How to Grow Cannabis Outdoors with Nikki and Swami

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Growing Cannabis Outdoors with Nikki and Swami
Author avatar By Swami and Nikki
April 13, 2021
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Learning how to grow cannabis outdoors is a wonderful experience. First and foremost is the joy of being out in nature, watching your girls grow. You literally get recharged by putting your hands in the earth, savoring and smelling the soil, feeling the sun on your face and the wind blowing your hair.

Growing outdoors in full sun is a seven month adventure. Nonetheless, the planning and preparation start long before the first seedling goes in the ground.

That’s where we come in.

We’ll look at why you should be growing cannabis outdoors, what you need to succeed and how to achieve this success using sustainable, regenerative techniques. How to grow cannabis from seed, as nature intended

Emerald Triangle, CA
Emerald Triangle, CA

If it’s good for the planet, it’s good for your cannabis.

You’re going to learn how to produce the best yields of potent, terpene-rich buds that won’t cost the earth.

Delicious, sun-grown, organic cannabis – it simply cannot be beaten.

Why Learn How to Grow Cannabis Outdoors?

We’ve been growing cannabis outdoors for a long, long time… long enough to understand all the arguments for growing in the sun. It truly is a wonderful, enriching experience, but some of the benefits, especially the benefits to your wallet, might really surprise you. 

There are real practical benefits with learning how to grow a cannabis plant outdoors, not least in the quality of the buds you can produce.

First, you know there are no pesticides, because you won’t use them.

Second, you know the produce is organic because you know everything you put into the soil.

Third, the plants are grown as nature intended, out in the elements and under the sun. The effect this has on the finished bud is extraordinary, as any cannabis connoisseur will agree. 

Learning how to grow cannabis outdoors benefits the environment, too. You can produce your own compost teas, amend your own organic soil and employ only sustainable, regenerative techniques.

You won’t need powerful lights burning 18 hours a day, you won’t need expensive cooling and airflow systems or air conditioning. For most gardeners, all you’ll need is your seeds, Mother Nature provides the rest.

If that’s not enough to convince you, think about your wallet.

At the time of writing, most Americans are paying upwards of $35 to $50 an eighth, with little choice of cultivar and no real clue, in many cases, about how the plant was grown and what sort of additives and chemicals were used.

Knowing how to grow your own cannabis outdoors can save you a fortune. It’s a far superior product for a much lower price.

Swami and Nikki
The best cannabis is grown with love.

Is Growing Cannabis Outdoors For You?

Growing cannabis outdoors is magical and rewarding, but it’s not for everyone. You need the right climate and weather, you need the right space, and you need to be sure you’re physically ready for the challenge.

More importantly, you need to do it legally. We want you to grow your own, of course, but we don’t want you breaking the law.

We’re very lucky at Ganja Ma farms to have a big space for our sun-grown cannabis, but you don’t need a huge farm with acres of land to grow outdoors. If you have a small balcony with enough room for a potted plant, you can start growing! 

Ideally, your climate should be Mediterranean style: hot summer, mild fall, very little rain. Pretty much all cannabis plants do well in this climate, especially your long-flowering sativas.

Sativas love a long, hot summer… don’t we all???

If you live in colder regions with short summers, indica-leaning or fast-flowering plants are far more suitable. Autoflowering hybrids will suit even shorter summers, as their entire cycle lasts on average around 10 – 12 weeks. 

The weather is also important. Your plants will really suffer in high winds and monsoon-style rains, no matter what the average climatic conditions. If you want to grow outdoors somewhere prone to adverse weather, you’ll need to protect your plants accordingly. 

Another question you need to ask yourself is, am I fit enough, do I have enough spare time? Even a few pots on a terrace will require basic maintenance and upkeep. Pruning, feeding and watering, working the soil, preparing feeds and foliar sprays, these are all necessary to ensure a successful crop. 

Finally, has your state legalized cannabis cultivation? Even if it has, you still need to abide by local laws and regulations. In most states, you’ll need to make sure your plants are out of public sight, with a locked gate or fence for security. As our good friend Kyle Kushman always says, don’t break the law: change the law.

