The 5 Tools That Every Serious Cannabis Grower Needs

Every serious grower has a set of tools that are used every day to monitor and tend to their crops. If you’re thinking about taking the step from curious cultivator to master grower, there are a handful of tools that will be essential to the plant’s success and using them on a daily basis will ensure that the next (or first) crop will be healthy and bountiful. Check out this list of suggestions below for resources to get you growing with the best of them.

pH Meter

There are a few ways to measure the pH of the nutrient solution with effective pH meters that are inexpensive yet simple to use. You may purchase a vial of litmus fluid to test the pH. Simply take a sample of the nutrient solution and put a few drops in the vial. After shaking it to mix it thoroughly, the color of the nutrient solution changes. Compare this color with the gauge that’s included and that’s the pH.

A more effective but costlier method is to purchase a pH meter, which is recommended if there’s more than one crop being grown. It’s a simple meter to use and can be found at any hydroponic supply store. Fast-growing leafy plants generally like a lower PH in the range of 5.2 to 5.9.

PPM Meter

The concentration of the nutrient solution is measured in parts per million (PPM). This indispensable tool is used every day to monitor and mix the nutrient solution to make sure there aren’t any nutrient deficiencies. Young, established seedlings or rooted clones are generally started at 500 to 600 PPM. This value is increased to 800 to 900 PPM during the peak foliage growth period. During the flowering period, the PPM is raised even higher to 1000 to 1200 PPM. That’s a lot of nutrient. And it’s needed – every drop. It’s at the flowering time that the plant will need the most resources.

24 Hour Timer

In order to have a healthy crop, a lighting cycle must be religiously adhered to. The norm is to have a cycle that has 18 hours with light and six hours without it. This is accomplished with an automatic timer. It’s important to have a setup that allows the night cycle to be absolutely black. It’s recommended to not even enter the room they’re being grown in to check on them during their night cycle.

Ground Fault Circuit Breaker

Since there will probably be a high energy light hanging over water, the last thing you want is an energized nutrient solution. The ground wire will trip the breaker should the nutrient solution get energized if you’re using a ground fault circuit breaker. Should the calamity that’s a dropped light on the crop happen, the ground fault circuit breaker is essential.

Patience

Every grower has had the temptation of pinching off an immature bug for a taste test. This move will stunt the growth of the bud in that local area. This is a big no-no. Use some patience while watching the buds get fatter and fatter. Know a mature bud by pinching it. If it doesn’t bounce back, it’s a good bet that the plant is ready to harvest. If it bounces back, then try the pinch on a different bud in a few days.

TELL US, what tool would you add to this list?

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Pro Tips for Harvesting and Curing Your Cannabis

Harvesting the crop is a straightforward business, but there are a few things to know before you start the process.

The Harvest

Before beginning, prepare a good, strong elixir of equals parts chilled vodka and water. The vodka (cooled to zero degrees celsius), will shock the roots into closing up and will actually make them stop functioning. This is exactly what you want, since the goal is to dehydrate the plant.

Pull the plants up after an entire day of strong, consistent sunlight, but be careful not to disturb the root ball any more than necessary. Try not to leave mud on the roots, but don’t leave any roots behind as well. Ideally, you’ll be able to extract the roots with just a few grains of mud on them, which will it make it easier to clean them later.

Wash the root ball clean with pure cold water – as cold as possible. This shocks the roots into contracting and closing up, which is what is wanted right now. When the roots stop functioning, the plant will wither and die. Leave the roots of the plant in the vodka and water solution for about an hour. After that, don’t rinse the root, just leave the root ball with the vodka on it. The plant will wither quickly using this method. Florists use this trick to quickly perk up their flowers temporarily. The drawback, to them, is that the plant withers very quickly. For cannabis cultivators, it’s exactly what we want.

This withering produces more oils in the plant. THC is an oil and your plant, slowly starving, will produce it in higher quantities if the roots are properly shocked, which dehydrates the entire plant.

The Cure

Next, hang the plant in a cool, lighted area. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t necessary to hang it upside down – either way will work. The plant should actually get some light during the drying stage. This allows the plant to do what it does best – produce life-giving and dehydration-fighting oils. Keep the temperature constant and keep the light on it. The slowly dehydrating plant will become rife with THC-bearing oils.

When the leaves are dry and leathery, start stripping them from the stalk, leaving behind the buds. The buds will take longer to dry than the thin leaves will, so leave the buds on the stem for another day or two.

At the end of a couple of days of drying, the buds should have shrunk just a little because they’re dehydrating. Strip them from the stalk and roll them in newspaper. Put them in a cool, dry place for a few days. The newspaper sucks the moisture from the buds very quickly and leaves you with some very high-grade bud.

