GROW­ING CANNABIS

It’s sim­i­lar to other crops

Calgary Herald - - YOU - DONNA BALZER Donna Balzer is a hor­ti­cul­tur­ist, author and speaker. She is the coau­thor of the Three-year Gar­dener’s Grat­i­tude Jour­nal: Part Diary, Part Per­sonal Grow­ing Guide (2018).

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.”

DONNA BALZER

Male cannabis plants have dis­tinc­tive flow­ers.

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