Benefits of Organic Cannabis – A How-To Guide for Growing Your Own
Many small-scale growers who intend to consume their harvest themselves already grow organic cannabis; the same can be said for most medicinal growers in the U.S., both caregivers and dispensaries. However, commercial growers for the recreational market often don’t grow organically, due to various outdated misconceptions.
Organic cannabis has become a huge commodity in the cannabis market as consumers become increasingly aware of the unsafe cultivation practices of the industry. For those who grow cannabis at home, the option of organic cannabis growing is quite easily attainable.
As the medicinal cannabis industry has grown in recent years, the demand for high-quality, safe cannabis has grown with it. As a result, many patients are now requesting organic cannabis from their suppliers, and are becoming increasingly concerned about the possible presence of dangerous chemicals in ‘regular’, non-organic cannabis.
There are obvious benefits to growing organic cannabis — there’s less chance of contamination (e.g., pesticides), it’s healthier and overall, there’s a lesser environmental cost. But there’s also the obvious disadvantage of buying organic cannabis: it’s often more expensive than the regular kind. And buying buds is already expensive enough!
We’ve included a how-to guide for growing your own cannabis in this article to help mitigate the hip-pocket damage. Plus, growing your own cannabis organically puts things into perspective about why it’s sometimes more expensive to choose organic.
What is organic cannabis?
There is much confusion over what constitutes organically-grown cannabis. Many still believe that any cannabis grown in soil is organic, but much soil-grown cannabis is grown with chemical fertilisers and pesticides. In order to be truly organic, organic cultivators usually only use nutrients and pesticides that are natural in origin. In fact, purists would argue that no pesticides or nutrients may be used at all.
In terms of nutrients, ‘natural’ products that will assist in the growth and flowering of cannabis plants include bat and bird guano, worm castings, manure, blood and bone meal, and compost. Natural pesticides include plant products such as pyrethrum, capsaicin and tobacco. However, even though these substances are from organic sources, there is still uncertainty about their effect on human and environmental health.
Top 5 benefits of organic cannabis
One of the primary concerns of commercial growers is the possibility of reduced yield when growing organically. However, this is not necessarily the case—and in fact, if all conditions are optimum, you may be able to achieve higher yields than if using conventional methods.
If the micro-environment is not optimum, yields may well be comparatively lower than with non-organic grows. This was certainly the case in the past. However, commercially-available organic fertilisers, growing media, and additives have improved greatly over the years, along with the understanding of how best to utilise them.
One major new innovation in organic growing is the development of “super-soil”. This is a growing medium that has been painstakingly tweaked in order to contain exactly what cannabis needs to grow in abundance, without the need for fertiliser. With this method, you can give your plants nothing but water and achieve incredible results.
Prepared mixes are commercially available, but “super-soil” can be easily be made at home. Typically, super-soil contains organic potting soil mixed with worm castings, blood meal, bone meal, guano, and various other additives. Preparing your own means you can develop the precise mix for your preferred strain.
Giving your cannabis plants exactly what they need down to the very last microbe in the soil is a fundamental part of contemporary organic growing. Like any plant, cannabis has specific and highly complex requirements to grow optimally, and matching those requirements as accurately as possible allows your plants to achieve their full potential.
Conventional nutrient systems are relatively simple in their make-up, containing just the basic nutrients required for cannabis to survive and grow. There are six essential macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulphur, and magnesium) and six essential micronutrients (manganese, boron, copper, zinc, molybdenum, and iron). Most cannabis nutrient mixes contain these nutrients.
Conversely, organic nutrient systems often contain other trace elements that can provide extra benefits to cannabis, even if they are not traditionally classed as essential.
Nickel, sodium, cobalt and chlorine are all examples of nutrients that have been demonstrated to be beneficial for taller plants such as cannabis, but are often overlooked in commercial feeds. Organic growers report that organically-grown cannabis is superior in effect and potency due to the complex make-up of the nutrient mixes used.
