Known internationally as a top cultivator and propagator, Kevin Jodrey is a master gardener who runs Wonderland Nursery in the epicenter of California’s craft cannabis community: Humboldt.
Jodrey shared his best practices for selecting genetics with Weed World for Issue 128, and he saw an opportunity to share Humboldt’s heritage farming practices. We plan to look at each step of the cultivation process, one by one, and tap into Humboldt’s knowledge base of experience and study.
Last issue, Jodrey and I collaborated to speak with farmers and scientists about their secrets for building healthy soil like the Emerald Triangle does. Once the soil is prepared, the seemingly simple task of transplanting is next. Kevin and other Triangle farmers share their best practices and the biggest misconceptions about planting.
Chat with just a few farmers in Humboldt about their craft, and one word you’ll hear over and over again is “steward.” The Emerald Triangle perspective is that farmers are there to give their plants the best scenario possible — the plants actually do the hard work of growing. Farmers plan to minimize stress on their crop at every step so the plants will focus on fully expressing their genetic potential.
What’s a bigger source of stress than change? Transplanting is a time when farmers will either ease plants into a new environment, or not, Jodrey said. “Planting cannabis, though seemingly relatively straightforward, there are some considerations that have to be met for the ability for the plant to make the transition from one size or one media to another.”
WHEN ARE CLONES READY TO UP-POT?
The shelves of Wonderland Nursery are home to trays of perky clones in 1-inch cubes, affectionately called “babies” by the staff. These cubes are the foundation of many California farms, including Jodrey’s, but the root can’t stay in that size pot for long. “You have the ability to take a plant and up-pot it, but you want to make sure the plant has an adequate system before you do,” Jodrey said.
Jodrey transitions his clones as they are ready to 3.5 inch pots, and then later to anywhere between 1 or 5 gallon pots in the initial stages. From there, once the roots have developed further, they are transplanted to 65 or 70 gallon pots. To eventually fill 400 gallon pots, a 5-gallon root ball will be needed. He said he knows the clones are ready to make that initial jump to the 3.5 inch pots when roots are protruding from the cubes, but not more than a ¼ inch outside the exterior.
“The misconception is the roots that are hanging out of the cube are actually going to live and work, but the truth is they don’t have the right epidermal layer. They don’t actually do anything unless they are put into the same exact situation,” Jodrey said. “If you’re cloning into perlite and water and you have this incredible root system, and you went right back into pearlite and water, it would be ideal. But if you go from pearlite and water to soil, none of those roots will really work because they don’t have the exterior surface to deal with this. They’re going to have to form new material to move forward.”
With the high aeration media available, Jodrey said he allows physics to help him farm. “When we go from field capacity, which is a fully saturated media under gravity, we allow it to dry out to no more than 40%.” Dry farmers also use physics to their advantage, he said as the water table below the surface rises and falls to wet the soil. “As that 40% of water is removed from consumption, it leaves void space that must be filled with something because it can’t be vacuous. It’s filled with air” that helps build the root system rapidly. He keeps the pots anywhere from 60%-100% wet and doesn’t rely on root enhancers or other “band-aids” to build the roots.
“If we balance the size of the pot with the size of the start, we can get it to go through multiple wet-dry cycles in a faster period of time, and it makes the plant go through faster rooting cycle because I keep pulling more air into the media. More air, more root,” Jodrey said. Then it can move into a bigger pot — just don’t let any pot get below 60% saturation. “Otherwise I put a 3.5 in a 400, and what I get is that it’s going in there rooting but I’m not getting any oxygen being driven in from the surface, so what I have is an anaerobic condition.”
Other farmers take their plants in even smaller steps. The people behind Nomad’s Landing — master gardener Dia Damon and second-generation micro-farmer Spencer Damon — have a decade of experience growing award-winning cannabis in Northern California. They create natural farming inputs in Mendocino County and work with farmers directly.
Nomad’s Landing’s transplanting schedule takes the crop through smaller steps: from 3.5 inch pots to 6-inch, half-gallon, and then 1 gallon pots. Making more gradual transitions reduces the amount of water and nutrients the pots require. The Damons said this also manages the density of the root system, and they are mindful of how long the plants stay in each size pot. Otherwise they said they risk their crops becoming rootbound.
“That means roots have overtaken all of the soil,” Dia said. “Roots have grown outside of the pot or back up into the pot.” Spencer added that a good example of rootbound plants are the discount veggie starts you see outside of stores. Starts from zucchinis to strawberries will be marked down because they have sat too long and become rootbound, meaning the eventual harvest will be significantly less.
“I personally like to transplant every 28 days, whether I see roots or not. It’s a good signifier for me,” Dia said. “Unless you’re going from a 1-gallon to a 10-gallon, then it’s 2 months.”
Indoor techniques require fewer transitions, though the process works similarly to outdoor, according to Jennifer Bruce of Sarkana. Bruce has been farming cannabis in one way or another for more than 20 years, primarily in Humboldt, and her current indoor farm produces a clean source for her lines of infused edibles.
“I generally use little peat moss plugs, and they go up into the 4-inch containers into soil,” Bruce said. “Then once those are rooted, for indoor I only transplant f them one more time into 7 gallons of organic soil [in reusable smart pots]. Once the vegetative cycle is done, I put them to flower and they remain in the 7 gallon pots for the full 2-month cycle.”
STARTING FROM SEED
Once seeds establish adequate root systems, they are treated like clones as they are up-potted, Jodrey said. His suggestion for starting seeds is to pre-imbibe them with liquid. Soak them well, lay out on paper towels that are also saturated, insert into large Ziploc baggie, blow air into it like a balloon, and seal. He then places them on a heating pad at 78 degrees to activate the enzymes.
