Currently Reading: The Harvest Life Cycle

Take a closer look at the science of compliant cannabis production and you’ll see why supply shortages remain more than a month after legalization

1. Closed Systems

This 3-part set-up ensures every precaution is taken to avoid infestation and a bad harvest

You know how you are supposed to wash your hands between going from uncooked meat to cooked? Well the same principle applies to cannabis cultivation. If you cut your stalks and hang them for curing in the same space where you are growing starts and blooming the next crop you have exposed your entire environment to unnecessary risk from persistent pests. It is best to create three self-contained chambers which can be independently regulated for moisture and temperature. A small one is needed for a germination station, as the roots bulk up. A large room is needed for the growing and blooming of the maturing plants, since the spindly little clones will call a large pot home as it sky-rockets to adulthood. The third being a clean, sterile spot for the drying and curing to take place as the plant expels in chlorophyl and develops that pungent aroma.

2. Plants Are Like Humans

Space, food, climate and friends all play a role in healthy cannabis farms

In our conversations with experienced cultivators almost all reference the similarities between humans and plants, when it comes to fundamental needs. They need the right amount of space to mature properly. Breakfast is their most important meal of the day, and a well-balanced diet of nutrients creates plants ready to perform. Cannabis farmers are fond of saying “plants talk to you, you just have to speak their language.” There are a million tells they exhibit, and this isn’t the poker table. There is no magic number though, strangely enough too much of a good thing will kill a crop. Moderation is key, sounds like personal advice from the old lady on the stoop right? The extent of the plant’s tells are too far-reaching to get into here. But the best producers keep a close-eye on their posture, color and size. What you want is big stalks, huge leaves and very few of them. They act as solar panels, and this is a key architectural feature for a healthy cannabis plant.

3. Linda’s Gardening Magic

In-House Plant Nutrient

This two-part nutrient formula has taken novice gardens from seed to bloom with easy mix and measure directions. Growth medium is determined (soil, clay pellets, rockwool etc…) and a solution is provided for that environment. It’s a local company with a storefront in Puyallup open six days a week. It’s good enough for the masters but gentle on the new jacks starting out with their I-502 producer licenses but very little experience in the growroom.


4. What To Do About CO2?

A plant has to breathe, but outside air is bad news

Before recreational cannabis production producers had to worry about filling up CO2 tanks at Lowe’s being a dead giveaway. Many of the experts we consulted are using what is commonly called a “mushroom bag.” It’s a thick bag with a small ventilating patch, and inside is a large amount of mycelium which consumes the organic material in the bag while giving off CO2 naturally. When the organic material is gone it “fruits” producing mushrooms, but the spores are too large to escape through the filtering patch and your plants are no worse for wear. These bags have a life cycle of about three-six months. Producers also need what’s called a “sniffer” too. The most popular we have found is the iGrain by Crop Protector, the multi-sensor package determines temp, moisture and CO2 levels in a garden and can interface with the existing regulatory system to automatically control levels in some cases. If a crop has buds that are too “airy” that means too much CO2 was present. The perfect balance is delicate, yet essential to a great yield.

5. Neem Oil and Mychorrhiza Bacteria

These are small additions that make a big difference in the results

Natural pesticide sprays can be bought from companies like “Zero Tolerance,” which is owned by Ed Rosenthal, and his potion uses ingredients like cinnamon, clove and rosemary. But the most frequently recommended natural solution to the Northwest Pest problem is a neem oil, soap and water solution often applied as a mist with a spray bottle. When done incorrectly the buds will become slick, but when the oil is dissolved sufficiently so there is none standing at the waterline in the bottle, a messy debacle is avoided. Duration of the spray cycle varies, but opinions on the importance of helpful soil bacteria does not. Mycorrhiza bacteria helps symbiotically stimulate root development while also protecting against “root rot.” Over-watering can drown plants, another reason most of the prolific cultivators we came across you aeroponics or hydroponics and ditch the soil all together.

6. Get Advice From A Mystic

Plant whispering works, we have faith

Before you burst into mockery, consider that most harvests have multiple strains growing during the same cycle. The way these different plants interact can be visibly manifested, and some salt-of-the-earth farmers swear different strains create different energy. Apparently jealousy is a trait that is easily spotted in a room full of narcissistic botanical beauties, according to some producers that swear by this alternative approach. Changing the groupings, orientation and nutrient cycle are common recommendations, after reading the non-traditional communication of plants living in close quarters. Knock it if you want to, but plenty of exceptional gardeners believe the mystical perspective offers valuable insight. There have been times when they have acted on a diagnosis and saved an entire crop, real talk.    


7. Don’t Forget To Flush

Rinsing the nutrient solution out of the plant before harvest is crucial

One of the reasons the tried-and-true gardens in Washington don’t use soil is for flushing benefits. Depending on a number of variables the flush cycle takes one to two weeks. A cool trick we were made aware of is using a sugar additive in the watering solution while flushing. The carbohydrate boost causes bigger blooms, and the best ingredients to use according to our sampling are orange juice, table syrup or molasses. Diluting it properly and getting the right ratio is important when introducing the watering solution to the plants. Another goal during this period is to “stress out” the plants, some break branches in key spots or deprive the garden of light for as much as three days.

8. Light Hood Placement

The height of the lights controls the height of the plants

For most beginners the rule of thumb is to just keep the light hoods 12-inches away from the top of the plant, and draw it up gradually as the crop grows. It will minimize the risk of burning the best colas but if new producers want to try for a homerun on their first swing there is a riskier – higher reward – option. Top growers keep the plants cool with temperature regulation and raise the CO2 levels, then they put the light hood right on top of the plant (around 8″ away). Locals have always called it “bench press” weed.

9. Curing It Right

Why branches are hung upside down and patience pays off

The story goes that mites tend to climb upward once they find a feeding ground so if a harvested branch is upside down the colas will be protected. Of course a closed environment that is I-502 compliant should neutralize this problem – but perfection is impossible in any living system. The best make sure to leave the smaller leaves around the flowers in place while curing, as it protects while the entire branch dries and expels the chlorophyl. Our little nugget of nuance in this department is to fully manicure the buds and then lock them away for 30 days in mason jars. The restriction of oxygen causes a deeper, denser flower to emerge with increased potency if the producer can afford to wait that long. Given the statewide shortage it might be awhile before the connoisseur tactics are established to yield really exceptional recreational marijuana

10. Save the Sativa

Sativas are far more difficult to cultivate than indicas

We also have been told to pass along the helpful hint to producers just starting out – don’t work with sativas at first. They are tall, wild plants that are all “knees and elbows” as one grower put it and will be hard to domesticate while still learning the ropes.


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