There’s a hidden problem in the marijuana cultivation industry ? a secret affliction that robs us of thousands of pounds of marijuana a year.
I’m not talking about the police. No, what I’m talking about is a systemic “illness” that I call “marijuana growth deficiency syndrome” (MGDS).
In the 10 years that I’ve been writing about indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation, I’ve seen MGDS over and over.
It happens even to the best growers who have tried their hardest to create ideal marijuana gardens ? people who purchase 10 premium seeds for $300, plant them in high-tech grow rooms equipped with the best lighting equipment, pay attention to details, and then end up with sickly plants that grow slowly and give a scanty yield of below-average pot.
After visiting dozens of indoor grow rooms and outdoor grow sites in the US, seeing pathetic yields in situations that should have produce twice as much as they did, I decided to investigate MGDS.
What I discovered during my horticultural sleuthing will give you the ability to dramatically improve your growth rates, potency and yield.
Diagnosis and prescription
I first used a process of elimination to determine what factors were not responsible for the mysterious lack of vigor, potency, and yield that I was witnessing.
I’d seen MGDS in gardens around the world, where growers were using various types of genetics, clones, growing mediums, water sources, CO2 augmentation, environmental controls, lighting equipment, and other diverse techniques and infrastructure. So I concluded that MGDS was not caused by genetic factors, nor was it caused by equipment, environment, or the influences of soil, rockwool and other growing mediums, including aeroponics.
These factors do make a difference, of course, but they don’t account for the prevalence of MGDS that I’ve seen in gardens around the world.
My investigations kept leading me back to how plant health and vigor are affected by nutrients, root development, pests and diseases.
I repeatedly found that most growers were using generic feeding programs, few of which were designed specifically for marijuana plants. Their feeding mixes featured combinations, ratios, formulations, and concentrations of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and micronutrients that were in most cases exactly the same as nutrient products targeted toward houseplants and other non-marijuana plants.
I also observed that when plants were showing signs of nutrient overload or deficiency, slow growth, or obvious diseases, most growers didn’t know how to diagnose or heal their plants.
Too often, they would compensate in the opposite direction of what was needed. For example, they’d add extra nitrogen to “correct” yellowing leaves, when the yellowing could well have been caused by too much nitrogen, by nutrients being added at the wrong time in the grow cycle, by poor quality nutrients, or by other well-intentioned but avoidable mistakes.
Growers admitted that they didn’t know how to properly feed their plants. Many of them said they “assumed” that standard N-P-K micronutrient fertilizers were sufficient, especially if those fertilizers were advertised or sold by “pot-friendly” magazines and businesses.
They assumed that all plants grew the same and needed the same types of nutrient inputs at the same times. They confessed that they often found themselves overwhelmed by a spiraling series of crop problems, including poor growth, leaf irregularities, pests, and diseases, that defied their attempts at diagnosis and remediation.
The growers I interviewed had tried to educate themselves by buying books on marijuana cultivation, reading Cannabis Culture and grow articles in other pot magazines, participating in online gardening forums, watching Pot-TV gardening shows, and by trial and error.
I realized that the only scenarios in which I had not seen pervasive examples of MGDS were a few commercial grow operations in Holland and Canada. These scenarios were usually expensive, computerized grow operations monitored and run by plant scientists. The key to success in these scenarios was not their awesome array of innovative electronics, lighting and equipment. Instead, it was the knowledge factor possessed by the plant scientists that made the difference.
“People think that growing cannabis is like growing vegetables,” one Dutch plant scientist told me. “It’s nothing so easy. There are too many factors involved, too many different types of genetics for it to be so easy. And the inputs that people put in, including water, atmosphere, lighting and nutrients, are all variable and changeable, so you have a situation that is not manageable for most amateurs. They are going to get some yield and potency, but they aren’t usually going to get the most possible. In places like North America, where people can go to prison a long time for growing it, it is an unhappy thing to realize that you are growing marijuana, taking all that risk, and only getting half of what you could get.”
Within a few months of commencing my investigation, I concluded that MGDS was primarily caused by growers using inferior or inappropriate nutrients, applied without proper understanding of plant biology and growth phases. This causes a cascade of other problems that affect the plants’ ability to metabolize nutrients, resist diseases and pests, and produce large, potent buds.
I found this to be quite troubling. Commercial marijuana producers are an important part of the marijuana supply pipeline, but home growers are important too, and few of them have the time or money needed to obtain specialized academic and vocational training in plant science.
