1. Nurture Your Soil
To grow high-quality cannabis, you’ll need high-quality soil, so the first step is to get a test from a local soil lab, which will give you a better understanding of the physical and chemical characteristics of your soil. If you’re growing hydroponically, seek out the best medium for your system, such as buffered coir mixed with perlite, which is affordable and sustainable and offers excellent retention of water, air and nutrients.
2. Customize Your Feeding Regimen
Depending on their strain, size and stage of life, cannabis plants demand different nutrients. Fertilize precisely and dynamically, since nutrient needs increase and change throughout the plant’s life cycle. Organic nutrients become available to plants primarily through microbial breakdown, a living process influenced by fertilizer type, moisture, temperature and time. Understanding this evolving dynamic and the specific needs of your chosen strains will take practice, but the results are well worth the effort.
3. Water Thoughtfully
Much like the fertilizer regimen, your watering needs change as your plants grow and the seasons progress. Protect your plants with an excellent irrigation schedule and/or system. This is essential to maintaining enough water in your medium so that plants don’t have to work too hard to meet their transpiration needs, while also providing enough air to the roots and enough soil microbes to keep plants thriving. Water frequently and shallowly when plants are just transplanted. Increase the irrigation amounts but decrease frequency once your plants are established, allowing for healthy root development and growth.
4. Control Your Climate
Essential to keeping plants happy and healthy, precise climate control avoids stressing plants with excessive heat, cold, humidity or dryness. Climate control also contributes to pest management by preventing powdery mildew. Keeping relative humidity under 90 percent and having constant airflow throughout the plant canopy will help you avoid the dreaded PM without running your systems too hot and dry, which can encourage spider-mite problems. (Growroom temperatures above 80°F with relative humidity below 40 percent create the perfect environment for spider mites.)
5. Keep It Clean
Organic plant management requires making sanitation one of your highest priorities. Clean up and dispose of any pruned or discarded plant material as soon as possible to prevent infestations of pathogens or insects. Always wear clean clothes when you’re working in your garden, especially after handling infested material or visiting other gardens. Thoroughly deep-clean your grow area after each harvest to break the cycle of insects or pathogens. Designing systems with sanitation in mind will ensure that everything can be easily cleaned and kept sanitary.
6. Know Your Strains
Intimate knowledge of the strains you’re growing will help you recognize problems before they turn into major outbreaks. In organic systems, it’s much easier to catch a problem early and address it than trying to reverse an out-of-control infestation or disease. Plants give hints that something is wrong, such as curled or discolored leaves. Pay attention and learn what thriving plants look like, so you’ll know when something isn’t right.
7. Practice Integrated Pest Management
Integrated pest management (IMP) works hand in hand with nature and requires understanding plants, pests and pathogens. A robust scouting program involves looking for problems in the garden every day. Look under leaves and in every nook and cranny to catch pests early. If you find one, it’s important to accurately identify the pest before finding the least toxic product available to resolve the problem. Use all pest-control products correctly and responsibly. Just because a product is organic doesn’t mean it’s safe, so read, understand and follow the label. IMP also involves evaluating systems, understanding why you had a problem, and changing the way you grow so that problems don’t happen again.
8. Use Fresh, Clean Air
Filtering your intake air greatly helps to prevent pests and pathogens from entering your growroom. With many different filter types and sizes on the market, be sure you’re getting the right one for your system. Regularly clean, maintain and replace your filters so that this equipment doesn’t harbor insects or pathogens as well.
9. Consult Organic-Materials Lists
Both the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) and the Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA) review products to determine if they’re suitable for organic growing. Check online to see if the product you want to use has been reviewed and approved for use in organic operations, but be careful: Some products have been approved for uses that have nothing to do with plant cultivation. (For example, some products are approved as an animal feed but not as a plant fertilizer, so read carefully.) Also, just because a product hasn’t been approved by OMRI or WSDA doesn’t mean it’s prohibited in organic production; it can also mean that the manufacturer didn’t pay to have its product reviewed. Overall, consulting the OMRI and WSDA lists can help you find organic products, but neither one is an exhaustive list of all the options available.
10. Write Notes!
Record-keeping is necessary if you wish to systematically improve your process. You won’t remember without writing it down, because there are so many variables to keep track of when growing cannabis. Keep a written record of everything you do in order to look back and diagnose how problems started. Detailed records also help when trying out new products or techniques and evaluating the results. Your trusty notebook or spreadsheets will be your best tool for becoming a better grower.