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Cannabis cultivation is an art that requires patience, knowledge, and dedication to master. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced grower, understanding the fundamentals of growing cannabis is crucial to achieving bountiful harvests and high-quality buds. This comprehensive guide will delve into the essentials of cannabis cultivation, including the legal aspects, plant anatomy, growing environments, propagation techniques, and storage tips to help you achieve success in your cannabis growing endeavors.
Legal Considerations for Cannabis Cultivation
Before embarking on your cannabis cultivation journey, it’s crucial to know the legality of growing cannabis in your area. The laws and regulations surrounding cannabis cultivation vary significantly between countries and even within different states and cities. If you’re planning to grow cannabis at home, make sure you’re familiar with the local laws and regulations to avoid any legal issues.
Cannabis Plant Anatomy and Sex
Understanding the anatomy of the cannabis plant is essential for successful cultivation. Cannabis is a dioecious plant, which means it can be divided into male and female plants. Male plants produce pollen necessary for female plants to produce seeds, while female plants naturally produce higher concentrations of major cannabinoids, such as cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which convert to CBD and THC, respectively. Cannabis also produces other valuable compounds like terpenes and flavonoids, which potentially work synergistically with cannabinoids to enhance their desired and therapeutic effects.
Anatomy of the Female Plant
The reproductive anatomy of the female plant includes:
- Colas: The flowers produced by the female plant, covered with cannabinoid- and terpene-rich trichomes, commonly called buds or nugs.
- Bracts: Small, scale-like leaf structures that encapsulate and protect the seeds.
- Stigmas: The reproductive parts of the cannabis plant that catch pollen from the male plant. These are commonly and incorrectly referred to as pistils. Two stigmas protrude from one pistil.
- Pistil: The reproductive parts of the female cannabis flower that are activated if pollen is captured by the stigmas.
- Sugar leaves: The small leaves that hold cannabis buds together. They are called sugar leaves due to the high concentration of trichomes that have a sugar-like appearance.
Anatomy of the Male Plant
The reproductive anatomy of the male plant includes:
- Stamen: The organ of the male plant that produces pollen and releases it into the wind, where it may be carried to the stigma of a female plant for pollination.
- Anther: The sacks that produce and hold pollen within the stamen. Anthers hang by a small filament. Together, the anther and the filament make up a stamen.
- Pollen: Microscopic grains produced and contained in the anther that fertilize the female plant when released.
A hermaphrodite is a rare monecious plant, meaning it develops both male and female sex organs. Hermaphrodites are primarily formed if a female plant is exposed to extreme conditions during key stages of growth, such as insufficient light or harsh environmental conditions. It is essential for growers to remove hermaphrodites when they occur to eliminate the risk of pollination and ensure a higher overall flower yield.
Cannabis Growing Environments
There are three main growing environments for cannabis: outdoor, greenhouse, and indoor. Each environment has its benefits and drawbacks, and the choice depends on your growing goals, available resources, and climate conditions.
Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation
Growing cannabis outdoors allows you to utilize the power of the sun and natural resources, significantly reducing costs for growers. However, you’ll need adequate space that receives ample sunlight throughout the growing season. Outdoor cannabis cultivation can yield large plants and abundant harvests, but it also exposes the crop to the elements, pests, and diseases, which may require more attention and care.
Greenhouse Cannabis Cultivation
Greenhouse cultivation offers the free sunlight of outdoor growing with greater environmental control. Greenhouses allow growers to control natural light with blackout shades or roof covering systems and provide protection from animals, pests, and extreme environmental changes. However, the upfront cost of building and maintaining a greenhouse can be a drawback for some growers.
Indoor Cannabis Cultivation
Indoor cannabis cultivation takes place in a controlled environment, such as a warehouse, and requires artificial lighting and air conditioning systems. Indoor growing allows you to control every aspect of the environment and set up a grow space almost anywhere. This method is more expensive due to equipment and utility costs but can result in potent, high-quality cannabis.
Choosing a Cannabis Strain to Grow
Selecting the right cannabis strain to grow is crucial for a successful harvest. Factors to consider when choosing a strain include:
- Availability: The legality of cannabis in your location will determine whether you can buy seeds or clones at a dispensary. You’ll be limited to genetics produced in your state, as seeds and clones cannot cross state lines.
- Climate and environment: Certain strains are better suited for specific growing environments and climates. Consult with other growers in your community to find strains that thrive in your area.
- Garden space: Consider the space you have available for growing. Indica strains tend to grow shorter and bushier, making them more suitable for smaller spaces.
- Length of time to grow: Some strains take longer to mature than others. Choose strains with shorter flowering times if you want a quicker turnaround.
- Difficulty of growing: Some strains require more care and attention, including complex nutrient regimens, training requirements, and environmental factor monitoring.
Propagation refers to the process of growing cannabis from seeds or clones. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each method is essential for successful cannabis cultivation.
Growing from Seeds
Growing cannabis from seeds offers greater genetic diversity and more robust plants that are resistant to pests, illnesses, and diseases. However, plants grown from seeds do not maintain the exact phenotype of the parent plant, leading to variances in cannabinoid and terpene profiles.
Growing from Clones
Cloning involves taking a cutting from a stable mother plant and growing it into a genetically similar plant under the right conditions. Clones are used to preserve the genetic identity of a cannabis plant and produce plants with the same physical traits, cannabinoid, and terpene profiles as the mother plant when grown under the same conditions. The main disadvantage of cloning is the lack of genetic diversity, which can lead to crop loss if plants are exposed to adverse environmental conditions.
Selecting a Growing Medium
The growing medium is the material in which plants are set during the growth cycle. It provides the plant’s roots with air, water, and nutrients. Common growing media for cannabis cultivation include soil, hydroponics, and aeroponics.