How can home growers, hobbyists, med-pot patients, and small-time commercial growers learn enough, and afford to implement measures, that would eliminate MGDS? Is it possible to eliminate MGDS without getting a degree in plant science or spending tens of thousands of dollars on equipment and supplies?
Advances in knowledge
During the time I was pondering MGDS, I was contacted by medical marijuana refugee Steve Kubby.
As most readers of Cannabis Culture know, Kubby is an American cancer patient who took refuge in Canada and later received a coveted Health Canada med-pot exemption that allows him to legally grow 59 plants (CC#42, Kubby winning in Canada).
Kubby called to tell me about a Canadian company called Advanced Nutrients. He was excited because they were building him a “sealed grow room” free of charge.
A sealed grow room is one that does not exchange air with the outside world. It resembles the sealed growing chambers NASA uses to test the possibility that plants can be used to produce oxygen sufficient to keep astronauts alive during space flights to Mars and beyond.
After the early phases of growth, when plants have well-established root systems and sufficient leaf mass, the CO2-augmented, duct-taped, sealed grow rooms achieve atmospheric symbiosis ? the plants produce oxygen while taking in CO2, and everybody can breathe easy, including humans who tend the rooms.
One of the many benefits of this type of room, Kubby said with a chuckle, is that growers can kill any plant pest by increasing room CO2 levels to 10,000 ppm for an hour or so. This atmospheric attack suffocates spider mites, whiteflies and other insidious pests.
Kubby explained that Advanced Nutrients was sponsoring Health Canada med-pot exemptees across the country.
“They build these fantastic grow rooms for patients,” he enthused, “and then they practically run them for you. I could never have afforded the kind of equipment that Advanced Nutrients has provided me.”
Kubby suggested I get in touch with Advanced Nutrients’ co-founder Mike Straumietis.
When I reached Straumietis, I found him to be a gregarious and enthusiastic gardening aficionado who knew more about plant biology and gardening than 99% of the people I have ever talked to.
Straumietis talked about his decades of gardening experience, as well as the philosophy and practices of his company, which he formed in 1996 along with co-founders Robert Higgins and Eugene Yordanov.
He claimed that his company had developed a proprietary and unusually effective research and development program that made it easy for marijuana growers to maximize plant yield and potency.
Voila, I thought, this guy might be making products that would allow growers to eliminate MGDS!
When I asked him about my MGDS hypothesis, he launched into a lengthy, detailed explanation of plant biology, growth characteristics, grow room protocols, genetics, and nutrients.
I was heartened but skeptical. The claims he made about his products were so superlative that I suspected they had to be exaggerated.
I was also worried that any article I wrote about Advanced Nutrients would be seen as a quid pro quo conflict of interest situation ? Straumietis had already told me he valued Cannabis Culture as perhaps the most impressive marijuana magazine in the world, and that he was going to be giving us a lot of money to pay for an advertising campaign.
Most people would assume I was writing favorably about Advanced Nutrients because Advanced Nutrients was a major Cannabis Culture advertiser.
I told Straumietis I was intrigued by his claims, but that I needed evidence that they were true.
I thought he might be offended; instead, he told me he would contact me in a day or two to provide me irrefutable third-party verification that Advanced Nutrients’ products were indeed the cure-all for MGDS.
US government recommends it!
The day after I asked Straumietis to prove his claims I received a multi-page fax from him.
The fax consisted of letters and reports sent to Straumietis by Dr Mahmoud ElSohly, the long-time plant scientist manager of the US Government’s marijuana farm, which is located at the University of Mississippi.
I’ve met ElSohly. He’s a friendly Arab guy who loves marijuana, even though he works for the world’s premier prohibitionist outfit. His job for several decades has been to study marijuana potency and horticulture. He supervises on-site growers who grow pot for the fed’s “Investigational New Drug” program, which provides pre-rolled, low-quality marijuana cigarettes to a handful of med-pot patients who were lucky enough to qualify for the program before it was closed to new patients during the administration of the first President Bush.
Apparently, ElSohly became interested in Advanced Nutrients products and agreed to try them out in a side by side test that competed them against his standard marijuana nutrient protocols.
The results were astounding! ElSohly wrote that Advanced Nutrients had produced plants with higher yield, energy, and potency. He found Advanced Nutrients formulas were easy to use, and had produced 21% more bud weight along with a 42% increase in measurable THC. The products also increased the levels of all other major cannabinoids, except for CBG, which is not known as a particularly important psychoactive cannabinoid.
Straumietis was rightfully proud to have received such a glowing recommendation from the government’s top grower-scientist, and I found the recommendation also impressive, if also ironic.
