Monday, July 30, 2018

Phase 7: Drying, Curing & Storing

Once your buds are trimmed & your space cleaned, it's time to cure.  Curing begins as soon as the plant is harvested & continues for up to 6 months.  The first phase of curing is drying.  The goal during drying is to gradually but steadily get the moisture out of your buds.  Key word:  gradually.  Drying too fast can affect not only flavor & smoothness but actual potency as well.  There are many methods to dry your buds.  Here are two of the most popular:

- Hanging the branches whole:  Leave the buds on the branches & hang the plants upside down to dry.  This method keeps moisture in longer & is ideal for dryer climates, but it can be used anywhere as long as there's adequate circulation.
Hang-dried plants
- Drying the buds on a rack:  Cut the buds off the branches & dry them on a rack.  This method is faster & better suited for humid climates where mold is a threat.  You can also cut the buds off & dry them on a piece of cardboard or hang them in a small box, but the rack provides the best airflow & is generally easier to set up.
Rack drying individual buds
Some people choose to dry the whole plant for the first few days before cutting the buds off & drying them individually for the last few days to speed up the process if they're staying wet too long.  (I did this).  Drying should take no less than 7 days & no more than 10.  Temperatures should ideally remain in the 65-68*F range, but anything up to 75*F works okay as long as there's good air circulation in your dry room.  Relative humidity (RH) should hover between 50-60%.  You can measure RH with a hygrometer.  I didn't have one of these & was fine--I just checked my local humidity levels each day online. 

Don't point your fans directly at the plants, as this causes uneven drying.  But make sure they have access to freely moving air at all times.  You don't want to hang them in a dark, closed closet or other tight space.  They need to breathe!   Also: Protect your drying plants from direct sun exposure, as UV light destroys THC & other cannabinoids.  A dark, well-ventilated room with a cool temperature is what you should aim for during this period.  No space heaters or other sources of heat should be introduced.  There are ways to speed up the drying process but they destroy precious terpenes & THC so they're generally not worth it.

How do you know when your buds are done drying?  When the outside is crunchy & the inside cushy.  The small stems should audibly 'snap' when bent back.  If they bend or leave any "stringiness" behind, your plants aren't dry yet.  This isn't an exact science so don't obsess but do check your plants daily to monitor their progress.  Many growers (including me) find that their buds lose most of their smell during the drying process, which can be a major bummer if you're a fan of terpenes.  But a proper cure can restore most of the smell & flavor.

Once the outside of your buds are dry to the touch & the stems snap when bent, you're ready to start your jar cure.  While there are other exotic methods of curing such as the corn cob method popular in Malawi, a mason jar with an airtight lid is the cleanest/most common method by far.  Simply choose some jars big enough to hold your buds, fill them 3/4ths full & close the lid tightly.  Place them somewhere dark & cool and you're ready to roll. 

During the first week of curing, open your jars daily to let fresh air in & excess moisture out.  The wetter your buds are, the longer you should leave the lid off each day.  Here's a helpful chart:

How to cure marijuana overview quick tutorial - This is a cheat sheet harvest / drying / curing diagram

Continue opening your jars every day during Week 2, if only for a few minutes.  Don't be afraid to tumble your buds around, pick them up & turn them over & otherwise move them around as this helps with the curing process.  By the end of Week 2, your buds are ready to smoke.  Yippee!  But some growers prefer to cure their buds longer, up to a month or more.  They will continue to improve for 6 months in the jars & can be stored there indefinitely as long as you keep them somewhere dark, dry & cool.  When storing bud long term, it's a good idea to open the jars ever so often to 'burp' them for just a few minutes again.  Maybe once a month or so.

I sampled my bud in various stages of the curing process (right after drying, after a few days in the jars, a week in, etc) and they definitely get more potent the longer you leave them in.  In fact, there was little to no high smoking the freshly dried but uncured weed.  Some users claim they prefer to vape uncured bud for the flavor but the overwhelming consensus is that curing is a necessary & vital part of the process.  It certainly burns more evenly & smoothly after the entire curing phase is done. There's not a lot of research on what happens during curing, but it's believed that some inactive cannabinoids break down into THCv, making them more potent.  So it's totally worth the wait.

That's it!  You've completed your grow & now have some awesome weed to smoke.  (Or vape, extract or whatever).  If you're like me, you'll find that the weed you grew yourself is more satisfying than anything your dealer or budtender can give you.  Maybe it's the placebo effect at work but even so, many growers feel the same.  Congrats on your new obsession...I mean, "hobby". πŸ˜‡

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Phase 6: Harvest & Trimming

It's finally here.  The day you've been working so hard for.  The day when all your hard efforts come to fruition.  You finally get to measure your (wet) yields & enjoy some hands-on time with your ladies during trimming, which can be a very relaxing activity if you get in the zone & make it fun.

One of THEE biggest questions on cannabis forums is:  when do I harvest?/Is my plant ready yet? Or some variation.  To a new grower this can seem like a perplexing & scary question, but it's really not so difficult.  The biggest risk is cutting it down too soon.  Let me say that again.  The biggest risk for new growers is harvesting their plants too soon.  Why?  Because you're chompin' at the bit to try your weed, of course!  And you're probably worried about letting it get overripe or "go bad," which is not a valid concern unless you're leaving town for several weeks during the harvest period & won't be around to monitor its progress.  The fact is, trichomes don't turn amber overnight.  You have at least a two week window once the plant is ripe to harvest it, and any time during that period will produce good bud.

