Growing with the Mountain Man

Mountain Man, an expert grower from British Colombia, has grown many crops outdoors, but after several rip offs he moved indoors five years ago. I spent several days visiting with Mountain Man in his remote country cabin deep in the interior of BC, discussing the details of his grow techniques.
Cannabis Culture: Mountain Man, this sure is an impressive grow setup. How many lights do you have and what kind of production do you get?

Mountain Man: I use a dozen, 1000-watt HPS systems with horizontal reflectors. All together I grow 280 plants in the flowering room, or about 24 plants per light. Plants are spaced on 12-inch centres, so a 1000-watt HPS covers about 36 square feet of growing space. Remember, plants grow beyond the centre line about one foot.

I don’t have a light mover, so I move the plants around on the tables. I put the tallest plants along the outside and the smallest plants in the middle under the lights. This way the smaller plants get more light and are not shaded by the taller ones. Even with fixed lamps, I get more even light distribution.

The flowering room is 20 x 25 feet, for a total of 500 square feet. I have one 3-light table (5 x 14′) one 4-light table (5 x 18′) and one 5-light table (5 x 20). This layout leaves room for aisle space around the tables for maintenance.

Harvests have been as high as 3.5 pounds from a single light. The yield for all 12 lights, an entire crop, ranges between 24 and 30 pounds every harvest. Some varieties, like ?Shiskeberry’ and ?Super Skunk’ produce much heavier than others. There are quite a few things that can go wrong to account for a light harvest. Normally, if I watch everything, and keep to a schedule, I don’t have any problems.

A profuse root system grows in about a weekA profuse root system grows in about a weekCC: How many crops do you grow per year?

MM: I like to take summers off and enjoy the beautiful weather here in BC, so I don’t grow in the summer. It also gets hot in the summer here and I am not used to growing in warm weather. My garden is located on the main floor and the temperature can climb fast when the sun hits the south side of the house.

I always have trouble when it gets hot outdoors. The plants stretch, I have more insect and fungus problems and it’s just too big of a hassle. I would rather be out enjoying the summer. I harvest three to four crops a year. That gives me about 100 pounds a year.

CC: How do you get your flowering room started?

MM: I transplant clones when they are well rooted and they are about 2-6 inches tall. I keep them under 18 hours of light for only one week before inducing flowering with 12 hours of darkness. I put these clones in a hydroponic misting system. Clones in net pots are suspended in a misting chamber and the roots grow very fast.

This brings up a very big point about my last crop. I left the clones in vegetative growth too long. I waited until they were 18 to 20 inches tall before I “flicked” the light to 12 hours. Huge mistake! I only got 1.5 pounds per light! Talk about taking longer to grow less!

The times before I “flicked” the lights when the plants were only 8 inches tall and harvested as much as 3.5 pounds per light. I swear I will always flick the lights when the plants are small. It makes everything faster and easier. The plants only grow to 30 – 36 inches tall before they are harvested. They are strong all the way to the bottom.

I keep the clones under a combination of warm white and cool white 40-watt fluorescents for 6 to 12 days. They always have roots growing out the rooting cubes by the end of the 12th day. Then I move them to the vegetative room for a week. They are about 8 inches tall when they leave the vegetative room and are placed in the flowering room for 8 to 10 weeks.

I grow hydroponically with a top-feed manifold spaghetti tubing irrigation system. I start the clones in rockwool cubes and transplant them into bigger pots filled with clay pellets.

I keep the pH of the nutrient solution at 5.7 – 5.8 throughout the growing cycles. I start the vegetative growth at a DS [Dissolved Salts] of 4 [400 parts per million] for 2 days, then move it to 7. I change it to 9 when I flick the lights to 12 hours. By the last week I’m giving them 23.

After rooting, they are placed in a hydroponic misting system to promote root growth.After rooting, they are placed in a hydroponic misting system to promote root growth.I divide the difference between the peak of 23 and the low of 9 by the number of days I will flower for, to come up with a standard progressive ratio [an amount to increase the DS by each day]. Then I flush the plants for the last 3 – 4 days with plain water that has a pH of 5.7 – 5.8. The flush cleans out chemical fertilizer tastes.

I change the reservoirs religiously every 3 days. I don’t flush it [the whole system]because the loss of nutrient stresses plants. I know this because I get leaf loss within 24 hours of flushing the system. I just drain the nutrient from the tank and mix a new batch. I don’t worry about any nutrient solution that is left in the growing beds. The tables use almost all the solution in three days.

The reservoir is topped off with water as needed. It is needed fairly often, considering flowering plants use 40 to 60 gallons of water every day! I set up a PVC pipe hard plumbed into each reservoir. Holes in the PVC pipe hold the plants, and the pipe carries water past roots to the tank. The pipe is attached to a toilet float valve to keep the water level consistent.

I check the system several times each day to make sure it is perfect. It’s OK if the DS goes down a few points during the day as long as it is corrected within a few hours.

The temperature of the nutrient solution in the reservoir is 85 – 90?F. I know this is too hot, but I haven’t had any problems with disease or fungus. So I don’t worry about it.

Bud shot from Mountain Man?s garden.Bud shot from Mountain Man?s garden.CC: Any special tricks to increase yield?

MM: I used Growth Plus in flowering for the first 3 weeks. I think it helped and made a heavier harvest. But I’m not sure how much it helped. I did several things that helped increase harvest and they all helped.

I added hydrogen peroxide (H2O2, 35% concentration) to the nutrient solution. I used 50 ml per 17 gallons of nutrient solution. The roots stayed white and healthy. Hydrogen peroxide adds available oxygen to the root zone. Even though the temperature of the nutrient solution was high there was no root rot nor was there any disease or wilts. I did have a little bud rot at the end. I think that was because of humidity rather than nutrient solution temperature.

