Use these no-fail DIY instructions to grow your own cannabis at home. While it won’t be as good as pricey connoisseur-grade stuff, it can be as good as anything you’d buy at a medical marijuana dispensary.
Horticulturalist Jeff W. Jones of Oakland’s Oaksterdam University, a leading cannabis college that has trained over 30,000 students for the cannabis industry, walked us through each step.
“We’re alchemists,” he said. “We make gold out of nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements.”
It’s not hard if you think of the life cycle in just three phases: vegetation, flowering and harvest.
- Exhaust fan
- pH meter
- Pesticide, herbicide
- Curing vessel
Select a clone
Many cannabis dispensaries or collectives will sell you clones or seeds. Clones, a cutting from a mature plant, get you past the germination stage. They’re taken from the female plant, so you know they’ll have flowers. (Male plants just make pollen.) Bonus points: Their genes are identical to the parent plant, so you know what you’re getting. But if you prefer, seeds can be purchased online from an overseas breeder or seed bank.
Pick a pot
Your container needs to drain well. So pick a pot with holes and a saucer to catch runoff. You can also use a fabric or net pot. Start with a 1-gallon pot; if you wish to transplant to a larger pot later, feel free.
Fill with medium
Pre-fertilized organic potting soil mix and perlite, in a 70-30 percent ratio, is popular. “Soil-less soil” — such as peat, coco, vermiculite or sphagnum-based mediums — also works. And it’s more resistant to root fungus.
Cannabis prefers a pH in the range of 6 to 7 in soil and 5.5 to 6.5 in hydroponic media.
Find a spot
Your plant will do best in its own room: a closet, tent, cabinet, extra bathroom or corner in an unfinished basement. It needs to be dry; humidity is your enemy. It should also be clean. Keep temperatures comfy — between 70 and 85 degrees when lights are on and 65 and 70 degrees when the lights are off. An exhaust fan helps remove the warmer air. A wall-mounted circulating fan creates a breeze that reduces mold and pests. (Don’t point the fan directly at plants; this causes windburn.)
This is important: The weaker the light, the weaker the plant. Fortunately, we’ve got some choices.
- LED grow lights are a great innovation. They use less electricity and produce less heat. A 90-watt LED grow light is useful for spaces up to around 10 foot square. The more wattage, the better the flowers. Invest what you can afford.
- The industry standard is a 250- to 1000-watt High Intensity Discharge (HID) bulb, either high-pressure sodium or metal halide. But because this won’t screw into home fixtures, it requires a ballast and hood/reflector. HID bulbs also put out a lot of heat, so consider an air-cooled hood.
- A window with very good light can work, but you’ll need fluorescent bulbs to supplement the light after sunset. Most fluorescent lights are too low-intensity, so opt for a high-output (HO) fluorescent bulb such as a T5.
Don’t overwater because your plant’s roots are prone to deadly fungus. How often should you water? It depends on room temperature and the medium used. Let the top of the dirt dry out. Pick up the plant; if it feels light, it’s time to water. Some people wait until the lower leaves start to slightly droop slightly. (Note: Plants can be damaged by chlorine, so allow water to sit in an open container for at least an hour so that the chlorine evaporates.)
This is the growth stage, when leaves are formed. Give it 16 to 20 hours of light every day to keep it from budding into flower. Turn lights on and off at the same time each day. Your plant needs to grow, or “vegetate,” for about two to four weeks.
To trigger budding, reduce the light to 12 hours a day. (The light still needs to be strong.) Keep the other 12 hours really dark. The plant thinks it’s autumn and will start flowering. This stage lasts 10 to 14 days.
This is just a “watch and wait” stage. You’ll see your plant producing nodes at the intersection of the stem and branch. These nodes are where the plant grows calyxes — which grow wispy white hairs at the tops of branch joints. That is the beginning of a bud. The bud produces “trichomes,” tiny beads of resin. That’s where the THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana, lives. Flowering usually lasts eight to nine weeks.
‘Lollypopping’ and ‘leafing’
You want the plant to put all its energy into flowering, not leaf growth.
So in the first three to five weeks, find some choice flowers at the top and then prune the lower leaves. Your plant will look like a lollipop.
In the next six to eight weeks, remove big leaves above flowers that block the sun. This “leafing” will help flowers grow big and strong.
Pests and molds
Try hydrogen peroxide — the common 3 percent solution diluted to 1 percent — to combat mold, spraying it on the leaves every other day, according to Oaksterdam University. For bugs, use an organic insecticide.
Your buds will grow from dime-sized to a quarter or half-dollar. They will look sticky, swollen and shiny. How do you know it’s time? Look for two signs: About two-thirds of the once-white hairs, or stigmas, are orange. The trichomes are turning dark or cloudy, also. (Don’t wait until they brown.) And some leaves are curling and fading.
This is important: You don’t want to lose your flowers to mold. To let their flowers dry slowly, some people cut the stalk and suspend it from a clothesline in a dark room with good ventilation. Others will trim the buds and let them dry on a screen or dish. Plants are dry when the large stems crack, rather than bend. Your flowers should be spongy — not wet, not dry.
Curing is essentially just slow and extended drying. And once cannabis is cured, it can be stored indefinitely. Do this in a dark, cool and dry place. Use a plastic bag used for cooking turkeys, or use Tupperware or Mason jars. Do not use Ziploc bags — they are porous and allow too much drying. In the first two weeks, quickly open the container — perhaps once a day — and agitate the flowers to allow uniform drying. “Humidipaks” make curing easier because they regulate humidity. Curing takes 1 1/2 weeks to three months.
To learn more about Oaksterdam University, go to: https://oaksterdamuniversity.com/