It’s similar to other crops
It’s fall and gardeners are buzzing about a new crop. Is it feasible to grow your four allotted cannabis plants outdoors in Calgary? What are the problems and possibilities with this upand-coming crop?
I spoke anonymously to small craft growers because I didn’t think the wholesale experience in commercial greenhouses would be as relevant to home gardeners in Calgary.
LIKE TOMATOES: BETTER STARTED INDOORS
You will get more ripe fruit in fall if you start tomato seeds indoors in spring. The same is true for cannabis. Start your seeds indoors in potting media like Promix in late March or early April. Sprinkle just enough extra soil to cover the robust seeds and water them well. Place the seeded pots over a heat mat and cover with plastic to keep humidity high until seeds sprout.
Seeds appear in about a week. Once they sprout, turn on your grow lights. One of the experts I interviewed keeps his lights on for 18-24 hours for the first month of growing.
Buying rooted cuttings is like buying a finished tomato plant. It is already actively growing, so it will take less time.
LIKE KIWIS: PLANTS ARE SINGLE SEXED
Cannabis plants are either male or female. The males just mess up the system, trigger seed formation and stop the buds from getting big and lush. Experienced cannabis growers plant extra seeds and throw away the earlier blooming male plants so their entire crop is composed of female plants.
LIKE CAULIFLOWERS: ONLY CONSUME THE BUDS
Even though plants can be massive, only the flower buds of cannabis, cauliflower and capers are consumed. Growers can ensure cannabis blooms remain virginal by learning to identify and remove male plants.
LIKE DAHLIAS: DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS
One fully double orange dahlia with 17-centimetre blooms is A. C. Ben. Winnie the Pooh also has orange blooms but they are only two inches across with a single row of petals. If you are in love with a specific kind of dahlia, buy that dahlia because names of clones, varieties or strains of hybrid plants are exacting, and you may prefer one cutting over another.
The same rules apply to cannabis. My sources say seeds are more variable than strains of cannabis started from cuttings. If you want something specific, get it from a cutting. If you see a named variety that meets your needs, buy that exact name. You can order dahlias online this fall but I have no idea where cannabis will be sold in Calgary next spring. I also have no idea which of the many kinds of cannabis will meet your personal needs. Cannabis can make you laugh or make you cry, so let the strain specific research begin.
LIKE PEPPERS: SOME PLANTS LIKE IT HOT
Only hardy plants such as spinach, chives and kale can grow on the fringe of a garden open to winds and cool air. Like a pepper plant, cannabis prefers heat, so look for the perfect pepper spot to plant. The warmest, sheltered sunny area in your garden is perfect for cannabis growing outdoors, once the overnight temperatures settle above zero in early June.
LIKE STRAWBERRIES: ORGANIC IS BETTER
Some growers prefer naturally grown cannabis. They mention terms like permaculture, no-till, worm castings, compost and fish fertilizer. They say it makes the smoke better, compared to buds grown using chemical fertilizers.
I know my organic strawberries taste better than any commercial berry I buy, so I am guessing there is something to this organic theory. One source did say “I find 95 per cent of the people who grow use the Advanced Nutrients or General Hydroponics formula (of fertilizer),” so obviously some growers are using fertilizers.
LIKE ZUCCHINIS: SENSITIVE TO DISEASE
The problem with high humidity in basement grow ops or crowded outdoor spaces is that cannabis leaves are susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew, the same problem gardeners see on late-season zucchini.
Symptoms of powdery mildew include browning leaf edges and a white powdery dust covering the leaf surface. Add fans to your grow area or thin the leaves to keep zucchinis or cannabis more open to lessen leaf disease. Using overhead sprinklers can trigger leaf disease and mould, so focus on drip irrigation and keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy.
Recent research suggests an imbalance between zinc and phosphorus can lead to powdery mildew on zucchini so it may also be true of cannabis. It is easy to mix one tablespoon of zinc in a gallon of water and spray the solution on your late-season plants as a mildew preventive.
LIKE POTATOES: GROW IN POTS
I started growing potatoes in pots because I didn’t have space to grow spuds in the ground. Now I grow almost all my potatoes in 56-litre (15-gallon) Root Pouch bags. Cannabis growers tell me they use the really large 170- to 225-L (45- to 60-gallon) Root Pouch bags to grow cannabis because this way they can manage the soil, build it up over time, and get good air circulation in and around the roots. Giant Root Pouches can be placed on parking pads, in old swimming pools or next to a garage. There is no need for existing soil in the growing area because all the soil goes in the grow bag.
FRUITS RIPEN: CANNABIS CONFUSES NEWBIES
Raspberries turn red and hazelnuts become brown. They both fall off the plant when they are ripe. Cannabis harvest is not as clear.
Buds naturally start forming in Calgary outdoors by mid-August. If the weather co-operates, they can be harvested before the evenings get too cold.
One grower told me a good harvest is one kilogram of buds per plant.
“The most surefire way is to take a magnifying glass and look at the trichomes. When they are immature they are clear, and then they start to turn cloudy and then they turn an amber colour. I never wait until 50 per cent amber — I find this is too long,” says one source from Calgary who is only 21 years old but has been growing cannabis for five years.
And so I give him the last word: “Don’t believe anything you read on the internet.”
Male cannabis plants have distinctive flowers.