As a cannabis grower, you determine your strains, grow out your favorite phenotypes and add whatever nutrients or lack thereof as you see fit. Use this guide as your first step before growing, so you can become the cannabis maven you were meant to be.
Light—The most fundamental element for growing cannabis is light. The best light source in the world is still the original one: the sun. Indoor lights do their best to mimic this full spectrum of UV, some are better than others but none are going to be perfect. When in the vegetative state, cannabis can be left in light for up to 24 hours. Once light is restricted to 12 hours or less, then it will begin to flower.
Lights come in many forms and finding the right one is going to be a combination of price, wattage, spectrum and the amount of heat generated. Those looking to maximize their spending power, use less electricity and generate little heat can look to LEDs (light-emitting diode) or CFLs (compact fluorescent light) to light up their grow space. These will grow fairly dense buds but generally lack as much canopy penetration as do other more expensive options. For those looking to maximize bud density and yield, a HPS (high-pressure sodium) or MH (metal-halide) bulb setup will be better. These generally have a broader spectrum of light that more accurately mimics the sun. Be wary that these lights give off a lot of heat, so a good ventilation system is a must from day one.
Air—If you're growing indoors, you will need to supplement your plants with some wind (i.e. a fan) and some sort of ventilation system.
Growing Medium—If you want to go organic, then you have but one choice: soil. Not all soil grows are organic, however, and many people choose different soilless alternatives like coconut coir, perlite or aeroponics, doing away with anything even touching the roots.
Water—Water is the fluid that allows for all biological functions and—other than light—is the essential catalyst of life. Too much water and you face as many dilemmas as with too little. Be vigilant of your plant’s water needs.
Temperature and Humidity—Cannabis plants vary by the region in which they originated. Many sativa strains find their origin in Africa and Asia and are generally more robust in heat or humidity. Some indicas have their origins in colder climates, making them hardy as well as short and stout—an indoor grower’s favorite shape. You will find these two aspects of growing to be as challenging as their remedies are simple. Pay attention here and your plants will avoid many of the pest and disease problems that can plague a grow.
Nutrients—Nutrients feed the plant's processes. Good organic soils can potentially have all the nutrients and microorganisms needed for healthy plant growth. If not—or if you choose to grow in a different medium altogether—you will need to supplement with nutrients. Your choice of soil will be dependent on where you are growing.
Cannabis Plant Life Cycle
Germination: One to two weeks
Many out there will choose starting from seed, and although it's a slow and more painstaking process, it's a rewarding first step that affords you more control over the final product. Here are some standard starting techniques, none is necessarily better than another:
Paper Towel—Simply moisten a paper towel and leave your seeds in the towel a few days, making sure it stays moist at all times. Once your seeds have sprouted simply transplant them to your chosen growing medium.
Water—Drop your seeds into a cup or dish filled slightly with water. Once they have sprouted, move them into your selected growing medium.
Grow Medium—Definitely the most old school, simply place your seeds in your preferred growing medium, water and wait for them to sprout. This can arguably lead to less plant stress and also requires less vigilance making sure the seeds don’t dry out.
For established or large scale growers, clones/cuttings will be the way to not only shave off some grow time but also guarantee an all female crop. There are many techniques to trimming clones but once done only three real proven propagation methods:
Paper Towel—Same concept as with seeds in a paper towel.
Water—Place your cuttings in water or a nutrient solution and wait for roots to appear. Once they look good and healthy, but not so long as to get root rot, transfer the cuttings into your desired growing medium.
Gel/Grow Medium—Definitely the best for guaranteed results and healthy, stress free plants. Use a rooting gel, rock wool or another grow medium to allow for root growth prior to planting in your desired final grow medium.
Seedling: Two to three weeks
During this state the plant will be very fragile and requires close attention to its water, soil and light needs as you wait for vegetation to grow. Amid this stage, the plant will need enormous amounts of light—between 18 and 24 hours a day.
