As medical and recreational legalization laws of the cannabis plant are sweeping the coutnry, many backyard gardeners are getting curious about the plant and how to grow it. An online search can be very intimidating; many tutorials are for indoor-only plants and are overly-complicated for the first time grower who is just curious and not interested in spending all of their free time and extra income just to satiate their desire for a new hobby. Fortunately, growing cannabis in your backyard is relatively easy and can be a highly rewarding experience even for first time growers on a limited budget. Here is CannaDan’s guide to growing your first batch of cannabis and turning it into a usable product!
Step 1: Prepare Your Soil! (March)
Prepping your solid is a simple but essential task; good soil today means great flowers tomorrow! Dig into the dirt at least a foot deep and overturn the soil where you are going to plant your cannabis, break up any clay chunks that you run into as they will inhibit root growth, and amend the dirt with fresh gardening soil and a high nitrogen fertilizer (nitrogen is the first of the 3 numbers on the package and will help with vegetative growth). Plan on giving each plant at least 25 square feet (5’ x 5’); 6 plants (the limit under California law) will take up the space of 150 square feet (15’ x 10’) and make sure the space gets plenty of sunlight!
Step 2: Purchase Your Clones! (April-May)
Purchase your clones from a reputable dispensary; they will know the nuances of the strains that they carry and will have high-quality clones. Most modern strains of cannabis are bred to be grown indoors in a controlled environment so make sure you pick strains that are suitable for outdoor growth. Sativa (one of the main species of cannabis strains) is usually easier to grow than indica (the other main species) so make sure you have a few of those to ensure a decent harvest: Sour Diesel is a readily available sativa that can be found at most dispencaries and is highly recommended for the first time grower as are Blue Dream and Dream Queen. Indica is harder to grow but many prefer the relaxing effects so they may be more desirable for personal use; Mango Kush, Bubba Kush, and Romulan Grapefruit are all great choices for outdoor Indicas. Remember, April 20th is a holiday in cannabis culture so make sure you don’t plan your trip around that day as you will be waiting in line for a long time and you favorite strains may sell out.
Step 3: Acclimate Your Clones! (April-May)
Clones spend their early life cycle indoors and are not immediately ready for the harsh and unpredictable conditions of being outside; you can plant your clones immediately but they run the risk of being overexposed to the sun and dying. Rather than planting your clones right away, put them in small pots with some soil for a week or two and keep them in a shaded area of your garden. Bring them out into the sunlight when it’s not too bright so they get used to the environment, after a week or two they will be hearty enough to be placed in the soil and receive direct sunlight!
Step 4: Get Your Clones in the Ground (April-May)
It’s best to get your plants in the soil in late April or early May so they have enough time to grow into large plants before they start flowering. Pay attention to weather patterns and avoid planting them right before a heat wave or a long spell of sunny days; mild cloudiness with light rain is the ideal forecast. It’s better to wait an extra week for ideal planting conditions than to plant immediately and have your clones burn up in the sun. Water the plants frequently and give them lots of high Nitrogen fertilizer to ensure they grow up strong in the next 3 months.
Step 5: Vegetative Growth! (April-July)
Vegetative growth is the process of a clone growing up into a full plant and is the stage of life before flowering (where the buds appear). As the days get longer the cannabis plant gets exposed to more sunlight and grows upwards, outwards, and even downwards! As the plant gets larger and leaves get more dense the plant becomes susceptible to powdery mildew, gray mold, and infestations; spraying the plants once a week or so with Neem Oil will help prevent and treat fungal infections while releasing some lady bugs or praying mantis in the backyard will help with prevent infestations. Overall, the vegetative growth period requires the least amount of work on the grower’s part but do not get complacent; a prized plant can turn into compost in a few days if you don’t pay attention!
Step 6: Flowering! (July-September)
The cannabis plant’s life cycle is determined by the amount of light it receives; as the days get shorter the plants metabolism is triggered to switch from vegetative growth to flowering. While Nitrogen is the the preferred nutrient for vegetative growth; flowers crave fertilizer that is high in Phosphoras(P) and Potassium(K), the 2nd and 3rd numbers you see on the fertilizer’s label. As the flowers get more dense they are more suseptable to infections so make sure you spray your plants with Neem Oil regularly, especially if it’s humid or after a rain storm. The flowering cycle requires the most attention of any step other than the harvest; try to keep an eye on your plants and clear your calandar for harvest time!
Step 7: Harvest: Part 1 – Cutting and Trimming! (September-October)
Harvest time is by far the most intensive time for a cannabis grower; make sure your weekend are free! The flowers will swell up and develop a coating of what looks like a white, powdery, sugary, sticky substance that is extremely pungent; these are the trichomes that contain the active ingredients in cannabis and the main product that we are harvesting. Make sure the buds are covered in a frost of trichomes that stick to your fingers and have a strong smell before you cut them!
