Growing Tips from the 101
Part VIII—Grow Room Maintenance and Finishing
The Golden Years
Throughout this series of how-to articles the cannabis plants have been compared to needy pets, screaming babies, toddlers in their terrible twos and teenagers coming of age. This article will be no different in that it will make a comparison. However, the terrible twos and troublesome teen years are behind you and somewhere between weeks 3 and 5, the plants cruise right through adulthood. Before ya’ know it week 6 is upon you and those little babies you held in a 4”x4” cup are now enormous budding plants. With only two or three weeks of life left your plants are retired from growing branches, everything they have goes to their kids and grandkids (the buds)…..your plants are now senior citizens. It’s up to you as a caregiver to make sure they enjoy their Golden Years.
The sunset years of life are to be enjoyed and embraced. We all want to be healthy and active in our golden years and no one wants to be plagued with health issues or incapacitated in a nursing home. Your plants are no different but just like early life choices such as exercise and diet affect our golden years your choices for your plants throughout their growth cycle will affect their golden years. Just like grandpa can no longer play football your older plants can no longer recover from super cropping and extreme training. Just like a young man can keep cutting his hair while an older fella struggles to keep the hair he’s got…your plants will not produce leaves like they did in their younger years. And just like grandma can no longer stomach her spicy chili your older plant cannot stomach nitrogen.
Nutritious eating, active living, and a healthy environment ensure us of rewarding sunset years. These same factors affect the sunset years of your plants but in both plants and people, some adjustments need to be made as we age. Also as we age responsibility and maintenance become vital. In this installment, we will discuss senior care for your plants along with getting your room and yourself ready for their Golden Years.
- Keeping Clean
- Level the Hedge
- Keep on Picking
- Break Good Habits
- Nutrition Changes
- CO2 and Dry Ice
- Late Bugs and Mold
- Bud Transformation
- Flushing Your Plants
- Preparing Your Next Crop
- Keep It Clean– “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”…that’s how the old cliché goes and this philosophy should be religion in your grow room. Don’t leave dirt spills (even if it’s just a little bit). Don’t leave water spills and immediately fix even a small drip in your automatic watering systems. Clean and dry all excess water (even if it’s just a little bit). Leaves are the worst thing to leave in your grow space. You’re going to pick leaves almost every time you are with your plants and you’ll have 2 or 3 major pickings throughout their grow cycle. Take the picked leaves (even if it’s just a little bit) out of your grow space. Bugs, molds, and mites are way easier to keep at bay in an extremely clean environment. Harsh treatments and chemicals or even organic solutions like neem can’t be used now that your plants are older so bugs, molds, and mites can’t be eliminated as easily as when the plants are young. A clean grow space is a happy grow space….and happiness is a goal of both plants and people during their Golden Years.
- Level the Hedge – Training, topping and super cropping are techniques not only used to maximize yield and plant size but these and other techniques are also used to keep your plants the same height. A level canopy (top of the growing plants) is beneficial to your lights and room as well as your flowering cannabis plants. One light raised considerably higher than other lights next to it to accommodate a tall plant robs light spectrum from other plants. If the lower lights’ ballast or sensitive areas is in the light spectrum of a higher light the lower light is at risk and could be damaged. Taller plants can shade plants next to them as well. Every reason for a level canopy seems minuscule but there are many of these tiny little pros and cons which make leveling the hedge an important task. Even with training, topping and super cropping done properly there still might be plant or two that shoots for lights and there might be a plant or two that just can’t keep up. If there are different types of lights in your room and the plants favor one over the other you need to either buy more of the good lights or rotate your plants so they all get a taste of the good stuff. If you have a plant that won’t keep up it’s okay to raise the plant enough to be level with the others. If a plant is too tall and you cannot lower it…raising the other plants might be an option. We were very repetitive in this series about preparing the plants and grow room. We are now at a point in the grow cycle where the importance for that repetition is obvious as your plants should now be very large. This makes changes more difficult than they were just 4 short weeks ago.
