More people than ever are growing their own cannabis these days. Even in European areas with ‘legal’ weed, such as Barcelona and Amsterdam many cannabis lovers prefer to save cash, grow their own and perhaps exceed the quality levels of the local regulated cannabis suppliers. Those that live in North and South America with cannabis legally available from dispensaries often still prefer to grow their own. The main reasons are, yet again, to save money and achieve superior quality levels. But how does the average hobby grower take the step up to professional quality levels? How does a grower with just a few successful harvests take their crops to superior levels of taste, yield and quality?
The average hobby grower has already grasped the basics of cannabis cultivation, the principles of the cannabis life cycle and the fundamentals of plant nutrition. Usually they grow a couple of times per year and try to achieve self-sufficiency with their cannabis harvests. Typically the grow room is in the region of 1.2m x 1.2m, but this will vary from one grower to the next. Often the grow light is a 400W or 600W HPS. Substrate choice varies, but often the hobby grower prefers the simplicity of soil or perhaps coco fibre. So what are some easy and proven ways for growers to step up quality levels?
Is it worth changing grow methods to improve quality?
Not necessarily. Many experienced soil and coco growers often flirt with the concept of more demanding and technically complicated grow methods. Often hydroponic methods such as deep water culture (DWC) or aeroponics are considered. There is no doubt about it DWC and aeroponics, in the right hands, can be a great way to advance your grow skills, yields and harvest quality. But it can be a painful learning curve which may take several grow cycles to master.
For many growers it makes more sense to stick with the grow method which they have gained experience with and try to optimise from there.
Many connoisseur soil/coco growers have come completely unstuck trying a new grow method which doesn’t suit them or their lifestyle. Soil growers can leave their plants for several days if they have the plants in large enough containers. They won’t need to worry too much about plant maintenance. DWC growers may not have the same luxury, feeling it necessary to check pH and EC (electrical conductivity) every day.
Soil or coco growers shouldn’t feel undue pressure to change their grow methods. Both techniques can produce excellent quality cannabis.
For many people, it can make sense to maintain the grow method which they are familiar with and try to optimise and improve. Soil may not have the same explosive growth capability and yield as some more complicated grow methods. But that shouldn’t deter the self sufficient grower. Soil (or coco) will yield perfectly adequately and deliver excellent taste, aroma and quality.
Fine control of nutrients.
The rookie grower will have already understood the basics of plant nutrition. If they received good initial advice, the hobby grower will hopefully have avoided the pitfall of starting with an excessive number of nutrient options and will have used a simple assortment to get started. Many coco growers have achieved excellent quality harvests with little more than simple two-part ‘Coco A’ and ‘Coco B’ nutrients. So an extensive range of nutrients is not absolutely essential. But in the hands of an experienced grower, a few extra nutrients can nudge quality levels (and yields) up.
After a few successful grows, the hobby grower may eventually decide to expand the array of nutrients a little bit. Often the more experienced growers will have researched and then introduced microbial inoculants and perhaps other soil additives which they hadn’t considered as a rookie grower. Trace minerals such as Magnesium and Calcium can be helpful additives for some growers.
Many growers keep detailed week-by-week records of feed strengths, tent temperatures/humidity, growth/yield results and ratings of the all the varieties that they have grown. This can be helpful for guiding future grows.
Of course, one of the criticisms from home growers is that the array of nutrient options is overwhelmingly complicated enough. They could be right. But that shouldn’t stop you furthering your own research to understand if you are missing any useful substrate/nutrient additives which would help.
Growroom gadgets: pH and EC control.
Many soil growers manage perfectly well without ever needing to buy meters to measure pH (a measure of nutrient acidity/alkalinity) or EC (electrical conductivity, a measure of nutrient concentration). However, fine and precise control over your nutrients is one of the qualities which can really improve your growing.
