Plants are magical. Intoxicating, resilient, aromatic, healing—some can even kill you. Plants can bring down man-made structures, change the climate, dominate ecosystems, die down to be reborn, and keep just about everything on earth alive with their remarkable ability to manufacture energy.
Cannabis, well, this species is especially interesting. Cannabis can make compounds which lock into human and animal brain receptors and this attribute has garnered it both best friend status and that of most-wanted outlaw. With this species, gardeners can create a landscape of sparkling florets while teasing out chemical constituents which may have a profound effect on human vitality.
Indoors, growers can fine-tune techniques to achieve higher plant health and quality across multiple growing seasons compressed into one year. With 30,000 flowering plants now under my green belt at Galenas, I’ve learned A LOT, and I’d love to share some of this with you!
Plants teach us lessons, sometimes hard ones. Farming outdoors is an even greater challenge, as Mother Nature likes to mix it up. Running an outdoor polyculture farm for Great Lakes Brewing Co. for thirteen years taught me a lot of tough lessons, but through experience we refine our skills—and the opportunities to learn are gifts.
Cannabis cultivation used to be all shrouded in secrecy and mystique, but now we can throw open the golden doors for education and enlightenment. Let’s go!!!!
Question 1: From @lunallday on IG, “What’s the best way to maximize secondary metabolite production and boost aroma?”
Answer: Luna, I would expect nothing less than a high-level question like this from such a well-known canna-priestess like yourself. This is a mega-topic of conversation in the industry and new cannabis research is showing that techniques like drought-stressing and utilizing plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria can lead to enhanced production of metabolites which influence aroma and effect.
Personally, I’ve had measurable success in increasing secondary metabolite production through reduced watering after week seven of flower, though there is a point where yield may become limited. Lowering grow room temperatures in late flower has helped us to preserve aromatic compounds, and after week seven I love to sink the temps into the middle and upper sixties.
Flowering plants longer has been shown to increase certain terpene groups though cannabinoid content can degrade after a certain point. Each cultivar is different, so finding that ideal finishing point can increase aroma while preserving potency.
Our soil at Galenas is very much alive and contains over 20% by volume of food scrap-based thermophilic compost. A wide diversity of microorganisms plays a big role in achieving the nuanced profile that living soil can provide. Nourishing and even enhancing those populations throughout the growth cycle is key to managing a healthy microbiome, and in turn raising thriving, aromatic, and potent plants.
Thanks for the great question!
Question 2: From @that_1_damon on Ig, “Do you use any nutes such as organic veg, bloom, bloom booster, or only living soil and nothing else?”
Answer: Damon, this is a hot topic, especially with indoor cannabis production. Cannabis is a nutrient-hungry plant, and whether a grower can go “water only” usually depends on pot-size and growing methods. Small plants generally require less nutrients overall than large ones, and the volume of soil for each plant matters.
We use a very nutrient-dense soil which we have developed with our friends @Tilth.soil to nourish cannabis. This soil has most of what cannabis needs over the long haul, but because it’s not always best for microbiological and chemical balance to overload nutrients into the soil on the front end, usually some nutrition will have to be “spoon-fed” along the journey.
At Galenas, I like to use several nutrients from one of my favorite organic amendment companies, @OhioEarthFood. Nitrogen usually needs a slow and steady release, and we get that to the plants a few ways, through a few top watered brewed teas and top-dresses of dry amendments that get broken down over time.
Fish meal, alfalfa meal, seaweed, composted poultry manure, feather meal, soft rock phosphate, bone meal, and sulfate of potash are all good organic amendments which play a big role in agriculture and work well in cannabis production. It really depends on the cultivar and plant health to determine when to apply additional feeds.
One thing I try to do every cycle is give our plants a boost of nutrients and microbiological life from a worm casting tea which I make from my 20-year old outdoor worm bin, and the bins we keep at Galenas, where the worms munch on composting leaves and food scraps and return us with rich vermicompost. An inoculation at week three of flower keeps microbe populations optimized to carry the plants through the high-metabolic flower-bulking phase.
Question 3: Heading over to Reddit, from u/MarijuanaAdvocate, “What medium do you think is best for small grows?”
Answer: Anthony, I am a big fan of soil for both large and small setups. Hydroponic production methods generally are less compatible with organic systems, and in my opinion, organic agriculture is queen—safer and healthier overall for the consumer and the planet. Soil is generally more stable and forgiving than other mediums, so you don’t have to fuss over every little detail like exact pH of additives or perfect medium temperature.
Hydroponic grow mediums such as rockwool and coco require a lot of nutrient and water input, and little miscalculations or pest issues can quickly cause a lot of plant damage. Rockwool is my least favorite substrate due to its negative impact on the environment. Its manufacture is energy-intensive and air-polluting, after use it fills landfills, and the fibers, like micro-plastics, make their way into ecosystems as contaminants.
Soil, on the other hand, has plenty of reuse and recycling options. You can reamend and grow another round of cannabis in the same soil. Get soil testing to see where your nutrient levels are and what might be missing before amending, and fallow time may be required. One thing that I love to do with spent cannabis soil, is send it to the vegetable garden and grow nourishing food with it. Outdoors, nature has a chance to add back a robust microorganism community if it’s gone a little lean.
A healthy, biologically active soil contains a lot of beneficial microbes such as bacteria, protozoa, and fungi, and these “good guys” can protect your plants from pathogens, increase nutrient uptake, and increase potency and aroma in your plants. Just remember to take care of your soil health during your growing cycle by not introducing anything which can quickly shift your microbes’ environment, and avoid over or under-watering and compaction.
Well, that’s it for this edition of “In the Weeds with Christine.” Until next time, Keep Growing!