Choosing Your Outdoor Cannabis Seeds

We love winter at Ganja Ma farms. The jars are full, the soil gets recharged under a cool moon, and, by the time we hit the solstice, we’re at the apex of our tilt from the sun. Nature is resting. For us, this means long nights sitting by the fire, discussing what we’ll grow next year.

The biggest questions for outdoor growers relate to climate, flowering time, regular and feminized seeds. We always grow outdoors using regular seeds but fems are great, too – especially for beginners.

With fems, you don’t have to worry about separating the males or accidentally pollinating your entire crop, but you also don’t get the pollen. Feminized seeds are easier to work with, sure, but we’re old hippies and we like doing things the traditional way, naturally.

Homegrown Cannabis seeds
Homegrown cannabis seeds: beautiful.

Those growing outdoors in the northern US states have briefer summers, so should pick hybrids with shorter flowering times. You’re mostly looking for indica or indica-dominant cultivars, but the further north you go, the quicker the flowering times need to be.

Homegrown has a superb range of fast-flowering and auto-flowering seeds, with some autos completing their entire cycle in under three months! Perfect for quick, cooler summers.

Fortunately, we have long, hot and dry summers at Ganja Ma farm, so we can choose pretty much any cultivar we want, no matter how long they take in flower. This is why we will pick cultivars with a good spread of flowering times, letting us stagger our harvest and maximize space in the drying room. 

Besides sunlight, you need to think about humidity and rainfall. If it’s very wet and humid where you live, you’ll do well to choose a cultivar with good mold and mildew resistance.

Sativas show great natural resilience to these problems, with smaller, well-spaced buds allowing more ventilation and quicker drying.

The rest of the decision making process is all about personal taste. What’s important to you?

Do you want cannabis high in CBD?

Are you growing outdoors for recreation only?

Do you want huge yields or does the THC range matter more?

Then you have the huge choice of flavors, aromas and effects: oranges, blueberries, bananas, physical, cerebral, trippy, happy, sleepy, calming, creative… we could go on for months, and that’s usually how long it takes to pick our next bunch of seeds!

Choosing the Best Place to Grow Cannabis Outdoors

Your outdoor space could be anything from a small balcony to a vast, sprawling farm.

Whatever the size or landscape, you’ll still need to decide the best place to grow your plants. Close to the house might be too shady, the sunniest spot might be a mile away (if your garden’s that big, by the way, we’d love to visit), or you might have a little terrace with precious few options.

It’s useful to know what REALLY matters when choosing your spot… you can’t really change your mind once you have a 6 foot plant in the earth!

As with buying a property, the three most important words when growing outdoors are location, location, location!

Location is everything.

First, the location needs to be accessible. You need to be able to get there every day for feeding, watering, checking for males… all sorts of things. It could be the sunniest spot on earth but if you need a Hobbit-style quest to get there every day, it’s just not going to work.

The second most important thing is sunshine – more is definitely merrier. 

Find the sunniest place in your garden or your deck, taking into account that in Spring and Fall the sun is lower down than mid-Summer.

There are phone apps for this if you need help; they show where to place solar panels and will save lots of working out.

A light breeze is also important, but we mean light. If the best spot also suffers high winds, you’ll need to create a natural windbreak with large shrubs, or install a wall or fence for protection. 

If you want to plant straight into the ground, you’ll need a spot with good soil. We’ll dig a lot deeper into this (excuse the pun) later, so for now just make sure you’re able to amend or replace the existing soil, should you have to. This means wheelbarrow access and a bit of mess, so be prepared!

The next thing you need to consider is pests, large and small.

Do your existing plants or shrubs suffer with infestations?

Do they get attacked by rabbits, deer or gophers?

Secure your grow with adequate fencing, consider companion plants to deter non-beneficial insects, and make sure you keep everywhere clean and tidy

Finally, check your local laws and regulations. If your plants need to be out of sight, make sure they are. If they need to be locked and secure, put a lock on the gate.

Whatever you need to do, do it. You can’t enjoy your own cannabis inside the county jail. Not unless you know someone we don’t 🙂

How to Prepare Your Soil

The word earth can mean different things. The earth as a planet, our shared home, or the earth in your hand. The planet is home to millions of animals and each handful of soil is home to billions of tiny organisms.

Everything that treads the earth or soars above is linked to everything in the soil. This is what all regenerative growers need to understand.