Improved flavour and aroma
Organically-grown cannabis is widely considered superior in flavour and aroma to conventionally-grown cannabis for similar reasons to those outlined above. As the micro-environment is optimised for vigorous, healthy growth, plants can produce optimum quantities of flavonoids, terpenoids, and cannabinoids themselves.
Terpenes and terpenoids are the aromatic compounds that give cannabis and many other plants their fragrance. Dozens of these compounds are present in cannabis, and are responsible for giving its strain its sweet, citrus, spicy or pine-like aroma. The more abundant these terpenes and terpenoids are, the more fragrant and flavoursome your final product will be.
Flavonoids are another secondary metabolite of many plants, including cannabis. They often bring with them a wide range of antioxidant effects that contribute to longevity and overall health.
Organically grown cannabis doesn’t contain the synthetic pesticides and insecticides of conventional commercial growing methods. It is also important to think about how these artificial additives affect the overall taste and aroma of a bud.
Another aspect of organic cannabis cultivation that can enable improved yields, flavour and potency is the richness of the soil microbiome (“microbiome” refers to the community of microbes present in a particular environment).
Organic soil mixes are complex living ecosystems in their own right, which contain an abundance of bacteria, fungi and other microscopic organisms such as nematode worms. The sterile environment found within many non-organic growing media does not support this level of complexity.
A substantial amount of research into cannabis and other important crops has demonstrated that establishing a rich soil microbiome has multiple benefits. It enables nitrogen fixing and water retention, stimulates growth, and helps to prevent diseases of the roots. Making your own super-soil and leaving it to mature for around thirty days before use allows an abundance of fungi and other beneficial microorganisms to establish a niche and populate the soil.
Organic compost tea is another excellent way of culturing the beneficial bacteria required for a healthy microbiome. Compost tea involves steeping well-made compost in water and constantly running a bubbler to provide oxygen (allowing conditions inside the “brewer” to become anaerobic causes unhealthy bacteria to develop instead of the beneficial types).
Lighter environmental impact
Of course, the most environmentally beneficial way to grow cannabis is to grow outdoors in natural sunlight, as the greatest negative environmental impact of cannabis growing is electricity consumption when growing indoors. On top of that, there have been reports of banned pesticides running off into water supplies in California.
Unfortunately, not everybody is permitted or able to cultivate their cannabis outdoors (let alone indoors). Organic cultivation minimizes the environmental impact on water in regions of the world where cannabis is grown commercially.
For ultimate green credentials, organic, outdoor cultivation is the clear winner. If that’s not an option, it’s possible to minimise environmental impact growing indoors. Using organic nutrients and fertilisers automatically reduces the environmental impact, because production of organic nutrients and fertilisers typically require less processing than conventional nutrients. Conventional nutrients and fertilisers are mostly derived from fossil fuels and require substantial energy to produce.
Furthermore, organic pest-control techniques are often far less environmentally impactful —for example, ladybirds (or “ladybugs” in the U.S.) can be used to control spider mites, negating the need for the toxic chemical brews used in conventional growing.
What is Veganic Growing? New Take on Organic Cannabis
A how-to guide for growing organic cannabis
The fundamentals of growing organic cannabis will vary depending on whether it is grown indoors or outdoors. Though many argue that true organic cannabis must be grown outdoors, an organic environment can also be created indoors. The growing medium (soil, coconut fibre, etc.) can be the same across both indoor and outdoor grow ops, but indoor growers will need to think about light spectrums and cycles, too.
Preparing the medium
To grow organic cannabis, it is imperative to grow in soil. While hydroponic grow systems grow fantastic cannabis, water simply cannot harbour the organic nutrients and microorganisms that are present in soil. Organic nutrients and fertilizers often cause problems for indoor growers. Plus, there is contention about whether hydroponic grow systems can ever be certifiably organic.
Once you’ve obtained cannabis seeds, the soil is the starting point for any cannabis growing operation. Therefore, to grow organic cannabis, the soil must also be organic. If you are growing outdoors on a plot of land, you must be sure that no chemical fertilizers or pesticides have been used on that land for quite some time. These chemicals tend to stick in soil for years even after farming has stopped.
