Sun-Grown Cannabis “Vegging” – Growing Your Plants Outdoors!
Now that your young cannabis plants have grown to the point that they’ve put out their third set of true leaves and have developed a root system, it’s time to consider the steps you need to take to encourage vigorous growth during the ‘Veg’ stage. Vegetative growth is critical to your plants’ success, as it is during this time that the physiological mechanisms the plant will use to reach full maturation are being developed. If the mechanism that converts sugars to auxins (plant hormones that direct a plant’s growth), or the one that directs growth hormones to different areas of the plant are damaged or otherwise retarded during development, your cannabis plant will never be able to reach its full potential.
So while this stage of growth in your plant’s life cycle is not as exciting as the flowering stage, it is the time where the plant sets itself up for success. During this time, the plant begins to produce lots of foliage. In the soil, the root system will begin to produce lateral roots, as the tap root dives deeper and deeper in search of water. During this stage, a cannabis plant can grow up to 6 inches per day.
You can keep a cannabis plant in the vegetative state for more than one year. My original ‘Elvis’ mother was eight plus years old, but I made sure to flower it out at least once a year to make sure it didn’t get all weird. If you don’t let your plant go through normal physiological processes, your plant may be more likely to lose genetic vigor. I was able to keep my cannabis plant alive that long by harvesting less than a third of the flower, and immediately returning the plant back to 24 hours of light. Generally speaking, though, cannabis growers “veg’ their plants for about 1-3 months before they initiate flowering.
* Outdoor growers note – make sure you have at least 14+ hours of light available before sticking plants outdoors or they may begin to flower. *
This brings us to our next big decision – whether to grow indoors or out? There are pros and cons to both approaches, so consider carefully which way you choose. Generally speaking, if you are looking for a more passive approach, than the sun-grown route is probably the better fit. If you’re someone who is interested in manipulating plant environment to maximize yields, potency, flavor, and scent, than indoors is the way to go. Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll need to put in some time, effort and money in the beginning to set up your grow area so that it’s ready to succeed.
Below are some things to consider when you make the decision to go “indoor” or “sun grown”:
Clearly, the advantage to growing outdoors is that you’re able to take advantage of the sun’s rays, giving you streams of intense, life growing light at no cost. Of course, you can control neither cloudy days nor the grow period, but sun-grown cannabis is the best because of the intense light it receives. Sun-grown cannabis is also able to produce unique flavor, scent and cannabinoid profiles – it’s terroir (“taste of place”) as the plants interact with the collection of micro-organisms, minerals and fungi found in the soil.
* When choosing a site, keep in mind that dust, dirt and debris kicked up in the wind can and will stick to the oils on your flowers. Where possible, plant in areas with minimal exposed dirt.*
The disadvantage to sun-grown cannabis is that you are pretty well limited to all of the environmental factors: temperatures, humidity, wind – and in Vermont, these variables can be extreme. When you’re growing indoors, you have much more latitude in controlling environmental factors. Again, your decision comes down to how much time, money and effort you are interested in investing. Regardless of which method you choose, make wise investments up front to ensure success.
It has been said that ‘farming is wrought with misadventure’ and that colloquialism certainly applies to cannabis cultivation in Vermont. So once you’ve decided to grow outdoors, there are several things you’ll need to do at the beginning to help ensure success. The first and most important decision for the outdoor grower is location. Taking all of the new law’s regulations (LINK) into consideration, be aware of several other things you should consider when choosing a site, including sun exposure, slope, soil composition, and the surrounding environment.
Ideally, you are looking for a wide open area, preferably south facing, that gets uninterrupted sunlight for several hours a day. (It used to be that you would have to try and find this out in the middle of the woods). A gentle slope in the 2% – 4% range is ideal for drainage. Cannabis can and will grow on 20+ degree slopes, especially with southern exposure.
