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Growing green

Oklahoma Gazette talks to two growers about how medical marijuana plants are grown.

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Cesar Herrera brings his hydroponic growing expertise to BCC Collective. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Cesar Herrera brings his hydroponic growing expertise to BCC Collective.

Chris Brady and Cesar Herrera developed their cannabis green thumbs more than 1,500 miles from each other but rubbed digital elbows on the online forum of International Cannagraphic Magazine.

Brady is now the co-owner of Redbud Soil Co. and grows his plants in organic, no-till soil. He started in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a decade ago and resides near Denver, Colorado. Herrera was born and raised in San Francisco and began growing cannabis in his mother’s closet as a teen. He owns NorCal Genetics and has brought his hydroponic growing expertise to BCC Collective.

Both businesses are a stone’s throw from one another on NW First Street on the western edge of downtown Oklahoma City. To this day, Brady and Herrera have never met.

Both shared their expertise with Oklahoma Gazette. Brady’s method can be duplicated at home, while Herrera’s techniques are designed for commercial operations.

Cannabis is a finicky plant, and years or even decades of experience doesn’t ensure a successful grow every time. Piles of books have been written about marijuana cultivation, and the information contained herein has been drastically simplified. For best results, consult a veteran grower along the way.

Potting seeds

First things first: What kind of seed do you want to plant?

“What kind of seed are we using? Are we using an autoflower seed, which seems to be popular here in Oklahoma? Are we using a regular seed that’s going to be male/female, so we have to distinguish are these males or females? Or are we using feminized seeds and we already know, most likely, this is going to be a female,” Brady said. “Autoflowers are just going to grow. ... If you’re going to do an autoflower, I would suggest you plant that seed in what it’s going to flower in completely. So that’s just a one-and-done kind of thing. That’s why people kind of gravitate towards it. It’s simpler. Regular seeds, male/female, you’re gonna have to wait, depending on strain, things like that, eight to 10 weeks to even find out if they’re male or female. And so you’re going to have to have them go from a Solo cup after, you know, six weeks or whatever, into one- to two-gallon and then you’re just going to have to wait and pick out your males and females before you even get to the point of wanting to flower them. Feminized seeds, obviously, you’re going to assume that they’re females. Most likely they’re going to turn out to be females, so you don’t necessarily have to wait as long.”

Once the seeds are selected, it is time to select the starter growing medium.

“We just germinate them in the rockwool cubes,” Herrera said.

Rockwool is basalt rock and chalk that is heated to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, spun and cooled. They’re Herrera’s preferred growing medium because they’re sterile, which means less worry about plant diseases.

Seeds can be planted in a variety of cups and pots and transferred to bigger vessels multiple times. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Seeds can be planted in a variety of cups and pots and transferred to bigger vessels multiple times.

“If it’s my seeds, I usually have a good amount of them. I literally just put them in, and for me, it’s more or less like the strong survive,” Herrera said. “So some are not going to germinate properly and some are not going to do well, but honestly, there’s different ways of germinating the seeds. Some people put them in paper towels, let them start showing their little tails and they start planting them in a certain things like that. With me, I soak the seeds overnight, sometimes in a hyperpyrexic solution, and then I pop them into small little rockwool cubes and then I just put the dome over them, let them do their thing and whichever ones survive are going to be, you know, more than likely in my eyes, the more vigorous ones.

“When you prepare the cubes, you water them initially to flush out all the residual salts. And just prep them. I call it charging the cubes. You hit them with a light nutrient solution. So as soon as the seed starts showing a taproot, it’ll start having nutrients to be able to absorb within the block.”

Once they reach 3-4 inches, he’ll transfer them into a larger rockwool cube. He tends to stick with 6-inch blocks until harvest.

“It’s just an ideal material that the roots tend to thrive in,” Herrera said.

By contrast, Brady starts with soil in small containers and then moves his plants to much larger pots.