It is ultimately easier to grow organic cannabis in pots as you can essentially make your own soil. However, to do so requires around six months of preparation. This method involves mixing composted food products with other nutritional material (such as woody plant trimmings, dry leaves, coffee grounds, livestock manure, etc.). Once mixed, the mixture must be left for anywhere between two and six months, until it begins to steam and let off gases.
Making organic, cannabis-friendly fertilizer
The alternative to making your own soil is to purchase bare potting mix and add in organic nutrition. This is essentially the process of making fertilizer. However, most commercial fertilizers are not organic, although organic fertilizer can be sourced in specialty stores. It can be made at home using the following recipe:
- Spread a layer of bare potting mix on a large tarp, with coco fibre and mycorrhizae (this can be purchased in the garden store).
- Add 0.75 kg of rock phosphate, 30 ml Epsom salts, 60 ml Azomite, 120 ml Dolomite, and 1 tablespoon of humic acid. Spread them around on the layer of soil.
- Add another layer of the bare potting mix.
- Add 1 kg of bat guano, and then top with another layer of bare potting mix.
- Spread 1kg of blood meal in a thick layer on top. Do the same with bone meal.
- Using a spade, mix everything together. Transfer them into garbage cans with 10 litres of water and allow them to cook in the sun. In the sun, the correct bacteria and fungi will begin to grow to support the mini ecosystem required for growing cannabis.
You now have soil that is already fertilized. You may add further nutritional information as your grow continues, but it is best to do so using organic nutrients. However, this should provide the soil with enough nutrients for the entire grow. Every time you transplant into another pot, you can use new soil from your batch of organic potting mix.
The best pesticide is no pesticide
With the correct degree of care and attention to detail, it should be possible to maintain a grow without resorting to pesticide use at all. Keeping plants tidy and well-maintained, keeping the grow room or surrounding environment clean and tidy, and ensuring optimum conditions to promote healthy plants will all go a long way towards keeping an organic garden free from infestations.
However, there are times when even the most fastidious gardener may become overwhelmed by spider mites or whitefly, and in these cases, it is important to be aware of the effects and consequences of the various pesticides available, so that the most appropriate one can be used.
What is pyrethrum?
Pyrethrum is the name given to any one of several chrysanthemum species, as well as to the insecticidal preparation that can be extracted from two species, C. cinerariifolium and C. coccineum. Pyrethrum is directly toxic to several common cannabis pests including spider mites and aphids, and is remarkably non-toxic to mammals.
The active ingredients of pyrethrum, the pyrethrins, are found in the achenes (seed-cases) of the flower, which are crushed to produce a substance known as an oleoresin, a naturally-occurring mixture of oil and resin. This oleoresin is then further processed to produce an emulsion, suspension, or powder, to be used directly on pest-affected plants.
Pyrethrins are highly toxic (to cannabis pests), volatile terpenoids. Chemically, they are closely-related esters (usually an end-product of an acid-alcohol reaction) with cyclopropane cores; their neurotoxicity is derived from their instability, which is also largely the reason that they degrade so rapidly upon exposure to air and water.
Companion planting as a form of pest management
Even using organic pesticides can damage the immediate natural environment around the growing area. Most organic pesticides are used in quantities far greater than would typically appear in nature. In this way, using them can negatively affect native wildlife in the area such as bats, birds, and bees. It’s an important consideration regarding using organic pesticides, especially in an area rich with native wildlife.
Correct use of companion plants may remove the need for pesticides entirely. Companion planting is a permaculture technique that uses plants that can deter pests on your behalf. This decreases the possibility of harming the surrounding environment while trying to protect the cannabis plants. It also removes the need for any “additives” to deal with pests.
Many of the companion plants used with cannabis also double up as great culinary or medicinal herbs to have in the garden. So they won’t go to waste at the end of the grow!
- Basil: This aromatic staple deters aphids, asparagus beetles, mosquitos, tomato hornworms and whitefly. Keep a couple of potted plants around your cannabis pots to protect them, and at the end of your harvest, make some basil pesto!
