“If we can have unrestricted vegetative growth, what you have is the plant reaching its natural potential."
This article is part of an ongoing series in collaboration with Kevin Jodrey, an internationally respected cultivator and propagator. He has been a cannabis cultivator for decades, and he currently runs Ganjier Farms and Wonderland Nursery in Southern Humboldt. We’ve been diving deep on every stage of the cultivation cycle by tapping into Jodrey’s knowledge and the knowledge of other farmers and industry experts who know what goes on in the heart of California’s Emerald Triangle.
Part 1 looked at selecting the right genetics in Issue 128, and Part 2 tackled the art of building soil in Issue 129. Last issue, we covered the best methods of transplanting both indoor and outdoor plants to minimize plant stress. Now, we dive into the next stage: vegetative growth. Speciﬁ cally, unrestricted vegetative growth.
“Unrestricted vegetative growth means you’re not putting anything in the way of the plant so it can have its natural growth patterns,” Jodrey said. As the roots drive into the media, it needs to be properly aerated with just enough water and the right nutrient supply to allow the plant to grow in this ideal, unrestricted way.
“If we can have unrestricted vegetative growth, what you have is the plant reaching its natural potential. That is something that few of us ever really get to reach, because for so many growers, there’s limitations on what they’re using,” Jodrey said. “The media is not as good, the nutrient delivery system isn’t correct, the environmental conditions are incorrect: all those things all create factors that prohibit you from reaching that unrestricted vegetative growth.”
EVERY FARM UNIQUE
The genetic code inside those seeds and clones aren’t the only determining factors for how they will grow when planted, Jodrey said. “The growth potentials are most definitely controlled by location, and so the location of the garden, meaning the actual input of the garden on the plant, has phenomenal impact on the perception of vegetative growth.
“I have one plant that is the size up to my shoulder, and I have another plant that’s twice my height. Both of them, same exact plant, both of them put out the same exact day, both of them the same exact media. Same exact food. Same exact treatment. What’s the difference? One of them is on my mountain where it gets a trillion micro-breaks from the wind, which stops it from having massive vegetative growth.”
Micro-breaks are cracks and breaks in the plant’s vascular system that occur from withstanding the wind; this slows down vegetative growth because the plant needs to stop and repair itself. Compared to the garden in his backyard that is buffered from the wind, the plants at Ganjier Farms are significantly smaller in stature.
Jodrey isn’t the only one to notice the wind’s effects at Ganjier Farms. Second-generation micro-farmer Spencer Damon and master gardener Dia Damon are the farmers behind Nomad’s Landing nutrients, and they work with Jodrey directly to provide for tiers of sungrown cannabis on a day-to-day basis. Ganjier Farms is tucked into Northern California’s redwood forest, and the effect the wind has is evident, Spencer said.
“The structure is different across the beds too, depending on how much the wind impacts it,” Spencer said. “The wind crops it off. Plants that are much more wind effected grow shorter.”
Each step of the tiered farm essentially has its own microclimate based largely on the difference in wind force, Dia said. “A lot of variables impact it.”
In another part of Southern Humboldt County closer to Garberville, the farmers at Riverview Gardens were recently shown how unique a farm can be, and how an attentive farmer can reduce loss. Brian St. Clair is a lifelong farmer of traditional agricultural and has farmed cannabis for the last six years, and this year presented a problem he’d never seen before.
He visits the garden every day and began to notice the plant tops of one row were beginning to twist and curl, looking like a dandelion ready to go to seed, instead of shooting up toward the sun. The plants stopped growing. After hours of research and several lab tests, St. Clair discovered his plants had been infected with the beet-curly top virus, a virus that had never been recorded as affecting cannabis before. The source? Leaf-hopping bugs from nearby vegetation.
“I had to kill 30 of my plants, an entire row and half of another row, by cutting them down,” St. Clair said. “I created a buffer where the leaf-hoppers were bringing the infection. That gave me time to clean that up.” He used foliar spray nutrients including Nitrogen and Cal-Mag on the few plants showing minor infections, and they bounced back.
PLANT SIZE AND SPACING
While the windy conditions do limit the heights plants will reach at Ganjier Farms, Jodrey said there is a worthy trade off. “What I get out of that full wind in that location is exceptionally hard dense nuggetry, with exceptionally low fungal problems. I get less overall production but more product makes it to the table. Different ways of getting there.”
Being able to grow big plants isn’t a gauge of a farmer’s success. “If you didn’t get a 10 foot plant, you didn’t fail,” Jodrey said. “And because your plant is 10 foot in one garden and 3 foot in another doesn’t mean you’ve failed either.” A plant that’s too big in certain situations is unstable, making it hard to support and control, Jodrey said.
