IT’S FRIDAY THE 13th and the sky looks like someone painted it with a dirty mop; this is a good time to talk about things that can fuck up a crop. Growing pot isn’t rocket surgery or brain science. Many first-timers have had excellent results the first time they grew some bud, but getting repeatable results is the main goal. The first time is always idyllic; there are never any expectations, but many questions and lots of anxiety. To me, this is exciting, because when you don’t know what to expect, the world is filled with unlimited possibilities and there’s almost nothing to lose. However, when growing becomes routine, mistakes can happen (even by the best growers out there).
This article will focus on the most basic necessity of any living plant: water. Water is the solvent of life (without water there is no life), but too much water will kill or stunt plant growth just the same as too little. The key is finding balance.
Too Much of A Good Thing
Fill a one-gallon bucket with potting soil and pick it up—feel the weight? Now add a cup of water and pick up the container again—feel the difference? The goal is to check your plant every day and keep it between these two weights. Many grow books explain that you should see 10% of the water flow from the bottom of the container to ensure proper hydration and wash-away any toxins that may have built-up, but I disagree. This will waterlog the soil and starve the roots of oxygen, especially when the plant is young. Once roots have been established throughout the container and it’s become necessary to water daily, you can give the plant more water than it needs to flush or leach out excess nutrient and waste buildup. There won’t be excess nutrient or waste buildup when the plant is freshly planted or transplanted; only after the plant is semi root bound will it need flushing or leaching.
In regards to leaching: I find it a waste of time and resources. If you fertilize every second or third time you water, there should be no problems. If you fertilize heavily every time the plant is dry, you should leach the plant every two to four weeks with three gallons of water for every gallon of soil. Leaching takes a lot of time and energy and I haven’t found any beneficial results from it. As an experiment, I leached half a crop and didn’t leach the other half. The plants came out exactly the same: same taste, burn and potency. After that, I started reusing my Pro Mix. In fact, I get better results, now that I recycle and reuse the soil in my budding room. I feed mildly (never going over 1000 ppm on the electrical conductivity scale) with Botanicare’s Pure Blend Pro line of one-part grow & bloom formulas. I use Cal-Max by Technaflora to treat my R/O filtered water, as well as a shot of fulvic acid from General Hydroponics and some Liquid Karma for beneficial bacteria. That’s all. I get excellent, repeatable results now.
Before I figured all this out, there were many trials and tribulations. Like the time I planted 36 sativa dominant plants in a one-meter-squared grow bed. They went crazy and grew two feet the first week; by week four, it was so overgrown and over-watered that I had to hack it all down, much to the chagrin of the YouTube community. I had a full-blown mutiny on my hands over that one, for sure. I’ve grown hydroponics and soil, but prefer the taste of soil-grown bud and think it’s actually a little faster to grow. Growing in recycled dirt is definitely less garbage in the landfill; rockwool can’t be recycled, but I’ve used it as filler in my four-foot-square, one-foot deep grow-beds that are now the core of my budding room. Soil just makes sense to me because it’s everywhere. When was the last time you saw a willow tree growing in rockwool? Exactly! My grow-beds have no drain and I can’t just pick them up to feel how much they weigh, so the first few times around were trial and error. Here’s what I’ve found….
After two years growing in beds using the same soil, I’ve got to say that it is far better to under-water than over-water. Deep, down on the bottom of the bed, there will always be some residual moisture for diligent taproots to “tap” into when the topsoil is dry; unlike buckets, which can and do dry out completely overnight. When a root-bound or semi root-bound container plant goes dry, the plant will wilt almost immediately – sometimes to never return. When a fully-grown plant is stressed like this, all kinds of bad results will happen—from hermaphrodites or diminished harvest, to death of the plant. This is why hydroponics is so tricky; there’s absolutely no buffer zone in case of power/water failure (unless you’re growing in deep water culture), but sustained power failure will still result in ultimate damage/distress. My beds have survived insect infestation, air-conditioner failure and power failures with gleaming success. The beds give me the ultimate organic buffer zone. I don’t need chillers and bio-filters and all that extra crap that goes with true hydro. Sounds almost too good to be true (I assure you that it’s true), but there’s always a downside. That downside occurs if you over-water.
Not So Mellow Yellow
Yellow mushrooms are a sure indicator that you’ve over-watered. Small plants that don’t seem to grow, with yellow leaves that drop-off, are another sure indicator. Yellow, surrounding a pale green inner leaf with small buds and almost no growth, is a shocker to anyone. But after growing for so long, I was dumbfounded the first time this happened.
I had just built a custom-designed automatic watering system so that maybe—just maybe—I could actually go on a mini-vacation last year (that never materialized). I built a nice system, with individual PVC manifolds and valves to control individual flow to each bed. There was a defective shut-off from the main supply of the system, which let a small amount of water continuously seep into the first bed for about four days before I noticed the yellow mushrooms. It was such a slow leak and if the first bed had been higher than Bed Two, the water would probably have affected it as well—but I had no clue. A few more days went by and then I noticed that there was a problem with the plants in Bed One dropping yellow leaves and not growing. I thought the mushrooms poisoned the soil, or it was some strange nutrient imbalance. I used a little Sulphur to kill the ‘shrooms and it turned the green leaves white in the middle. I was so wrapped-up in the “technical” solution to the problem that it took a week to notice the leak. I threw away eight cubic feet of soaking wet soil and paid $72/ton to dispose of it, just to add insult to injury. I bought myself a $9 soil moisture probe—problem over!
Sometimes it’s the smallest things that matter the most. In nature, excess water usually has somewhere to drain and if not, you have a pond. Buds don’t grow in ponds… maybe lily buds, but not pot. Containers drain better than beds, but beds grow better buds (say that three times fast); balance is key. When plants are freshly transplanted, I’ll water them in with a good four-to-five gallons of grow nutrient solution, per sixteen plants, for eight cubic feet of soil. This initial watering will last a week or more. When my moisture probe tells me the soil is dry at the bottom of the beds, I give them a nice shot of bloom formula in five gallons of water and water them again in about a week. In the last three weeks of budding, I water with plain water when necessary, gradually giving less and less until harvest time. I remove the root balls after harvesting the sixteen one to two-ounce plants, then transplant sixteen more right back into the hot seat for another wonderful and amazing seven-week journey.
Peace and happy buds,
This article was originally published in SKUNK Volume 4, Issue 5