On the other hand, as was pointed out to me by Dr Ethan Russo, who has long complained about the quality and potency of ElSohly’s marijuana, the University of Mississippi federal pot farmer’s standard cultivation protocols against which Advanced Nutrients so favorably competed aren’t necessarily the most effective techniques and inputs.
What would be of more value, Russo suggested, is to see how nutrients from various nutrient companies (especially companies that admit to specializing in marijuana) competed with each other.
Nevertheless, the company also received kudos from the Canadian Cannabis Research Institute (CCRI). Straumietis says the CCRI told him that Advanced Nutrients is “the recognized leader in plant-specific growth technology.”
Straumietis gave me a convincing recitation of factoids that seemed to show that Advanced Nutrients products were superior in design, manufacturing, quality control, and effectiveness when compared with nutrients produced by other companies.
His recitation gave me a lot of insight into MGDS. My intuition about it had been correct: the way to understand MGDS was by viewing the nutritional and environmental needs of marijuana plants in much the same way we view the needs of humans.
It seems like a novel concept, but plant scientists learn it during their first year in school. Marijuana plants are living organisms, just like we are living organisms. They have immune systems, energy systems, hydraulic systems, hormonal systems, growth cycles, and nutritional needs. They need food, light, water, and air, in proper ratios, formulations, and at the right time. Plants don’t have blood or brains, although they do have internal fluids and intelligence. Like us, they need proteins and carbohydrates.
What they don’t need are poorly-designed, low-quality nutrients that are chemically inappropriate for plant uptake and utilization. They don’t need nutrients designed for vegetable plants or roses. They don’t need to have inferior forms of nitrogen, for example, dumped on them during growth cycle phases that primarily require nutrients other than nitrogen.
To further complicate matters, marijuana plants vary genetically in ways that radically affect nutrient and environmental needs. For marijuana plants, “ideal diets” vary due to factors including the strain, how old the plants are, the grow environment, and what the grower intends for them. If a plant is destined to be a clone mother, for example, it gets a different nutrient regime than a plant destined to be harvested and killed.
Straumietis and his team of doctorate-holding scientists are way ahead on all this variability, and on the concept of looking at plants as living beings.
He told me that when his company first formed in 1996, he and his co-founders began hiring scientists and studying a century’s worth of cannabis-related agricultural studies.
Most of the studies focused on industrial cannabis, but the Advanced Nutrients team gleaned useful information that at least told them what new research they needed to do.
Prohibition has created a difficult situation for people wanting to expand scientific and practical knowledge about cannabis cultivation. Few if any individuals or companies are legally allowed to study high-potency cannabis. Most of the research that is conducted is kept secret. Home growers and big-time commercial growers might learn a lot, but they are unable to easily share their knowledge without exposing themselves to narks and rip-offs.
Straumietis says that the way his company solved the research barrier problems has given Advanced Nutrients products a provable edge when compared to other companies that make generic fertilizers or purport to make marijuana-specific products.
“We don’t engage in illegal acts to do our research,” he says, “but in the early days we were willing to use marijuana growers as consultants just so we could get a handle on what they knew and what they wanted. By 2000, we already had more product development knowledge than any company out there. But the real breakthrough came when Health Canada decided to allow medical pot patients to grow their own marijuana.”
Advanced Nutrients took advantage of the breakthrough by recruiting med-pot growers like Steve Kubby to be part of the company’s marijuana research program. The company provides nutrients, grow rooms, equipment, other supplies, and expertise to patients, free of charge. In return, patients give Advanced Nutrients total access to their grow rooms and plants.
The company’s scientists use this access to study the most complex, subtle details of marijuana physiology and cultivation.
“Outside of GW Pharmaceuticals, we have the largest plant-specific cannabis database in the world,” Straumietis says. “We know what works best with specific strains on a day-by-day basis during the growth cycles. We are genetically-fingerprinting the world’s best strains, and designing specialized nutrient programs that work best for each strain. We know what causes plants to have immune system deficiencies that make them susceptible to diseases, molds and fungi.
“We know how to make nutrients and other products that are totally biologically available and safe for plants, and we know how to combine and time those materials so that they push the plants to the limits of their genetically-programmed potency and yield. We know how to help medical growers produce cannabinoids that are most helpful for their conditions; we also know how to help recreational cannabis growers produce cannabinoids that give them the type of high they want.”
Straumietis’s product list reflects the company’s “vast knowledge database.” There are one-step products for growers who want simple, complete feeding formulas. There are also more specialized products for growers who want to micromanage their crop cycles, or who need to attack pests, diseases and other problems safely and without the use of toxic chemicals.