So when does that window begin?  I'll repost the photo from the last article since it helped me so much.  Note the pistil color, trichome coverage & general difference in texture of the plant on the left:

Got it?  Good.  You'll need a magnifying glass or microscope to view the trichomes up close, which is how you hone in on exactly when to harvest.  Check out my previous article for more info on trichome color & shape and the meaning of each.

Once your plant is in the last week of life, you might choose to do a "flush" to remove built up chemical fertilizers from the soil.  Despite being a very common practice among growers, there's debate as to whether flushing is necessary or provides any scientifically-backed benefits.  I chose to do a cold-water flush about 4 days before harvest because I'd used some smelly grass tea that left behind a gnarly odor in my soil.  To perform a flush, simply flood your medium with plain pH-adjusted water until you get about 30% runoff coming out the bottom.  The goal is to get as much "dirty" stuff out as possible until the water runs clean.  Don't do any more feedings after your flush--only plain water (if that).  Some people like to let their plants dehydrate a bit or sit in the dark for a few days until harvest, as they believe these stresses promote trichome production by tricking the plant into thinking Winter is coming.  I tried both methods & have no idea if they worked, as I only grew one plant & have nothing to compare it to.  But they didn't hurt anything. 

When harvest day arrives, you'll want to set aside enough time & space to do so in a private & undisturbed manner.  Get your supplies out, put on a movie or some music & get comfy.  You'll need:  Scissors, rubbing alcohol & cotton balls, a bag for discarded material & another for the good stuff.  Put a newspaper or other type of mat down if you want to make cleanup easier.  Chop your plant off about 2 inches from the soil & pick a branch.  Start by plucking large fan leaves with your fingers & then snipping the sugar leaves.  I like short, simple tutorials so here's a quick (20 seconds) vid showing how this should look:

Wet trimming is advisable for new growers because it's just easier than trimming dry.  I used broken-ass art scissors & still came out with decent looking buds, but if you're trimming a lot of plants or need them to look professional you might want to use something like the Fiskars Power-Lever Anvil Pruner. Comfort & sharpness are key features to look for in quality trimming scissors, but if it's clean & effective go ahead & use it.  When cutting your buds, slowly rotate the stem toward you as you snip, cutting off the longest sugar leaves as if you were giving the buds a "haircut".  It's okay to leave some of the frosty sugar leaves on if you don't mind a harsher smoke--that's your call.  Otherwise cut as close to the bud as possible.

Here's a bud with some sugar leaves left on:

...and one that's been trimmed "close to the bone":

Sugar leaves can be turned into various extracts like bubble hash or cannabutter if you have the know-how, but as a newbie I will leave that stuff to the pros.  I just saved a few of my most sugary ones & threw them in the jar with my buds, where they will cling to them & end up getting smoked at some point.

Your scissors will probably get sticky pretty fast, but don't despair!  That oooey-gooey goodness is actually smokeable.  It's called scissor hash & can be rolled up into a ball & smoked NOW.  Yep.  Scrape as much as possible off to the side while you trim, then you can smoke it while you wait for the rubbing alcohol to dry on your scissors after cleaning them (which you'll probably need to do at least a couple times if you have a lot of plants).  This makes for an enjoyable harvest indeed.

After your plants are all trimmed up, it's time to dry them.  Your drying method will depend on the relative humidity in your area.  But don't forget to clean up everything from your trim promptly & dispose of it so it doesn't attract unwanted attention.  Your domicile is probably VERY stinky by now, as are your hands, clothes & anything else you've touched.  Bag all the leaves up in trash bags--double bag them if stealth is important to you--and do a thorough vacuuming of any carpets or rugs you might've spilled cannabis particles on.  Once all the extra plant material is out of the house, turn on all your fans & open some windows to get the stench out.  Ahhh.  That's better.

Even if you live in a legal state, you are better off not letting the world know you have a bunch of ready-to-smoke weed on you.  Cannabis dispensaries frequently get robbed at gunpoint so don't assume it can't happen to you.  Better stealth than sorry. 

Phase 5: Flowering
Parts of the mature female cannabis plant

This is the part you've been waiting for:  the main event.  Bloomage.  Buddage.  Flower Power.  During the FLOWERING STAGE, your plant will channel all its energy toward fattening up the bud sites & producing resin to trap pollen in an attempt to promote fertilization.  But as long as no males are around, no seeds will develop & the buds will just continue to swell like the naughty girls they are.  Fat, naughty little girls. 😈

Potassium (P) is the most important nutrient during flowering.  While phosphorus increases the number of bud sites, potassium (K) boosts the actual weight of each bud as well as performing other vital functions.  You'll want to pump up the potassium in Weeks 7 & 8 and maintain high levels until your pre-harvest flush.  Potash, *banana tea & wood ash are natural potassium sources.  Nitrogen should be in low supply during flowering but don't stop administering it altogether unless your plant looks dark green & you don't have any NPK fertilizer on hand.  Just choose something with a higher P & K content if possible.  Most bloom fertilizers are high in these two substances.
*(Banana tea nearly killed my plant as mentioned in the previous article.  Proceed carefully).

