Tips for growing cannabis at home from Pure Sunfarms' Rob Baldwin

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Seed selection and planting location can play a big role in your plant's success, but it's the last few weeks when things get tricky

Planting season is upon us. And unless you live in Quebec or in Manitoba, cannabis might be among your seasonal crops.

Rob Baldwin, the vice president of cultivation and greenhouse operations at B.C.-based Pure Sunfarms recently spoke with The GrowthOp about the best practices for backyard and balcony gardeners.

At Sunfarms, Baldwin oversees the production of about 120 metric tonnes of cannabis annually. The company harvests every day.

Beyond the rotation of top-selling cultivars like Pink Kush, Death Bubba and Jet Fuel Gelato, Sunfarms also uses its genetics for white-labelling and growing for other brands, like Cookies.

Baldwin, who earned a greenhouse management diploma from B.C.’s Kwantlen Polytechnic University, came to cannabis from an agricultural background, including managing greenhouse tomato production.

In addition to his work at Sunfarms, Baldwin continues to grow a few backyard plants each summer.

For more information about cultivating cannabis, the company released a guide to growing at home earlier this year. It covers everything from preparing to plant to trimming the final product.

What are some of the common mistakes that home growers make?

The final location — where you’re going to finish the plant off, is critical. In the beginning, the plants just grow so easily as long as you give them a little fertilizer and some water. It’s the last two weeks that are the real tricky time.

If you’re not in the right location, the worst-case scenario would be a low spot in your yard where humidity collects, you’re probably going to get bud rot because you don’t have lots of airflow. An area with lots of sunlight is a better choice.

The size of the plant is important, too. If you veg it for a long time, you’re going to end up with a ginormous plant that’s like 10 feet tall. That’s a big plant to be dealing with for your first time and the chances of it turning out really well I think are low. If you grow like a nice, smallish plant that’s easier to work with, your chances are going to be better.

And then those last two weeks, you’ve got to be looking at the flowers and make sure that if you see any bud rot, that you cut it out. But at some point, you’ve got to call it and just harvest. So I think if you could give it light deprivation, and start the flowering earlier and finish it earlier in the summer, you’re going to have much more success. But that’s a commitment. You’ve got to figure out a way to do that.

And if you have it in the ground, then it’s more complicated because you’ve got to somehow make sure that it’s dark and you’ve got to do that every day. You can’t miss a day. If it’s in a pot, it’s a little easier, you can move it somewhere, cover it and won’t be so big. So that’s something to think about.

There’s the planting and growing but there’s also the drying and curing process. What are the best steps to get this right?

That’s a whole other art. You want to dry it and make sure you’re at the right moisture content. I was over at a friend’s place last year and they had grown some weed in the summer and wanted to show me. I opened the jar and when the smell hit me, I said I think you put it in the jar a little too early. It’s a critical part of the process.

Another thing that happened to a friend of mine who was growing in their yard is the plant never flowered. I realized he had all these security lights in his yard and they were going on and off at night because animals were triggering it or he would go outside and trigger it and every time the light would come on, it interrupts the flowering.

The way these plants work, it’s the number of hours of darkness that triggers the hormone that causes them to flower. And the clock starts ticking as soon as it gets dark, and it counts this many hours. And then it will send the hormone. But if you turn on the light in between it has to start counting the hours again. So if you have 12 hours of darkness, it will count 12 hours and it will send the hormones and flower. But if you turn the lights on for a period of time, it starts from zero again before it will trigger. So you’ve got to make sure you don’t have lights in your yard that are on the plant.

What about the type of soil you use?

If you’re growing in a pot, I think it’s safe to go with peat, sunshine mix type soil with some sort of slow-release fertilizer. That makes things really easy and you can purchase that from any kind of garden centre.

If you’re growing in the ground, there’s usually a lot of nutrition. It’s just making sure that there’s compost in there yearly. You don’t want it to be too rocky, garden soil is ideal. If you see some types of deficiency, like really light-coloured leaves or edges that are burning, you might have to add a little fertilizer and water.

If you’re growing in a pot, just make sure it drains really, really well. That’s key. If it’s in the ground, don’t water it in crazy amounts because, deep down, there’s water there for the roots. That’s a common mistake with any plant, is giving it too much water. People think they’re doing it a favour but that’s how you run into root problems.

Should the watering be kept strictly to the mornings?

Ideally, you want to give the plants water in the morning because then they’re set for the day, which is when they need the water. They don’t really need water at night. There is a little transpiration that happens at night.

You want to give the water exactly in the early morning so that it has water available for when the sun comes up and it’s all there for it. But it’s not going to kill your plant, it’s not bad to give it water at night, but that’s not really when it needs it.

In terms of seed selection, is there anything Canadians should be aware of when growing in this climate?

You want something that’s early flowering for the North. Something that has a short flower period. If you have seeds from growers that are growing outdoor here, that strain has probably been around for a long time, it’s an outdoor strain, it’s pretty hardy for our climate, it’s fast-flowering, all those kinds of things.

Really, it’s resistance to detritus and fast flowering, those are the two things that you want. And you know when you purchase a pack of seeds, whether it’s from us or not, all those plants that come from those seeds are going to be a little bit different and some will have resistance to detritus and some will not. It’s amazing because you’ve taken two parent plants and crossed them and every kid of those parents is different. And just like people in a family, maybe everybody’s tall but once in a while, you get someone who’s a bit shorter.

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