Once you’ve settled on the best location for your outdoor cannabis grow, you need to ask yourself about soil. Building up the fertility of the soil takes time, at least three to four years. This is a good reason to work on improving the soil you have rather than throwing away and buying new soil every year. It’s also cheaper and much better for the environment.

Whether beginner or experienced gardener, if you’re using existing soil you should have it tested and follow the laboratory’s recommendations for toxicity and additives. Depending on the test results, you might have little choice but to bring in new soil.

filling pots with soil
Filling pots with soil

When buying commercial soil, check with your nursery as there are special soil mixes designed for growing cannabis. You can also buy commercial compost, worm castings, chicken and steer manure, as well as many other essential amendments.

These ingredients can be used to make your own soil and are great for increasing yield and potency. Just make sure the pH level stays between 6.0 and 7.0.

We use chicken manure and even alpaca manure from our neighbor up the hill. We’ve also used alfalfa meal, sea kelp, wood chips, leaves, compost, worm castings, as well as rock phosphate, green sand, gypsum, and azomite. Whatever we use, we insist on strictly organic and mineral products for our outdoor cannabis grow.

Most conscientious outdoor growers shy away from bat guano and sea-bird guano. Harvesting the droppings disturbs the nesting habitats of the animals, and the working conditions for the employees gathering the guano are deplorable. 

Peat moss is also frowned upon. The removal of peat changes the ecosystem left behind and it takes centuries to grow back. Many other off-the-shelf and bottled ingredients, pesticides, etc, although tempting with their promises and ease of use, are extremely harmful to the environment

As for blood meal, bone meal and feather meal, please make your own ethical decisions. As vegetarians, we choose not to use these ingredients. Plus, they attract large animals like bears!

By thinking deeply about the earth in your hand, you can be part of restoring the earth we all share. Aim for purity, go organic and leave a small carbon footprint. Your cannabis will taste, smell and feel a billion times better for it.

Germination and Sowing

Swami holds a sprouted seed ready for planting.

In late March, Mother Nature rubs her eyes and slowly wakes, gently painting the land with color. Light strokes at first, the grass on the meadow, an opening crocus, then daffodils and oak leaves. Birds return from winter haunts and the buzzing of insects quickens. A universe of activity roused by the birth of Spring.

April soon arrives and when the moon is waxing in a fertile earth or water sign, we begin the sacrament. We use the momentum of Spring to germinate our cannabis seeds, a special step on our seven month adventure.

By now, you’ll know we do things a little differently to other breeders and outdoor growers. This is never more evident than in the way we germinate our seeds, and, as you’ll see later, harvest the plants.  

We put the chosen seeds in small jars of water, labeled according to cultivar, on a table in the dining room next to the window. It’s important to place a pale-colored towel over the sprouting jars. This tricks the seeds into thinking they are a half-inch deep in soil. 

Seeds in water in jars for sprouting
Seeds soaking with Ganges water in jars for sprouting.

Into each jar, we add several drops of water from the sacred Ganges River in India. This water is called Amrit, the “Elixir of Immortality”. In this manner, we set the intention. This is a moment to offer your own prayer and state your intention for the healing and inspirational power of the plants to bless its eventual users. 

They also need to be in a place that’s warm and exposed to the day/night cycle. After soaking in water for 24 to 48 hours, lift up the cover to see if the seeds have cracked their shells and stuck out the little white tendrils that will become the taproot. 

Now, the bursting seeds need to be put into small pots filled with the proper sprouting soil composition.

Bear this in mind: it doesn’t pay to coddle them too much. They need to be out in the elements to build up their strength. Experience will teach you when to protect and when to leave them to fend for themselves.

Sadly, there are always some that don’t make it.

For the first transplant, poke a half inch deep hole into pre-moistened soil, sprinkle a tiny amount of mycorrhizae (a fungal root stimulant) into the hole. Then, gently place the seed into the hole with the white rootlet pointing down. Tuck it in by covering it with a bit of soil, then water gently using a mister, so as not to disturb the soil around the seed. 

Poking seed holes in soil
Poking holes in soil for seeds
Swami places sprouted seeds gently into soil

After transplanting, some people keep the seedlings indoors under lights; we prefer to take them outside and put them in pots in the garden, so they get the sun. Many people make this first transplant into one pint or one quart sprouting pots or multi mini-pot flats.