Both temperature & humidity should drop during flower.  Ideal temps are 65-80 F with 40-50% humidity.  Be sure to keep your grow space free of standing water to avoid mold/mildew growth.  Bud rot is a killer of crops that you don't want to deal with.  If you're doing any defoliating or lollipopping, you might wanna do some in Week 7 or 8.  I prefer to wait until Day 30 to remove fan leaves & Day 40 to take off unwanted bud sites (little "larfy" buds near the bottom that are unlikely to ever grow big) but you can make your own schedule.  Leaves grow back pretty fast after defoliating so you might even be doing your second round by this point if you trimmed in Week 3 or 4.  When defoliating, strategically remove large fan leaves that are blocking bud sites from getting light and anything near the bottom that's dead or dying.  Leave all new growth near the top & healthy smaller leaves on each node in the middle.  Check my example below:

Before defoliation...

...After defoliation
Lollipopping involves removing the bottom 1/3rd of leaves & bud sites from the plant so it resembles a lollipop (sort of...I guess).  There are tutorials all over Youtube & other sites for how to do this, but I just took some kitchen scissors & clipped leaves & bud sites off near the base, leaving about a centimeter of stem behind.  Since my plant was small, I left all the offshoots at the bottom ON her to develop into buds.  This was the right choice for sure.  Only cut off bud sites that look out of place & will never make it to the light.  You'll know them when you see them IF you wait until about Day 40 to start removing them.  The benefits of lollipopping/defoliating include decreased humidity & improved air circulation, which reduce the risk of mildew & pests.  It also shortens your trim time during harvest if maintained throughout the grow.  But some strains have sparse foliage anyway & may not require any leaf removal.  Again, it's your call.
Botrytis, aka "Bud rot".  Caused by wetness & cold temperatures.
Your buds will start looking mighty tasty by this time, but hold your horses.  Looks are deceiving in the flowering phase.  One of the most common question new growers have is:  IS THIS PLANT READY TO HARVEST?  And almost invariably, the answer is "NO.  GIVE IT A FEW MORE WEEKS."  But by all means take time to admire your work.  This is the fun part of the grow!  The buds are likely small & compact but will put on a lot more weight in the coming weeks.  She'll have increased nutrient & water needs in the flowering phase, so be on the lookout for things like yellowing leaves, curled up tips & other signs of deficiencies.

I gave my plant some light Epsom salt feedings (literally a few pieces of the salt dissolved in water) in Weeks 8 & 9 and a bit of pure Maple Syrup + Brown Sugar in Week 10 as a blackstrap molasses substitute.  Not sure whether any of that had an effect, but I wanted to keep it simple after the banana tea catastrophe.  The only feeds she really responded positively to were the Diluted Urine & Grass Clipping Tea.  Everything else was either neutral or negative.  Ahh well, live & learn.  Next time I will be using store-bought nutes in flowering & suggest you do the same, as it's just easier & more precise. 

If your plant doesn't already reek of pot by this point, it will soon.  So have a plan for hiding it or keeping unwanted guests out of the grow room.  An oscillating fan should be moving air through the grow space at nearly all times to help prevent mildew & pests and keep temperatures/humidity down.  This is another advantage to growing only one or two plants in small containers--the stench is less potent than a large plant.  My room only had the faintest skunk smell even during harvest & drying!

If you have any more CFLs or side lights, now would be a great time to start leaving them on for the whole light cycle with your other lights.  I had my full 104 watts (84 watt CFL + 20 watt LEDs) blazing during flowering to boost my girl's potential.  A flowering marijuana plant will soak up as much light as you can give her (to an extent), so don't be shy.  Just make sure she's comfortable & not getting too hot. 

So back to the question of whether your plant is ready to harvest.  Here is the photo that helped me more than anything:

Notice the opaque, thick pistils (hairs) in the photo on the right vs. the shrunken reddish ones on the left.  The "Not Ready" plant is also a darker green color compared to the light green one on the left.  Its frost is more sparse compared to the almost velvety-looking texture of the mature plant on the "Ready" side.  Your lady will look more like the one on the right from Weeks 7-8, while it will start to transition into the left look in Weeks 9-12 depending on the breeder & strain.*  Be patient, as they really mean it when they say "Not Ready".  Harvesting too early guarantees an unpleasant high, reduced terpenes & loss of yield.
*(Provided it's an autoflowering plant, that is.  Most photoperiod plants take a lot longer to grow).

Of course there's the age-old trichome color thing which is still valid.  But that's secondary to the overall look & context of the plant's ripeness.  Once it appears ripe like the "Ready" plant above, you have about a 2-week window to harvest based on the effects you want.  This is when you can really hone in on the exact feeling you want your pot to provide.

Cloudy white trichomes represent the peak of THC potency.  Amber = CBN, or degraded THC.  Some growers prefer a bit of amber in their mix for the relaxed/stoned sensation it provides.  In addition to the color of the trichomes, the size & shape will also give clues to their readiness.  A mature trich will often be tall & bent over like a candy cane under its own weight.  Immature trichomes are clear & short and create unpleasant feelings like paranoia & headache, so aim for mostly cloudy or cloudy/amber trichs.  And make sure to look at the actual bud calyx rather than the sugar leaves when viewing the trichomes, as those are what count.  You will need a microscope or jeweler's loupe (magnifying glass) to see the tiny trichomes in detail.

