DIG IT — MASTER GARDENER TIPS AND VIDEO FOR THE MILE-HIGH REGION: Marijuana

“There’s certain characteristics a person needs to have to do this properly,” Grabak said. “For one, attention to detail; two, consistency. As long as you have those two things ... you’re going to be able to do this as good as anybody else out there"

Real experts who have grown real gardens in the real world on the Front Range tell you  what you need to know to have you rooting for your very own crop of successes this summer season

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By Jeremy Johnson, Staff Writer

Anyone can grow weed, according to Konstantin Grabak, head grower at The Herbal Cure in Denver.

And that’s not just rhetorically true but also technically true in Colorado, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2014. State law allows Colorado aficionados of the sticky icky to grow up to six plants per resident (over the age of 21), with as many as three flowering at one time. (Plants have to be grown in a secure, locked location — not in an open yard — and county or municipal laws apply.)

Still, “Not anybody can grow good quality weed,” Grabak said. He should know: In the 2017 Colorado Grow-Off, a “quantitative quest for the best” that gave 44 growers all starting with the same clone a chance to compete in three main categories — potency (THC percentage), flavor (terpene percentage) and yield (weight in grams) — Grabak took two of the three categories. He was fourth overall in yield which, he pointed out, doesn’t matter much if the pot isn’t top-notch.

“There’s certain characteristics a person needs to have to do this properly,” Grabak said. “For one, attention to detail; two, consistency. As long as you have those two things … you’re going to be able to do this as good as anybody else out there.”

Growing weed isn’t an easy or cheap endeavor. But then again, there’s more at stake here than a bushel of tomatoes. Depending on the length of the vegetation stage, the average plant can yield between 150 and 300 grams of product (or more for experienced growers). Even in Colorado, where a hefty joint can now be had for $5 and an average gram runs about $7, we’re talking about a plant possibly worth four figures.

Start simple

Bearing in mind that consistency is key, Grabak suggests newbies try to avoid too many variables. That’s why he recommends new growers consider clones in indoor grow tents.

“The reason we grow indoors is because we were all hiding for so long,” he said. “But the advantage to growing indoors is you can control your environment … you have full control.” Outdoors, he said, growers face challenges like temperature swings or the dreaded Colorado hail storm. “I’ve seen storms destroy whole crops,” Grabak said.

And while there’s no doubt some satisfaction out of growing from seed — you know, those things you used to find in your bag of weed before the experts took over — Grabak said the disadvantage lies in the unknown. For starters, seeds can’t be “sexed” and can therefore produce the dreaded male plant, which not only doesn’t flower (see: no weed) but can pollinate nearby female plants, “And that’s how you get seeds in your buds,” Grabak explained.

“There’s pros and cons to both,” he added. “But the easiest way to do this, I would say, is to start with clones. … And the nice thing about cloning is you can grow it out into a big mother plant … and then take however many clones you want off it. If it’s big enough, you could take hundreds of clones.”

Once you’ve got your plants lined up, Grabak said “black-out” tents (starting at about $100) provide among the most controlled environments to nurture those little ladies into healthy nuggets. The tents, he said, provide any number of benefits: Easy to set up and/or move, easy to clean up when it comes to messes (spilled water, soil, etc.) and, once again, easy to manipulate. Because pot plants are extremely sensitive to light — which also determines the vegetation and flowering stages of the plant — Grabak said it’s imperative to prevent “light leaks.”

“We veg our plants anywhere from 18 to 24 hours a day,” he said. “Once you start turning your lights off for 12 hours and then back on for 12, that’s when the plant starts its flowering cycle.”

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The price is right

Remember when we mentioned that just one pot plant can be worth $1,000 or much more? That’s important to remember when pricing other gear necessary to grow good ganja. Lighting, irrigation and fertilization can make all the difference between kind buds and dirt weed, but it all comes with a price.

Not everybody has access to Grabak’s custom-built operation, with variable lights connected to timers and an intricate irrigation and feeding system that ensures each plant gets just the right amount of food and water. But even home growers shouldn’t skimp, Grabak said.

“You’re going to need to purchase things to create as good an environment as you can,” he said. “Start off with a good light.” He recommends fluorescent or “high-intensity” mixed-spectrum lights — available for about $50 on the very low end, considerably more on the other side of the spectrum.

In order to prevent disease or the dreaded “powdery mildew,” Grabak said home growers have to also consider air circulation (fan or fans), humidity (dehumidifier) and temperature. Humidity and temp need to remain as constant as possible, Grabak said, while air circulation provides a number of benefits to young pot plants.

“Whenever wind blows a plant’s stem, it creates microtears that, when those heal, make the stems and plant stronger,” he said. “And keeping your air moving helps you prevent stagnant air, which can grow different molds and mildew. That’s probably the biggest battle most indoor growers run into: powdery mildew.”

Soil and plant food round out the beginner grower kit. Grabak said nutrients are nutrients — “They all work good,”

he said — but growers should scale dial back about 70 percent of recommended dosage. Soil, he said, is generally up to personal preferences. The master grower himself, however, prefers coco fiber.

“Coco is neutral,” Grabak said. “It doesn’t hold food or nutrients and doesn’t have its own food like soil does. So, when you use coco, you’re in full control.”

Good growing

Plants have three basic stages, Grabak said: Early-vegetative, late-vegetative and flowering. For Grabak, “(A plant) is ready when the calendar says it’s ready.” But, he said, the longer a home-grown plant is “vegged” — which can require “up-potting” three or four times — the better the yield.

Once a grower has switched the light cycle and the plant begins flowering, Grabak said there’s a few ways to know when she’s ready for harvest. For the slightly more skilled, he said the coloring of the plant’s “pistols” or trichomes — those little hairs we associate with quality bud — viewed under a microscope can reveal readiness. “Those trichomes are generally clear, so when you start seeing amber, that’s normally when it’s ready.”

“An easier way to tell, and it’s not completely accepted in the cannabis community, is when the about 70 percent of the hairs turn orange,” he added. “Then it’s about ready.”

After that, eager beavers might opt for wet trimming, where buds are cut straight from the plant while it’s still fresh, compared to dry trimming, which requires stalks to be hung upside down for about 10 days at around 65 degrees and 60 percent humidity.

While wet trimming is an easier and quicker method, like with most things in life, it’s a shortcut that comes with a price.

“It’s easier and faster to trim, but dry trimming seems to preserve flavor and the terpene profile,” he said. “You get a better smell, and a better product.”

PRO TIP:

Konstantin Grabak, head grower at The Herbal Cure in Denver, recommends new growers consider clones in indoor grow tents.

“The nice thing about cloning is you can grow it out into a big mother plant … and then take however many clones you want off it. If it’s big enough, you could take hundreds of clones.”

Once you’ve got your plants lined up, Grabak said “black-out” tents (starting at about $100) provide about the most controlled environments to nurture your plants. The tents, he said, provide any number of benefits: Easy to set up and/or move, easy to clean up when it comes to messes (spilled water, soil, etc.) and easy to manipulate. Because pot plants are extremely sensitive to light — which also determines the vegetation and flowering stages of the plant — Grabak said it’s imperative to prevent “light leaks.”

“We veg our plants anywhere from 18 to 24 hours a day,” he said. “Once you start turning your lights off for 12 hours and then back on for 12, that’s when the plant starts its flowering cycle.”

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