In mid- April, after a few days outdoors in the soil and sun, it’s a thrill to see the first set of little embryonic green leaves (called a cotyledon leaf) pop out on a little greenish-white stalk. These first two leaves are uniquely rounded, showing bright green against the brown soil. Water as needed with a mister, but not too much.

cotyledon leaf
Embryonic green leaves

A few days later, the first set of pointed serrated cannabis leaves show up at 90 degrees from the original set. You feel the joys of parenthood with a newborn. You’re part of bringing new, green life into the world.

A cannabis sprout beginning to grow in soil
Beautiful seedling with serrated leaves.

Soon, another set of now three-fingered leaves comes out, again at 90º to the previous set, each additional set increasing the height and forming a tier and a node which will soon grow into a full branch.

About ten days to two weeks after this first transplant, you can sprinkle a heaping teaspoon of chicken manure around in each pot and water it in, then watch them jump a day later.

Meanwhile, Spring is in full bloom.

Growing outdoors, you not only witness the bursting forth of plant energy, you are part of it. On a sunny day, the new oak leaves are a radiant red and green as they fill the trees’ silhouettes. The birds are singing and up here in the mountains the deer and the wild turkeys wander through the meadow, which has transformed from golden tan to vibrant green as the grasses come alive and the wildflowers in the meadow start to bloom. 

Your journey is now truly underway.

Caring For Young Plants

In late April, or even in May, if the weather report warns of a heavy frost, you’ll have to protect your babies—at this point in life they don’t like to be frost-bit. 

We stick 10 ft. PVC pipe hoops over short pieces of rebar pounded into the ground. We cover these ribs with greenhouse plastic to make  a “long low tunnel” about four and a half feet high, as long as is needed. It keeps the delicate little starts warm and cozy

This modern day cold frame can be made for any size garden and any number of plants, literally from one to 1000 or more. A good alternative for a smaller garden is to drape frost cloth over a tomato cage around each plant.  

Swami removes cover off cold frame
Cold frames can be covered to protect the young plants from heavy rains.

One of the joys of growing cannabis outdoors is standing in the Spring rain, watching raindrops dancing on the leaves. But only up to a point! Too much rain can water-log the roots and damage some of the more delicate starts. That’s when we pull up the greenhouse plastic to shelter the plants until the sun comes out again. 

Swami inspecting all of the cannabis sprouts
Swami taking care of the babies.

If it happens to rain later in the season, which is quite rare in NorCal, don’t bother to cover them (if they have good drainage). Just stop watering for a day or so before and after the storm to prevent water-logging. Also, don’t worry about the trichomes washing off, they’re not water soluble!

Now comes the real heart and soul of gardening: nourishment. 

Feeding and Watering Your Cannabis Plants

It’s good to have a regular watering routine with a compost-tea soil-drench every seven to ten days. Try not to miss a watering or a feeding. Your plants will notice and won’t grow as much, because they won’t be sure where their next meal is coming from. 

Cannabis plants are sentient and aware.

Watering techniques vary, but don’t over-water. Many gardeners like to let their plants slightly dry before watering again. This encourages the roots to reach out in the soil looking for water, which makes for a solid, expansive root ball.

Cannabis plants growing outdoors in their early stages being watered
Cannabis plants being watered

There is debate about the time of watering, with many saying either early morning or at dusk, but not at midday in the full sun. If you already have a drip system in the garden, just extend it to the pot plant.

Feeding plants is something people write books and doctoral dissertations on. Over the years, as we’ve learned more about growing this magical plant, we’ve tried just about every which way there is of growing. 

We are now at a place where we want to grow as naturally, organically and regeneratively as we know how. And, as we learn more, we’re always open to improving our harmonic relationship with nature.

Rather than assume you’re feeding the plants, consider that you are feeding the soil, adding the organic and microbial ingredients that make the soil come alive. The microbial elements in living soil process the nutrients to make them available to the plant.

One of the best ways to feed the soil is to make aerobic compost teas for drenching the soil around each plant. Not difficult to do on a small scale. With a five gallon bucket, an aquarium air bubbler and a package of ready-made compost-tea, you can easily brew up enough to soil-drench 10 plants. If you have a compost pile and/or a worm bin, add these ingredients to the brew. 