Here's an example of what the various stages look like under magnification:  

In our next installment we'll delve into the final days of your plant's life:  the flush, harvest & trim.  These are some of the most hands-on parts of the whole grow & are really fulfilling. Be sure to tune in.  We'll also explore some (unproven but popular) last-minute stress techniques growers use to boost trichome production before harvest.  You can decide for yourself if they sound like "Science, Bro" or "Bro Science".  😜


Monday, July 16, 2018

Preflowering: The Puberty of Planthood

Ahh, adolescence.  A time of rapid growth, social awkwardness & sexual blooming.  Even cannabis plants go through this puberty-like phase in their journey to adulthood.  For autoflowers, this generally happens from Week 4 through Week 6's end.  During this phase, the plant nearly doubles in height while starting to form little wispy pre-flowers & secondary sex characteristics (stamens or pistils).  As with humans, plants are extra hungry during this time of life & will start needing extra nutrition in the form of nitrogen & phosphorus. This is when you will know for certain whether you have a boy or girl.  Even with feminized seeds you can sometimes get a male or hermaphrodite, though this is rare with quality seeds.  If you see signs of "balls" developing, don't waste time pulling the plant & disposing of it away from your females, as it can spread its pollen far & wide as soon as the sacs burst.  The male stamens tend to form in bunches like little grapes & are more rounded while pistils are tear-drop shaped with a tiny white hair emerging from the top.

There are countless guides online for distinguishing male/female plants, but here are some photos to help:
Female plant w/ white pistils ("hairs") & teardrop calyx

Male plant with stamens, aka "balls."

You will probably need to raise your grow lights a couple inches during the preflowering stage due to rapid growth, which shouldn't be a problem if you have a clamp-on light or other easily moved piece.  If you have any side lighting or additional bulbs, Week 5 or 6 is a good time to add them.  You can continue with a 20/4 or 24-hour light cycle if you wish, but I chose to pull back to 18/6 in Week 5 to save on electricity for the rest of the grow.  Remember to keep your bulbs about 4 inches away from the plant's surface--close enough to be effective but not so close it overheats.  If you see any cupping or "taco-ing" (folding down the middle in the shape of a taco shell) of the leaves, that's a sign of heat stress.  Pull the bulb away a bit.

While flowering has technically started, it's important to continue feeding a nitrogen-rich supplement all the way through this phase to prevent deficiencies later on.  This will also support the rapid growth that's taking place now.  My plant developed its first yellow leaves in late Week 4 when growth was accelerating, so I fed her some grass clipping tea (rich in nitrogen & potassium).  I applied it with a spray bottle to the leaves & then added some to her regularly scheduled watering in Week 5.  She responded great & the yellowing stopped.  But you can continue using the same general purpose vegetative fertilizer you've been using if you don't want to make your own.  Nitrogen deficiency presents as yellowing leaves starting at the bottom of the plant & moving upward.  When severe, the stems will turn purplish red & the leaves will get crispy on the ends & die.  But nitrogen deficiency is easily reversed by feeding some balanced N-P-K fertilizer, heavy on the "N".

Nutrient chart.  Stay with vegetative fertilizer during preflower.

Preflower is also when you'll want to start adding phosphorus to your feeds.  Phosphorus increases the number of bud sites on your plant while improving stem strength, nutrient uptake & disease resistance.  It's found naturally in the shells of crustaceans like shrimp, as well as bone meal & rock dust.  I used Tetramin brand fish flakes as my phosphorus source, but be careful if you go this route as Tetramin also contains a lot of other ingredients with unknown effects.  I couldn't tell whether it had any effect on the plant at all--good or bad.  You're better off going with a trusted source of phosphorus such as kelp meal, bone meal or bat guano.

As for the frequency of these nutrient feedings, you should follow the directions on your fertilizer container or simply apply the homemade stuff as needed.  I made a pre-planned schedule for feeding that worked pretty well.  You certainly don't need to feed with every watering if you're growing in soil.  Here's what my fertilizing schedule looked like for those curious:

WEEK 1:  ---
WEEK 2:  ---
WEEK 3:  Diluted urine (12:1 solution) - 1 time application
WEEK 4:  Grass clipping tea (1:1 solution) - 2 foliar applications with spray bottle
WEEK 5:  Grass clipping tea (1:1 solution) - 2 applications + Tetramin fish flakes - 1 application
WEEK 6:  ---
WEEK 7:  Banana tea - 2 applications
WEEK 8:  Emergency FLUSH (plain water x 3 cups) + Diluted urine (8:1 solution)
WEEK 9:  Diluted urine (8:1 solution) + Tetramin fish flakes; Epsom salt - 1 application
WEEK 10:  Pure Maple Syrup + Brown sugar - 1 application; Epsom salt - 1 application
WEEK 11:  Ice water flush

(The banana tea was the only mistake in terms of my fertilizer choices.  I recommend choosing a different potassium source, but we'll save that for the next article since it's more of a "flowering phase" issue anyway).

