Growing cannabis for medical purposes? For yourself or someone you care about? This blog aims to help you take steps to ensure your garden is operating at a hygiene standard you would expect of the gardens providing medical cannabis products to patients.
I get invited to visit many different garden spaces. Often it is just to show me how good their space is or how proud they are of it. Regularly I spot issues that the owners have not yet spotted themselves, and I have put together a few tips to help you stop making the same mistakes before you might make them.
1. Keeping the floor clean.
While the ground may be covered in grass and leaves outside, where trees and plants grow, this is not ideal for indoor cannabis plants destined for medical uses. Dead and decaying plant debris is an instigating factor when it comes to plant infections and disease. Regularly picking up fallen leaves and giving the ground a light sweep or wipe down at least once a week will keep you on the road to maintaining a pest-free garden. Put the leaves in your compost or worm bin so you can add it back into the soil next round. The circle of life.
2. Putting filters on your air intake.
I cannot stress this enough. If you are bringing in air directly from outdoors or even directly from ŧhe room in a house, there is no excuse to not implement a filter layer at the very start of the ducting and intake. If anything, it will extend the life of your fan! Giving insects a free ride into their optimum condition holiday park is not what you want to be doing if healthy, unadulterated plants are your target. You also don’t want to be sucking in your hair and dead skin cells if your grow is in a room within the house you live.
3. Wear a face mask and hairnet.
You are either bored of them or used to them by now, but operating around your plants with a face mask will stop you from breathing bacteria and other nasties on your plants that may not even be for you…It really isn’t something to put a smile on your face when you break into a nug to find there is a hair growing through it, and you can’t work out if it’s from the grower or a hair off a dog’s anus. If you’re growing for someone with a compromised immune system like cancer or Crohn’s Disease, this may be a step you want to start taking sooner rather than later.
4. Wear clean overalls.
You might think you are clean because you only took a quick walk to the shops, but are you sure no bugs landed on you? Are you sure you didn’t brush against a bush by the side of the road and get some spider mite on you or some mould spores? Sounds a bit paranoid, doesn’t it. Nope, it sounds like a good risk assessment. Having a set of overalls that you use just for your grow space when you go in, and only going in if you have them on, is an excellent way to make sure you aren’t bringing in the grubbies – stop the battle before it starts, I say!
I have been told by some cannabis facility employers in certain US states that they have to take a shower between going into different zones of ŧhe facility to ensure there is absolutely no cross-contamination. Sounds extreme? Sounds like dedication to me. If you are a dog walker or love a hike in the country, this one is especially for you. Oh, and change your shoes too! I mean it. Stop cutting corners while simultaneously wondering why you keep having problems.
5. Wash your equipment between uses. Disinfect your space between each cycle.
Measuring jugs, syringes, tubes – it is well worth washing down your equipment after every use. Stop the salts building up in your measuring jug, or you may interfere with the dose you’re really giving your plants. Leaving organic feeds to fester out in the open for a week can lead to mould slimes and anaerobic bacteria that can lead to problems with pH and plant immunity, so it’s well worth keeping up with the housework. Put the lids back on your bottles, the water the nutrients are suspended in will evaporate, and the concentration of the product will increase, meaning you will start to overdose your plants unintentionally. Plus, it just helps your space stay looking good. And we like that.
As with equipment between each use, clean your room between each grow. It sounds simple, but it gets missed so often, and it may take until week 3 of flower before ŧhe problem that you thought you got rid of in the last grow pops up its horrible head. Take the time to clean down, this includes the walls, the floor, take the blades off the wall fan and give them a clean too; otherwise, you are just preparing for problems that will take a lot more effort and money to try and counter than the time it takes and a bit of disinfectant to prevent it in the first place.
6. Calibrate your probes regularly.
Stop believing that they are perfect if you haven’t calibrated them in a while. It is so essential to make sure your pH probe stays in good shape. This is a piece of scientific equipment, and it needs to be treated like one. If you only tested it at the start of the grow and you are now in week 6 of flower and wondering why things aren’t hunky-dory, this could be a reason. My advice is not to buy the cheap probes and meters as they swing out of calibration so quickly. You will probably still want to replace things like a pH probe every year as it doesn’t last forever. Make sure you store your pH probe in KCl (potassium chloride) solution after each use, as this will dramatically extend the life of the probe.
7. Carry out routine pest and pathogen inspections.
Inspect your grow. Turn over the leaves, not just the outer ones but the inner ones. The benefits of spotting a thrip or spider mite infection early on compared to when it has started to really establish can be 50% loss of your crop or worse. Their breeding cycle is 13 days, for example, by which point they could have gone from 2 to 2,600 in that time, with each of those starting their own breeding cycle as they hatch. It really does pay to keep your eye on things and do your due diligence. If you have not got a cannabis pest and problem diagnosis book, it’s worth having one on hand. It could save you a lot of hassle. You may wish to implement a non-toxic insecticidal soap spray once a week as an In-house Pest Managemenŧ (IPM) schedule. Check the stems, tops, and underneath of leaves. Learn about the common cannabis pests before you come up against them, and you will know what to look out for. Be prepared – it’s nature, we all get something – some time or another.
8. Change your light bulbs every two grows (if not LED)
You cannot expecŧ the same results, in terms of cannabinoid and terpene content, if your bulbs are past their best, even if you are growing the same strain from a cutting crop after crop. HPS bulbs are not long-term items; they are expendable and need replacing. The elements inside them give them the light spectrum fade over time and with use and fairly rapidly. Yes, they look bright but put a new bulb next to one that has already grown two crops, and you will notice the difference. Don’t cut corners on this one. They are cheap enough to replace. You do get what you pay for, so if you buy a $15 bulb from a budget producer and not a $45 from a specialist, you will get the quality of a $15 bulb. Standardised cannabis medicine needs to test almost identical from crop to crop regardless of the time of the year. Maintaining the correct light spectrum and lumens is integral to that.
9. Use reverse osmosis water (unless your water supply is natural mineral water).
Tap water is a variable resource that differs from county to county and country to country. For example, people in England report water as high as 0.6 or 0.8 EC, which is very high, while just down the road in Wales, water is 0 EC and produces some spotless products. The problem with high EC or PPM is that you will need to reduce the number of actual nutrients you put in the feed to accommodate for the already present elements. You will most likely need to use a calcium and magnesium product when you make this switch because Reverse Osmosis water removes all nutrients and minerals from the water, making it a blank canvas for you to work with,
10. Environmental controllers are your best friends.
Controlling the variable conditions to ensure they remain inside the most productive and beneficial climate zones for your plants will maximise the plant’s efficiency. Temperature, humidity, CO2, light, even the feeding schedule can be controlled with the right technology. There is a growing selection of controllers on the market that work with AC or EC fans. You must get the right kind to match your equipment, including power ratings. This takes a lot of the stress out of the growing process. You can start to focus the time and attention you spend with your plants on dialling them and the controls to best serve them and deliver the results you are striving for.