PS Tests Don’t Lie

Mar 15, 2021 | 2020 Isolation Grow Blog, News

Hi everyone. I’ve really missed writing for you. I hope 2021 has begun to bring hope back into your lives, or that you can see hope on the horizon. Karen and I began our deep isolation on March 7, 2020, so we’ve already spent over one year, and I anticipate we’ll have to spend a good portion of this second year in isolation as well. Certainly, the first section of the grow will still be under pandemic conditions. After that, who knows? But one thing I’ll be doing from now on is wearing a mask during seasonal flu season, because they work. We are patiently waiting to be notified when we can get our vaccines. 

I alluded to some health issues toward the end of the blog, and just yesterday, I had some (hopefully) corrective surgery. I had hernia surgery one year and three days ago, as well. I’d like to go longer than a year before another surgery. I’m fine, but today, my post-surgery body feels like it was dropped from a two story window. It hurts to type.

My last blog was November 10, but I did so with unfinished and unwritten business. I’d written extensively about the importance of testing what you grow. I wrote that I was just about to submit samples and once I got those results, I could close the books on the 2020 Isolation Grow. I even mentioned the name of the lab. I wanted to get the tests done, report the results, and move on.

Turned out that particular lab in Berkeley was closed for Covid, at least temporarily. So I had to find another lab.

Meanwhile, life intervened, and the cost of lab work needed to be delayed until the new year. We set our samples aside and waited.

The lab I finally chose to use, and will be using in the future, is SC Labs. I Iook forward to working with them on some of the very specific testing I’ll be attempting after my next grow. In addition to extensive testing, they conveniently came to my house and the very polite and kind courier safely transported our samples to their lab. In the interest of full disclosure, we had SC Labs run approximately the same tests we had done at our previous lab, which included potency, cannabinoids, terpenes and general quality control. Even with the exceptional courier service, the overall cost to test our grow last year was $200 cheaper at SC Labs than we’d previously paid. So . . . better service, better reports, and for less money. That has been my experience so far.

Test results from the 2020 grow are important to me. With our medical issues, we need to be certain about what we ingest. I wrote extensively about each plant last year. I told you the plants that were growing well, as well as the plants that disappointed my expectations. But no matter what I thought about the grow, the proof is found in the tests. The tests don’t lie, though they often surprise.

In 2019, I had my largest crop yield, but potency in the test results for that year left something to be desired. They were good, but not great. Many reasons were possible, some of which were detailed in the blog. There was the late planting of several cultivars, the lack of sunlight for those late plants during the flowering period because of trees on the south facing hill etc. I’d also heard from other growers that said, you know, what I was doing was great, but I might never get the kind of results I was hoping for with my particular setup. Not enough sun, etc. I also wrote that the future of this plant is inside controlled growing and drying environments. I believe that.

But I have also written that in my opinion, medical grade cannabis can be grown outdoors, to a potency suitable for anyone. In my bones, and despite all our obstacles, I know I have the one ingredient that indoor growers lack: The Sun. 

I’ve had some high test scores. I’d grown a few plants that broke the 20% potency barrier, be it CBD or THC. But over five years of growing, I’ve been formulating theories about how to best boost my plant potency. Obviously, when you harvest makes a huge difference, and over these years of growing, I can plead guilty to harvesting early. Many were the plants I’d see the first trichome turn and THAT WAS IT. Bring her down. Since then, I’ve experimented with harvest times, from early to late in the cycle. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do last year, and when I wanted to harvest. I exercised more patience than previously shown and waited until I had multiple buds, from all over the plant, that were turning. It’s a subjective skill, but after several years, I thought I’d gotten better at when to harvest. That’s why the 2019 potency scores were a little disappointing.

A key factor must be described here: the unbelievable level of training provided by Bee for all the plants, but in particular, both of the Rainbow Kush this past year. We recognized something special was happening with RK 18 early on. She was trained accordingly, in order to maximize both the amount of sun she received, and the yield she could deliver. Bee got the training started early, and remained a step ahead the entire grow. By training these plants as aggressively as they did, Bee allowed for much more of the plant to receive adequate sunlight. 

