1. Selection of the growing location
2. Selection of the seeds
3. Planting the seeds or seedlings
4. Early growth
5. Vegetative growth
7. Harvest and drying
1. Selection of the growing location
Finding a good place to grow your cannabis plants is the first thing you have to do if you want to start your own outdoors growing operation. The very first and most important thing to keep in mind is that you must hide the location from passers-by at all costs. People must not be allowed to accidentally stumble upon your site, so steer clear of things like roads, trails, houses, sheds, actively used farmland, or anything else which may be frequented by people who are not you. The harder it is for you to get to your site, the less likely it is that other people will discover it, so things like pricky bushes, mud and steep hills are good. Also, consider that during the fall, your plants will be green, whereas most of the other plants in the area will be brown. For this reason, it may be a good idea to grow your marijuana near pine trees, which will also stay green during this season. Lastly, know when it is hunting season, and where the hunters will be roaming!
If you are sure that your location won’t be discovered by other people, it’s time to consider the three big factors for a good growing site: sunlight, soil and water. Marijuana loves sunlight, and it won’t grow well if it doesn’t have access at the very least to three hours of direct sun each day (but we recommend five hours). It’s possible to make a great location which has limited exposure to sunlight better by placing tin foil around your plants, which should reflect more light onto the photosynthesizing leaves. Also, morning light is better than afternoon light for optimal growth.
The next essential part of the formula for a good growing site is soil. Good soil will be not too compact and not too loose either, it needs to be drain well and possess an acidity rating of around 6.5. In case the soil at your site is too compact, you can add some sand, perlite or vermiculite to it. If the pH is too high, add lime, if it is too low, add sodium bicarbonate. Remember that it will take at least a month or so for these additions to have effect, so it’s important that you scout for good locations early.
As for water, obviously it is extremely important: with a water table that is too high, the roots of your plants won’t get enough access to oxygen and won’t survive, but too low and you’ll spend most of your time going back and forth to your site with buckets of water. If your growing location is perfect, except for the soil that is too moist, then you should consider growing your plants in pots instead. A pot filled with high quality potting soil and a layer of gravel on top for improving drainage can work very well indeed. You’ll also prefer it if there is a source of fresh water nearby which you can use for watering. Alternatively, you can partially bury some buckets, which should collect rain water when you are away. Remember that you’ll want to minimize the amount of conspicuous trips you make to your site, so try to find a site which will require the least amount of maintenance from you. On a related note, all the equipment you use at the site should be hidden there, rather than transported to and from the site every time, in order not to arouse suspicion. And if you do have to water the plants, do it in the morning, as not doing so may result in the development of mold.
Lastly, we recommend that you set up a small fence with fishing line to prevent animals from eating your cannabis plants. If it is taller than three feet or more, it should stop most animals from snacking on your marijuana. And spreading some human hair and/or dried blood around as well should keep away a lot of small animals.
There are an incredible amount of different strains and varieties, and even more hybrids available to choose from. But, rather than basing your choice on what sounds better, you should consider that some varieties will thrive in your climate and others will be extremely difficult to cultivate. So you have to take into account the very important factors of weather and climate, and realize when in your region the first frost is expected to come (if the first frost comes before the harvest time for your plants, you will risk losing your entire investment). Clearly, the seed selection will greatly depend on where you live and what your growing location is like, so take into account these factors and choose wisely.
3. Planting the seeds or seedlings
If you’ve got a bunch of seeds in your possession and your growing location is ready, it’s time to plant them. There are two ways to go about this: planting the seeds directly into the soil at your chosen location, or sprouting them yourself and growing them a little at your home first.
If you chose the former, then you will have to identify the viable seeds. In other words, you will have to distinguish the good seeds from the bad ones. First of all, you should not be planting any seeds that are cracked or deformed in any way, as it is very unlikely that they will grow into a plant. Also, a green seed is, contrary to what you may intuitively think, not fully mature yet and not ready to be planted. Before deciding that you want to plant a certain seed, hold it between your thumb and index finger and press it, just to make sure that it doesn’t crack or reveal any glaring weaknesses.
Once you’ve got the seeds you want to plant, head over to the growing site with a pencil, stick it into the soil about half an inch deep and drop a seed into the hole. Cover the hole with some dirt and water it with some fertilizer (dilute it to about a quarter strength and use high phosphorus fertilizer). And, very important: don’t forget to mark the place! The next seed shouldn’t be closer than three square feet from the first, lest the plants will crowd each other and stay small. Whenever the soil feels dry, you need to water it with distilled water. The first signs of your plant (stem and cotyledon) should be visible after about a week. Keep watering whenever the soil threatens to dry out and another week later, you should see the first node of leaves.
The second way of planting your seeds is by sprouting the seeds yourself first and growing them in jiffy-pots first before eventually transplanting them at your growing site. To sprout your seeds, you need some paper towels, a flat pan and plastic wrap. Cover the pan with a few wet paper towels, and put the seeds on them. Put another three or so wet paper towels on top of the seeds so they are covered by wet paper. Cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and place it in a dark and warm place, adding water whenever the paper threatens to dry out (but do not drench). When the white roots on the sprouts are around a quarter inch long, it’s time to put them in a Jiffy-pot (which should be filled with soil from your growing site in order to keep the later shock for the plants to a minimum). Stick a pencil about ¾ inches deep, plant the seedling (the white root should be facing downwards) and cover with some dirt. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out and water with some high phosphorus fertilizer diluted to a quarter strength. Like in the above paragraph about regular seeds, the cotyledon should appear within the week, and the first node of spiked leaves should follow about a week after that.