- Dill: This is another aromatic herb that you can grow in pots or in your cannabis garden. Specifically, dill deters spider mites. On top of that, butterflies and caterpillars will prefer dill to your cannabis plants, so you won’t find them munching on your cannabis either.
- Yarrow: This medicinal herb is praised for its ability to treat respiratory tract issues. At the same time, it deters all kinds of pests from your garden. It also attracts some of the beneficial insects such as ladybugs.
- Coriander: This is another staple herb that you can use in cooking once your grow is over. The strong aroma of coriander sends away dreaded spider mites, aphids and potato beetles.
There is an unending list of companion plants to use for different reasons. While some plants attract beneficial insects, others deter pests. Some (such as nettles and yarrow) can even be planted in the same soil as the cannabis plants, to increase their levels of terpenes and other aromatic compounds. For example, planting marigolds in the same soil can also stimulate the growth of plants surrounding them.
Beginners guide to home-made fertilizer
The essentials of organic cannabis
Ultimately, growing organic cannabis means steering clear of anything manufactured in a laboratory. Even when pesticides or fertilizers have natural origins, they are often extremely concentrated, and therefore don’t accurately represent what would typically appear in nature. These products may be beneficial for cannabis, but they can have negative impacts on the surrounding environment.
The essence of growing organic cannabis is to make all of your products at home. Making a solution with crushed coriander seeds at home is an organic solution for a spray-on pesticide. Making compost tea is another way to feed nutrients to your plants.
Growing organically with optimum results is an art. It is unusual to come by agricultural studies that don’t involve the use of some kind of synthetic materials. At the very least, many agricultural techniques use natural materials but in an unnatural way — like using pyrethrin in extremely high concentrations.
It may take a lot of practice and will definitely take a lot of attention to detail to grow organic cannabis, because commercial cannabis growing in the Western world relies heavily on inorganic pesticides. In any case, the benefits of growing organic cannabis are endless, and the same principles can be applied to any other organic growing endeavour.
Anything we missed? Please let us know in the comments!
Organic cannabis has multiple benefits, but many people don’t know where to start when growing their own. We break it down in this article.
How To Grow Cannabis, Organically: Soil, Seeds, Containers & Care
The topic of “how to grow cannabis” has such a funny vibe about it. If you browse around online, you’ll see there are many cannabis growers with extremely strong opinions about “the right way” to grow cannabis, though all of their methods vary… Esoteric language, expensive supplies, and complicated recipes or instructions are often used, making it a very intimidating and confusing subject for new home growers.
I am here to hopefully take some of the mystery out of it for you! The methods we choose to use for growing cannabis here at home are pretty dang simple! Sure, there are some steps to follow and supplies to gather, but growing cannabis is not all that more complicated than growing high-quality organic food at home. Or at least that is how we approach it. All you need is rich healthy soil, a large container, and either cannabis seeds or started seedlings – called “clones”.
Read along to learn about our preferences for soil, containers, seeds, and how to get started growing cannabis at home, organically!
Keep in mind that our goals are not all about high yields. The goal is to grow safe, high-quality, organic cannabis that we can utilize and enjoy with peace of mind – knowing how it was treated from “bean to bowl”. It is about quality over quantity, though we end up with more than enough anyways! There are follow-up posts listed at the end of this article regarding ongoing care – such as routine fertilizing, organic pest control, and how to harvest, dry, and cure your cannabis too.
This post is intended for people living in states who are legally allowed to grow cannabis at home, either medicinally or recreationally. If you have any questions about this, please refer to your local cannabis regulations. Note that today’s post is also geared around growing cannabis naturally outdoors, so I will not touch on light deprivation or indoor grow set-ups. I do plan to write an indoor grow guide in the near future, but most of the tips in this article can easily be applied to an indoor grow too!
THE PERFECT CANNABIS SOIL
If you checked out our post about how to build the perfect organic soil for raised beds, our methods for building the perfect cannabis soil isn’t all that different. We’re shooting for something that is rich, biologically active, full of micronutrients, and has an excellent balance between moisture retention and drainage. Reference that raised bed soil post if you want to dive deep into detail, but otherwise here is a quick-and-dirty for cannabis soil:
I’m going to give you all two options below. One is a little more involved, which is crafting your own soil from scratch. This is what we do. The second option uses pre-made soil, and requires less ingredients and steps upfront.