Phosphorus-rich fertilizer.  Use in moderation.
Once buds start to form, you will want to stop all misting & foliar watering of the plant as this encourages bud rot.  You can still water the soil from the top, just take care not to spray the whole plant or buds.  They prefer lower humidity as they age anyway.  I did my very last foliar mist in Week 4 with the grass tea.  You may also need to increase the frequency of your watering around Week 5.  I went from twice weekly to 3 or 4 times per week when I stopped the foliar misting.  Again, there is no set amount you should be watering--learn to listen to what the soil & plant are telling you.  If the soil is dark & muddy on top, it doesn't need more water.  If your plant is droopy but the soil is bone dry, it's time for some water.  If unsure, stick your index finger in the outer rim of the container; if it's dry up to the first knuckle, you can water.

Once you start fertilizing, it's important to check your pH levels (if you haven't already been doing so).  You can get a digital pH meter or the cheaper strips for this.  I went with the cheap $0.83 strips which aren't all that easy to read but aren't exactly Advanced Calculus either.  Make sure to dip the strip in your water AFTER adding the fertilizer so you'll get an accurate reading.  Shaking up the solution can cause fluctuations in pH so check it before shaking.  You want to aim for readings between 6 & 7 when growing in soil.  Anywhere in that range is okay, and variations with each watering are ideal since different nutrients are absorbed at different pH ranges. 

Don't let all the nutrient/fertilizer talk scare you away.  If it seems too daunting, go with a store-bought variety & follow the instructions on the container.  I just preferred to try it with all natural items to see what would happen, and it turned out great for the most part.  There are basically only two types of nutrients you might need:  vegetative & flowering formulations.  If you only get one, let it be a general purpose balanced NPK fertilizer.  When in doubt, use less rather than more.  Deficiencies are much easier to fix than nutrient burns.  The goal during Weeks 4, 5 & 6 is to support the plant's rapid growth & ease the transition from vegetative to flowering phase.  You can do that by feeding nitrogen all the way through the end of Week 6 and adding a phosphorus source starting around Week 5.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Phase 3: Veggin' Out

Bushy plants in veg mode

The vegetative period is pretty straightforward--the plant grows in height & width by doubling its sets of leaves on top.  It may start to look big & unruly during this period, which might tempt you to remove some leaves.  We'll get to this in a minute.

But first:  As soon as the plant's first set of true leaves is large & bulky, you should begin exposing it to an oscillating or free-standing fan for at least an hour per day (if not constantly).  This will help fatten up the stem so it doesn't become weak & topple under the weight of the plant.  Don't put the fan too close or turn it on too high or you risk wind burn.  The leaves should be gently swaying in the breeze...not flapping violently.  As it acclimates to the fan you can leave it on longer or put it on a higher setting, but take it slow at first.  Try to mimic a breezy Summer's day in a meadow.  Or someshit.  πŸ’©

During veg you can do a 24/0 or 20/4 light schedule, or even 18/6.  I chose 20/4 to maximize growth potential while still giving the plant (and my electricity) time to "rest".  You should consider your grow room's temperature & other convenience factors when deciding which light schedule to pick, as it truly doesn't make any difference in the outcome of your plants.  Some growers will do 24/0 in Winter & 18/6 in Summer to manage heat.  Remember, autos don't "need" a dark period so you don't have to worry about light leaks if you do turn the lights off.  It's totally optional.  Joy. 

I stopped Ziplocking my plants with the humidity baggies after the 2nd set of true leaves was starting to get big (the plant had outgrown the baggies by then), but I continued misting 3x per week for the added humidity.  She seemed to dig this.  No fertilizer or nutrients were needed until the end of Week 3.  If you get quality soil, you can let her ride until Week 3 with no added nutes too.  I chose Black Gold Natural & Organic soil, which is full of dark stuff & big twigs.  Very nutrient-dense.

Cannabis plants need mostly nitrogen during vegetative growth, which is already in the soil.  But by the end of Week 3 it will start to become depleted, so you can add a light dose of vegetative nutrients or a homemade teas like grass clipping tea or diluted urine (yes, human pee) that are rich in nitrogen.  Just go very gently because it's easy to burn your plant when it's this small.  I used the D.U. at a ratio of 12:1 urine-to-water at the end of Week 3 & my plant loved it.  The Grass Clipping Tea is made by steeping grass clippings in warm water for up to 3 days in a covered container like a gallon water jug, straining the plant matter & applying at a ratio of 1:1 with plain water.  (There are recipes online if this isn't clear enough, or I can clarify in the comments).  If you use store-bought nutrients, read the directions carefully to see how much you should be using, and then start with 1/3rd of the recommended amount.  Store-bought is definitely EASIER & less guesswork, but if you're truly on a shoestring budget, well...

Grass clipping tea
At some point you'll probably run into over- or under-watering as you get the hang of how often to water.  If the plant looks dark green with drooping, bloated leaves and drenched soil: it's overwatered.  If the plant looks pale with paper thin leaves & parched soil:  it's likely underwatered.  Under/overwatering isn't caused by using too much water at each session but by applying it too frequently or infrequently.  You can learn to judge when your plant's thirsty by the weight of its container if you prefer more precision.  Just set it on a scale when it's completely dry & write down the weight.  Then simply water it again when it returns to that weight.  Easy peasy.