In the early stages of growth, you won’t need to add fertilizer, but you will have to water if the soil feels dried out. The biggest threat to your plants at this point probably comes from small animals, so make sure they have adequate protection. Another danger is mold. If you see that some kind of fungus is infecting a plant of yours, you should panic and remove them immediately. Just be very careful when handling the infected plant and the mold, as the little spores will very easily break off and travel with the wind onto your other plants.
If you’re using the Jiffy-pot method, then you should transplant your young plants when the fourth set of spiked leaves makes its appearance. This is very easy to do. Just put the Jiffy-pot into the soil at your growing site. The pot itself will break down soon, so don’t worry. After some more time, your pants should be up to six or seven sets of nodes, at which time you can begin fertilizing with 20-20-20 fertilizer. Some growers may recommend other combinations, which may be fine, but just make sure it has all three of the macro-nutrients.
If you want, and you feel up for it, then you can also sex your plants at this stage. This will save you a lot of trouble later on, as the earlier you can identify the male plants, the less risk you’ll have of your females getting pollinated (and your output consisting mostly of seeds). If you want to sex your plants now, tie a black plastic garbage bag to a brand with twist ties. You need to put the bag on and off so the plants will be exposed to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness a day. After about three weeks, the branch will have been forced into the flowering stage, after which you should able to identify the males, which have what appear to be tiny balls forming on the branch and no white hairs (the females should have two small white hairs emerging from a calyx). If you succeed in identifying the males, you can remove them (or most of them), which will lead to you having exclusively female plants left. If you remove the plastic bags from the branches, the plants should revert back to their regular growing phase.
During the vegetative growth phase, you should only water when the soil is dry up to about three inches deep. You can protect your plants from insects by using a light insecticide spray (but re-apply after it rains). Every three to four weeks, some more fertilizer can greatly help your plant grow, but be very wary of overfertilization. And in the right conditions, with access to the right amount of light, nutrients and water, your plants may grow up to two inches every day at this stage! At this point, it’s time to check the acidity of the soil again, which should now be slightly lower than before you planted (due to the fertilization). In case the pH drops to below 6.2, water with some wood ash to get it back to 6.5.
If you are serious about your growing operation, you may also consider foliar feeding at this point in time. The practice of foliar feeding involves using a spray to put a layer of a nutrient solution directly on the leaves. These nutrients will then be absorbed by the leaves. If you decide to do this, then reduce your fertilization mix to about half strength, to make sure that you’re not overfertilizing your plants. Your spray should be very fine, and the foliar feeding should be done between 5 and 9 in the morning, when the leaves’ stomata will be open (if you do it later, the foliar feeding may have no effect at all). Good foliar feeding means that the leaves are covered with a tiny layer, not drenched in it. The day after you do this, you should spray the leaves with water, so as to remove the unabsorbed nutrients.
Another practice you may want to consider at this stage is pruning. This can promote branching, which can make your plants stay short and grow outwards rather than upwards, making them harder to be discovered by passers-by. Some growers argue that pruning is bad for your plants and may even produce more males due to stress. But we would say that, depending on the variety you are growing, it can be a great way to promote the growth of additional bud-producing branches, thereby greatly increasing yield, as well as keeping your plants out of sight. If you decide to prune your plants, use a pair of very sharp and clean scissors and snip off branches (but no more than six inches!). Wherever you cut a branch, two new ones should grow later on.
When your cannabis plants are exposed to daily cycles of about 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness every day, the flowering stage will be induced. The prime thing to keep in mind at this stage is to make sure that you do not interrupt the dark periods at night when you visit your growing site. Just a tiny bit of light from your flashlight can upset the delicate hormonal balance in your plants and revert them back to the vegetative growth phase, so be extremely careful not to use any light when visiting your plants during the night. Or better yet, visit during the day instead.
Right before or just after the flowering phase sets on, you should sex your plants (if you haven’t done so already at an earlier point in time). As soon as you identify male plants, they should be removed immediately, as that means it won’t be long at all before the female plants enter the flowering stage and they will begin to be pollinated. Lastly, it should go without saying, but don’t use insecticide during flowering unless you want to smoke it. And fertilizer should be kept to a minimum, or cut down to a quarter of its strength, as well as having a higher phosphorus percentage.
7. Harvesting and drying
When about 75% of the white hairs have turned brownish in color, it’s time to rejoice and start harvesting. To be sure you are harvesting at the optimal time, inspect the resin crystals that can be found on the leaves with a magnifying glass. Right before they are to be cut, they should be amber in color. If they are transparent, then you should wait a bit longer, as there is still more THC to be formed. But if they look brown, then you need to harvest right away, because they are not past their peak.
To harvest, bring large backpacks and paper bags to your site. Cut off branches and place inside the bags, and remove the large leaves at the site as they can’t be smoked (but some people like to use them to make edibles). Put the paper bags in the backpacks (carefully, as you don’t want to shake off the resin glands) and transport them back to your home.
Once at home, put the branches in Rubbermaid containers and stir them a few times a day. Check for mold very regularly, as this is the final thing that can go wrong. If you see any mold appearing, take it out immediately and spread out the infected bud to dry and keep them from infecting others. These can be microwaved to kill the fungus. Make sure to keep your herb in a dark place, as light will degrade the THC. After three weeks of drying, take out the buds and remove the leaves (unless they have a lot of resin on them). You’ll want to finish up the drying of your buds by wrapping them in newspaper and putting them in a warm and dry place. Once the stems are brittle enough so they can be snapped with your fingers, they are completely ready, and your homegrown bud is ready to be enjoyed!