- Keep On Picking – Your major pickings will be around week 1 and week 3 but by week 5 your plants will once again be bushy with leaves. However, do not thin as aggressively as we did during the first few weeks. I’m still picking leaves right up until the day of harvest but I put way more thought into which leaves I take as the plant will not produce as many leaves as it did when it was younger. Examine your leaves very closely, be sure to check the under side of leaves as much or more than you look at the leaf tops. I often spend more time examining leaves in the second half of the grow cycle as I do picking leaves in the first half of the grow cycle. I remove troubled or damaged leaves as usual but I leave more mature leaves as leaf production slows. Even up to week 6 I still remove unworthy or underdeveloped buds. At the end of week 6, the plants should be rid of all the underdeveloped buds. At this point, I cleaned our project plants of any buds that were underdeveloped and every bud I left at this point will make it to harvest. After week 6 any leaves and pickings I take from the plants I keep and use for topical lotions, butter and concentrates. They will be very sticky and smelly with resin. Keep your plants picked enough that they have air flow all the way through the plant. A breeze is important during the Golden Years.
- Breaking Good Habits – Growing old does not have to be a bad thing and even should be embraced but the stigma of aging does come from the fact that there are things we can no longer do. I am a huge fan and avid participant of old school motocross. Hucking a big bore two stroke like a CR500 through the air is one of my favorite things to do….and even though I feel indestructible in my late 40’s I know there will come a day when kick starting a big bore two stroke will not be an option for me (that’s ok, they make dirt bikes with electric starters…lol). I hope that time comes late in my life but I know it’s coming. I used to drink Pepsi like a cola fiend, I drank a 12pak a day through most of my 20s and 30s. I do not have diabetes or pre-diabetes and hope I never do but I quit drinking Pepsi almost 5 years ago out of diabetes fear. The sugar from Pepsi and the adrenaline from motocross probably served me well in my youth but they can both kill me in my golden years. Cannabis plants also consume and do many things in their youth that are detrimental to them in the golden years. Do not use neem oil after your buds form as it will give them a foul taste. Any nitrogen additives used during the veg-phase must be discontinued during the flowering phase or the plant will become nitrogen toxic. Leaf production slows down so picking must slow down as well. A broken arm is a quick heal for a youthful teenager but may never heal for a senior citizen just as super cropping can be done all you want clear into week 4 or 5 but then it must stop as branches will not recover when the plant ages into weeks 7 and 8. If you use sulfur in your room or in your soil those treatments must come to an end as well. Just like people your plants will need a few alterations to life during their golden years.
- Nutrient/Diet Changes – Just as I can no longer have soda or spicy food is off the menu for those with severe heartburn there are some things your plants can no longer tolerate. And just as I must take my multi-vitamin and some need a pill box to organize their meds there are some things your plants will need as they age as well. After week 3 or 4 bug and mold sprays should not be used. Neem treatments and sulfur burning should stop once buds have formed. Root additives and mycorrhiza should be eliminated before the end of week 3, the plants are no longer focused on their roots so you should not be either. And you’ll notice that additives like Top Booster and Multi Zen are eliminated out of the House and Garden diet we are using for our project. Any use of nitrogen or additives containing nitrogen should be discontinued when the plants move from the veg to flower phase. At the halfway point most nutrient producers advise a decrease in the base food diet. House and Garden is no different and recommends a 475 – 375 ml (mixing 55 gallons) decrease in their nutrient diet for our project plants. During the second half of life there are some nutrients that must be added as well. Our House and Garden project feed chart shows the addition of Bud XL and Shooting Powder. Finishing powders and bud boosters will do as much good for your buds as all your other nutrients combined. The buds are way heavier than leaves and those are aging branches holding them up. Finishing powders and bud boosters not only increase production and flow of bud building compounds they also give the branches the strength they need to hold up the fruits of your grow room labor. Finishing powders and boosters are as important to an older plant as aspirin and prunes are to an aging man during their golden years.