Compost tea being poured
Compost tea makes perfect plant food.

There are many formulas for tea brews, some for sprouting, others for vegetative growth and others for the flowering plants. With so many options, our best advice is to look at what resources you have in your garden already, and in your neighborhood.

Talk to your nursery. Look online. You want the best, most organic and regenerative way to feed the garden your circumstances will allow.

July and August are the key growth times when the long days and the hot sun stimulate vegetative growth. The main task is to give the plants sufficient water when it is very hot and to provide the correct nutrients needed for growth

Cannabis plants in vegetative stage
Cannabis plants in vegetative stage

Carry on with the soil drench compost teas (or, alternatively, the powdered nutrients) about once a week. Before you sprinkle on powdered amendments, be sure to water the plants first, apply the powders and then water them in.

We highly recommend using compost teas, which activate the nutrients naturally in the soil or in the manure and other natural amendments you add (through cover cropping and mulching).

If you use the standard powdered N-P-K commercial nutrients, over time the fertility decreases because a salt deposit builds up in the soil. This happens because most commercial fertilizers and other mineral amendments are delivered in the form of a salt.

This makes them more soluble and easier for the plant to uptake the chemistry. But over the years the salt residue builds up and blocks the plant from absorbing more nutrients.

There is a phrase: you are what you eat. It’s the same for cannabis plants, especially since cannabis is a bio-accumulator. Whatever is in the soil, good or bad, will be brought up by the plants’ roots.

Feed them well and they’ll reward you with delicious, potent bud.

Feed them poorly, or with harsh, chemical fertilizers, and this will show in your finished product.

Be the best grower you can be. Always.

Sexing Your Cannabis Plants

As May turns into June, the potential for rain recedes and the sun marches higher in the sky. Mendocino County is full of color: daffodils, lupin, coastal and forest wildflowers, cherry, apple and pear blossoms on the trees, all in bloom. The trees are coming into leaf and the grasses are turning green. Tiny dots of pink, then yellow, then blue, then white, different flowers follow each other like a parade through the meadow.

Summer is coming. It’s a wonderful, magical time of year.

If you grow from regular seeds, the day will come when you’ll have to determine gender, or as we say, sex your plants. It’s a key skill when learning to grow cannabis outdoors, naturally. Once they have at least seven nodes and are about two feet high, usually in late May or early June, you’ll need to inspect them every day. This means a closeup inspection of the top few nodes of each plant to see if two tiny, pale-greenish, furry antennae-like hairs are standing up in the crotch. This means the plant is female. 

Female hairs starting to show on the cannabis plant
Check for small hairs to identify a female cannabis plant

If you don’t want to wait for the plants to determine their gender, there are genetic testing labs that will tell you, for a price, the sex of a particular plant. You’ll need to send a leaf cutting, but only once there are 3 or 4 tiers or nodes of branches.

The males are often a little taller and lankier, but not always, and they usually mature before the females. They’ll develop tiny, pale, yellow-green sacs. These will eventually mature and dangle down like balls, bursting open to spill out pollen. If you don’t remove the males from the garden before the pollen sacs break, they’ll fertilize all the females – not good for your bud!

Pollen sacs beginning to develop on a male cannabis plant
Male cannabis plants will begin to develop pollen sacs

When you grow from regular seeds, about 50% present as male plants. This is the saddest part of all, since you’ve nurtured and loved these little babies since infancy. Now you have to put them down.

Fortunately, the males pop their pollen sacs before the females are really fertile. This gives you a chance to select the best males and set them aside in a quarantine area before they pop. 

If you’re breeding, you’ll want to know how to grow cannabis seeds, but this is another lesson for another time.

How to grow cannabis outdoors: Transplanting to the Final Home

As soon as a female has shown her sex, usually by the end of June or early July, it’s time for the final transplant. We prefer to put the plants in the ground in circular mounds that have been prepared with various amendments.

If you have a place in your regular garden, transplant your starts to a bed with a clear space around it. A healthy plant can reach a six foot diameter. You can plant clover, potatoes or other companion plants around the base.

When you transplant the small starts to their final spot, be careful taking the roots out of their pot so as not to break the root ball. It’s often good to water the pots a little bit before removing the plant, because damp soil holds together better. You should gently scruff up the roots if they are all bunched up and root bound, allowing them to spread horizontally in the ground or pot. 