Now, as for defoliating or lollipopping, this is totally optional.  Lollipopping means removing the lower 1/3rd of leaves & bud sites on a plant while defoliating just means removing certain fan leaves strategically to increase yield.  The benefits of removing leaves include improved airflow, reduced humidity & less risk of pests/mold.  Light will also penetrate your plant better with fewer leaves, but beware:  if you run into any problems later in the plant's life, you'll wish you had some extra foliage to absorb the damage.  I learned this the hard way in Week 7 when my plant nearly died from a bad case of rootbound & over-fertilizing.  Leave some leaves on your plant, please.

If you do choose to lollipop or defoliate, wait until at least Day 30 if possible & don't remove more than 20% of the plant's leaves per session to prevent stress.  Mainly take the large old fan leaves that are blocking bud sites or those that have gone yellow at the bottom.  Leave a little sprig of the stem behind when cutting in case an infection develops so it won't go directly into the main stem.  I prefer to cut my leaves with sterilized scissors but it's okay to pluck them manually w/ clean hands if you do it gently & evenly.  If your plant has a lot of big leaves stacked on top of each other in the middle section, pluck some of those too.  They present a mildew risk.

Lollipopped plant

A ton of other advanced plant training techniques exist to increase yield, but I chose to keep it simple during my first grow & that was the right call.  Some light defoliation was all I went for.  Other techniques you can research include:  supercropping, Low Stress Training (LST), topping, FIM'ing & manifolding.  If you can pull these off, more power to ya.  But I'm saving that for my later grows. 

Not all training techniques are a good fit with autoflowers--topping & manifolding fall into this category.  Both techniques can set growth back by too many days, which is no bueno when your plant is on a pre-set deadline.  (But again, all growers have their own opinions on this stuff so I'm just giving you MINE).  LST is generally safe & beneficial if your plant is in a big enough container to warrant it.  I found that my Solo cup wasn't big enough to require or accommodate quality LST so I let the plant grow in its natural shape.

There are countless online forums to consult if you run into unexpected problems along the way...and you will.  Nutrient deficiencies, watering issues, pests, weird genetic traits, heat stress & more are troubles you could bump into on your journey.  When you happen upon an abnormality & think "Zoinks, what's wrong with my baybee?!" head on over to,, or to get some feedback from real growers.  Or just drop me a line in the comments under this article & I'll try to help.  Including pictures of your plant (without the glare of the grow lights) is always helpful.

...all this seem overwhelming?  It should.  Because it is.  But don't let it discourage you from diving in headfirst & doing the damn thang.  It's so amazing to have this super-power, which you'll understand when you start cranking out the dank.  πŸŒΏπŸ›

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Phase 2: Seedling Life

Seedlings or sproutlings are part of the VEGETATIVE PHASE of the cannabis life cycle.  The purpose of this period of life is to gain height, foliage & a strong stem to support heavy buds later on.  Your plant is like a child at this point & is not sexually or physically mature.  It will go through its awkward puberty during Week 5 or 6.  But an autoflowering plant remains in "veg" for approximately 3 to 4 weeks regardless of what you do to it.  It's on a pre-set time clock, so anything you do to slow its growth will result in a reduced yield at harvest.  As a weed, cannabis is pretty resilient overall, but at the seedling stage it's especially vulnerable to things like extreme temperatures, overwatering & predatory bugs or animals.   

As soon as your seed sprouts, it's time to get it under a CFL bulb immediately.  To be on the safe side, start with the light about 8 inches away from your seedling & only use one bulb to avoid shocking the little one.  You can lower it down to within 4 inches from the plant gradually.  Place it above--not to the side of--your plant.  I made this mistake & almost paid dearly for it.  Cannabis likes its light to come from above the same way it grows under the sun in nature.  I started with a 14/10 cycle (lights on for 14 hours per day; off for 10) to get the seedling acclimated to the light.  This went on for 2 days before switching to 18/6 for another 2 days, then finally settling on 20/4 for the rest of vegetative phase.

Ridged/serrated leaves = true leaves.  Smooth round leaves = cotyledons.

Autoflowers can grow under a 24-hour light cycle, but my plants seemed to "enjoy" the short dark period each day.  Plus it saves on electricity.  What you don't want to do is try to grow them under a 12/12 or 14/10 light cycle like a regular photoperiod plant.  That's because their lifespan is much shorter & they only have a limited time to gain height & mass.  So you'll want to maximize the time they have under the lights each day.  But in the first week, it's good to slowly increase light time so they don't fry.

At this point you should be watering thoroughly about twice per week.  But the frequency depends on your container size, soil type & other factors, so use this guide instead:  water when the soil is dry up to your first knuckle.  To test this, stick your index finger in the soil at the outer edge of the container away from the plant so as not to disturb its root system.  You should water enough that a little stream comes out the drain holes but not so much you're flushing out the nutrition in the soil.  If you want to be super precise with your watering, you can weigh your container on a scale when it's completely dry & write down the weight so you know when it's time to water again.  That eliminates the guess work. 

I chose to do one of my weekly waterings from the top & the other from the bottom in a tray, where I left the cup for 5 hours each time to soak up its water.  I also opted to do "foliar misting" (spraying the leaves with a spray bottle) 3 times per week until my plant's first set of true leaves were large.  After each misting, I'd cover the plant with a Ziploc bag for 5 hours to help keep in the humidity.  But this is totally optional.  Plants in vegetative stage need a relatively high humidity level of 60% or more, particularly when they're just little sprouts.

Ziploc humidity domes.  Apply after misting for a few hours.