The longer the buds are in the newspaper, the better will be the smoke. Marijuana is like fine wine – aged is usually the better way to go. Keep the grass not presently being smoked wrapped in newspaper in sealed gallon jars and the smoke will be smooth and tasty. This easy-to-follow method for harvesting and curing the crop beats putting them in the oven for a few minutes to dry them out.

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Start Strong: Tips for Choosing the Right Clones

Growing quality cannabis requires a harmony of many factors. There’s some amount of leeway with light, pH amounts, pests and even mold – but most of these can be easily dealt with as cultivators surf that often-challenging and unforgiving wave of cannabis’ flowering cycle. However, without healthy, vibrant plants at the onset, even the best effort can be for naught and that highly-anticipated Super Silver Haze will likely look and smell more like Super Silver Hay.

Plants that are unhealthy do much the same as humans do when they’re sick – they rest and try to get better. While its healthy sisters race towards the light, be it artificial or the real deal, a weakling plant’s growth stops and stalls. As its leaves clench in frustration, nutrients stop being absorbed and the plant sits in a state of stasis that it might not ever fully recover from. If thrown into flowering, there’s a small chance that the plant might snap out of its slump but that’s pretty unlikely. What will result is a plant that is low in resin, terpenes, potency and yield that gives up the ghost long before finishing time.

Here are a few tips to help with choosing the best clones and getting the best results.

ROOTS

There’s an ancient saying that goes, “From the fruits you shall know the roots.” With cannabis, however, the opposite makes a better maxim. Look for vibrant white roots that are actively shooting from the medium, reaching for more water and nutrients so as to grow strong and healthy. Avoid roots that look brown and inactive. It’s a good indication of what the plant wants to do at that moment in its life. White roots want to thrive; brown roots want to slumber.

LEAF TIPS

Growth is what it’s all about, so the next inspection should be plant tips. Do they have the bright green of fresh growth? Do they look active? If not, the plant may be locked up and is going to take some time to recover. Unless you’re prepared to wait until that plant is good and ready – which will definitely be long after you are – move on to a fresher specimen.

COLORATION

The above two points are easily the most essential aspects to look for when shopping for great clones. However, there are more signs an astute cultivator can tune into to see if the young plant is ready to get it on. For instance, a slight yellowing of the leaves (of an otherwise happy plant) is a sign that the plant wants more nitrogen and is ready to grow more. Develop an eye for what makes a healthy clone and the skill will serve you well in the long run.

A yellow grided card attracts bugs to it, rather than the cannabis plant.

SICKLINESS

Avoid any plant with either current or past signs of insects, be it spider mite webs, pocked leaves or powdery mildew, which presents itself like fuzzy white areas. This probably seems obvious but it’s worth stating again to underscore the fact that unhealthy young plants are a flashing sign that something is wrong.

CONFINEMENT

When importing a starter plant into your garden, have a quarantine space ready that is well lit and with good air circulation, so your new ward can live in a safe little bubble while you treat it with preventative measures.

Harry Resin is a world-renowned cannabis breeder and cultivator with figurative roots in Amsterdam

CULLING

When taking your own clones from your own garden, use only the best and throw away the rest. Some of the most experienced cloners throw away the weakest 25 percent or more of any tray, with the thought that a weak child makes a weak adult. If you want the best possible chance at big robust flowers, you want to start with the best from the very start.

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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How To Reduce Odor When Growing Indoors

Everyone who has grown a substantial crop in their basement will attest to the strong odor the crop produces as the plant matures. Most people have been busted simply because of the strong smell of a mature plant permeating the air around the home in question.

There are a few things that can be done to keep the smell of cannabis down both within and outside the house where it is being grown. Running a hepa filter in the growing area will stop a large amount of the odor, but not all. While the activated charcoal in a hepa filter will stop most of the smell, some ventilation to the outside will also be needed.

Hepa filters come in many sizes and shapes. Some are just the filter, while others incorporate a of fan. If you have the choice, choose the filter with the fan. Most basements have at least one small window, so use it is as the output of the filtered hepa filter. Remove the glass and replace the window with a board with the hepa filter shape cut in. Choose a window that vents to the backyard or a window on the side of the house with low traffic.

Another way to keep the scent down is with eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is great for covering odors and replacing them with the cool scent of the plant. Eucalyptus is also great for keeping the humidity down, an action which negates the growth of mold and fungus, since they both need a damp environment to grow in.

The eucalyptus needed is usually in the form of an oil, which won’t do its job if the surface area is as small as the diameter of the jar it came in. To that end, pour the oil in a wide, shallow pan. This will result in a decreased marijuana odor. The eucalyptus will also reduce the humidity due to its very efficient moisture retention properties.

Another way to negate the odor of a healthy crop is to hermetically seal the growing area. This takes time and a bit of building know-how in order to achieve the best results. Basically you encase the growing operation in plastic, with all four surfaces being within the bubble. You simply don’t let out any air from the growing area. Keep your visits to a minimum and make sure the plastic doesn’t touch the grow lamps.