You next decision is whether you are going to plant your cannabis plants directly into the ground, or grow them in some sort of a container. The advantage of growing directly in the ground is that if you have good soil, it makes the unique composition of minerals, fungi and micro-organisms available to your plant. If you decide to grow directly in the ground, it’s a good idea to take some soil tests – either by using the states extension service – http://pss.uvm.edu/ag_testing/ or by preforming a home soil test. Ideally you want a loamy soil that’s slightly acidic ( 6.7 – 7.2 ). If it’s not in this range, you’ll need to amend your soil with either dolomitic lime, organic lemon juice and vinegar ( Ph down ) or Baking Soda ( Ph up ).
Growing in a container, you’ll be able to adjust the nutrients to what the plant needs, but you’ll be less protected against dehydration as the tap root won’t be able to take advantage of the moisture stored deep in the ground. It will be up to you to make sure your plant doesn’t dry out.
* Even after a rain, cannabis plants grown in containers can still be dry because of the dense canopy preventing the rain from hitting the soil. *
You’ll want to use a container large enough to support what should be a very large plant: the 100 – 200 gal range works well for an 8’-10‘ plant. I also put plants on pallets in case they need to be moved for some reason. You’ll also need to consider securing your container to the ground because as your plant gets bigger, it becomes top heavy and more likely to topple over. You’ll want stakes secured into the ground and lashed to the center stalk of the plant at three points.
Aside from just letting your plants grow, there are a few things you can do during this time to increase you rate of success. Pruning, staking and topping your plants will increase yields, improve quality and reduce waste.
I call the area between the base of the plant or top of the container and the height of the bottom leaf the ‘under canopy’. It’s important to keep good airflow in this area, so I like to clip off all side branches up to about a foot. Airflow here reduces moisture that helps protect against bugs, mold and fungus. I also prune out the smaller side shoots as well as excess branching in the middle of the plant. It’s good to do this last part after you’ve staked your plant. It’ll give you a better idea of which shoots are worth keeping and which aren’t. Again the idea is to increase air flow with in the canopy.
I spend a lot of time on these processes, as I firmly believe that by eliminating the branches that aren’t going to produce mid sized flowers (“pop corn buds”) and making sure to bend the remaining branches to make sure they get maximum light exposure, you’ll produce the most high quality flower. These processes also eliminates lots of foliage and branching from the underside of the plant, as well as ensuring you don’t create a happy environment for pests and mold.
Many cannabis growers in the industry use netting, and guide their shoots between the holes as a way of maximizing exposure to the branches. I like stakes because you are able to move your plant if necessary and netting outside is, well… a challenge. Regardless of the method, your goal is the same – to stretch out your plants’ shoots so they receive maximum light exposure. After cleaning up the under canopy, middle and side shoots, I take the remaining branches and move them so that the plant is even all around. It is important to not tie them off too tight or they restrict nutrient flow to this part of the plant and affect the amount of oil that is able to reach the flower.
The last thing I do during the ‘veg’ stage is to top my plant a couple of times. Topping is simply taking the top portion of a branch and removing it. You want to make sure that you take it in the correct location; just above a node site on your plant. By doing this, your create two tops that’ll begin to grow. If you focus on four tops the first time, and those eight tops a month later (three weeks before flowering), you’ll end up with sixteen top instead of four!
There’s another topping method called F’ming, which stands for ‘fuck I missed.’ The cannabis plant grows by something called a meristem, located at the tip of the plant. By carefully removing just this portion of the branch, you have the potential to create four tops with each pinch. I’ve never been able to get consistent results with this approach and I was using magnifying glasses and a scalpel. It worked some of the time, just not consistently.
Finally, make sure you give your plants all of the love and attention you would any other plant you were going to put into your body, and don’t forget to enjoy watching this amazing plant develop.
True Leaves – The leaves the plant will use for energy production, not the cotyledon.
Terroir – the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which plants are grown that give products made from them a unique flavor and aroma.
Meristem – a plant tissue responsible for growth, whose cells divide and differentiate to form the tissues and organs of the plant.