Among many businesses that fail within the first year, growing cannabis (farming) is no different. Make no mistake growing medical cannabis is a business, so those of you out there who believe all you need is a pot, some soil, and a few seeds to have an amazing harvest are dearly mistaken. The truth is, growing high quality medical cannabis is full of challenges and anything but easy. The reality is these challenges begin the moment you decide to grow. It includes education, planning, controlling your environment (indoors), maintenance (oh I mean R&D because following directions does not always work), managing a workforce, hard work (time consuming), and an open mind (good imagination). All things considered, there are no guarantees for success. Sorry.
The experienced horticulturalist aka ‘master grower’ understands that growing is nothing less than biological, molecular science and if they want to be a successful grower this is the best approach to take. I’m certainly not leading you on a trip through a laboratory without a botany degree, which is in essence what many growers do, but rather discuss some of the challenges the medical cannabis grower faces on their journey to winning the cannabis cup.
By examining the farming community and some of the challenges they face, it’s evident why the road to success is paved with technological advances in science and biology, not with good intentions. (We all know where that leads). In fact farmers face so many problems and issues that extend outside the boundaries of simple growing, PACA (Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act) was formed in 1930 to help protect them.
“PACA establishes a code of fair trade practices covering the marketing of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables in interstate and foreign commerce. The PACA protects growers, shippers, distributors, and retailers dealing in those commodities by prohibiting unfair and fraudulent trade practices. In this way, the law fosters an efficient nationwide distribution system for fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, benefiting the whole marketing chain from farmer to consumer”. 1
The United Nations estimates one third of the world’s produce grown, and nearly half in the US, is wasted. It is thrown out or left to rot in the field or on the vine to avoid the cost of processing and distribution simply because the produce is physically imperfect. Sadly, this product has all the nutritional value as its perfect, beautiful counterparts that make it to market (symmetrical, correct color, shape, and size) but is never used or consumed. How much exactly? “1.6 billion tons of produce a year, with a value of about $1 trillion dollars. If this wasted food were stacked in 20-cubic meter skips, it would fill 80m of them, enough to reach all the way to the moon, and encircle it once.”2
Well nature is not perfect, stable, or dependable from the farming perspective so attempting to produce perfect fruit and vegetables in imperfect conditions is nearly impossible. Drought, strong winds, and pests like animals and insects amongst many other things can all cause imperfections in produce. A buyer or wholesaler can look through 12 cases of lettuce, find one bad head and make a lowball offer for the product or refuse to purchase the shipment altogether. Okay so what does any of this have to do with growing Medical Cannabis? We’ll get to it.
The way forward is the way back: The challenges a grower face start before they even have any plants so given they have right mindset, Dr. Greenthumb carefully thinks about how to plan the grow. Most novice growers start by trial and error method of R&D meaning they don’t look before they leap. The cost of experience means making mistakes but the knowledge gained will often elevate them to the next level. Most growers, including myself, may have done things that create problems and don’t optimize results (the wrong way) before realizing what works best for them. It’s certainly debatable what ‘the right way’ is, as there are many paths that will lead to success, however I define the right way as what will produce the best quality and highest volume for your space with the least amount of cost and time. In addition, when planning, growers should never forget about of the most important resources of all: their time. Plants need time to grow and the results achieved by growers are directly related to the loyalty and time they devote to their plants.
So many questions that need answers… Indoor or outdoor? What grow method is best for me? Dirt or hydroponics? What is the best media? Soil, coco, rocks, or a blend? How many plants can I have for my grow space? How do I control the temperature, humidity and C02 levels? What watering method will be most effective? How much time can I devote to the grow? Will I need help growing and harvesting? These are just a few questions at the surface and not asking them is a recipe for failure in my opinion. While some growers seem to need divine assistance to achieve good results others just stick to the chart and stay the course, but challenges will always exist.
So you gave it some thought and careful planning, purchased all of your equipment, and assembled the pieces to spec; hopefully you have now created the perfect environment for your plants to grow. So let’s assume you have conquered the creation portion of the endeavor and your room/space is perfectly prepared and ready. Now what? Now the real challenges begin…
Back to science. The master grower controls the environment as much as possible, just like the commercial farmer does on a grand scale (coming later on commercial grows). So how do you control your environment? This is probably the largest challenge any grower will face at any time during the process. Since plant maintenance plays such a crucial role in the plants development, what they need, how much they get, how they get it, and what time they receive it must be monitored daily.
What do I control? Think Earth, Wind and Fire. Ok it’s not a 70’s band, but a cannabis plant does have some basic necessities to flourish: light, water, air (C02), nutrients, grow medium, and place to grow. Knowing that you will have to finely control each of these elements to create a perfect yet delicate balance in order to achieve harmony for your plants is one of the greatest challenges all growers face. So if you have not gone in circles and chased your tail a few times you are not ready to grow your plants yet.
Start with seeds or start with clones. (We will cover more on cloning later) Once you have some small plants growing the challenge is to give them exactly what they need to make the young girls happy. For every stage of growth the plants have different requirements. Give them the right blend of the aforementioned elements and the garden will move from early grow stage to full flower with strength and beauty just as nature intended. Providing too much, not enough or merely the presence or absence of something could send you down the inevitable path of destruction. In this regard, knowledge of chemistry would provide an advantage to eliminate guesswork but since few growers have one, they make subtle educated guesses at what will make their plants happy, much the same way doctors do for their patients suffering from unknown illnesses.
At all times it would serve well to have open mind and imagination because even the experienced grower is occasionally forced to make educated guesses. If the answer to your problem does not exist, as many of them don’t, the grower has to create one with as little cost as possible that effectively diagnosis’s and solves the issue. Even if your grow appears to be on target and under control with healthy, thriving plants that doesn’t mean you have no problems or can’t develop issues later. The smart grower knows that evil is always lurking whether it be unpredictable weather, fungal or bacterial pathogens like mold, powdery mildew, root rot, or a host of insects like spider mites, broad/russet mites, fungus gnats, thrips, leafhoppers, or whiteflies (too many to list) the challenge is to constantly prevent and eliminate all the bad stuff to maintain that perfect garden they worked so hard to create. Many problems can be eliminated with preventative maintenance while others are ongoing, so if a garden looks amazing remember it got that way deliberately by controlling the environment from start to finish. Ever wonder why scientists wear lab coats?
Let’s say you did everything you know to grow the best garden possible but it’s still not producing the picture perfect, resinous, dense aromatic buds you hoped for. Sorry. Remember the plight of the farmers trying to grow perfect produce? Sometimes the best you can do is limiting your evils as much as possible, learn from your mistakes and try harder next time. After all, look at any incredible scientific achievement like inventing the light bulb or going to the moon. Most were preceded by countless failures before achieving success and growing cannabis is no different other than its probably not as complex. If you feel discouraged, I understand but it is possible to grow amazing medical quality cannabis in time and under budget with the right formula for success. Yes, the best growers are literally gods to their plants determining when they are born, how they live, and when they die. So how easy is it being God? Well now that you know, most of you would not want the job.
1 – U.S. Department of Agriculture, PACA Training Workbook, pg. 11
2 – The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/13/us-food-waste-ugly-fruit- vegetables-perfect