Bee has been training the plants since they started working with me. They were drawn to this duty, and over the years, they have improved. They are constantly pushing the envelope, and last year, our collaboration hit a peak with these results. 

When sending in samples for testing, we try to send in flowers from up and down and all sides of the plant. We want the average to be representative of the entire plant, so we’re confident of what we’re taking, or what we’re giving someone else to take. If a plant is grown without much training, the lower flowers that do not get strong sun will not be as potent. These flowers will drive down an average. Other growers sometimes only send in flowers that get lots of sun, but this will not yield an accurate average potency for the entire plant. 

By Bee’s aggressive training, we were able to open up both of the RK plants, and especially RK 18 to more sun in lower and inner places. Our goal is that with a well trained plant, the difference in potency between top and bottom flowers is minimized. 

All praise to Bee for this training. They took advantage of when we harvested a plant on one side of the RK, and immediately trained into that empty bed for the last five weeks prior to harvest. In the four years Bee has trained our plants, their own learning curve with the process probably matched my own growth curve for plant care and compost teas. 

But there was one more factor in the 2020 grow and it was one that developed and evolved in real time. You’ll remember the heirloom Stupice tomato plant I grew and the spectacular amount of fruit she produced despite not being watered after early July. She produced two crops with over 300 pieces of fruit. We ate ripe, sweet medium sized tomatoes well into November. She only showed specs of mold after the first freeze. I was going to take her down early and she remained up until the end of harvest. She had new growth emerging until it froze.

I watched how dry farming was pushing that tomato plant into spectacular production and I took note. In fact, based on what I was seeing from the tomato plant, I began changing the watering pattern for cannabis. Instead of cutting them off water 2-3 weeks prior to harvest, I went longer for a few of the plants, to see if this could also help increase potency. Based on what I was seeing, I was cautiously optimistic, but I didn’t want to write too much about my optimism before seeing the test results.

So, as previously written in the last blog, the 2020 isolation grow was over 13 pounds harvested, with well over half our yield coming from the final three plants, two Rainbow Kush and one Ringo’s Gift. The largest plant we’ve grown here to date was Rainbow Kush in bed 18, or 2020RK18. It totaled 2.76 pounds or 1,254 grams. I wrote and documented in photos and videos about this plant. She was the most perfect plant we’ve grown to date. She had the least pathogen problems, and she attracted all those mating ladybugs last year. I so wanted to harvest her at the proper time and maximize her medicine. 

Turned out that Rainbow Kush in bed 18 is the highest THC potency plant we’ve grown to date.

Cannabinoid Analysis – Summary

Sum of Cannabinoids: 27.989%

Total Cannabinoids: 24.866%

Total THC: 23.517%

Total CBD: 0.111%

Above: RK 18 a couple of days before harvest. Below is the tap root for the plant.

I will admit, my jaw dropped when I saw 23.517% for THC potency on RK 18. 

I wondered if it was just the superior genetics of that particular seed. That particular feminized seed, I must add. This cultivar is said to have a potential of around 19% potency. That’s what it says on the literature that came with the seeds. The Rainbow Kush we’d grown the year before were both around 15%, so despite how healthy RK 18 looked, my expectations did not include a leap that large.

I grew another Rainbow Kush last year, in bed 16. She was also a beauty, but not quite as large as 18, and more prone to pathogen trouble. In the last few weeks prior to harvest, we cut a lot of moldy bits from RK 16. We cut some on RK 18, too, but not nearly as many as RK 16. She also showed her age and the lack of water, much more than 18 did. She had yellow leaves we were plucking every day the last month before harvest. RK 18 only showed yellow leaves during her final week. 

Rainbow Kush in bed 16 on the far right, a few days prior to harvest. Turning yellow fast.

Testing another of the same cultivar should give me a better read on the results in bed 18. If there was a large disparity in potency between the two, it would underscore the health of that one seed, as well as the health of the bed she was grown in. If they are similar in potency, it would underscore the dry farming methodology. The potency for RK 16 is as follows:

Cannabinoid Analysis – Summary

Sum of Cannabinoids: 26.094%

Total Cannabinoids: 23.081%

Total THC: 22.018%

Total CBD: 0.07%

This result seems to indicate the method of water starving had a large impact on potency. Were it not for the potency of RK 18, this plant would have been the most potent I’ve grown to date. So these feminized seeds represent the two most potent plants I’ve grown so far, and they both exceeded in potency and yield over what I was told to potentially expect from this cultivar.