- CO2 & Dry Ice – If you have not put a CO2 tank and regulator in your room by now your plants probably need a good dose. Carbon Dioxide is composed by carbon atoms double bonding with 2 oxygen atoms. It is a trace gas found in our atmosphere at .004% or 400 parts per million (ppm). Carbon Dioxide is an absolute necessity for life and whether you believe in Global Warming or not its percentage in our atmosphere has decreased over time. Plants can handle 1500 ppm CO2 and cannabis plants thrive with the CO2 ppm around 1350. This is why CO2 sources are so important to your sealed up grow room. Your normal air is 400 ppm or less and you’re pumping most of that out if you’re using an exhaust fan so your plants are gasping for CO2. I get it….tanks, gauges, and regulators are expensive. However, a crop struggling in week 7 can get pretty costly too. You can work around the costly CO2 systems by putting 10 pounds or so of dry ice in your room at least once a week. But remember, dry ice is about a buck fifty a pound so this method will still cost 100 – 150 bucks each grow cycle. After 3 or 4 grow cycles you could have bought a CO2 system with what you spent on dry ice. Buying nutrients and soil but not CO2 is like buying a friend dinner then putting a plastic bag over their head. CO2 charged air is as vital to your aging plants as the warm Arizona air is to a snowbird during their golden years.
- Supporting the Weight – Support….old age is about support. Support stockings, support hose, support bras, support jeans, support canes and support groups….old age is about support. This philosophy holds true for your plants as well. Everything we do for our plants in their younger years is for achieving two goals. The first is obviously to produce big, sticky buds. The second is to grow a plant strong enough to hold up those buds. Unfortunately, the cannabis cultivating community and industry has not yet been equally successful with both goals. Plant building knowledge has not kept up with bud building knowledge and most all plants need help holding up the buds when the grower gets it right. We have used seas of green, trellis supports, wire fixtures, the funky wire grids at the grow stores, yarn, pantyhose etc, etc, blah blah blah. The debate about branch and bud support methods is endless and tiresome….and complete waste of time once you use grow –yos. These hanging yo-yos are retractable and provide enough tension to hold a branch up perfectly. By week 6 or 7, your buds are going to be big enough that the plant will struggle to hold them up. In some cases, the branches will bend enough that the bud now shades what’s underneath it and once the branch bends with the weight of the bud it will break a day or two later. Hook a yo-yo on bending branches to give them support. If a branch breaks the plant will need to heal it to keep nourishing the bud. If the plant heals the branch the rest of the plant is robbed of that energy and if the plant doesn’t fix the branch you lose the bud. So give your branches all the support they need. We recommend the grow- yos but tie them to ceiling with rope if that’s all you have….it’s better than letting the branches break. Whether it’s a cane, a pair of support hose, a support group of friends or a grow-yo on a branch…we all need some support during the golden years.
- Music – Music touches living organisms. Music has a way of reaching deeper into a living creature (not just humans) than words without melody can. Now, I admit I am not objective at all here. There has always been music in the background of my life. I can read music and play it on certain instruments, I was that kid with the “cranked” stereo, my current vehicle is like being at a rock concert and there is everything from gangsta rap to classic rock blaring while I write this piece. Anyone who has worked with me in a grow room knows I see a music source as important to the plants as water or light. I took some crap for this belief over time…enough that I decided to test the theory and literally every grow with music was far better than those without. We even had troubled crops do better with music than problem free crops did in silence. Every grower I’ve worked with still keeps their marijuana dowsed in music as much as they do neem oil. Every car comes with a radio, every store has music playing, even elevators all have some tunes going and admit it…you leave the radio on for pets when ya’ leave the house. With this seemingly worldwide quest to keep the music playing why would you let your plants sit in silence?…especially during their golden years.
- Battling Mold and Bugs Late In The Game – If your humidity was borderline under 45-50% during the first half of the grow cycle chances are it’s rising to dangerous levels during the second half of the grow cycle. Any bugs that were able to hide from you during the first half have now turned into an infestation …or if they are mites they came back even stronger. Neem and sulfur treatments must be discontinued around week 3 or as soon as buds form. Buds will taste like crap if they get contaminated with neem or sulfur and they will keep that bad taste even if the treatment was weeks ago. Mixtures using peroxide/water, garlic/water and alcohol/water can be used a little longer (maybe up to 4 or 5 weeks) but will also leave a taste or residue if used too long. Mixtures using milk/water or baking soda/water can be used late into the flower cycle (6 or 7 weeks) and products like SM-90 or Safer 3-n-1 can be used right up to harvest. Mites can be battled by washing the plants off and soaking the plants’ surroundings with insect killer or even wiping the mites off with a damp rag. You can empty your C02 tank into the room but this will only work once so if you have mites do it within days of harvest. You can harvest with mites and hang a light above your cut plants. The mites will run to the light and exit the plant for the warmth. Put some duck tape on the string and you’ll kill them. However, both mold and bugs after the half way point in the flower cycle is bad news and going to be quite the challenge to rectify. The difficulty and damage problems like these present late in the cycle are monumental and sometimes not overcome. As many crops are lost in the last 2 weeks as there are in the first 2 weeks. Growing cannabis has its risks, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose….even during the golden years.
- Bud Transformation – The pace that you watched your leaves grow during the first half of the cycle is the pace you will watch your buds grow during the second half of the cycle. After weeks 3 or 4 the little flutes or bud shoots will turn into little white balls with little white hairs. These balls and hairs will grow rapidly weeks 4-6 and they will pop up all throughout the plant. Don’t bend or crimp branches anymore but still move the plant’s branches around enough to keep light on the buds and air flowing through the plant. The top balls will grow together forming large conglomerations of buds called kolas. Use a magnifying glass or jewelers lens to watch your trichomes forming…it’s fun. Around week 8 all those hairs will shrink and the trichomes will go from clear to milky to amber and the buds will really start to show their color as the plant begins to yellow. If all goes well your buds should be big full and dense needing grow-yos to support the larger ones. The buds will be fun to watch during the last 3 weeks. When the balls start to grow together and make kolas is one of my favorite things to watch and see some of the changes overnight or throughout the day. This is where my plant to people comparisons must end because unlike people who are most productive mid-life your marijuana plants will produce the most during their golden years.
- Flushing Your Plants – Marijuana will sometimes not stay lit in the bowl of a pipe or in joints. The burned weed will look black and sooty. Time after time users will dismiss the deformity as moisture….I’ve heard some growers proudly say that their weed is too soaked with resin to stay lit. Something is definitely wrong but it has nothing to do with moisture. The marijuana has not been flushed properly. When the bowl or the joint won’t stay lit and the weed burns to a black soot the nutrients left in the plant are burning. Cannabis should stay lit when smoked (you pass the joint….you don’t pass and relight the joint) and it should burn to a gray ash, not a black soot. Flushing is a process of purging the nutrients out of your soil and plants. It is a process that is as simple as it sounds but very important to do. A week to ten days before harvest fill your plants slowly with PH balanced water until water drains out the bottom of the plant, let them dry out for a day or two and only feed the PH balanced water until harvest. There are many different flushing methods and rituals and none of them are wrong as long as they get the nutrients out of the plants and soil. If done correctly the buds will continue to beautify and trichomes will evolve while the leaves on the plant yellow. Our project plants will receive my own personal “flushing ritual”. I will mix them a barrel late in week 6 that will run out at the beginning of week 7. I will fill each pot with PH balanced water and let them dry out for at least 2 days. I will let them get dry but not crusty and I give them another shot of PH balanced water and feed them only PH balanced water for the rest of the cycle. Flushing the pipes is important for both people and plants…especially during the golden years.
- Preparing For Your Next Crop – The last couple weeks in the grow room are pretty uneventful if you don’t have any problems. But don’t think you won’t have anything to do. Your nursery should already have your next plants in it. By week 6 of your current run (growing crop) you should have your next crop in their flowering pots ready to grow. During week 7 you should be building or preparing your drying area….your buds will need a place to “hang out” and cure for 4 – 8 days. You will need a place to trim your weed and if you are in a state where weed is still illegal you will need to put more thought and time into this endeavor than those of us in states where weed is legal. You will need tables to sit at, scissors, kief trays or plastic totes and a space to hang the trimmed buds. Your next run of plants should be in their pots and vegging 2 -3 weeks before your current run is harvested. This allows you to put your new run under the lights in the bud room as soon as the room is cleaned. Although the plants require less attention you are still going to be busy with your nursery. Time marches on, and it marches pretty fast….even during the golden years.