Most growers begin harvesting by cutting off medium size branches (1 foot long) that can be held in one hand while the other hand trims off the excessive fan leaves. Cut several branches and bring them to your trimming station that is equipped with some trimmers and a few clean buckets. Trim off the large fan leaves (fan leaves are the large leaves that are not attached to individual buds) as well as the smaller leaves that surround the individual buds. The large fan leaves should be tossed into compost but the smaller leaves can be saved for processing into tincture (an optional step). Ultimately you should have a bunch of small branches (about the size of your forearm) that contain exposed buds but very few leaves.
Step 8: Harvest: Part 2 – Drying and Curing! (October-November)
Dry your trimmed branches by either hanging them from some twine or placing them in an herb drying-rack in a room, shack, or tent that gets plenty of air circulation with little direct light or moisture and leave them there for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, pull a branch out and try to break it; if it snaps in two than the plant is dry enough, if it flexes before breaking than it needs more time to dry.
Once your branches are dry, it is time to remove the buds and cure them. Pull the buds off the branches; they should come off easily but make sure you wear rubber gloves as they are VERY sticky. Place the dried buds in plain, brown grocery bags and fill the bags 6-8 inches deep with flowers. Close the bags up by the handle at the top so air can escape and put the bags in the same room you dried your branches in; after 2 weeks of curing (which is essentially “slow-drying”) they will be ready to be smoked or processed!
Step 9: Store Your Flowers! (October-November)
Now that you’ve harvested, dried, and cured your flowers it is time to store them. Cannibis should be kept in a cool, dry place with little exposure to light or oxygen. Mason Jars are ideal as they will preserve the buds without trapping excess moisture and are very affordable; make sure you get the “wide mouth” versions which are easier to stick your hand into and the 16oz size works best for most people. Each 16oz jar will hold about 1oz of cannabis flowers; a pack of 12 jars should be more than enough for your first harvest but you can always buy more if needed.
Step 10: Processing! (Optional)
Processing your cannabis is an optional step that most first-time growers ignore but is an easy way to maximize your yield. What is processing? It is removing trichomes (the active ingrediant in cannabis) from the leaves and buds and turning them into a refined product that can be consumed. The most common forms of processed cannabis are hashish, FECO (full extract cannabis oil), BHO (butane hash oil), butter (butter or cooking oil infused with cannabis), or tincture. Tincture is by far the easiest form of processing and so we will focus on that.
Tincture (or any other form of process cannabis) can be made from the dried, cured buds that you perfected in Step 8 but is more often made from the trimmings of the small leaves around the buds in Step 7 that have trace amount of trichomes (the sticky, white, smelly, powdery substance). Whether you use properly cured buds or just the trimmings that you might have thrown away, make sure they are dry and covered with trichomes!
Before your process your buds or trimmings, you will probably want to decarb them. Decarboxylation is the process of heating up the trichomes to convert the THCA (a non-psychoactive substance) into THC (the psychoactive substance that most cannabis users are interested in). To decarb your buds, simply put them in an oven bag (sometimes called a turkey bag) and cook them in a pre-heated oven at 250 degrees fahrenheit for 45 minutes.
Once you’ve decarbed your flowers, let the cool off and remove them from the oven bag. Place the flowers (which should be very dry and pungent) into any extra mason jars you have (16oz is still the best). Fill the mason jar all the way to the top with decarbed cannabis, fill the rest of the jar with high-proof alcohol (80 proof minimum, the higher the better), and seal the jar.
Take your sealed jar and store it in a dark place with little natural light. Shake the jar once a day, everyday, for 5-15 minutes for at least a month; shaking the cannabis in the alcohol will remove the trichomes from the plant itself creating an infusion, keeping the jar in the freezer (extreme cold) or in a warm shack (moderate heat) will speed up this process. As time goes, the alcohol will get darker and darker until it is almost black; your tincture is almost ready! Strain the tincture from the leaves, toss the leaves, store the liquid in a mason jar; you now have a potent tincture that you can add to drinks or food!
Step 11: Relax, enjoy, get ready for next year! (November-April)
Congratulations, you just completed your first year as a backyard cannabis grower! Relax, enjoy the holidays, and start thinking about next year’s crop. Will you grow more of the same strain or try something different? Most people develop a strong tolerance if they keep using the same strain so consider experimenting with some indicas or some hybrids to bring some variety to your stock. In the meantime, enjoy the fruits of your labor and keep an eye on your local dispensary to see what new strains breeders are creating for the new year.