How does your garden grow? Growing 101
March is the perfect time to talk about seed popping! We are fast approaching our spring season and new genetics are coming to market. In this article, we'll focus on choosing genetics, growing medium, as well as the beginning stages of growth, and how to maximize the potential of your final harvest.
Choosing genetics is one of the most important decisions to make, catering to your individual needs and space. For example, a photoperiod Sativa-based strain will need considerably more room than an auto-flower Indica. Another important variable to consider is your light schedule. If you are growing outside it's going to be harder to control the environment and the time of year will dictate the light quality that the plant will receive. It is possible to use light deprivation to force photoperiod plants into flower, however, auto flowers will mature without the longer nights and can be advantageous for an outdoor grower. Some genetics are easier to grow than others and may even have resistance to mold and pests. Doing your research can help you find a cultivar that will fit your experience level.
Before starting a new grow, there are several techniques to consider before germination even starts. Try looking for an organic and sustainable growing method, taking into account the environmental impact. For example, using a medium from a local source instead of having coco coir shipped from the other side of the world. However, you choose to grow it's important to think about the potential impacts of your garden.
Some of the most commonly used growing mediums include coco coir and peat moss, among others. Each has benefits and downsides;
Coco coir can be the perfect medium because it is completely devoid of nutrients and PH neutral to tailor it to your specific needs. However, this medium ships from tropical areas, and is often a byproduct of palm tree processing. Coco coir can be found completely dry in bricks that need to be moistened or already moist in large bags.
Peat moss is extracted by scraping the bottom of swamps and bogs. It is a somewhat acidic medium that lends itself well to growing cannabis as the plant prefers a slight bit of acidity. Some growers will add dolomite, lime, or oyster shells to change the PH of the soil to make it closer to neutral. The downsides of peat moss are that it may have a greater environmental impact depending on the practices of the company extracting it. It can also become hydrophobic, compacting very tight, and reducing airflow to the root system.
Whether you decide on coco coir, peat moss, or any other medium, you are still going to need some meat and potatoes, so to speak, to feed your cannabis plants.
Mix dry, organic amendments into your medium before growing to ensure your plants have all the right tools they need to grow big and strong. Keep in mind that you will want to monitor your nutrient levels with test kits and continue to feed through your vegetation stage. Consider using a fair amount of perlite, about 25% of the total medium, to allow for increased airflow and moisture retention. Perlite is an optimal way to ensure proper drainage in all of your gardening ventures!
Next, it's time for nutrients! Some growers prefer to use very little to no nutrients in the early stages of growth to avoid stunting or chemical burn to the young seedlings. Doing some research and finding a balanced chemical, like Gia Green 4-4-4, along with following the directions from the producer, and other amendment techniques will help you keep your plants healthy.
Another amendment you will find useful is some type of bio inoculant, like "Recharge", a dry microbial product. Adding beneficial bacteria that help to break down the dry nutrients and maintain bacterial homeostasis in your medium. A substitute for a microbial product would be earthworm casting and or a healthy compost mix. Both will be full of microbial life and help break down the nutrients and make them more bioavailable for your plants. Make sure the soil medium mix has been evenly saturated making sure there are no dry pockets, this will allow the microbial life to thrive. The living soil you have built will act as a battery for the cannabis.
With the medium all charged and evenly moist, now we can choose a starting pot. You can use anything with holes in the bottom for drainage.
There are several different germination methods to consider; large pots, moist
paper towels on a plate, etc. Keep in mind that your young plants will be very delicate and handling them as little as possible in the early stages will keep them from being damaged. A good way to go is using a vessel, like a Solo cup or small gardening pot, something with holes for drainage. This way you can easily move your grow into larger pots or buckets when they are strong enough but before they become rootbound or stunted. Keep in mind, the smaller your container, the more frequently you will have to water. So, whatever pot or method you use to germinate, keep it local and accessible to your needs and situation.
A common method to prepare your seeds for germination is to soak them in clean water for 24 hours or until they are fully saturated and no longer floating. When germinating outside of soil the seed will crack and a small taproot will pop from the seed. You might want to prepare your medium at this time if you are germinating outside of the soil.
Once your seed has popped place it in your prepared medium at a 1 – 3 cm depth. It could potentially take up to 10 days for a seedling to burst out of the soil but on average it takes 5 days. The first leaves to come up are called cotyledons and are not true leaves that we know cannabis has. The next set of leaves will have the tell-tale jagged appearance that the plant is known for.
During the seedling stage, there is not a high demand for water, however, it is beneficial to have a high humidity level between 55-80 %. A dome tray can help hold high humidity and a heating mat can set a stable temperature for the germination stage, both can be tools that are very helpful at setting up your environment for seedlings. It's also important to keep your light source quite close to your babies. You don't want to have them stretching and straining to reach the light, this could lead to weak and drooping seedlings.
When you see your roots poking out the drainage holes of the container it's time to transplant to a larger container. Seedlings stunted or rootbound in this early stage would have a difficult time recovering and it would likely be faster to start over entirely.
Regardless of the lineage, techniques, and mediums you choose, keep your methods accessible for your situation while trying to keep in mind the bodily and environmental impacts your garden may have. If you are new to growing your own cannabis you should record your techniques and outcomes in a journal to refer to and build on.
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