Either way you choose to go, please note that we follow a no-till method. That means the soil is a one-time upfront cost, aside from some amendments you’ll need on an ongoing basis. Those last a long time before needing replenishing too! At the end of a growing season, the mature cannabis plant is cut down at the soil line, and the roots left in place to decompose over the winter with the aid of worms and light moisture. The soil is used year after year in the same container, improving with age. This is also called ROLS – recycled organic living soil.
Option 1: Our Organic Cannabis Soil Recipe
Combine the following ingredients. If you plan to fill several large containers (like grow bags – discussed below) then it may be easiest to mix all of these in a very large tote or even spread out on a tarp, and then add some to each bag. Note that it is best to pre-moisten the peat moss before mixing it with everything else. Peat tends to be hydrophobic when dry, and can make your soil less likely to absorb water well if it is mixed without wetting first.
- 1 part Canadian sphagnum peat moss (We often use Aurora Innovations or Premier.)
- 1 part high quality compost (We love Malibu’s Biodynamic Compost, but it’s only available on the West Coast. There is a similar East Coast option by Coast of Maine. You could use aged homemade compost, or shop around to see what is available. Maybe there is a local worm farm in your area?)
- 1 part aeration additive (We prefer 3/8-inch Lava rock, aka lava cinders. You could use pumice or perlite instead.)
Evenly mix in the following amendments:
- Kelp meal, ½ cup per cubic foot of soil*
- Neem meal, ½ cup per cubic foot of soil
- Crab or Crustacean Meal, ½ cup per cubic foot of soil
- Rock Dust, 2 cups per cubic foot of soil
- Gypsum, 1 cup per cubic foot of soil
- Oyster Shell flour, 1 cup per cubic foot of soil
- A handful of worm castings and a few compost worms, if possible
- Optional: Biochar, 2-4 cups per cubic foot of soil
*In the recipe above, when I mention the amendment amounts “per cubic foot of soil”, I mean the total combined volume including peat moss, compost, and aeration. Also note that all of these amendments are things we also use in the garden, and last many seasons!
Curious about what all these things are for?
Kelp meal contains over 70 different vitamins and minerals. It helps promote overall plant health, vigor, and tolerance to stress, pests ,and disease. It is also a renewable, sustainable resource – so that’s a huge plus.
Neem meal enhances microbial activity, making your soil even more alive! It also strengthens root systems, and can help control unwanted nematode populations, fungus, and soil pathogens.
Crab or Crustacean meal is high in chitin, which stimulates the soil food web and beneficial microbe activity. It may also help combat root knot nematodes. This meal contains both macro and micronutrients as fuel for the plants.
Rock Dust contains micronutrients and trace minerals that are essential for a plant’s core biological processes to work at their strongest, such as nutrient uptake and photosynthesis.
Gypsum contains calcium and sulfur, and helps the plant better utilize and uptake potassium, which is one of the key macronutrients that all plants depend on for life. In the “NPK” ratio for all fertilizers, the K stands for potassium. Adequate potassium availability and uptake enables plants to photosynthesize, produce energy and important enzymes during growth, and also assists with water uptake and drought resistance.
Oyster shell flour is an excellent source of calcium for the plants, as well as phosphorus. Adequate calcium carbonate protects plants from heat stress, makes them more resistant to disease and pests, strengthens plant cell walls, and increases nutrient uptake and overall vigor. Oyster shell flour also acts as a pH buffer.
Here is a little video of our organic living soil in action:
A note about peat moss:
Peat moss gets some flack for being not very sustainable. However, it also gets some of the best reviews and results for growing cannabis. Cannabis likes very slightly acidic soil, which peat moss naturally is. It is also an incredibly common ingredient in almost all bagged soil, so it’s hard to avoid in the gardening world. Aaron put together our soil before we were fully aware of the environmental concerns. Because we are reusing and recycling it each year, the best thing for us is to continue utilizing it!
