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How to Grow Cannabis 101 – Part 2

Continued from How to Grow Cannabis 101 – Part 1. A complete guide to HomeGrow – understanding quality genetics, discussing the benefits of living soil, touching on the importance of light source, establishing a healthy IPM routine and exploring proper drying and storage. 

Stage Three: Sexing

As your plants reach the three to four week period, you should be in your garden checking each plant carefully to identify any signs of male Cannabis plants. Once identified, they should be removed as quickly as possible. For more information on how to identify the differences between male and female cannabis plants click here.

Stage Four: Pest Management

When your plants are growing, you have a responsibility to ensure they make it to harvest successfully, which means protecting your plants from insects and pests. Pest management should be tackled through a multi-pronged approach that utilizes chemical/organic pesticides as a last resort, with other methods including mechanical or biological controls, like the use of predatory insects taking priority. This method of pest management is referred to as “integrated pest management” or IPM.

The first step of IPM is prevention, which includes basic steps to ensure that pests have as few ways to access your grow environment as possible. For indoor grows this means ensuring that windows and doors are well sealed, vents are screened, etc. The next step in IPM is cultural control and sanitation. This consists of the habits and behaviors that you establish to keep the grow area clean. Once a problem arises, the first step to control it would be physical or mechanical methods like manually removing pests, foliar sprays, and using sticky traps to catch pests that may be flying or roaming around the grow area. If physical or mechanical control does not work and the problem escalates, it is then time to employ biological controls like predatory insects which can feed on the pests. Finally, if the problem reaches a point where none of the other methods can effectively eliminate or prevent the problem, only then would it be time to think about using organic pesticides. When the female plant starts to produce her flowers absolutely no organic pesticides or foliar sprays should be used on the plants. Many pesticides are oil soluble and can dissolve into Cannabis resins or Cannabis plant tissues, leading to a contaminated final product. This is why it is important to establish a healthy IPM routine early on in the plants life cycle.

Stage Five: Flowering

The flowering stage is by far the most exciting stage of growing Cannabis. Once in the flowering stage, the plant will likely double in size, consume more water, and start to fill out their terminal and axillary buds with resinous flowers. The stems of the plant will become less pliable and more firm to support the weight of the flowers. Flowering female plants will need more nutrients to support their new growth, so we provide these necessary nutrients by top dressing or adding local/homemade compost or worm castings to our existing mulch layer. The microorganisms already established in our living soil will break down this organic matter and help feed our plants.

For photoperiod cannabis varieties, you will trigger the plant to start flowering by changing its light cycles, such as a 12/12 or 11/13 light cycle. For example, 11 hours of sunlight and 13 hours of complete darkness. If your are growing autoflowers, your plants will enter into their flowering stage without the change in light cycle. However, once in the flowering stage the light cycle for autoflowers will need to be adjusted to 12/12 or 11/13. If you are growing outdoors, the sun will naturally begin to set earlier as the seasons change making the light cycle adjustments automatically.

When your Cannabis plants are in full flower, you will start to notice some interesting changes. First, the flowers will begin to produce an odor. The stigma or “hairs” that emerge from each female flower will begin to shrivel up and turn shades of orange, red and brown. Fan leaves will begin their fade or change in color, and the resins (or trichomes) themselves will start to go from clear, to a cloudy appearance before finally turning somewhat amber colored. The best time to harvest is often considered to be the period when trichomes are becoming cloudy with a bit of amber. However, this can be subjective.

Stage Six: Cutting, Drying, Trimming Bucking, Curing/Storage

Once you decide that it’s time to harvest, you will want to be sure that you are very gentle with the plants as you cut them down as to not rupture their precious trichomes. Generally, the process of harvesting Cannabis plants include cutting off major branches or harvesting the plant whole and removing some fan leaves to help facilitate the drying process.

The drying environment should be dark and cool with a lot of air circulation. The ideal environment is 60 degrees Fahrenheit, 50 percent humidity for 16 days. It’s often ideal to have a dehumidifier which can suck the moisture out of the air to help facilitate the drying process and ensure your dry plants do not reabsorb moisture from the air. If there is too much moisture in the air it will increase the chances of mold and bacteria growing on your plants. It is also important to ensure that the drying temperatures remain consistent. Fluctuations of warmth and cold can stimulate the growth of micro-organisms and can lead to spoilage if enough water is still present to allow the micro-organisms to grow. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to have to the right drying environment. We do not want all of your months of hard work to go to waste in a matter of days or even hours from an inadequate drying environment. Cannabis that has not been dried properly will smell very close to hay.

Once your plants are adequately dry to a moisture content of approximately 10% or less (you really want them to be “cracker dry” because they will reabsorb some atmospheric moisture when storing), it is time to prepare the flowers for storing. This often includes a step called “bucking” where Cannabis buds are stripped from their main stems. This is very easy to do when the plants are dry, but rather difficult and time consuming when the plants are still wet. Flowers will then need to be trimmed of their “sugar leaves” or leaves that contain trichomes which you will want to save for later in the freezer, as those trichomes on the sugar leaves can be extracted through mechanical or chemical means. After the flowers are bucked, manicured and trimmed they will be ready for storage.

In general, the most common way to keep Cannabis flowers are in glass jars stored in a cool, dark place. Keeping your Cannabis protected from temperature, oxygen and light is critical for preserving its quality for the longest period of time possible. The lids of the containers should be occasionally removed to allow the buds to release any excess moisture they may have taken on from the environment. Additionally, there is often a bit of pressure that builds in the containers, because the plants off-gas volatile chemicals from the essential oils of the resin (terpenoids). This pressure buildup can be released by simply cracking the lid occasionally.

The Takeaway

  • Start with quality genetics that can withstand environmental stressors
  • Grow in a living soil medium
  • Have a quality light source because cannabis loves lots of light
  • Establish a healthy IPM routine to keep insects, pests, and other animals from eating or contaminating your crop
  • And lastly, proper drying and storage

Thank you for reading and happy growing!