If you’re in a city and the houses are close together, you should be using all three of the odor-proofing strategies presented here. Run your external facing hepa filter late at night / early morning and replace the eucalyptus every week. You should also run the interior hepa filters at all times. Most hepa filters last about a month before they need to be replaced and are relatively cheap and easy to use.

Activated charcoal is designed to react with its surrounding air and trap odors. While most hepa filters incorporate activated charcoal, not all do. All grow ops have a fan of some sort to move around the air in the growing area. Put a shallow pan filled with activated charcoal in the main stream of air flow from the fan. Stir occasionally. This will help keep the smell down considerably. Make sure to replace the activated charcoal every week.

By following these easy to implement odor remedies, you’ll be safe from nosy neighbors and your crop will be healthy due to the reduced humidity. Keep the grow area sealed and be liberal with your hepa filters and you can’t go wrong.

TELL US, what do you do to reduce odors in your grow?

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Becoming a Marijuana Farmer

In November 2012, my Colorado neighbors and I voted to legalize adult-use cannabis.

The following month, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Amendment 64 into the state constitution, immediately legalizing the cultivation, possession and use of marijuana – though the legal sales would take more than a year to begin.

Shortly after Hickenlooper’s historic signature, I found myself wanting to grow cannabis for the first time. I hardly have a green thumb, but how many times have I heard the adage, “It grows like a weed?”

But does it really?

There seemed to be a disconnect. If cannabis sprouts as automatically and wildly as the lovely-but-noxious morning glory vines growing along the side of my house, why is there a need for a multimillion-dollar nutrients market? Why are we still arguing about light spectrums and growing mediums when, let’s be real, we see weeds surviving and even thriving in the most unlikely and impossible of places?

With marijuana finally legal for the first time in modern history, and with cannabis surpassing alcohol as my personal intoxicant of choice, it was time to grow my first plant. But instead of reaching out to my master grower pals or seeking the advice of cultivation experts, I wanted to do this on my own terms.

I wanted this plant to serve as an experiment of sorts in my own home laboratory, and I wanted to answer the age-old question: Does weed legitimately grow like a weed?

Finding the Plant

There’s a modest, no-frills medical marijuana shop near my home that I sometimes frequent. The staff is always friendly; you’re met with a cold beverage of your choice upon check-in and I appreciate their edibles selection.

When I stopped by early this last summer and noticed their empty clone counter I asked where all their plants were.

“They always sell so fast,” the budtender replied.

On my next visit a month later, I noticed their picked-over selection of clones, the baby plants that are almost unrecognizable as cannabis. I asked the woman behind the counter about her favorite sativa-dominant strain, and a few minutes later I was walking home with a replenished edibles supply and a fragile little plant that seemed as if it might snap in half in the light afternoon wind.

A few hours later I went to the backyard with purpose. I gently took the plant out of its plastic flat. I dug a shovel deep into a random patch of soil and merged the plant and the soil into a disposable Solo cup.

After feeding it some water from the kitchen faucet, I set the tiny clone on the south-facing kitchen windowsill alongside a houseplant that has thrived in that spot for years.

When my wife came home later that evening, she immediately commented on our new house plant and named her Shelby.

And just like that we became marijauna farmers.

Details of the Experiment

One of my favorite things about musician Jack White — and there are many — is his penchant for limiting himself in the name of art. He intentionally avoided guitar solos entirely on one White Stripes record, while another recording session had him using only antique instruments and gear. He famously created the oft-imitated Seven Nation Army bassline, not with a bass guitar, but with a heavily modified semi-acoustic hollow body guitar.

With Shelby, I too played by my own set of rules: I would plant her in soil dug up from my backyard, I would feed her only water and she would exist on whatever sunlight we could manage – mostly what she took in from the windowsill, though sometimes we’d set her out back to soak up more direct rays.

No special soil or compost tea. No nutrients or grow lights.

This hyper-basic construct was more than enough to fuel the growth of weeds throughout my yard. But was it enough for this particular weed?

Shelby did grow in those first weeks and months. When I first carried her home that afternoon she stood a proud 3 inches tall. Soon her stalk changed from a light green to a sturdier brown, and her size had doubled. Teeny flowers started to develop as she started pushing 9 inches, warranting a bigger pot, and her buds became more defined when she reached the 12-inch mark.

And while observing her evolution was incredibly gratifying, it was also clear to me – and painfully, hilariously clear to my friends who cultivate professionally – that Shelby was wanting for more. She wanted a more consistent light source. She wanted better food and vitamins. She was happy and green and flowering, sure, but she was far from thriving, as evidenced by her stunted size.

