2020 Isolation Grow: Halfway to Planting

May 13, 20202020 Isolation Grow Blog

Today, the youngsters in the cottage are halfway to planting day, provided enough females survive. To help make certain I fill our beds, I’ve started five feminized seeds. So of the 32 plants in 3-gallon pots, all I need are seven females. Other than wanting a variety of CBD cultivars, and a lot of AC/DC, I’m not terribly concerned about what I end up growing this year. I’ll be happiest if I plant everything on May 27. That would be a true first, to have all the plants I’m going to grow, ready for planting on the first possible day.

Sexing begins today, and while I don’t expect to see any pollen sacks for another day or two, the obsessive checking has begun.

While I obsess, I will be productive. Next week, I make the first compost tea of the season. I’ll only make one tea, ten gallons total. The first thing I’ll do with that tea is give a half cup to each of the cannabis plants turning four weeks old. I hope that sip of tea will coax more males into showing their sex. But before that first tea, which will be a very basic tea of molasses, humic acid, worm castings and horsetail, I must clean the buckets and the aeration holes. In order to clean them, I need wire brushes of varying widths. I’ll need to clean out each of the holes in the aerator, and completely unplug them of any debris from last year. Sediment builds up fast inside the aerator hose, and when it hardens, it feels like epoxy. So everything will get a long soak and cleaning, with every hole freed of congestion. A clean aerator makes for the best possible compost tea.

I will also do one proactive bath for each cannabis bed. This is a calcium and magnesium bath. None of my beds have shown a weakness in this department for two years now. But before each grow, I always give each bed a little boost. Honestly, four years of planting fish bones in the beds solved the calcium issue. But I’ll do the following bath anyway.

I pour five gallons of spring water, and I always test the pH. Our water has been consistently at 6.5 or 6.6 every time I test it. But it’s important to keep testing it, because I could hurt the soil and plants if I proceed with a pour and the pH is wrong. When you add the four tablespoons of calcium/magnesium fluid, you must stir it thoroughly and then test it immediately. Don’t be shocked when the pH drops about 20 points or so. You then have to carefully add pH UP or a small amount of baking soda, if you don’t have pH UP. After each dose, stir well and test the pH. Once you raise it back to approximately where it was before, 6.5 or 6.6, give or take a few tenths, it is ready to be poured in the beds. Btw, if you need to lower the pH, I use pH DOWN. I know growers who use aluminum sulfate, but I do not know that method.

Calcium and magnesium are vital to flowering cannabis. You won’t notice them lacking until the damage of their absence appears during flowering time.  Often calcium and magnesium become deficient from the long growing season and heavy uptake of these secondary nutrients by the cannabis plant.. This draining of growing medium resources is another reason why compost tea is so important through the season. As the soil is depleted by an aggressively growing plant, replacing vital nutrients on a weekly basis helps bring the plant home for harvest.

It can be difficult, at first, knowing if your rapidly yellowing plants are lacking something, or if that particular cultivar is simply doing exactly what it is designed to do. A key for me was when I could detect plants that had a slightly yellow tinge evidenced throughout the entire plant. This was made more obvious when growing the same cultivar in different beds. If one plant was decidedly greener than others while she flowered, it became clear which beds were lacking, and which had the staying power for the full season of growing. 

Looking back, all 22 beds had some calcium and magnesium issues when we began using this soil. Another way of looking at their improvement are these facts: In the first year, I did approximately 60 calcium/magnesium baths. The second year, approximately 30. Third year had six baths, and last year, only one. I’m expecting this year to be the same as last year.

The rest of that first compost tea will be entirely for the vegetables we’ve planted so far. No tea for the vegetable sprouts, only the established starts get their first dose of food. Because compost teas are so rich in micronutrients, I like to give all our plants a few weeks of maturing before they receive their first tea. The following week, I will make two batches of tea. Again, a half cup for the youngsters in the cottage, and the remainder will be divided equally among the vegetables, and the cannabis beds, poured directly into the grow zones, where the plants will be placed. I give each bed two weeks of compost tea before planting. I want those roots to hit soil that is vibrant with microorganisms and complex sugars. One of my favorite moments as a grower is watching plants connect with their destinations. After only a few days, the measurable growth will become obvious to the naked eye, between when you say good night and when you greet them in the morning. 

Once you’ve seen that kind of growth up close, and it only accelerates the entire vegetative period, it’s impossible not to go all in on compost tea.

In fact, one of Brenden’s jobs in training the plants is to bend branches down enough to actually stop, or slow their growth. Before we put up the privacy screen, we had to do this more than once. That’s why extending the privacy screen allowed us to let the girls grow last year. We just weren’t quite expecting them to all grow so large.

Inside the cottage, I’ve begun the indelicate matter of sexing. This involves much in the way of fan leaf lifting, so I might peer without interference upon plant genitalia. Did I just make that sound dirty? I honestly do not expect much for another day or two, but because it’s been three weeks, like some pavlovian remnant, I’m out there every couple of hours, awaiting the first male and the first tragic walk to the large and recently emptied green trash bin. The plants will be carried and deposited without remorse, no matter how lovely and hopefully female they had once appeared.

I’m now filling each 3-gallon plant reservoir once a day, and this keeps the youngsters moist enough to continue growing and reaching. Reaching for it is going to become one of the themes of this summer. I believe cannabis likes to reach for water. I believe this especially for CBD cultivars, based on my experience of growing them to date. I think making cannabis plants reach a little bit is an excellent growing philosophy. Currently, two young plants have fan leaves over the edge of their 3-gallon pots. Stuff is taking off.

Full disclosure on the photo from last year:  Karen walked out on the upstairs deck with her camera. She wanted to take a picture of me working. She could not see me. She asked me to raise my hand. 

Jeffery Hickey
Oaksterdam Alumni

Jeffrey Hickey is a 2014 IPPY award winning novelist, performing in over 900 Reader’s Theater shows that featured his authorship of adult novels, and books for children. His accomplishments include a program of self-empowerment and effective oral communication, “Find Your Voice,” that he taught in public and private schools throughout Northern California. Jeffrey is the father of twin sons, and is arguably the happiest married man on the planet.