Smaller plants can yield another advantage in its trichome coverage because “the bigger plants produce plant material and space between the trichomes,” Spencer said. The trend for monstrous plants took off in part to legal restrictions farmers faced in certain counties. The limited plant count in places like Mendocino County encouraged some farmers to select primarily the biggest, highest yielding plants, Spencer said.
Places like Humboldt County are now counting by canopy square footage, so properly planning the spacing of sungrown plants is critical and smaller plants are more feasible. Jodrey said if you think your plants are going to need a 10×10 space and they actually only need 5×5, you’ve only planted half as much as you could have. He emphasized that this is why it’s so critical for farmers to work with the strains they’re growing then ask themselves:
- How did it work for them?
- How did the farm do?
- Did it give them the size plant they needed?
- Was it overly large for the purpose?
Answering these questions will help you optimize spacing for future harvests, Jodrey said.
FEED NUTRIENTS WISELY
The beauty behind engineered soil mixes is they are built balanced, Jodrey said.
“A balanced mix is a healthy mix that allows the plant to be able to take up the nutrients needed organically without excess nitrogen. The problem with nitrogen as a fertilizer is that it has an incredible ability for the plant to uptake it. If all plants receive the level of food they need and I give them more, I get zero change except with nitrogen. When I add more nitrogen, I keep getting a change until I hit toxic.”
The end result of adding too much nitrogen is driving the plants into becoming too big and too sugary, making it a nice, tender meal for pests and pathogens, Jodrey said. He calls this “plant obesity” and it even makes it more difficult for the plant to go into flowering.
One of the products Jodrey relies on is Grower’s Secret GSN 14-0-0 organic nitrogen in a foliar spray. Grower’s Secret GSN 14 was developed to help farmers maintain that balance while stimulating growth, said Chuck Schiller, Vice President of Product Management for Grower’s Secret. Their soybean-based nitrogen includes 17 of the 19 amino acids necessary for healthy cannabis plant growth, and he said these amino acids are the same ones microbes in the soil need. They are part of what help their product shorten production cycles, he said.
“GSN 14 provides amino acids and nitrogen that plants need to grow and helps plants chelate other micro nutrients to aid in uptake to prevent or overcome deficiencies,” Schiller said. “This means that the plant has a readily available source of amino acids and does not need to make them, saving the plant countless amounts of energy that can be used by the plant in doing what its genes tell it to do. Grow and flower!”
Calcium & Magnesium
Without calcium, there is no plant growth, said Kevin Jodrey. “Calcium is the most important element of cell growth because it keeps the cell walls turgid,” he said. Calcium is extremely mobile, the wind is moving it and the plant needs it dramatically in the outdoor circumstances. If we can apply it foliarly and end up having it directly to the tips, the plant doesn’t have any type of stress.”
Applying calcium in a foliar spray means farmers aren’t disrupting the ionic balance between calcium and magnesium in the root zone, Jodrey said. “The balance between calcium and magnesium is important because most of the modern cultivars are Kush based and they take up tremendous amounts of magnesium. When we put high calcium levels in the pots of those plants, it precludes the uptake of magnesium needed. It’s better to run at normal calcium level in the pot and then spray the plant with a foliar cal.”
Spencer Damon agreed that certain strains have heavier magnesium needs and has changed tactics since working at Ganjier Farms. “Fuelly strains were always finicky about veg,” Spencer said. “We would back off our feeding about 50% for the fuel strain in veg and then hit them full strength in flower. Since working with Kev, he has us doing a top dressing with epsom salts as a magnesium supplier and not backing off on the nutrients. They seem to be doing much better.”
Kevin Jodrey said it’s important to find cultivars that aren’t too nutrient hungry. “That’s important because those are the ones that will reduce your input cost and the overall margin,” Jodrey said.
“We went the wrong way. We went into these plants that require phenomenal quantities of everything. I want plants that grow basically in sand. You can grow in sand. There is no piece of earth on the earth that you can’t grow on if you apply composting and the addition of compost tea.”
The tendency toward nutrient-hungry plants started in part thanks to dolomite lime, according to Founder of Cutting Edge Solutions John Piccirilli. He created his line of additives and nutrients by observing cannabis farmers and their crops over the decades. Ganjier Farms works with Cutting Edge Solutions Organic Cal-Amp in a foliar spray.
Dolomite lime is about 12-17% calcium and 52% magnesium, and was a popular choice for farmers in the 1970s and 1980s, Piccirilli said, but it had a major flaw. That 5:1 ratio of magnesium to calcium should ideally be reversed because of the imbalance it creates: Calcium gets tied up with phosphorous and other things in the soil, and the magnesium can easily get tied up with sulfur. “Any agriculturalist will tell you that a plant will want more calcium than magnesium at 5:1,” he said.