Some people who grow cannabis choose to replace the peat moss portion of this recipe with coco coir, which is a more renewable, sustainable material. I can’t speak to its effectiveness because we haven’t used it for cannabis, though we do add a little coco coir to our raised beds sometimes, and also use it as bedding in our worm bin. Honestly, we have heard not-so-great results and read numerous studies that show coco coir has inferior performance to peat moss.
Option 2: Use Pre-amended Bagged Soil
If mixing up all those amendments sounds a little too “extra” for you, you could do the following instead:
Use mostly pre-made, high-quality, bagged organic soil. If you have access to it, try to add in a little rich aged compost, worms, worm castings, and/or aeration too! Experiment with building your own soil, with a premade base. Check out this post on how to start a super simple worm bin, if you’re in need of worm castings! They can also be purchased.
For this method, you could skip a lot of the additional amendments upfront, though you’ll still want to add some as the growing season progresses. Cannabis is a hungry plant! The choices and availability of bagged organic soil options will vary depending on where you live. If you can, get top-of-the-line stuff – it is going to be more pre-amended for you.
Examples of popular cannabis soil brands to keep an eye out for are Roots Organics products, Fox Farm’s Ocean Forest/Happy Frog, or Recipe 420 by E.B. Stone. Even some of the Kellogg or G&B Organics could work well, especially when premium compost is added. Check to see if there are any hydroponic stores or “grow shops” in your area. Those stores cater to cannabis growers, and are more likely to carry premium bagged soils over the stuff at big box nursery centers.
Now that you have a soil choice in mind, what are you going to put it in?
CONTAINERS FOR GROWING CANNABIS
We prefer to grow our cannabis in grow bags, and I’ll explain why below. If you want to stick your plants in garden beds or right in the ground, be my guest! This is just what works for us. Check out how to build a durable and deep raised garden bed here.
Benefits of Grow Bags
The preferred container for growing cannabis for many people, ourselves included, is in large fabric grow bags. As opposed to a hard-sided container, they promote better aeration, drainage, and even moisture. Solid containers like 5-gallon buckets could be used, but have the tendency to be drier on top and soggy on the bottom. Grow bags also accomplish something called air-pruning. When the cannabis plant’s roots near the edge of the bag, the exposure to air naturally prunes them back. This is a way to keep the plant happy and healthy in its given container, naturally limiting itself and keeping the roots healthier. In contrast, a solid container allows the plants roots to continue to grow in circles around the container and themselves – becoming root bound. This is not a good thing.
Grow bags are great because they allow people to grow cannabis in a variety of living situations, be it on a patio, indoors, or in a greenhouse. By using a container, you have ultimate control over the soil you choose to fill it with.
Additionally, you can make them mobile! We make rolling dollies to sit all of our cannabis grow bags on, out of 2×6’s and heavy-duty casters. See the photos below. That way, we can easily roll or rotate the large (and heavy!) plants out of our way or into better sun as needed. If you do the same, make sure you get casters that are rated for at least 50 to 80 pounds of weight per wheel, minimum. Ours are 2″ and okay for the flat patio, but 3-inch wheels probably would have made it even easier to move.
Grow Bag Brands and Sizes
The bags we prefer to use are the Smart Pot brand, or GeoPot. These are extremely durable and long-lasting. You get what you pay for. We have used cheaper grow bags in the past and they rip and degrade within a season or two of use. Smart Pots will last for years and years. We have bags that are three years old and still as good as new. Call me silly, but I also love being able to choose tan or brown colored bags. I like a pretty garden space and prefer the look of those to the stark black choices.
The size of your grow bag will dictate the size of your cannabis plant, and its health. Obviously, the size of your space will determine how big of bags you can use too. The smallest I would suggest for a traditional photoperiod plant is about 15 gallons. We generally use 20-gallon or 25-gallon bags for those big girls.