“I use a personal blend that I make, that we will sell, and it’s basically going to be peat moss-based with a few micronutrients, kelp, some Azomite and some compost, and that’s about it,” Brady said. “You’re going to get that pre-moistened because peat moss is hydrophobic. It doesn’t want to accept water, but once it does accept the water, ironically, it will retain the water. So you’re going to want to pre-moisten it, make sure it’s retaining the water, and plant the seed in there. You can do it in red Solo cups — it’s kind of the generic grower thing to do — or you can do trays with the different cell sites and do different seeds in there. I think a lot of people go towards the Solo cup though because it can actually grow up out of it for a while.”

Growing ‘veg’

At that point, the plant is in what is known as vegetative state, or “veg.” Depending on a variety of factors, including the strain, Brady said the plant should reach 12-16 inches in about six weeks.

“Vegetative stage is when you are actually just growing the plant up in size and you’re not producing flowers,” Brady said. “I literally go from the Solo cup to my finished pot, which is 25 gallons. It saves room because you don’t need a very big veg area and home growers save space. You can have a little 2-by-4-foot veg area and that can supply your whole grow.”

“Veg” is left to grow to 12-16 inches tall in the span of about six weeks and is set on a light/dark schedule to prevent flowering. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • “Veg” is left to grow to 12-16 inches tall in the span of about six weeks and is set on a light/dark schedule to prevent flowering.

The amount of light you give the plant determines how long it stays in vegetative state versus when it begins producing flower, or the buds you will eventually smoke.

“In vegetative state, you have a certain light cycle so that it won’t want to bloom and start producing flowers. Some people do 24 hours full, like always on. I prefer an 18/6, just because I’ve read enough studies that say that six hours of a dark period and your plant resting will actually promote a healthier plant and it will produce a better quality,” Brady said.

Herrera agrees that 18 hours of light and six hours of dark is ideal for vegetative state.

“I like the plants to have some sort of a night cycle, like a rest cycle, where they actually have sleep, where they have no light,” Herrera said. “Just like people, I feel like they need rest.”

Flowering state

“You’re going to keep it on that 18/6 until you get it to the point where you do want to flower. At that point, you’re going to switch to 12/12, which will initiate flowering and producing buds. It’s all going to depend on how tall you want the plant, how wide you want the plant,” Brady said.

During the flowering period, the plant has to be fed and watered routinely, and the temperature and humidity where the plants are being grown must be constantly monitored. Brady suggests consulting a vapor deficit chart.

“You’re going to, at some point, either want to feed it something, or once you get the plant up to a certain height, you can actually put it in some living soil,” Brady said.

Brady feeds the plants liquid fish, liquid seaweed, lactic acid bacteria serum and fermented fruit juice.

“We feed the soil, and the soil is so jam-packed with shit, our plant chooses what it wants out of the soil,” Brady said. “We don’t push anything into the plant. We’re not intentionally trying to Keylate anything or force-feed it into a root at all. The soil is so over-abundant with everything that plant could ever need, it just takes what it wants and it does it naturally and it lives very happily.”

Meanwhile, Herrera feeds his plants on a certain schedule.

ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace

“Essentially, hydroponics is when you’re growing plants [and] you’re supplying the nutrients to the medium, which means what you’re using is an inert medium, which is basically the fact that it has no nutrient content,” Herrera said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s cocoa or whether it’s the rockwool box we use; they’re all media that doesn’t really have anything initially in it. As far as nutrients, you have to supply the nutrients to them via water.”

The nutrient solution is pumped into the cubes from 100-gallon tanks, which can be automated, but Herrera said it’s better to have a grower keep an eye on them.

“There’s no definitive formula as to how much you want to give them. It’s just more of how big they are and what they need at the time of their life stage,” Herrera said.

For a room containing about 400 plants, Herrera goes through about 300-400 gallons of nutrients and water a day, but different strains and sizes of plants get different amounts.

Harvesting buds

Fast-forward about eight to 10 weeks, and with luck, you have averted pests and plant diseases and the thick, full buds will be plentiful. But how do you know when the plant is ready to be chopped?