Scruffing the roots.

Although one hopes to have all the girls transplanted into the main garden by the Summer Solstice, some girls holdout until early July to declare their sex. Curiously, the late bloomers often catch up to the early ones, as long as they’re in the ground or planter before July 1.

Some seeds don’t crack. Some don’t sprout in the potting soil. Some might be attacked by bugs and some might come out deformed.

You should give them every chance to rally and grow, but there’s a 5% attrition rate at each phase, from cracking to sprouting to transplanting. 

Even up until harvest, you can lose a plant for one reason or another. A gopher, an insect or some disease. Don’t despair, it is not unusual to lose a plant or two. It’s life!

How to grow cannabis outdoors: Trellising and Support

There are many methods of trellising. Some people use nylon monofilament netting and metal fencing “T” posts or plastic coated steel rods. This netting is frowned upon by conscientious gardeners because animals can get caught in it. It also makes a mess at harvest time, since you have to cut it apart to free the branches for harvesting and then the pieces get all over the garden. It can eventually end up in the ocean with all the other plastic. 

Starting when the plants are about three feet high, usually in late June and early July, trellises need to be built to support the longer lower branches, otherwise they have a tendency to break off.

Horizontal trellised cannabis plants
It’s essential you give outdoor cannabis plants the support they need.

Trellising continues into September in order to support all the branches which get heavier and heavier as the season goes along and the buds get bigger. This is especially important late in the season when there is a possibility of a rain storm, which would make the flower tops very heavy. 

We use ten foot bamboo poles or the green metal ones, which, if kept dry, can be re-used for many seasons. Take four of them and push them vertically into the garden bed or planter in four places around the perimeter of each plant, making a square of the verticals. Then 4 six foot bamboo poles are attached horizontally with zip ties (50 lbs. test) to the verticals at 2 or 3 feet above the ground. Add another set of 4 horizontals 2 feet above the first. 

Horizontal trellising using eco-friendly materials.

The number of tiers of  horizontals you attach depends on the height of the plant. Start with one set to catch the lowest branches, then add as needed until harvest.

If you’re using a smaller planter and the plants are smaller, use four foot bamboo poles for the horizontal pieces and eight footers for the verticals.

Another alternative for smaller plants is a large tomato cage, which is easier to put over the plant the earlier you do it.

Monitoring for Pests and Pathogens in Your Outdoor Grow

July and August also is the time to carefully monitor the plants for pests and pathogens. This becomes especially important as the buds get bigger and stickier. Depending on your location, different pests and diseases can be a problem.

Keep an eye out for gophers, ground squirrels, field mice, deer, and other critters that chew on the plant stalks for water, thereby killing or stunting them. It sometimes helps to put water pots outside the garden for the critters.

If the plants are on a balcony this won’t be a problem but bugs, mildew and mold can be. Even in suburban gardens, the plants can be attacked by various critters. Don’t let your cat or dog use the garden for a litter box or a poop yard as it can be toxic to plants.

There are other pests and pathogens to be on the lookout for: aphids, russet mites, thrips and so forth. It’s a good idea to buy Lady Bugs and release them in the early evening as they eat many bugs that attack the plants.

If you do see a problem or infestation on your plants, check the internet. You’ll find sites with photos to identify the problem and possible solutions. Be sure not to use any pesticides. You can check with your local nursery for assistance, because they often know what problems are prevalent in your area, and of course they want to sell you something.

In late September and early October, as it gets closer to harvest, some regions have mildew and mold problems because of fall rains and foggy mornings. Keep a sharp eye out for these pathogens – a real pain when growing cannabis outdoors!

Again, be careful of pesticides. For powdery mildew, some people spray the plants with diluted hydrogen peroxide, especially on the underside of the leaves. Some people spray diluted skim or buttermilk or even diluted pomegranate juice — all these change the pH on the leaves. Whatever you use, keep an eye on the plants and make sure there’s no adverse reaction.

How to grow cannabis outdoors: Flowering Time

In most cases, your plants will start to form buds in the first week of August, when the hours of darkness are more that nine and a half hours. Unless you’re using auto-flowering types of seeds, in which case they will flower a set number of days after planting. Or, if or you live in a different latitude, your plants could form buds earlier or later in August. 