If you have a lot of room and want really large plants, you could go even larger! On the other hand, if you are growing autoflower cannabis plants, a 5-gallon or 7-gallon bag would work just fine. Not sure what the difference between a photoperiod and autoflower cannabis plant is? Check out this post that explains it all!
Okay, we have our soil and our bags… now on to the most important part of this post: the cannabis itself.
See how big they can get? Those are our Maui Wowie girls. Also note the DIY dolly below the grow bags. We can easily roll them aside when we want to enjoy our patio space, and put them more in the middle when we’re not outside.
Where to get cannabis seeds or clones
I have to start this section with a disclaimer. Cannabis is still federally illegal. Therefore, even if you live in a state that has legalized marijuana, shipping cannabis seeds and products across state lines is technically still illegal. But it is commonly done nonetheless. To my knowledge, people buy cannabis seeds online fairly easily and without issues. However, if cannabis is legal in your state, the most safe and “by the book” way to procure seed or started plants (clones) is from a licensed cannabis store.
Here are a few reputable places that discreetly sell cannabis seeds online:
- Neptune Seed Bank (California)
- Great Lakes Genetics (US-based, money order only)
- Mephisto Genetics (for autoflower seeds)
- JBC Seeds (located in Washington state)
- Nirvana (based out of the Netherlands)
- Attitude Seed Bank (UK)
- Cannarado Genetics (Colorado-based, money order only)
- CannaVenture Seeds (Colorado-based)
*Again, for the record, I am not intending to support illegal activity. I am simply sharing information.
What kind of variety or type of cannabis should I get?
Cannabis comes in many shapes and sizes! Obtaining feminized seeds or plants guarantees that they will flower. Aka – they’ll grow buds. “Regular” seeds could grow up to be males. They’re pretty useless unless you want to breed plants – the males will pollinate your females, make them produce seeds in the buds, and reduce their THC development. Most people cull the males before they produce pollen to avoid this. We grow with feminized and sometimes regular seeds too. If you do grow regular seeds, see this article to learn how to determine the sex of your cannabis plants in the early pre-flower stages.
Sativa-dominant plants are typically more uplifting and energizing. Sativa plants also get taller, lankier, and take longer from seed to harvest. Indica-dominant strains finish a little faster, pack on fatter buds, and are generally shorter and wider plants. These make them a preferable variety for northern climates with shorter growing seasons. Indica is also known for more of a mellow, sleepy, couch-lock kind of vibe. We generally prefer uplifting, happy, energetic sativa-dominant hybrids – ones that are balanced with enough indica to keep things smooth, relaxing, and still make for a great night of sleep. “Maui Wowie” is a long-standing favorite here, and “Rosetta Stone” is our new go-to lately.
For a super-quick growing season and small, manageable plants, you could try autoflower cannabis types. Autoflowers are available in feminized, sativa, and indica options too.
Beyond all of these broad categories, each strain will also have unique attributes that may make it more or less desirable to you. Find what suits your needs! What works for us may not be what works for you. To read all about the difference between sativa, indica, and autoflowers, check out this post.
Autoflower cannabis plants in the greenhouse, in smaller 5 gallon smart pots. They take up far less space, and time!
CANNABIS GROWING CONDITIONS
In most places, cannabis seeds are started in mid to late April, and transplanted outside in May. Basically, they need to be protected from frost and harsh conditions – just as any other seedling does! Depending on the strains you are growing and your summer daylight hours, the average cannabis plants will go into flower once the days begin to shorten and it receives less than 12 hours of sunlight per day.
Most outdoor cannabis plants will be ready to harvest in September to October. The exception to this would be for autoflowers, which can start and finish their entire life cycle in as short as 3 months.
Starting cannabis from seed
We prefer to grow from seed. Once we obtain seeds, we treat them pretty much like any other garden seed! They’re germinated in 4” pots full of seedling start mix, inside on a heat mat. Keep the containers covered and moist until they sprout. Ideal germination temperature is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. After sprouting indoors, the cannabis seedlings move into the greenhouse to live under grow lights for a few weeks before going outside. We also use lights for growing autoflowers in the off-season in the greenhouse. (See this article for more information about choosing and using grow lights.)