“It’s going to all be strained-dependent. Me, personally, I’ve always gravitated towards sativas,” Brady said. “Sativas take longer to flower. A lot of the hybrids on the market that are going to be indica-dominant that are going to be short, squatty, bushy plants. You can get away with 60, 62, 63 days on those; sativas, 75-90 days. They’re not really commercially viable, so you don’t see a lot of pure sativas at dispensaries, and I understand that. It’s a business. It makes perfect sense. I would never talk bad about that

Chris Brady is co-owner of Redbud Soil Co. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Chris Brady is co-owner of Redbud Soil Co.

 at all. You have to make a profit. But for the home grower, I think sativas are where it’s at. I think that extra time transfers into the terpene profile. It transfers into the effects. ... It’s able to draw off the soil a lot longer, and it just is a more robust, well-rounded product. Most people are going to check the trichomes to know when they’re done, and there’s different levels of what people feel comfortable with considering trichome color as being done.”

Trichome is a Greek word meaning “hair,” and they are tiny outgrowths found on the outside of the flower.

“Trichomes are clear, they turn cloudy, they turn amber and some people will wait until there’s 10 percent amber trichomes,” Brady said. “I’ve seen people do 20 percent amber trichomes, 25 percent amber trichomes. It’s going to come down to what you feel comfortable with, and you’re gonna have to test that out a few times and see what you like, assuming you keep growing the same strain.”

When the trichomes are clear, the high will generally be more clear, and Herrera said as they start to turn brown, the flower have more indica high, or “couch-lock” feel.

Drying and curing

The plant is chopped at its base, near the soil or growing medium.

“You’re gonna chop that, and you’re just going to hang it up and dry it. If you have a tent, you can hang it in the tent. It’s going to depend on what your setup is. Hang them upside down. Drying time is going to be dependent on humidity, temperatures, things like that. In Oklahoma, it can be 7-10 days. Summertime, it could be 14-18 days. You just never really know,” Brady said. “Once you get it to a dry stage, you want your little stems to be able to just snap in half. Big stems, you would like them to bend and then finally snap a little bit. And then at that point, you can do a trim on them.

“When you hang it up, you can pull off all the bigger fan leaves. The little ones that still have trichomes on them, leave them on there, hang the plant up, let it dry. Once it’s dry, then you can go through and you can cut your buds off and then start trimming it. You trim it to whatever degree you want to trim it to. Obviously, I like a very well-manicured bud, hand-trimmed,” Brady said.

Flower is dried, cured and trimmed before it reaches a sellable, consumable state. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Flower is dried, cured and trimmed before it reaches a sellable, consumable state.

Then it’s time to cure them. Herrera puts them into tubes and stores them in a climate-controlled room for a week or two.

“As long as you dry them for about two weeks, by the time they get trimmed, they’re usually going to have a decent cure by that point,” Herrera said.

Brady prefers longer cures and recommends doing so in glass containers.

“You’re going to do what you call burping it. So the buds are in there for a day, you open the top and you burp it. You let it sit for 10, 15, 20 minutes. Let it air out and you close it. And you do that for seven to 10 days. And then after seven to 10 days, you do every two or three days, and you do that for a week or two. And then after about three weeks or so, you don’t have to do it at all. You might do it once a week or something like that,” Brady said.

Brady likes to cure his plants for a month — two months if he’s patient enough.

At that point, the buds are ready to be sold or smoked.

Between the two of them, Brady and Herrera have been growing for three decades. Their expertise is a culmination of their experiences and tips shared among other growers, many of whom were renegades and outlaws, and many of whom frequented message boards like those of International Cannagraphic Magazine. The forum still exists, but neither Brady nor Herrera are still active on it.

“There’s so much stuff that we had to learn on our own without having actual science behind it,” Herrera said. “That’s why the forums with all of our friends were so helpful, because we all share information with each other. People don’t do research on this plant.” 

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