Many of these products contain exotic, specialized ingredients not seen in other company’s products.
“I’m not here to insult other companies,” Straumietis explains, “but frankly, a lot of the other products out there are crap. They’re selling cheap garbage that is improperly manufactured and formulated. Some put dyes in their products ? dyes that are toxic. Some use forms of nitrogen and other nutrients that are impossible for plants to absorb. They don’t understand the differences between different growing mediums, and they have no idea about plant-specific feeding regimes.”
Straumietis insists that his company has a superior approach to marijuana nutrients and growers.
“We start with a scientific team that nobody else has,” he asserts. “Then we spend a long time on product development and testing. We have scientists supervising our manufacturing processes. We have an interactive website and phone-in customer support. We are the only company conducting marijuana cultivation research in climate-controlled, sealed grow rooms with intensive monitoring of all growth factors. We are the only company with such an extensive product line, and we are the only company that challenges itself to upgrade its formulas and come up with new ones regardless of how much it costs us for research and development. We are debuting an all-organics line and other new products, not because we want to increase our market share, but because we want to see people get the most out of their gardens.”
It almost sounded too good to be true, and as a journalist, I am becoming increasingly wary of writing about commercial products based solely on a marketer’s self-interested claims about them.
Absent any objective research comparing Advanced Nutrients to General Hydroponics, I was left wondering if the innovative, impressive program Straumietis spoke of was actually as good as he said it was.
To bolster his credibility, Straumietis issued an open challenge to other companies, inviting them to co-sponsor objective marijuana cultivation tests that pitted Advanced Nutrients against their products.
He also put me in touch with two people on different sides of the law. One of them was a wealthy commercial marijuana grower whose 500-light operations would land him in prison the rest of his life if the cops caught him.
The other was a cop!
“I’ve grown with every nutrient there is,” the grower told me. “General Hydroponics, Canna, Ecobloom, Bumper Crop, Hydrofuel, Bionova, Dutchmaster, Super Natural, Grotek, Technaflora, Botanicare, Pure Blend Pro, and Advanced Nutrients.
“I’ve grown and bred the best strains,” he continued, “Pluton 2, Skunk #1, Early Pearl, Early Girl, Northern Lights 5, Shiva Shanti, Super Silver Haze, Shiskaberry, Grapefruit, Alaskan Thunder fuck, K2, Blueberry, Bigbud, Hashplant, Ruderalis Indicia, Bubble gum, Sensi Star, Durban poison, Holland’s Hope, AK47, White Rhino, Afghani #1, Hawaiian Indica, M-45 and M-39. I’ve also grown regional strains like Professor, Red, XXX, Yellow, Primo, Chemo, Jamaican, Kong, B1, Mighty Mite, Catpiss, Elephant, Texada Time Warp, Berlin, Sugar, and many others.
“I thought I was doing it perfect,” said the growmeister, “until I started using Advanced Nutrients. Then, all of a sudden, my plants grew faster, developed better root systems, and produced phatter, more resiny, more stony buds than I’ve ever seen. The other nutrients companies suck. Most of them won’t even let you mention marijuana when you ask questions about their stuff. You can be cynical about Straumietis if you want, but he’s the real deal.”
The grower’s credentials and recommendations were impressive, but it was even more impressive to hear a Canadian marijuana eradication officer verify the effectiveness of Advanced Nutrients products.
“We do a lot of busts near Powell River,” he said, “and we kept noticing that the grows where they were using Advanced Nutrients had the strongest plants. Like there was an 18-inch plant with a huge root ball that filled a five gallon bucket. We joked with each other that every time we busted a grow that had Advanced Nutrients on site, we would have to get a bigger truck to haul in the yield.”
Straumietis laughs when he talks about how the cop initially contacted him.
“He said that he and his buddies could tell that our nutrients were better than anything else out there,” he recalls. “And he said that he wanted to buy our stuff wholesale so he could ship it to a bamboo farm that he wants to make money off of in Chile.”
Based on unbiased testimony from cops, commercial growers, med-pot patients, and US Government officials, Straumietis’s company seems to be the real deal.
Will Advanced Nutrients products cure MGDS and give you stronger, higher-yielding marijuana?
Check out the company’s website, talk to their tech support crew, test their products, and then write the magazine and tell me what you think.
Based on what I’ve found out, Advanced Nutrients might well be the anti-MGDS cure we’ve all been waiting for. If it isn’t, I don’t know what is.