The Nico’s Nuggets Inbox is quite full these days and after grouping many of the emails by subject matter it became quite clear that many of our readers are asking for basic step-by-step instructions for the first-time grower.
In order to answer this single “question” with start-to-finish instructions would essentially require the writing of a book. However, I am going to attempt to give such a tutorial for beginners in a four-part summary series of the basics to help the newbies get up and growing ASAP. Each week in the coming month I will cover one basic element of cannabis cultivation as follows: Seedlings & Clones; Lighting; Mediums, Water & Nutrients; Flowering, Harvesting & Drying.
Of course, there will be some gaps that will require supplemental info that is not covered in these four parts, and for that, I recommend using the search field on the HIGH TIMES website to find such answers, as nearly every topic has been covered on this site over the years. As always, thanks to all our long-time readers and a big welcome to our new friends. – Nico
Flowering Cannabis Plants
Without a doubt, the most exciting (and interesting) part of growing your own cannabis is the flowering cycle and ensuing harvest. There is nothing quite like watching the fruits of your labor bloom right before your very eyes!
Many first-time growers often ask the questions, “When will my plants start to flower?” and “How do I know when it’s time to cut my plants down?” These are two crucial aspects of cannabis cultivation, and the answers are relatively simple when compared to other horticultural techniques and programs.
To start, most plant species, including cannabis, will take its cues on when to begin fruiting based on the length (or shortness) of the day (or light cycle). This is known as photoperiodism, and there are three common types, the ranges of which are—short day and long night, long day and short night, or day neutral (which uses other signals to start flowering).
Most cannabis genotypes (strains) are short day plants, meaning they begin flowering once the light cycle shortens to a critical point—usually 12 hours or less. Some cannabis genetics are day neutral, and these genotypes are known as “auto-flowering” strains. They might trigger flowering due to temperature, plant height, age, etc., depending on the strain.
When growing cannabis outdoors, Mother Nature sets the photoperiod with the changing of the seasons. In the northern hemisphere, these plants will begin to flower in late summer/early autumn when the days shorten (to 12 hours or below) and the nights lengthen. In the southern hemisphere, these seasons will be reversed for outdoor growers. For indoor cannabis growers, we need not rely on Mother Nature but simply on light timers…
Indoor gardeners will either germinate seeds or take cuttings to produce clones. Once seedlings or clones are well rooted, growers must decide for how long to vegetate their plants before inducing flowering. The answer to this question depends largely upon how large the grower wants the plants to be at full maturity. The minimum recommended “veg time” is two weeks, and this timeframe can continue all the way up to two months or more. Because indoor garden space is usually limited, the traditional range for veg time of cannabis plants is generally between two and six weeks.
Once indoor plants have vegetated and been properly topped, pruned and trimmed for several weeks, it is time to trigger flowering. While the usual photoperiod cycles for vegetative plants are approximately 18 hours of light and six hours of dark, in order to trigger flowering in cannabis plants, the photoperiod is shifted to 12 hours light (and 12 hours of dark).
When to harvest plants is a big question for newer growers—and even for some more experienced growers!
Confusion always exists as claims for flowering times vary based on different breeders and the outlets that sell cannabis genetics. You will hear that the general rule of thumb is that most strains flower for eight weeks, or somewhere between 56 and 65 days. And while this is a very good approximation, the truth is that this timeframe can vary widely. Of course, sativas are known to flower for much longer, usually between 10 and 12 weeks, with some pure sativas going for as long as 20 weeks! Additionally, depending on growroom conditions and variations of phenotypes by strain, flower times can fluctuate quite a bit.
So how is one to know exactly when their plants are ready to harvest? Surely there must be a more exact way to know when our plants are ready; after all, this is science, right? Well, it just so happens that there is a better way, and it begins and ends with the little trichomes that coat your flowering buds.
Trichomes are the crystal-like structures on the exterior of the flowers that glisten in the sunlight. They consist of a stalk and bulbous head and hold the plant’s precious resin that contains the primary psychoactive cannabinoid known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). These trichomes will start their life as translucent resin glands. Over time, the resin they contain will shift in appearance from clear, to cloudy, to milky yellow, to amber. Viewing these trichomes with a simple 40x loupe will greatly enhance your view as a grower and will become your key as to when to harvest. As your trichomes begin to turn cloudy, it is time to prep for harvest. In the next week or so, all the trichomes will turn milky yellow and a few will start to turn amber. When roughly a quarter (25 percent) of the trichomes turn amber, it is time to begin harvesting your plants.
These trichomes are just starting to turn amber.
It is recommended that you start the flush of your garden and grow medium a week (or two, if possible) before harvest. This will usually be around week six of flower—or once you begin to notice the trichomes’ color turning from translucent to cloudy. Once you reach 25 percent amber, plan your harvest for the next day or two. It is also recommended that you cut your plants towards the end of their dark cycle, just before the lights go on for the day. This helps to ensure they do not begin to call unwanted nutrients and minerals back up into the plant and flowers before harvest.
Begin by cutting your plants at their base to disconnect them from the root zone and grow medium. Next, cut off the larger, easier-to-remove fan leaves, and then begin removing branches from the main stem. Remember to leave “V” notches near the bottoms of the branches, so that they can be hung easily upside down in your drying room. It is easiest to hang branches upside down from hangers or strings of rope or wire that run from one wall to another. Drying rooms should be kept very dark, dry and have ample air movement and ventilation to prevent molding and aid in drying.
Plants should hang dry for at least a week before being removed for trimming. This method is called dry trimming, but some growers prefer to “wet-trim” which occurs immediately after harvesting the plants. Dry trimming is usually easier in terms of manicuring buds for retail appeal.
Once the buds are dried, lobbed off their branches and finely trimmed, it is time for curing. Curing is another way of saying, “very slow drying.” During curing, buds are placed in dark glass containers and stored in a dark, dry and cool place for another period of time. The jars are periodically opened—usually once or twice a day for a few minutes—to allow any slow evaporating moisture to escape the jars (also known as “burping” the jars). Curing will usually last between one to two weeks, though some cannabis connoisseurs prefer to cure for a month or longer in attempt to create premier “boutique buds”.
The curing room at a Colorado dispensary.
Commercial growers who wish to be quick to market rarely have the same luxury of time that home growers do, so depending on your palette, you may decide to give your buds the time to reach their peak bouquet. After all, you waited three months, what’s another week or two for your own homegrown? Either way, remember to enjoy, appreciate and savor. And always, give thanks and share!
Thanks for reading everyone! I hope you all enjoyed this mini-series on how to get up and growing quickly and effectively right in your very own home! Enjoy and remember: Grow… And help the world grow, too!
Got questions? Email ‘em over to Nico at NicosNuggets@hightimes.com and be sure to put “Nico’s Nuggets” in the subject line!