Soil is the most common medium for growing cannabis. It provides a stable growing environment with sufficient moisture retention. Healthy soil is rich in nutrients and beneficial microbes, making it ideal for both indoor and outdoor cultivation.
Hydroponic cultivation involves feeding plants through a nutrient-rich liquid solution, using media such as perlite, vermiculite, coco coir, or hydroton balls. Hydroponics allows for optimal uptake of nutrients and reduced water usage compared to soil cultivation. This method is commonly used in greenhouse settings but is not typically used for outdoor growing.
Aeroponics is similar to hydroponics, but instead of submerging the plant’s roots in water, they are suspended in an environment of mist and air. This system allows for maximum yield potential but is more temperamental than other systems, requiring careful monitoring of environmental and growth control factors.
Germinating Seeds or Rooting Cannabis Clones
Germination is the process of a seed’s embryo being exposed to water until it has sprouted its initial taproot. This phase typically takes between 12 hours and three weeks, depending on the vitality of the seed, its age, and the germination techniques used by the grower.
If growing from a clone, the rooting phase is when the plant develops its taproot. This process takes between 3 to 14 days and requires a high-humidity environment with 24 hours of light.
The vegetative phase is when the plant grows its roots, stalks, and large fan leaves that will structure the plant. During this phase, cultivators can train their plants or manipulate their growth patterns to maximize yield and light exposure.
Several training techniques can be employed by indoor growers to optimize yield within limited space and lighting conditions. These methods involve manipulating the shape and growth of the plant, typically by bending the stem or applying stress.
Sea of Green (SOG)
The Sea of Green technique involves growing multiple small plants instead of a few large ones, with the goal of maximizing space and cultivating single colas.
Low Stress Training (LST)
Low Stress Training involves bending and tying down stems for maximum yield and light exposure within a limited space. The “low stress” aspect of LST refers to manipulating stem growth without causing breakage or cutting.
Super cropping uses targeted stress to encourage cannabis plants to produce more cannabinoids and terpenes for protection. This method involves pinching targeted areas of the stems and tying them down.
Screen of Green (SCROG)
The Screen of Green method uses LST or super cropping to inhibit vertical growth of the cannabis plant by encouraging horizontal growth. This is done by forcing the plants to grow through a suspended horizontal screen, promoting the formation of colas in otherwise dormant areas of the stem.
Lollipopping involves removing growth from the lower portion of the plant to divert energy to the higher branches that produce colas, resulting in a “lollipop”-shaped plant.
Topping and Fimming (FIM)
Topping involves clipping the growing tip of a plant’s main stem at a 45-degree angle, causing two colas to form instead of one. The FIM method, or fimming, is an offshoot of topping, in which most of the cannabis tip is pinched off with the aim of growing four colas in place of one.
Removing Fan Leaves
Removing fan leaves from the plant can be considered a training technique that aims to divert the plant’s energy into producing larger colas by limiting the amount of foliage the plant needs to maintain and increasing the amount of direct light to any growth sites below the canopy.
The Cannabis Flowering Phase
The flowering phase is when the female plant produces trichome-covered colas and when the male plant produces and releases pollen. Cannabis plants flower naturally during the 12/12 photoperiod when the plant receives 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. In indoor or light-controlled greenhouse environments, introducing an artificial 12/12 light cycle can force a cannabis plant to flower.
When is Cannabis Ready for Harvest?
A female plant is generally ready to harvest when the glands on the top of the capillary stalked trichomes turn from clear to a milky white color. Some cultivators also use the color of the stigmas to time their harvest. Stigmas tend to change from either white to orange or red to brown. Growers should also be aware of the typical flowering times of the cultivars they’re growing.
Harvesting Your Cannabis
Once the cannabis plant is ready for harvest, its trichomes are in one of their most vulnerable states. Overexposure to oxygen, light, and/or heat may degrade cannabinoids and terpenes or activate them prematurely. Trichomes become more fragile and susceptible to breaking off the plant if mishandled under extreme conditions. When harvesting cannabis plants, growers should implement methods of drying, trimming, and curing that reduce the amount of agitation the plant experiences to limit any damage to the trichome glands.
Cut the whole plant at the base or cut it into large branches and hang them upside down on a clothesline in an environment that is not overly dry or humid. At this point, some growers begin manicuring their plants by cutting off all remaining fan leaves and some of the sugar leaves. Plants should be left hanging upside down to dry until the stems slightly snap when bent. This initial drying process usually takes three to seven days, depending on environmental conditions.
Once the initial drying is complete, finish trimming and manicuring your bud. Begin trimming by holding your colas by a stem and gently cutting away any sugar leaves and stems that surround the buds. This is a very delicate process that requires attention to detail. Take extreme care when handling your bud, as every moment of contact can result in trichome loss or damage.
Curing is the final drying stage, allowing bacteria on the surface of the buds to break down any residual chlorophyll and ensuring the colas are neither too moist nor too dry. This should be a gradual process, taking one to two months to achieve the optimal moisture content. During the curing process, place your trimmed buds in a glass jar or rubbermaid tote for 4-8 weeks, opening the containers daily during the first week or two to allow fresh oxygen to replace the air in the container.
Cannabis Storage Tips
For short-term storage, use glass jars that are opaque and airtight to preserve cannabinoids and terpenes. For long-term storage, vacuum seal your cannabis whenever possible to maintain its potency and freshness.
Cannabis cultivation is a rewarding and fulfilling practice for both home growers and professional cultivators. With patience, dedication, and the knowledge provided in this guide, you’ll be on your way to growing top-quality cannabis plants that yield bountiful harvests and exceptional buds.