Flowering Cannabis Plants at Swami Select
Plants in full flower are an absolute joy to behold.

At this point, you want to be sure that all the males are removed from the garden and in a safe quarantine area. Vigilance is due here as well, because cannabis plants have been known to change sex.

Cannabis, like all life forms, has a fundamental urge to preserve and continue the species, so it can happen that collectively the female plants in the garden will notice that there are no males.

As a result, one or two females will produce a male branch or just a few male buds. If you don’t catch them and remove them immediately, these male buds can seed all the plants in the garden.

Life finds a way… as annoying as that can be sometimes 🙂

Preparing the Drying Room

As it gets into September, it’s time to prepare your drying/curing area. This is very important because you can ruin a good crop if it is not dried and cured properly.

As a rule of thumb, it takes just as much room to dry the plants as it does to grow them. This can be addressed by choosing cultivars that are harvested at different times, early, middle and late maturing plants, thereby cutting the necessary drying area to a third of the area for growing.

If you only have a few plants, space shouldn’t be a problem. 

Choose the drying room carefully. It needs to be dedicated to drying for up to two weeks for each harvest cutting, with limited human access and absolutely no dogs, cats or other pets. The area needs to be clean and dry with no mold or mildew issues and you should cover all the windows with black plastic

Nikki & Swami carrying in branches to dry
The drying room should be clean, dark and free of mold.

For hanging, the simplest thing is to stretch some strong string, or better, galvanized wire, a little above head height from one side of the room to the other. The number of wires depends on how many plants you have and how big they are.

The branches can hang fairly close together, but allow space for air flow. Another technique is to use nylon trellis netting, attached to horizontal 2×4’s, so it hangs down vertically, but this won’t be necessary if you have just a few plants.

Air flow is important, you will need some fans and to be able open and close the windows. A de-humidifier may be necessary, but this depends on the weather outside. If it’s very dry the De-hu might not be needed, but if it’s very rainy then you will need it, especially if you have a lot of plants.

Harvesting Your Outdoor Cannabis Plants

Now comes the most exciting moment of the whole exercise, that is, other than smoking your very own homegrown flowers. The exact moment of harvest is crucial and each grower has their own special way of deciding the exact day.

If the hairs on the top of the lower level buds still look juicy, it’s too soon to cut. When those hairs, or pistils as they are called, are kind of brown, crinkled, shriveled and almost burnt-looking, then you are close to harvest.

You can get a 60x or 120x magnifying glass and inspect the trichomes, looking for clear, cloudy and amber. Most people think that when about 1/4 to 1/3 of the trichomes are amber it is time to cut right away. It seems there’s a three or four day window of optimum potency.

Pick too early and the THC is not at its peak.

Pick too late and the THC supposedly starts to deteriorate or turn into CBN. 

We have a special technique for choosing which plants to harvest and when, but we’re not sure everyone can use it. What we do is ask the plant. This method is based on the science of kinesiology, also known as muscle testing. 

The technique is to touch the thumb of your right hand to the little finger of your right hand (if you are right handed, otherwise reverse these directions), and hold it there as you ask the plant to tell you if it is ready to be cut.

Press the right thumb to right pinky as hard as you can and try to pull them apart by putting the thumb and pinky of your other hand in between the connected thumb and pinky of your right hand, spreading the fingers of the left hand to force open the right hand fingers.

Swami checking out a big girl
Swami talking to the plants.

If you can’t pull the right hand fingers apart, the answer is “Strong” and means “yes”. If you can’t keep the two fingers together no matter how hard you try, the answer is “Weak” and means “no”.

The process is to first assess that the plants are close to harvest by looking at the pistils and trichomes. Then, the day before you plan to harvest, go out in the garden in the afternoon and go to the most likely plant.

Now, empty your rational brain from any pre-judgement. Gently touch a flowering branch and ask the plant the question: “Are you ready to come in tomorrow?” and try to open your fingers.

Still touching the plant and still being empty in your mind, ask again: “Do you want to come in tomorrow?” Again try to open your fingers. Then ask a third time: “Should I leave you for a later day?” If for the first two questions you can’t open the fingers these are strong responses, meaning “Yes! I want to come in.” and the third question corroborates that by asking the opposite question and your fingers open up, the answer is “No!” meaning do not leave the plant, it does want to come in.