As fall began to settle in, Shelby felt the seasonal changes more than I did. She almost drooped with seasonal depression as her excursions outside became less frequent and as the days became shorter. At 13 inches tall, she was but a shadow of the magnificent plants I’ve seen in legal indoor cultivations throughout the legal world. When compared to the giant 12-footers in Humboldt and Mendo, she was merely an ant.

Weed does not grow like a weed, as it turns out, but there’s something more important to be learned from my experience.

An Unexpected Lesson

Something unexpected happened in those months of caring for Shelby. As I was sticking a knuckle into the soil each morning – sometimes watering her and sometimes not, sometimes taking her out to sunbathe and other times leaving her in the kitchen window – I connected with her, and with cannabis, on a different level than I ever had before.

Instead of identifying myself as a consumer of marijuana products, I was now growing the plant itself. I was planning a modest harvest and thinking about how I’d grow my next crop differently.

I was a marijuana farmer.

Of course it makes sense. If you grow anything, you develop a deeper relationship with it. The pride of eating and sharing the cucumbers and tomatoes from your own garden exists for a reason, and that pride is of course shared by professional cannabis cultivators and home-growers alike.

While I didn’t expect this deepened relationship with cannabis from growing only one plant, I’m embracing it. It’s a powerful reminder of this being a product of nature, and even if marijuana doesn’t grow as simply as a weed, its simple complexity is something that will surely make this a future hobby in my home.

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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Building a Wick System: An Easy Way to Grow

Leading cannabis horticulture authority Ed Rosenthal has released a new book that delivers useful ideas for starting your own homegrown, like this except about creating a wick system. “Ask Ed: Marijuana Success” allows the reader to join Rosenthal in his backyard experiments and large commercial cannabis consultation work through questions submitted to his longstanding “Ask Ed” column.

The wick container system is an easy way to garden because it’s self-watering and removes the uncertainty of when to water. It requires far less care than hand watering, and it’s simple, fast to assemble and inexpensive to set up.

The wick system is based on capillary action. One example of this is a tissue drawing up water from a puddle. The system we set up works on the same principle. Instead of tissue, we use braided nylon rope. 

The wick system can support large plants.

Equipment Needed to Build a Wick System 

Starting from the bottom, we need a tray that’s at least three inches deep and wide enough to support the plant container. The wider the container, the deeper the tray should be. For instance, with a 6-foot container, I use a 10-inch-deep tray, but with small containers, the tray is only 3–5 inches deep. 

Holes were drilled in the trays for the wicks.

Next, we need some blocks to hold the container a few inches above the tray. Some possibilities are 2′ × 4′ or 4′ × 4′ boards, Styrofoam blocks, or an inverted plastic tray.

The container is next. Select the same size container that you would normally use. I’ve used this system with four-inch containers and eight-foot-wide soft containers. 

Pallets were used to support tray above water.

Next is the wick. Nylon braided rope draws up water very well. These wicks last for a long time. I’ve used some more than 10 years. Select the wick size. The larger the container, the thicker the wick should be. A small container needs only a ¼-inch wick, while a large container, which is deeper than the small, can use wicks up to ¾ inches. Wider containers should have more wicks, so water is drawn across the entire bottom of the container by the wicks.

Next, the planting mix goes into the container. Once the water is drawn up the wick to the bottom of the soil level, the soil starts wicking it up vertically 8–10 inches. Many mixes are able to draw the moisture up, so try your favorite first. You probably have already seen the soil mix wicking when you watered a plant and excess water dripped into the tray below. A while later, the water disappeared as it was pulled up into the planting mix. The wick system works in the same way.

Container ready for potting mix.

Installation

Place the wood or plastic supports in the tray.

Measure and cut the wick. It should start at the bottom of the tray, go through the drain hole in the container and stretch across the container bottom to the drainage hole on the other side and down to the bottom of the tray. The rope tends to fray at the ends. To prevent this, before you cut, use two twist ties, one for each end of the rope, to hold it in place. 

If the container is wide, use two wicks, one in each set of two opposite holes. You may have to drill holes in wider containers, such as kiddie pools or wide trays. Figure that each wick drop covers about two square feet. 

Fill the container with planting mix.

Plant the plant or seeds.

Building Wick Systems
Complete systems: tray, blocks, container, wick, planting mix.

Maintenance

To start, add water to the container until it starts to drip into the tray. 

Fill the tray with water.

Refill the tray as it loses water. You can also water the container from the top once in a while.

The planting mix absorbs water from the wick automatically as the plant uses it.

The system was automated using a reservoir and flush valve.

Options 

This system can be automated. By placing a reservoir above the container level and placing a flush valve in the tray, the water level can be maintained for a longer time.

A number of trays can be connected to a reservoir so the whole garden is irrigated just by filling the reservoir. The advantage to this system is that each tray receives water only as it needs it. 

Excerpted from “Ask Ed: Marijuana Success.”

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