Obviously, this has given me a lot of momentum heading into this year’s grow, which will begin in six weeks.

These results also make clear that despite the challenging dance we do with all the shade around our property during flowering, they are getting enough light. For the last two years, I believed we could only grow to a certain level of potency, because of the number of trees growing around us, and there was not a whole lot I could do about it. 

I was wrong. We can grow to whatever potency each seed is capable, and possibly more. No excuses.

Before I move on to the other plant test results, I also need to spend a moment discussing terpenes on RK18. She had the most terpenes of any plant I grew last summer. There were terpenes that showed up in the lab tests that I’ve never seen before. Some of those had never  been seen at SC Labs, either. The list of terpenes for this plant was long and included all the usual terpenes you see, or rather, smell, but here are a few that I had to look up:


a Bisabolol–a terpene common to chamomile.

Linalool–an anti-inflammatory

Fenchol–Is an antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antioxidant, known for being the terpene responsible for the smell of basil

Nerolidol–found in both jasmine and lemongrass

Borneol–An anti-inflammatory that has been a staple in Chinese medicine for centuries

Farnese–a muscle relaxant and anti-spasmodic found in some, but not all sleepy time cultivars

Sabinene–found in pepper and carrots, it is an antimicrobial and antioxidant not commonly found in cannabis

Valencene–Is an anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, insect repelling, and has been found to improve the efficacy of the chemotherapy drug Doxorubicin.

The list goes on, but perhaps just as interesting as this list is the fact that the other Rainbow Kush I grew in bed 16, at 22% potency, shared in some of the more exotic terpenes present in bed 18, but also had its own unique terpenes not found in the larger Kush. These two plants are wonderful examples of variations in seed phenotypes.

One of the plants I was most interested in growing again was CBD God. It is reputed to grow at a 4:1 CBD to THC ratio. I’ve grown her twice now, different phenotypes from one year to the next, but the results were quite similar:

Cannabinoid Analysis – Summary 

Sum of Cannabinoids: 26.905%

Total Cannabinoids: 23.982%

Total THC: 18.264%

Total CBD :0.052%

You can’t call a plant a  CBD plant when she only produces 0.052% in CBD.

It’s got nice potency. It’s a pleasant plant to be on, but it’s more of an afternoon calming plant, and not something you’d immediately choose for pain.

Ironically, there are a vast variety of cannabinoids to this plant, and by looking at them, you can see the potential that another phenotype might offer. But I won’t grow her again. I have to grow CBD plants that produce cannabinoids in larger percentages, and on a consistent basis. 

Like, for example, the other CBD plants I grew last year. I needed to restock our high CBD Low THC supply, for high functioning pain relief. So far, so good. For Ringo’s Gift in bed 11, we got:

Cannabinoid Analysis – Summary

Sum of Cannabinoids: 24.702%

Total Cannabinoids: 21.902%

Total THC: 0.723%

Total CBD: 17.988%

And for Sour Tsunami, we got:

Cannabinoid Analysis – Summary

Sum of Cannabinoids: 22.379%

Total Cannabinoids: 20.056%

Total THC: 0.71%

Total CBD: 18.011%

These two plants are both high functioning plants. Just enough THC to make the CBD most effective. Before we submitted the samples for testing, someone we know had been developing tendinitis in one of their hands. We gave him some Ringo’s Gift flower, because he prefers to smoke. Three hits apparently eliminated all his pain, so we already knew we’d grown something valid.

The remainder of the test results range from acceptable to mediocre. All of the plants that tried to flower early were not as potent as plants that did not go through that stress. The best of the second bloomers was the second Ringo’s Gift, from bed 5. She came in at a respectable total of 14.565% CBD with only 0.635% THC. While this is not as potent as RG 11, once Karen turns the plant into a concentrate, that difference won’t matter. It will be another source of fresh medicine. It should also be pointed out that the final ratios for the two Ringo’s Gift plants ended up, respectively, 23:1 and 24:1, which is growing to the established potential of that plant.