If the first two queries are answered “No!” and the third, “Should I leave you…?” is a yes, don’t take that plant, and go on the the next one. Repeat this action for each plant up to the total number you want to take in the next morning before first light.

Just like in the wine industry, the optimum time to cut is in the darkness just before first light. Not sunrise—before first light. Put on your head lamp and and a warm coat and get out there at 5:30 am. Why? Because the terpenes and cannabinoids are at their peak at this time of day but they off-gas all day long, reaching their low-point at sunset.

Even vegetable gardeners claim that veggies taste better and lettuce is sweeter if picked very early.

Nikki leafing a cannabis plant outdoors
Nikki inspecting the flowers.

When growing cannabis outdoors, some people like to perform a “trophy cut” for harvest whereby you take just the top ten inches or so of each branch. Look for a spot on the branch where there is a break or a gap between the nugs and cut there. Gently put the “top” in a basket or tub and bring it in to hang.

Hanging cannabis plants
Swami & Nikki hanging cannabis plants.

At this point, many people pull off the big fan leaves and compost them. Others do a “wet trim” with scissors and cut away most everything except the bud. This is not recommended.

It’s best to leave some leaves on, which protects the whole top during drying, curing, and bucking until it is trimmed, even though it means the drying might take a little longer.

Our practice is to cut the whole branch close to the stalk and take all the branches from one plant at the same time. Sometimes, there will be a very small plant, for whatever reason, if so then cut and hang the whole plant, as they often do for indoor grows.

When you have big plants, a good method is to put down a small tarp next to the plant in the garden and put all the cut branches from that plant on the tarp. Close the tarp and carry it to the drying room and hang the branches upside down. This way, you don’t lose track of which plant is which: an easy thing to do.

Before you hang, remove any yellow or brown leaves and the biggest fan leaves.

Drying and Curing Your Cannabis Plants

Drying takes from ten days to two weeks, depending on the outside humidity and temperature. Inside the drying room the ideal is 60º  Fahrenheit and 60% humidity, with good airflow. The branches are ready to come down and be bucked to shorter length for storage in bins when the smaller twigs snap rather than bend.

When they are dry enough, we put the bucked branches into either clean cardboard boxes or plastic tubs lined with brown kraft paper. The brown paper or cardboard helps to equalize the moisture content of the various branches in the box or tub. This is where having a few leaves left on the buds protects them and their delicate trichomes until the flower is trimmed. 

Tubs can be reused year after year, but be sure to clean them out well before the new crop goes in. For just a few plants, brown paper grocery bags work very well, just make sure they are clean and free of mold.

Now, even though the flowers are dried, they still need a bit of curing before they are really smokeable. Once the buds are bucked and in their containers, put them in a cool dark place but where they are still accessible, because they will need  to be “burped” every other day or so.

Do this by opening the top of the bag, box or tub to let out any moisture that has built up from the cure. 

Learn How to Grow Cannabis and Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor

Swami smoking
There’s nothing better than enjoying your own Homegrown cannabis

So, finally, after seven months of loving care, feeding and watering your girls, and at least a month of curing after harvest, the beautiful dried flowers are ready to trim.

Trimming is a whole other story, which we won’t cover here, just be sure to save the trim shake to make canna-butter, canna-oil or tinctures at home.

You may know the joy of eating your own homegrown tomato or lettuce and how much better it tastes than store bought veggies. Well, the same goes for your homegrown cannabis buds. For our personal taste, we really don’t like to smoke the new harvest until late January or early February, when it has really cured. 

If cured properly and stored in air tight glass containers and kept in a cool dark place, the flowers should be at their peak for a year or more, especially if you don’t open the jar. We actually prefer what we call aged weed, which is not only dried and cured, but has aged a bit and is at its peak in July or August, at least eight or nine months after harvest

Now light up and enjoy, you’ve earned it. And better yet, you can share your experience with your new Homegrown friends at Homegrown Diaries or the amazing Community Forum.

Check out Nikki and Swami’s Cultivars with Character, and load up on Lemon OG, Maracuya, or Taängie. The crème de la crème of cannabis cultivars and perfect for growing cannabis outdoors.