If you’re considering taking advantage of California’s allowance of growing cannabis at home, it can seem a bit daunting. There are hundreds of pages with tutorials and advice on set-ups and strains with as much detail as you can digest. But for those still undecided, here are the absolute basics of cultivating quality homegrown cannabis so you can decide if you want to delve deeper into the science.
1. Prep: This is the most critical aspect of cultivating cannabis. Starting with premium organic soil, quality seeds or seedlings and, if you’re growing indoors, a well-lit, well-ventilated grow area will greatly impact the quality of your resulting harvest. Costs can vary widely for preparation depending on how many plants you wish to grow and whether you’re growing indoor or outdoor. Home farmers who want to grow one or two outdoor plants this summer need only purchase a 5-to-10 gallon fabric pot and enough rich soil to fill it. Once you start adding lights and fans, the costs increase considerably. Although, an LED set-up for just a few plants can be done for under $100. Hydroponics costs also vary widely.
2. Germinate seeds/Choose clones: You have two choices for growing cannabis. You can start from seeds or clones. Seeds need a week to germinate and must be sexed unless you purchase feminized seeds. Clones are guaranteed to be female and have a head start over seeds in terms of potential time to harvest. Seeds grow a tap root, making them sturdier than clones and you are creating a new cannabis plant versus copying the possibly diluted genetics of a mother plant. Both seeds and clones range in price from free to hundreds of dollars. You can attempt to grow seeds from a bag of marijuana which may be free but you’ll need to sex them and you won’t have important information about its genetics. These plants tend to be “mystery strains” and are not recommended for medical applications. Likewise, you can take a cutting (with permission) of someone else’s plant and cultivate into a full-size plant. In California at least, dispensaries carry many different seed lines and some have garden centers and sell quality clones. Employees in this department can often be goldmines of advice on growing cannabis. At dispensaries, clones can range from $15 to several hundred dollars for a rare strain. Cannabis seeds also vary widely, sold in multi-packs from 3 to 10 seeds or more. Expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $20+ per seed.
3. Vegetate: Once you’ve chosen seeds or clones, it’s time to grow. Seeds need to germinate for 4-7 days while clones can be transplanted into larger pots immediately. The vegetative state can last anywhere from a few weeks to many months. Some mother plants are kept in a vegetative state forever as cuttings are taken. Cannabis is an annual plant which means it’s meant to last for a single season and be replanted come spring. Once you’ve begun to flower the plant, there’s no turning back. Small plants will provide a small harvest. Large plants can produce pounds of premium buds. If you’re growing outdoors, harvest will come in fall when the days get shorter. If you have an indoor set-up, you can begin flowering your plants any time by ensuring they get 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness every day. During the vegetative phase. cultivators focus on providing the proper nutrients, light and water. As you gain experience you may wish to learn more about plant training and trimming to maximize your harvest and create plants that best fit your space. Cannabis is hearty and given your excellent preparation, has a good start on life. You can fuss with your plants as much or as little as you want but visually inspect them at least once per day for signs of mildew or pest and err on the side of under-watering versus over-watering.
4. Flower: Once the days grow shorter or you switch your lights to a 12-hour cycle, your cannabis plants will begin to flower. The length of this process depends on the strain; some have a short flowering time while others are much longer. Regardless, continue to monitor your plants daily (during the light phase – do not interrupt the 12 hours of darkness or your plants may not flower) and provide water as needed. Generally, give the plants about two to four months to flower and try not to harvest early. The longer they “ripen”, the more flavorful and potent the buds will be. If you harvest too early, you’ll experience speedier cannabis, possibly resulting in more anxiety. Wait too long and you’ll get sleepy weed.
5. Harvest: Harvest means saying goodbye to your beloved plants, so be sure to take cuttings if you’d like to continue the lineage. It’s time to cut them down and hang them in a dry, dark place. A good rule of thumb is to watch the pistils (those little hairs growing out of the buds). They begin clear or white and slowly begin changing color as the bud develops. Once 50-75% of the pistils have changed, you are at peak harvest. Keep in mind that the pistils of some strains remain white, which as White Widow.
6. Dry: Drying is crucial for creating deliciously potent cannabis. Drying rids your buds of the grassy taste that obscures the true taste of the strain and creates a harsh smoke. There are many ways to dry cannabis, but the easiest is to cut the branches or buds off and pin them up in a dark, dry closet. You can trim extra leaves off prior to hanging or rack-drying to promote good airflow through the bud. If humidity is an issue and you’re growing indoors, a humidifier or dehumidifier can help. Dry your cannabis for about two weeks, checking it daily. The more airflow, the less chance of mildew.
7. Cure: Lastly, quality cannabis must be cured. Don’t skip this step no matter how excited you may be to sample your crop. Curing will enhance the flavor and aroma of your cannabis but most importantly, it increases potency! Place your trimmed, dry cannabis into airtight glass containers and store in a cool, dark place. You’ll know it’s dry enough if the small stems snap off but the larger branches still bend. Don’t over pack the jars; leave space at the top. For the first couple of weeks, open them briefly every day to allow moisture to escape and fresh air in. If things are going well, you can reduce this to once per week. You can cure your cannabis anywhere from two weeks to many months. The longer the bud is cured, the more potent it becomes (within strain limits). Don’t slack off on checking your jars or you could find yourself with a crop of mold. Toss any cannabis that smells funky (in a bad way) or shows any signs of mold or mildew. Failure to do so could result in serious health repercussions.
That’s all there is to it. Growing cannabis can be as simple or complicated, cheap or costly as you make it but there’s nothing to be intimidated by!