Factors like humidity, heat & light stress can influence the plant's sex in the first 3 weeks of life.  If exposed to excessive heat & light along with low humidity or under-watering, it's more likely to come out male or hermie...even if it's a feminized seed.  Don't stress over this fact though; aiming for comfortable temperatures of 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit (20 or 30 Celsius) should keep your plant fully female if you have feminized seed. 

I consider plants to be out of the seedling stage when they have two sets of fully formed "true leaves" (not cotyledons).  But that's a personal thang.  It's all vegetative growth in the end.  The sprout stage is just extra fragile so I gave it its own little guide.  😊

Phase 1: Germination & Planting

And so it begins...

Ahh, germination & planting.  Two relatively easy but daunting tasks for the new grower.  These steps mark the beginning of your journey and are an exciting time!  But it's easy to mess them up if you get overzealous.  There are many ways to skin a cat/germinate a cannabis seed, but I'll tell you what worked best for me.  I placed a healthy looking seed in a cup of lukewarm (not hot!) bottled drinking water & set it on a heating pad for the first hour, swishing it around in the cup to help it sink.  Healthy viable seeds should sink eventually, but don't freak out if it doesn't happen within the first hour or two.  It might just need to be dunked down manually with a finger after a few hours of soaking.

Once the seed has sunk, your germination countdown has begun.  Leave it in the cup for about 8-12 hours in a dark place where it won't be disturbed.  Darkness & warmth are the goals at this stage.  After 12-ish hours had passed, I poured the seed into a plate of damp folded paper towels.  Make sure the seed is sandwiched between the layers, with some towel below & some covering it on top.  Drain off any extra standing water from the plate.  Never let the towels dry out completely!  The seed needs to "breathe" but should never be allowed to dry out.  You can mist it from the top with a spray bottle if you have one or pour/sprinkle more water on manually as needed.  Cover it with a paper plate for an extra layer of protection against drying out.  Again, keep the plate in a dark/warm place where the seed can do its thing.  I chose the top drawer in my closet with the drawer cracked so air could get in.  The seed had cracked before 24 hours had passed but it can take up to 7 days, so be patient.

Put seeds between towels; keep damp.  (Paper towel method)

Don't wait until the white taproot is an inch long--plant the seed as soon as it opens & the root becomes visible.  This reduces the risk of damage.  On the day of planting, soak your cup or container in water for a few hours so the seed doesn't go into a dry environment.  Using clean hands, make a half-inch hole in the soil & plant the seed with the taproot facing DOWN.  Gently sprinkle soil on top, making sure not to pack it down tightly but leave it loose so the seed won't have to fight its way out.  Do cover it completely though.

Finally, use a spray bottle to gently mist the top layer of soil before setting the container under a warm light bulb.  Place your hand on the top of the container to see if the temperature is too hot.  Cannabis generally likes the same temperatures as we humans do.  Your sprout should emerge within 1-7 days of planting if you keep the soil moist & warm.  I like to alternate between "spray & tray" every other day, meaning one day I'll water from the bottom by leaving the cup in a tray for 5 hours & the next day I'll use a spray bottle throughout the day anytime the soil looks dry instead.  But this is totally my own OCD & not necessary.  You can water from the top as long as you are using a spray bottle & being gentle.  Once the seed actually sprouts you should cut back on the watering immediately, as it's easy to drown the little gal.  More on that in the next installment. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Prep Phase: Shopping on a Shoestring


This article could get reallllly long with all the brands & products out there.  I'mma keep it as simple  (and cheap) as possible because there are potentially endless types of lighting, mediums & containers you could choose from.  My way is the simplest way for beginners to spend as little as possible & get the best results...believe me, I'm both poor & lazy. 😁  Here are the things you'll need:

- 1 bag of quality soil
- 2 or 3 CFL bulbs--wattage matters more than color spectrum--more on that later.
- A socket and/or reflector for your CFL bulbs (if you don't already have one).
- A Solo® or Hefty® type plastic cup or 1-gallon pot with good drainage
- Cannabis seeds
- A floor fan or oscillating pedestal fan

I recommend starting with feminized autoflowering seeds since the sex will be certain & your total grow time will be shortened.  Autos only have about a 3-4 week vegetative phase before flowering begins and many strains are ready for harvest 10-12 weeks after planting.  They don't require a dark period at all, which lets you off the hook on buying a light timer & tent.  They can grow as big or small as their container & are generally better for tight spaces (like Solo cups or 1-gallon pots).  Some popular breeders include Dutch Passion, Mephisto, Dinafem, Barney's Farm & Crop King Seeds.  Make sure to check into things like disease-resistance, height & yield when selecting a strain since these can make or break your grow.   

Your soil should be dark, rich & well-draining.  No clay or sand.  Some popular brands include Fox Farms Ocean Forest®, Black Gold®, Roots Organic® or SoHum® Living Soils.  Do not attempt to gather soil from your backyard or use Miracle Grow brand, as it contains slow-release nutrients that will stunt your plant's development in flower.  This is not the place to skimp on quality or cut corners.  A large bag of one of these pre-mixed soils runs anywhere from $5-$15 depending on where you buy it.  If you can't find it at the store you can order it on eBay or Amazon.  After use, tape the bag shut tightly & store somewhere cool & dry.  You'll have lots of soil for future grows.