Cultivars were being brought back from Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Vietnam and other conflict areas, and they were being grown in high magnesium soils, Piccirilli said. Back then, farmers were growing what they personally wanted to smoke, and weren’t as focused on making a profit.
The atmosphere has changed, however, so Piccirilli suggests “How about you flip those numbers and start breeding those plants for that soil?”
Ode to Foliar
Foliar application is used by many farmers in Humboldt who are serious about the health of their plants and the quality of their end product. This allows immediate application of a nutrient in smaller quantities by spraying, so you spend less on nutrients and see more benefits without messing with the balance of the root system.
Piccirilli said there are a few tools farmers typically spray solutions with, depending on the farm’s size: spray bottles, backpack agricultural sprayers, paint sprayers from the hardware store (most common), and atomizers that vaporize the solution.
Brian St. Clair from Riverview Gardens prefers to foliar spray during the hottest part of the day for his garden plot. “It’s just like us, when we get hot and dirty, we want to take a shower,” St. Clair said. “I learned that from an old school hippie who’d been doing it since the ‘60s. I asked her, ‘What’s the one thing I should do?’ She said, ‘Spray at morning, noon and night.’”
Cannabis doesn’t need much help as it’s growing, but farmers have to prepare for the heavy load of flower soon to come. Kevin Jodrey said, “As the plant is growing, we want to weave the support structures into it, so that the plant itself has the mechanical support structures that the farmers added in place well before it’s ever needed.”
Bamboo stakes are traditional amongst cannabis farmers in the Emerald Triangle, but trellis netting has recently become popular, Jodrey said. They use 4×4 nylon mesh at Ganjier Farms, but Jodrey cautions against using them for plants that will be 5 pounds or bigger.
Larger plants benefit more from concrete reinforcing wire with 4-6 inch holes in the screen, Jodrey said. They’re wrapped to fit inside with the grow bag or the soil, and then the plant can grow through the support cage. “It allows all the branches to receive the support approximately 15 inches away from the stem itself,” Jodrey said. “As this grows up, the grower would go and clean up all the vegetative material from the center of the cage, because none of that would receive any light during growth, but then the plant would be able to handle the full weight on the flower.”
Once the plant starts to get 15 foot in diameter, the distance from the end of the flower to the stem is so long it creates a leverage advantage, Jodrey said. “It literally will rip the branch right off the main stem. So if we can change where the leverage is, we don’t have the same amount of force on the stem of the plant.”
The Damons have been setting up Ganjier Farms trellising, and they said it is a more minimal way of growing big plants. “You are constantly having to add more tiers and trellising as it gets bigger,” for typical support structures, Spencer Damon said. “You have the t-posts and the wire strung across the t-post, as soon as the plant hits the top of the wire, at that point it’s tied off at the end and the plant itself grows through the netting. You want a majority of your a-grade kolas above the netting, and the b-sters below the netting.”
Correct watering is all about maintaining field capacity, according to Jodrey, which simply means all the water held at gravity. “We want to water these plants to field capacity and ideally would wait until 40% of the moisture leaves that pot before we water it again. This allows us to, maintain the correct air water ratios, where if we water too frequently, we don’t allow oxygen to be driven into the bag through evaporation.”
As water evaporates, it creates a vacuum in the soil, and atmospheric air rushes into the bag to fill the void and create “a beautiful aeration,” Jodrey explained. Keep the soil too wet, and that air never makes it into the soil and roots cannot be built. Keep it too dry and that leads to dry pockets, locations in the bag where there’s not enough moisture to maintain root growth. “What’s the point of unrestricted vegetative growth if we’re going to kill off portions of the root system through inadequate watering?” Jodrey said.
Watering is relatively simple and Jodrey said both drip systems and hand watering work well. “What matters is you’re paying attention to the watering cycle of the plant, he said. “One is going to notice that when one transplants, that once you transplant, you might only have to water every 10 days. And as the plant goes through its vegetative cycle, that time period will compress until we get to peak flowering and we’re watering every 2 days, then it will go all the way back to the beginning of the cycle at 10 days.”
FOCUS ON FLOWERS
The vegetative growth cycle sets the stage for the flowers that are soon to bud, and Jodrey said it’s important to keep the flowers in mind. The goal for Humboldt craft farmers isn’t to grow the biggest monster plants; the goal is to have phenomenal, resin-encrusted flowers by the end of the harvest with terpenes that snap your head back when you open the bag. With minimal inputs and maximum care, farmers lead their crop through the vegetative stage and prepare for managing their needs as flowering begins.
By Allison Edrington & Kevin Jodrey
Originally published in Weed World Magazine Issue 131
- 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