If you use too much hydrogen peroxide, it forces so much air into the medium that the medium is displaced and the roots have a difficult time holding on and the plants fall over.

CC: What varieties are you growing?

MM: I don’t know for sure the name of the variety that I am growing. I think somebody at a university was working on this variety for chemotherapy patients. I like it because it offers consumers a good value. It isn’t the most potent, but it yields well and has few problems. The clones stick easily and it is fairly resistant to insect and disease attacks.
What fertilizer do you use?

I use Nutriboost Rooting Jell for starting clones. For both vegitative and flowering stages, I also use Nutriboost products. Plants grow a huge root mass and the stems grow to about an inch in diameter with Nutriboost. Nutriboost is manufactured by Western Water Farms.

Healthy vegetative plants are ready to flower.Healthy vegetative plants are ready to flower.CC: What is the air environment like in your room and what do you do to keep it fresh and moving?

MM: Air is real important in my room. I keep the temperature between 72 and 76?F during the day [light period]and no less than 70?F at night. If the temperature drops too much at night, there will be lots of moisture condensation and excessive humidity.

I keep the humidity level between 50 and 60% during the daytime. At night I don’t care, because I keep the temperature warm enough to control excessive humidity and have had no fungus problems until the very last week.

I keep the air stirred up in the room with a total of 12 oscillating fans. These circulation fans are 12 to 16 inches in diameter and are on whenever the lights are burning.

A 400 CFM [cubic feet per minute]ventilation fan is attached directly outside. It vents straight out the roof, and it’s able to remove all the air in the room quickly.

To keep it from smelling at harvest, I use a Vapour Tech. It works fairly well to mask the smell. But if you are in the room moving around through the plants, they give off a hellacious odour and it’s very difficult to mask. I think I am going to change to Ona, a new product that actually bonds chemically with smelly atoms. I heard it works great.

1 of 2 heavy duty blowers that remove moisture1 of 2 heavy duty blowers that remove moistureCC: What kinds of things do you do to keep your garden secure?

MM: Things are pretty normal around my house, even though I run 12 lights. I keep my electrical usage to a minimum, other than lights. I have a gas hot-water heater and a wood stove. I also only allowed you to take close-up photos in this room, that way nobody can tell where the room is located. Oh yes, I keep my mouth shut and I live a conservative life.

I don’t drink much or go out to bars either when I’m growing. I think that lifestyle only leads to problems. Drunk people tend to talk a lot and brag about their exploits. It’s just dumb to hang out with people like that. I find I can resist everything but temptation. So why should I put myself in temptation’s way?

No matter how much work there is in the grow room, don’t take on a partner. I’ll always go it alone and do the work myself. There is too much exposure if you take on a partner. The room would have to be twice as big to support both me and another guy. It takes longer to set up a big room. With the wasted time you could have had a crop in the ground. It also costs more money to set up a larger room. I think it is best to have a smaller room that produces well than have a huge one that produces OK. Everything in this business is a gamble, cut your exposure and take small, well-calculated chances.

I always keep a regular lifestyle with a regular day job. I don’t keep my shades drawn, I get out and mow the lawn and take care of the house. I know the neighbours and we get along with each other. We keep a friendly distance from each other. I have never gone in their house and do not expect them to ask to see the inside of mine. But if they do want to come over for coffee, the house looks normal inside and you can’t tell there is a growing room.

Drying racks full of about 15 pounds of buds.Drying racks full of about 15 pounds of buds.CC: Could you tell me about your biggest setbacks?

MM: Spider mites. When I find a few mites, I get rid of them with SM 90. I wipe it on the leaves wherever I see mites. This way I’m sure SM 90 comes into contact with the mites. I spend up to 2 hours per day looking for and killing mites. I would do this whenever I need to do it. Always look for mites, and when you see them, do something about it immediately! I also remove leaves that are 50% or more mite damaged.

It can be overwhelming to face such a job. I just decide that I will work for an hour just searching out and killing mites. I see how much I can do in that hour and then take a break and figure how many hours it will take me to go through the garden one plant at a time. Killing mites is hard work that takes time, but it works and works well.

Another big catastrophe I had was when my pH pen was reading out low and I did not realize it. The garden started looking bad, real bad and it all happened so fast. I figure this oversight cost about 20% of the crop. From that time on I bought two pH pens and two DS pens and I check them against each other. If there is anything strange about a reading on the pen, I change to the other pen to see if there is a different reading. It may cost a little more, but it is worth every penny!

Always take care of the pH and DS pens. Make sure to clean them and follow maintenance directions to the letter. If you do not take care of the pens they will stop working properly and it may take you a few days to troubleshoot the problem. I asked myself if one $50 pH pen was worth four pounds of prime tops.

I also do my best to anticipate the needs of the plants. For example, I could see they were growing very fast and the stems would have a difficult time holding up the heavy buds. So I set up trellis support strings to support the plants when they got big.

I figured that it was much easier to work around the smaller plants than the larger ones. It was a great idea. The smaller plants were easier to work with and I broke fewer of them. They also had more time to recover from the handling. If I would have waited to set the trellis up when the plants were in full bud, I would have broken a lot of branches and bruised a lot of buds. I would also have released a lot of smell. Then I would have had to deal with the smell! Why create problems that cause me more work?

CC: What advice can you leave our growers with that want to share your success?

MM: A successful grower could be in any business and be successful. If you have trouble keeping a regular job, don’t try growing. It will be more than you can handle. If you are a fair employee, you will be a fair grower. Get yourself organized before you try to organize a growing operation.Drying racks full of about 15 pounds of buds.

* EC refers to electrical conductivity. The EC pen measures the concentration of salt that conducts electricity in the nutrient solution. The higher the EC, the more salt in the nutrient solution that conducts electricity.