A similar result was found in our embattled ACDC 22, which had to be stripped of early flowers, and survive a hole in her base that allowed in all kinds of insects. Typically, her rebound was not as potent, though as a concentrate, the medicine will still be valid. She had 13.358% CBD and 0.513% THC.

Bubba God will provide a solid sleepy time medicine at a potency of 16.633%, with the third most terpenes behind CBD God and RK 18.

As expected, a couple of early flower plants, Shiatsu Kush and White Widow (which also had a bed issue) had lower numbers (a little over 11% on WW)  but will still make for effective edibles. I look forward to properly growing another White Widow this year. 

The two ACDC phenotypes that were purple and airy, produced almost nothing worth using. They were spectacular looking failures. I’m not interested in growing that phenotype again. ACDC 17, which was almost the tallest plant we grew, had 7.841% CBD and 0.463% THC. Disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, given how much that plant appeared as almost pure ruderalis. It was the airiest plant I’ve grown to date. It was a nice experiment, but ended up being a waste of a raised bed.

From the 2020 isolation grow, I have learned the following:

Water as much as I need while the plants are in veg mode, (which in my case is a very disciplined once a week) but as soon as they flower, back off the water, and with the larger plants, stop watering completely. What I proved last year, which I have suspected, is that I have enough ground water (in general) to sustain the flowering process. The flowers were made significantly more potent by cutting off water completely for better than half the time they flowered.I will do that for all the plants this year. 

I have been reading about and toying with the concepts of dry farming. Having utilized this method on tomatoes with great success, last year allowed me the first opportunity to actively try this process for cannabis. All of the plants were cut off from water earlier than previous years, but none more so than the two Rainbow Kush. RK 18 did not get plain spring water her final seven weeks. She was watered one time while she flowered. All plants got compost tea until a month prior to harvest. The final month, no water was used for any of the plants, other than in foliar sprays.

I am already known for using less water in growing CBD plants. I like to make them reach for it. I am of the belief that less water used during flowering will also cut down on potential mold. Mold needs moisture. We had mold last year, because all outdoor grows have mold when the conditions are ripe. But we had less than many other years, and it is worth noting that the reduction in mold seems to correspond with using less water. Make the plants work. Force them to produce to their full potential.

I have written in this blog and elsewhere that the future of this plant is in laboratory settings. But for those who claim you can only grow medical grade cannabis, or high potency cannabis in controlled, indoor settings, you’re wrong. 

With the right seed, in the proper growing medium, with an aggressive trainer, and just the right brew of tea and protection, you can grow medical grade cannabis outdoors. Take advantage of the sun, which is an ironic thing for me to write.

Last summer, I told you about my battle with the sun, the south facing hill and all the trees in our region that only allow a very narrow window for me to effectively grow. While this will always be a challenge, based on the test results of last year’s grow, it can no longer be an excuse. The 2020 Isolation Grow proved one thing conclusively: I’ve got enough sun to grow well over 20% THC potency. That is some serious new information for me going forward.

So, we’re weeks away from starting again. I’ll once again be growing less plants (only 8) and placing them next to empty beds so we have room to train. I continue to push the concept of growing less, but yielding more. I will continue water reduction during flowering, because drying up these plants makes for potent flowers. I am starting to see the potential for my beds, and I’d like to push that envelope a bit. I got close to a three pound plant last year. Maybe I can reach that this year, or maybe I can make our eight plants reach the same harvest total we achieved last year with 13 plants. I like having goals for each grow.

If something exciting or particularly interesting happens this year, I might pop up with a blog, and I look forward to Zoom sessions with Oaksterdam students. 

Peace and best wishes to everyone. The fava beans are happening. Yesterday, Bee came by and showed me how ants are racing around our beds, guarding the dark, sweet spot on the stipules of each plant, already protecting against aphids, and a new season of outdoor growing will soon begin. I will make my first compost teas of 2021 next week, and I’ll begin the seed germination process ironically on 4/20.

Stay safe, everyone. The pandemic is not over yet, so please wear your masks. Have a great year in your garden. 

PS  This is a link to the catalog page at SC Labs for my grow. You can see a few of the cultivars with basic information, and test results:

If that link doesn’t work, try some of these: