Grow Your Own: A HOW TO Guide
Joe Veldon, the Elevated Agriculturalist, here. Here’s my introduction, in case you missed who I am and what I do.
So you’ve made the decision grow your own cannabis. Now it’s time to make a few decisions about what strain or variety of cannabis will work best for you. With all the strains available these days, this can be a daunting task. So always remember this: the quality of your genetics will determine how good your cannabis will be, so always select the best genetics you can find.
There are two main considerations when selecting the proper strain to grow:
- Does this strain have a cannabinoid profile that will produce the effects I’m looking for?
- Is this strain appropriate for my growing conditions?
It’s also important to understand the difference between cannabis the product, which is the flower or bud that is consumed and will be italicized when used, and cannabis the plant, which will remain unitalicized because that’s mostly what we’ll be talking about. Cannabis (the plant) refers to all of the plant’s parts; flower, stalk, leaves, trichomes and root mass, while cannabis (the product) refers only to the manicured flower of the plant.
Every individual user metabolizes cannabis differently. So, when researching strains, remember that these are general descriptions and each user may have a slightly different experience. Use sites like Leafly.com, Cannabist.com, and BudGenius.com to do research on the differences between the strain types and their effects.
It’s much easier these days to ensure that the seeds you are getting are the strain they’re supposed to be. I remember the first time I got seeds from a seed bank in Amsterdam. My friend smuggled a dozen of those glorious little beans out by sticking them on one of his dreadlocks, and for the first time we knew we were growing the “Master Kush” and “Durban Poison.”
Botanically speaking, we’ll concentrate on just Cannabis Sativa L. ssp. and Cannabis Indica L. ssp., both sub-species of the Genus Cannabis which is in the Cannabaceae family. The physical differences between the two sub-species include plant height, width and density, inter-nodal length, leaf size and structure, maturation time, flower size and density, and trichome density, population and size. Chemically, the differences stem from concentrations of the more than one hundred chemical compounds known as cannabinoids and are represented in a strain’s cannabinoid profile.
Cannabis Sativa is an annual, herbaceous flowering plant indigenous to eastern Asia and Afghanistan. It’s the taller of the two, and enjoys a warmer climate. Sativa tends to have longer inter-nodal lengths, is laxly branched, and has a longer maturation time. It has long, thin leaves and large, fragrant, airy flowers. Cannabis Sativa is known for giving a uplifting, euphoric feeling, and its terpene profiles range from flowery to citrus.
Cannabis Indica is also a herbaceous annual, but this species is indigenous to the mountainous regions of India and Afghanistan. These short, compact plants are densely branched and enjoy cooler climates. Indica’s compact branching is the result of short inter-nodal lengths. Flowering time is shorter and the leaves are compact and wide. The flowers are also compact, can be quite dense and fragrant. It’s known as having a relaxing, sedative effect and its terpene profile ranges from earthy to musty.
The other thing you as a grower must consider is your environment. Some strains are bred to grow indoors, while others excel outside under the sun. Breeders take this into consideration when making a strain and so should you. A plant that is labeled as an indoor strain will still grow outside, but probably won’t do well, even with the best growing conditions. The same can be said for an outdoor strain that’s being cultivated indoors. It will grow, but probably not to the plant’s full expression.
If you are growing cannabis outside, you also have to consider the climate in which you live. Generally speaking, Cannabis Sativa likes to grow in hotter climates, with a flowering period that can last up to six months, and its flowers tend to be less dense than its sister plants, C. Indica L.ssp. These are large plants that don’t like colder temperatures and are inappropriate for our climate.
Cannabis Indica prefers the cooler temperatures and has a much shorter flowering period. Small plants can be sowed after the threat of frost and will be finishing up just as the frost reappears. They tend to be smaller, more compact plants with pungent, dense flowers.
Hybrids allow us to grow a cannabis plant with mostly Sativa traits that does well up here in the northeast. The breeder was able to coax these traits out of a plant that thrives in cooler temperatures. Hybrids are also indoor favorites as you can bend the rules some, and get Sativa traits out of a plant that is suited for indoor growing.
So, in conclusion, use available resources to research the best strains, and ask questions such as:
- What are you looking to get out of your plants?
- Which strains will do best in your growing environment?
Indica and Indica dominate hybrids do best here in the northeast, but Sativa dominate hybrids can be quite successful indoors. Pick a strain that’s suited for your growing conditions and you’ll have a lot more success. Pick a strain that’s suited for you and you’ll have a lot more fun!
So, you’ve done your research, considered the myriad options, and have come up with a couple of selections that are going to do well in your grow area. They’ve finally arrived and you are excited to get started – just a few more things to consider. Your seeds can stay viable up to several years in a freezer, but as soon as they get wet, they begin their journey. It is in this critical time, from the first crack in the seed to the emergence of the first true leaves, that proves most critical, as it is when the plant is the most vulnerable. None of these steps are difficult, but they all require constant attention, so have a defined plan of action and allow up to two weeks to complete this process.
Seeds are the small convenient package that holds a plant’s complete genetic information, its genotypes. Your first decision as a grower is to choose the strain of cannabis that will be right for you and your environment. Trying to force a strain bred for indoors to grow outdoors will usually yield poor results. The other decision you have to make is whether you want to grow an Indica, Sativa or Hybrid. Because we’re here in Vermont, and our growing season is cool and short we’ll decide on an easy to grow, high yielding Indica dominant hybrid – the Abenaki.
Our next decision is whether we want to grow regular seeds, auto flowering seeds, or feminized seeds. Regular seeds are created the natural way, pollen to pistils, and have about an equal chance of coming out male or female.
Feminized seeds are those that are bred to force female traits and are used to guarantee female plants. Auto-flowering seeds are bred with Cannabis ruderalis, whose flowering cycle is dependent on time and not light cycles.
Feminized seeds are usually not a problem unless they experience some sort of disruption: light disruptions, severe temperatures, and Ph changes, to name a few. Then they tend to become hermaphroditic, thus ruining your flower.
Auto-flower seeds are sometimes used because their flowering process is dependent on time and not light cycle. Auto-flower allows for greater flexibility in harvest times, but in my experience, they tend to produce fewer cannabinoids.
There are two main drawbacks to using regular seeds. You’ll only get about fifty percent female plants from regular seeds, and their use requires the extra step of sexing them. But, because we’re all going to know how to do that – we’ll stick with regular seeds.
There are three main physical characteristics to consider when choosing your seeds:
Size – Seeds can vary in shape from being about round to slightly oblong to being clearly oval. They range from just a few mm to several mm in length and width.
Color – While some seeds to tend to be on the light side, seeds in the pale beige range should be avoided. Generally speaking, you’re looking for a light to deep brownish silver color.
Markings – Cannabis and hemp seeds have what is known as ‘tiger striping,’ lighter or darker colored streaks running down the sides of the seed. Some have lots of this striping while other have very little.
We’re looking to grow two plants, so we’ll select five, knowing that about half will be female, plump, deep greyish/silver regular seeds with a few thick dark stripes, as well as plenty of thin lighter stripes running down the sides.
Now it’s time to germinate our seeds.
Germination begins the complex biochemical process that results in a profound transformation of the seed. Water combines with carbohydrates and lipids to produce the initial energy source for the plants growth. Once the seed casing (or Testa) cracks, the Radicle emerges. This is the beginning of the plant’s root system. Once the radicle extends past the length of the seeds, it becomes known as the Hypocotyl. Around this time, the Testa breaks free and exposes the Cotyledon, the plant’s initial leaves.
There are several ways accomplish this feat. I’ve always placed a paper towel on a dish, put my seeds on it, and folded the paper towel over itself. Then I saturate the paper towel and let sit for several days. You don’t need any light at this point, but it’s critical to NEVER let this paper towel dry out – it must remain saturated.
After a few days, the Testa will crack, forced open from water coming in contact with the dehydrated cells of the cotyledon and causing them to swell.
Once the Testa is mostly off and the radicle has grown into the Hypocotyl, it’s time to take our fragile little plants and place them in the ground. With the Hypocotyl facing down, secure it in your medium so that the Cotyledon is just above the surface.
My hope is that you’ll carefully consider all of your cannabis options for “growing your own” moving forward. Stay tuned for more DIY from the Elevated Agriculturalist!