Good cannabis soil has ingredients like worm castings, peat moss & perlite.

When choosing CFL bulbs, go for ones in the 40-50 watt range.  This is the most effective size & wattage range.  Plants in vegetative stage like "daylight" colored bulbs, or those in the 6500k spectrum.  Flowering plants prefer "soft white" bulbs (2700k spectrum).  BUT EITHER BULB WILL WORK FOR EITHER PURPOSE.  Ignore the "equivalent watt" rating, as it's meaningless.  Only consider the true or actual watts.  I used two soft whites my entire grow because they were cheaper & it worked just fine.  If you don't already have a socket or place place to screw the bulbs in, get a clamp-on lamp like a Woods clamp light with aluminum reflector to hold your bulbs.  To fit both bulbs inside this reflector, you'll need a Y-splitter with an E26 or E27 base & socket extender, which will cost about $6 combined for both items.  More lights = bigger yields but you can have a successful small grow with only 2-3 bulbs if they're arranged correctly.  These bulbs use less electricity than a regular incandescent light, so your electric bill won't suffer with them on all the time.  Yay!  Just be careful not to break them or get them wet, as they have mercury inside.

Image result for 40-watt cfl bulbs daylight
42-watt Daylight CFL Bulb

If you decide to grow in a plastic cup, you'll need good drainage.  So poke as many holes in the lower half of the cup as possible--particularly the underside of the cup.  These holes help "air prune" your roots while preventing root rot.  You'll also need them when watering from the bottom in a tray.  Use a safety pin, ballpoint pen or other sharp object to make small holes.  If you'd like a slightly bigger pot, get a 1-gallon Smart Pot, Airpot or other well-ventilated container.  Avoid clay pots as they drain poorly & get overheated.  Since autoflowers don't like to be transplanted, go ahead & plant your seed in its final home.  (I'm recommending small containers because the plant will stay smaller, thus requiring less light, food & space.  It will also be easier to stash away & hide the smell if stealth is an issue.  But most autoflower growers use a 3-to-5 gallon pot to produce a regular-sized plant).

Lastly, make sure you have a clean, well-ventilated space to set up your grow.  A walk-in closet, a small room that's not used by guests, etc.  The temperature should not exceed 85 degrees if possible & it shouldn't get too humid or damp.  You'll want access to a small floor fan or oscillating fan to keep fresh air moving & strengthen your stems as your plant grows.  You can also set up a reflective backboard behind your plant if you like to help maximize your light use, but this is not required.  Mylar is preferred as a reflective material but scrunched up aluminum foil also works...just make sure you crush it up evenly all over as it's pretty worthless when smooth.  Flat white paint is an ideal reflective material as well.

That's it!  You're now ready to start your shoestring budget stealth grow.  Leave your questions & comments below.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

I'm Baa-aack

Update:  Check out my 8-part series on growing your own autoflowering cannabis on a budget!

In case you've been wondering about my absence, I've been immersed in my first real cannabis grow!  And it was a success!  A very small-scale success, but a great one nonetheless.  I spent the bare minimum on supplies & put in maximum time & effort to learn everything I could about growing, and the results were better than I could've hoped for.  I'd love to use what I learned to mentor other growers on how to complete cheap, stealthy, low-space grows.  So that's what I'll do for the next few installments:  share what I learned about growing bomb bud on a budget.

Do you live in an illegal state?  With non-420 friendly roommates?  Don't have the money to sink into an expensive, high-tech grow op or the space to support a bunch of giant stinking weed plants in your house for 6+ months?  Then we're on the same page.  Sometimes ya just need to start with the basics to get a feel for something before going balls-to-the-walls.  And learning can be very lucrative if you stick with it to the end. 

Growing ganja has many advantages, particularly for those who don't live near dispensaries or other sources of high-quality bud.  And even if you DO live near a dispensary, commercial weed is often grown in a rushed fashion using questionable fertilizers & pesticides that can affect taste, quality & possibly your health.  (Check out my previous article on plant growth regulators.  If that doesn't scare ya, nothing will).  By growing your own stash, YOU control exactly what goes in so you know what's coming out.  It might sound cliche, but there's just something special about weed that you grew yourself.  Now I can say that from first-hand experience because I've actually done it.  And there IS something unique about this weed.  It doesn't trigger a bit of anxiety or dry mouth like every other strain I've ever smoked.  I'm still shocked at just how mellow the high is.  I am extremely sensitive to the paranoid, heart-racing properties of THC but get none of that from the homegrown bud.  But more on that later.

My April 4th baby was harvested on June 24th; 82 days from seed.  I spent a grand total of $68 on everything including lights, soil & 7 feminized seeds.  When all was said & done, I harvested 4 grams off a plant that was grown in an 18-oz Solo cup (red beer cup) using 2 Compact Fluorescent Lights & a $10 Chinese LED gooseneck lamp.  No grow tent, light timer, exhaust fans or other equipment.  Didn't even use any store-bought nutes or fertilizers.  Just lights in a closet.  And the bud is superb.  

Here are the highlights of my grow journal on imgur.  There were some ups & downs as you can see, but she ultimately pulled through & delivered in the end.  And I came away with enough info to write a small book on the subject of small-scale stealthy grows. 

More to come in the days ahead... Leave any questions in the comment section & I'll try to address them in the upcoming articles. 

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