because you’ve used seeds instead of clones, and you’ll “waste” some grow space on males (unless you realize that pollen is golden!), but the hassle of sprouting seeds and growing long-floral period Sativas will be compensated for by the incredible “up” highs that you get from the more exotic varieties.
* Dry your buds slowly and carefully. Handle buds with care, remembering that when you crush or break a resin gland, you begin degradation of THC. Lots of people make mistakes during drying, curing, handling and packaging, mistakes that result in harsh smoke and less-than-optimum highs.
* Don’t throw leaves, stems, stalks or growing materials in your garbage can. Send them down the garbage disposal, burn them, cook them or deposit them discreetly in somebody else’s dumpster. Police can search your garbage without a warrant!
* Use lights with built-in exhaust systems and vent fans. Hot unvented bulbs burn your plants and cause you to waste lumens; you can’t let the plant tops get closer than approximately 18 inches from the bottom of the reflector. Vented lights are so cool that you can maximize lateral exposure and really pour the light onto your leaves.
* The more light you use, the more CO2 your plants need. If you grow in a well-ventilated space with plenty of fresh air, you don’t need to add C02, but if you grow in stagnant spaces which lack air exchange, enhance your atmosphere with CO2 tanks, dry ice, and other methods. It’ll make plants grow faster and stronger.
Marijuana is all about fun and enlightenment, but it’s also about safety and security. The herb is kind and healing, but the people who as yet have not been shown the Great Green Way are warring against us, so we need to be ever vigilant. Be safe rather than sorry. Felonies aren’t fun, loose lips sink ships ? it can happen to you.
With caution and research, loving care and attention to detail, you can produce the finest herb in the world, save yourself a busload of money, and bake your friends and family.
May the photosynthesis be with you!