To read more in-depth information about how we start seeds, check out our seed starting 101 post!
Note that you do not need a greenhouse or fancy supplies to start cannabis! If you don’t have a heat mat, I suggest pre-soaking the seeds in non-chlorinated water overnight before planting. This will aid in germination. In lieu of seedling start mix and little pots, another option is to germinate the seed inside a moist root riot cube, then plant the whole cube in a grow bag after it sprouts. By starting them in late April to early May, most locations will be adequately warm enough to go right outside after germination.
Once they’re a few weeks old and the weather is right, we transplant our seedlings outside to their final large grow bag. When they are transplanted, we sprinkle some mycorrhizae in the planting hole and on any exposed roots. Mycorrhizae enhances nutrient uptake, and disease and drought resistance. If you did have your seedlings indoors under lights for a few weeks, don’t forget to properly harden them off before moving them outside! This helps to strengthen them and prevent transplant shock.
If you are growing from clones instead, you can skip straight to potting them into grow bags outside.
Sun and Support
Full sun is best! If you have a wide open location that receives full sun all summer and into fall, you’re in luck. We have changing sun patterns, with some shade from our house and trees to contend with. That is the beauty of putting the grow bags on dollies – we can move them around to receive the most sun possible as the seasons change.
Provide support for the main stalk with a sturdy stake. As the plant gets larger and starts to put on bud weight, you may find the need to further support individual branches. This will depend on the strain. Some growers get crazy with their support systems!
In regards to water, the goal is to provide consistent, even moisture. Do not let the soil completely dry out between watering, but don’t drown it out either. As with many things, this will vary a lot depending on your climate. If you’re in a very hot and arid place, you will need to water more frequently than someone in a cooler coastal climate like ourselves.
As the plant grows and the root ball gets larger, it will drink water faster and therefore need more, and more often. I will write a follow up post about watering and fertilizing (which often go hand-in-hand) throughout the growing season soon.
If possible, use dechlorinated water. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but the plant and soil microbes will definitely appreciate it. If you are on city tap water, allowing a bucket of water to sit out overnight can help the chlorine dissipate. We mostly use our captured rainwater. Another option is to use a simple hose carbon filter to remove chlorine.
Mulch the top of your grow bag to maintain a healthy soil. We love using biodynamic accumulators that not only provide moisture retention, but will later break down into more nutrients and energy for the cannabis. Some examples of biodynamic accumulators are borage, comfrey, yarrow, and dandelion greens. Fava bean greens are also excellent for green mulching, since they’re nitrogen fixers! If you don’t have access to these types of plants, straw or hay will work.
Another popular mulch option is to use an organic cover crop seed mix, and lightly working it into the top inch of soil when you first plant your cannabis seedling. As it gets watered, cover crop will grow under the canopy of your plant. It becomes a living mulch, and also enhances your living soil food web. As it grows tall, you can “chop and drop” mulch with it. That is when you trim it and leave it in place to decompose as green mulch.
And just like that, you’ve given your cannabis a stellar start! You’ll be enjoying your own homegrown organic bud in no time.
Once you have your cannabis off to a strong start, come learn about the ways we fertilize our plants! Also, how to keep the pests at bay:
Last by not least, when the time comes, here an article all about processing your cannabis: “How to Harvest, Dry, Trim, Cure, & Store Homegrown Cannabis: The Ultimate Guide”. When IS the time right to harvest? You’ll learn that here too. This guide is basically everything you need to know, from the best timing, temperature, humidity, methods, and more!
Once you have your homegrown goodies properly dried and cured, it is all ready to use: whether you like to smoke or vaporize your cannabis (read this important article on the subject!), make cannabis-infused oil for edibles, or create healing topical salves. The options are endless!
I hope this all took some of the mystery out of growing cannabis for you. Please feel free to ask questions and pass this post along. To the left, of course. Wishing you the bet of luck with your growing adventure!
Come learn how to easily grow organic cannabis at home! This article discusses soil options, seed selection, containers, and tips for ongoing care.