Vegetative state: Two to eight weeks
The vegetative or growing state of cannabis is easy to master when compared to cannabis in bloom, however it is vital that this stage of the plant’s life be done right to ensure that your buds turn out dense and healthy later on.
If growing indoors, set your lights to stay on at least 18 hours with a 6-hour dark session. Many growers will end up bumping this up to as much as a full 24-hour light cycle to increase growth and reduce the all-important grow time.
In this phase your plants should be receiving nutrients designed for the vegetative state or be in a nutrient rich organic soil. Maintain a constant breeze to strengthen stalks and trim dying or nutrient-deficient leaves. Continue to trim up smaller branches and leaves while working towards a uniform sized crop. Scrogging (netting) plants will aid immensely in developing a uniform and stable canopy that allows for more cola (top) cannabis flowers. You can keep your plants in this stage arguably indefinitely as long as the plants don’t grow too big for your space. This is the state in which you would keep a mother plant if you wanted to clone a strain over and over again.
If growing outdoors, choose the time of year that is appropriate for your climate. Under natural light cannabis will grow rapidly. Trim outdoor plants constantly to encourage rapid, even growth. Depending on the size you're going for, or if the climate doesn’t provide adequate wind, you will need to stabilize or scrog plants in a similar fashion to indoor crops. Technically cannabis is an annual, meaning that it dies after its germination and bloom cycle, so under natural light exclusively, you will cycle through all your plants and not have a mother.
Bloom: Six to eight weeks
The bloom cycle is the most exciting and will develop in diverse ways depending on the strain you are growing. During this time you will smell different terpenes as they develop and see how each strain’s buds have their own unique look and distinctive shape. Cannabis responds to hormones that dictate whether it will remain in a growth or a bloom state. Absolute Photo Determinate (APD) cannabis strains have hormones that are light sensitive, so when given 12 hours or less of light they will begin to flower. Autoflowering Cannabis (Cannabis ruderalis), which are generally much smaller in stature and harder to come by, can flower in as little as two weeks after germination. These strains are prized for guerilla grows, small indoor setups and the timid when it comes to dealing with lighting.
Both types of cannabis have two stages to their bloom cycle. During a differentiation stage, the plant stops stretching and growing and focuses on bud development. During the blooming stage, calyx begin to form, followed by pistil covered balls. As the flowers mature, resins will become more visible as they grow and begin to form clusters. These clusters then merge to become the large cola buds that are desired. Lots of resin will appear on and around the flowers as they reach full maturity at optimal harvest time.
As flowers form, the importance of correctly maintaining constant humidity and temperature become paramount for indoor growers. The plants have become great nesting grounds for any number of pests and it is paramount to stay vigilant and react accordingly if you do encounter pests.
In an outdoor setting, it's important to stay active in pest management and know your weather in the event you need to cover plants or harvest early due to a frost or other conditions.
Harvest, drying and curing
Before you can do anything, it is important to know when your cannabis is mature. The most common approach is to watch your trichomes. The more milky they become, the closer to full maturity your plants are. Once they become amber in color, you need to start debating your harvest time. In general buds exhibiting trichomes that are 20 to 30 percent amber will be higher in THC. Those reaching 60 to 80 percent amber contain a total cannabinoid content that is more diverse. When trichomes reach 80 to 100 percent amber, some cannabinoids are likely to begin to degrade.
Once you have decided to harvest, you will want to take down the whole cannabis plant at once. Remove any dead leaves or fan leaves and break down into smaller segments, keeping buds on stems. Hang cannabis bundles upside down in a dark and well-ventilated area for around one to two weeks. Do not place cannabis in bags or any closed spaces for curing.
Once cannabis is properly dried, it will need a final trim. Remove buds from stems and sugar leaf from the buds. Place trimmed cannabis in sealed jars and burp them (open them) for a few minutes every few days. In no time at all, you will have perfectly cured cannabis full of well-developed terpenes.
Some trial and error will resolve any issues. Keep in mind that even the best growers don’t get perfect results all the time. It is a plant, after all. Good luck and have a blast, you growing god, you!