Anyone can make a mistake or miscalculation when preparing nutrient solutions. If the mistake is severe enough it can spell doom for your plants. Overfeeding is one of the most common mistakes made by less experienced growers, it can burn the roots and permanently stunt your plant. Checking your nutrient mix with an EC meter is a good way to ensure that the feed solution is at the right concentration. Many of those growing in coco or hydroponics routinely check their pH, often adjusting it until it sits around pH 5.8-6.0. Remember that an incorrectly calibrated pH/EC meter is less than useless and could cost you a full crop. Regularly calibrate and have spares available just in case.
Nutrient mixtures and temperatures
Many growers mix up their nutrient mix a day before they need to use it and allow it to stand for 24 hours if they are using cold tap water. This allows the temperature of the nutrient solution to match the temperature of your grow room. Feeding plants with cold tap water, which can be as low as 6°C in northern European winters, will shock the plants and stop growth. Many growers allow the nutrient mix to stand overnight to allow degassing of Chlorine, which is often added by water companies for sterilisation. This is healthier for the plant roots and the substrate microbial activity.
New containers, air pots and felt sacks
Many soil/coco growers have improved the plant health and root-zone health by swapping their traditional plastic plant growing containers for one of the newer designs which allows superior oxygenation of the root zone. Felt/fabric sacks allow oxygen to migrate into the grow medium which enhances root health, plant growth and crop yields. Air Pots have multiple dimples around the side which allow air ingress into the grow medium. The dimples also allow ‘air pruning’ which prevents the roots circling endlessly around the sides and bottom of the container.
Like many aspects of improving cannabis quality, upgrading your grow container will offer a small improvement. But as the experienced cannabis grower knows, it is the accumulation of small incremental improvements which eventually add up to deliver a step-increase in quality levels.
LED grow lights, the expensive upgrade option
LED is inconveniently expensive, but it really does deliver serious quality improvements over the ageing HPS alternatives. Many legal, licensed cannabis growers have switched permanently to LED after seeing side-by-side analytical measurements which prove the potency improvements. LED delivers a superior spectrum with significantly reduced levels of heat stress compared to HPS. It’s perhaps the most expensive grow room upgrade you will make, but once you have made the switch you will not want to return to HPS. THC levels will often jump up from 15-16% with HPS to over 20% with LED. This is a step-change in quality and the main reason people justify the expense of an LED upgrade.
One other light consideration is UVB supplementation (2-3 hours per day for the last 2-3 weeks of bloom) which will also nudge up your THC levels a couple of percent higher. Reptile UVB lights are a good option, and they have the added benefit of reducing pests, flies etc in your grow room too.
You will struggle to achieve the best quality levels if your temperature swings wildly between lights-on and lights-out. Try to maintain a reasonably steady temperature. Many growers aim for around 24-25°C with lights on, and around 20-21°C with lights out. If the temperature swings are too pronounced your plants will struggle to cope in the non-optimised conditions.
Growers in warm climates, especially professional growers, don’t even hesitate to install air conditioning for summer grows. Growers that can’t afford air conditioning simply avoid the hottest months and do their growing in the more temperate months of spring and autumn/fall.
Some growers avoid growing feminised seeds in winter. Cold ambient temperatures during the 12 hours of darkness can be a serious problem for some growers. Autoflower seeds can be grown under 20 hours of daily light. Sometimes the extra light hours can help maintain grow room temperatures, making autoflowers a good choice for some in the colder months.
Even the best grow room and most skilled growers can’t magically produce the highest THC/cannabinoid levels from poorly bred genetics. The gold standard for the most serious home growers is optimisation of grow room conditions coupled with use of the best genetics they can get. Choose your seed supplier carefully, use one with a proven track record and plenty of online reference grows.
But more than anything, make time for your growing and enjoy it. Learn as you grow and see if you can find time to research your preferred grow technique, improving your knowledge. Your grow room is an area of your life where you can make steady improvements and avoid compromises. If you enjoy growing your cannabis as much as you enjoy the harvest then you will have a fantastic hobby for life!