The processes begin metabolically, and Jodrey said he carefully pulls these pre-emerged seedlings and places them in potting media. His rule of thumb: if we used a 5” deep container, start with 1” and add media as it stacks so it roots advantageously through its stem so the entire pot is a root ball.
WATERING AND FEEDING -PRO TIPS
How do you know if you’re watering your pots enough? The Damons have a few easy ways to tell. Typically they prefer to use a water gauge to ensure the moisture level doesn’t dip below 60%, but the simplest is just a quick lift check — “If you can lift the pot up, you need to water it” or if the soil is dry down to the second knuckle of your finger, Dia said.
Soil contracts away from the edges of pots as it dries, and Spencer said they add additional soil to fill in the gap to save on water. They have noticed that this prevents water from going straight to the bottom of the pot and offsetting the soil and water balance.
“You always want your soil to be like a moist sponge. Not soaked,” Spencer said.
For the initial transplant into a pot, Jodrey emphasized that soaking the soil in the pot just a little more than the plant that is being transplanted will help tremendously. If the imbalance goes the other way during transplanting — the plant root ball has less water — the pot’s soil will suck all the water from the plant. Indica varieties tend to trigger more easily when younger, and Jodrey has noticed that cloth bags seem to create less stress on plants than plastic pots.
All of these measures are in the name of preventing die off during transplant, and watering indoor transplants follows similar practices. Bruce said the number one cause of die off she has seen from inattentive workers is failing to actually water the plant’s roots. Instead, they accidentally water the entire rest of the bag, except where the current root system actually is. Water and nutrients need to be where the actual root systems are, she said.
She uses room temperature water on young plants so the temperature change doesn’t shock them, and she uses half strength nutrients. Then it’s a matter of packing the soil to ensure no air pockets are present and waiting for taproots to establish. “You can tell because your new leaflets should pop out once the tap roots are established. If they don’t, then something’s gone wrong,” she said.
Want to prevent water loss and keep the temperature of your soil from spiking? Mulch is a favorite answer amongst Humboldt outdoor growers. Jodrey describes this as any material used to protect the upper layer from sunlight.
“It’s exceptionally important in organics because the mycelium layer is at the surface layer and just like outside, naturally occurring, we have this fungus and bacteria on the soil, and hummus falls on top of it, fungus and bacteria break that down and drive it like fingers into the soil,” Jodrey said. He uses GroKashi, Boos Blend, and rice hulls as his mulch. The Damons are also advocates for mulch as a water retention tool.
TIMING AND TEMPERATURE
When is the best time to transplant outdoor plants? Just after the New Moon, early in the morning — Jodrey said the increasing light hours created by the moon help to keep indica varieties from wanting to go into flower. This is called the waxing period.
To determine if a plant has entered flowering stage, Spencer Damon suggests looking at the number of fingers in the leaves. “Once it goes into flower, it goes back down from 7 to 5 to 3. You lose 2-3 weeks of vegetation time,” Spencer said. “When they go into flower so early, you end up with all those little nodes and having to clean up all these little sucker plants. You also have more trellising because you have little branches poking out everywhere.”
Humidity is also a factor when moving plants into different environments, Jodrey said. “When you have plants that are in humid conditions, their stoma are fully open because there’s no worry about desiccation at all,” he said. “I might be from 60-70% humidity in a veg space down to 15% outdoor. The change is so radical that you transplant early at dawn, and that will give you 6 hours for the guard cells to start to close up a little bit and let these plants accept it.”
Jodrey suggests keeping an eye on your soil temperature once the plants are outside, too. The surface of the soil can heat up to over 120 degrees F and it can get over 150 degrees F in a black grow bag. Black plastic pots can be wrapped with burlap or other materials to reduce how much heat it absorbs. They can be unwrapped at the end of the season when it is cooler, Jodrey said.
In exceptionally windy places, Jodrey has found he needs to give plants more water than normal but only at the root ball itself. Inside, the soil ball actually dries out. “It’s asking for water so badly that it just drains it right out of that and it never gets into the media around it. You have to give it a couple shots from the top to keep the ball wet so the roots can get in. On really windy operations, we use an organic foliar calcium from Cutting Edge Solutions and an organic 12-0-0 amino acid protein form Grower’s Secret while I’m going through transplant in the first couple weeks. Calcium for cell growth and nitrogen let’s me create sugar to put root tissue down.”
Windy conditions also means that he has to adjust his own expectations, Jodrey said. “As the roots fully bite in and the plant goes, in windy outdoor situations, you end up having a plant that looks kind of raggedy for the first couple weeks of the transplant until all the new growth pops up and you now have a plant that is acclimated and ready for that environment.”
Transplanting in any conditions has its risks but the stewards of cannabis in the Emerald Triangle know it’s also an opportunity to help the plant reach its genetic potential. The care and craft that goes into just this small component of the season is what helps set Humboldt’s farmers — and their harvest — apart.
By Allison Edrington
Originally published in Weed World Magazine Issue 130
- How to Grow it like Humboldt by Lynnette Nutter
- How Humboldt treats its soils by Allison Edrington & Kevin Jodrey
- Strong roots survive – Heritage farmers share tips and advice on transplanting
- Unbound Growth – Veg cycle advice from Humboldt’s finest
- Feeding Humboldt’s Flowers How Humboldt’s Sungrown Farmers Handle the Flowering Cycle and Harvest
- How Humboldt harvests – meeting demands of California market