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Growing Your Own Medicine: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

By June 29, 2021 No Comments
Reading Time: 13 minutes

Growing one’s own medical cannabis plants has become a more common practice across Canada within the last few years, and we wanted to share insights with you from a longtime grower and professional Flower Assessment Supervisors for one of Canada’s largest cannabis companies, Canopy Growth. With 15 years of his own growing experience, Mr. Tyler Mackenzie shared with us some great tips, tricks, and what to look out for when growing your own plants!

Q: Tell us about yourself and what you do at Canopy?

Tyler: Currently I assess our product for its quality and to ensure it meets our standards before going out to market for sale. I visit our different grow sites to check on how the plants are progressing and what the product is like. Before this, I was involved directly with the growing of the plants, especially around the plant’s health and crop guidance as I had years of experience already under my belt around growing cannabis. I pride myself on being a subject matter expert in order to ensure proper ratings of the quality of the cannabis we grow.

Q: How did you get your experience with growing? 

Tyler: As new regulations started coming out years ago such as the ACMPR, I decided I wanted to get involved in the industry at a professional level and ended up going to school for horticulture. This was great as I learned not only about growing cannabis, but gained a wide background of knowledge around cultivating plants. It was quite eye opening when I realized that there were so many things I thought were unique to growing cannabis that have actually been around for decades within other industries such as growing peppers and tomatoes. Having both my own prior growing experience along with my academic background, Canopy was a great fit for me where I was able to confirm things I had been learning on my own in the past such as diagnosing and identifying things including the quality, and determining what may have increased or decreased the plants quality based on what was done in the grow process or during post-harvest. 

Steps to Start Growing Your Own Cannabis

Q: What are good tips and tricks to growing good weed or medicine at home?

Tyler: A plant with good genetics is definitely one of the best things to start with. You want to have a good strain and do your research beforehand as some plants are easier to grow than others and/or easier to get good quality buds as a result. Most growers have their own preference of what kind of strains they prefer after a few attempts. The 2nd most important thing comes after the harvest when you dry it out and cure the plant. By ensuring you have good seeds and by taking the time to dry and cure your plants, you can almost be sure to get decent quality without having that much personal growing experience. 

Q: Patients are looking to grow from seed to plant, what would you recommend to start? 

Tyler:  The easiest way is to put the seed in the soil, but the most successful way is to use a moist paper towel that’s not too wet and a ziplock bag and put it in a warmer place. On top of your fridge or windowsill is a good place to start as it will speed up the process. It usually takes about 5 days or so. Once the seed cracks and the tail comes out, you want to plant it, the sooner the better.

Q:  How far down do you want to put it down in the soil? 

Tyler: You should just see the white tail, and put it about 1 cm, maybe less in, and it will grow out of the soil. If you see green on the seedling, you want to try and put it in the ground right where the green is above the soil. You want the white part in the soil as much as possible. 

Q: What are the best types of soil to grow?

Tyler: It’s somewhere in between, light and fluffy with lots of nutrients.

It likes the texture of sand but needs more nutrients. Lots of aerations and not so dense. 

Q: Do you need to put nutrients in every time you feed it? 

Tyler: Depends on what your soil is. If it’s in a pot with potting soil, you will want to add it in as it comes with some nutrients, but not enough. You want to make sure that you don’t give it too many nutrients and that you find the right balance.  If you’re growing in the ground, you may benefit from a bit of fertilizer.

Q: Can you grow 3 different plants at the same time – will there be any cross-pollination? 

Tyler: Nope, you can keep them in the same area, provided they’re all female. If one is a male or hermaphrodite, you’ll get seeds. 

Harvesting & Curing Your Cannabis Plants

What to Look For Before Harvesting

Q: What do you look for when you’re about to harvest? 

Tyler: The easy way is to look at the colour of the hairs or pistils. They start off white or pink and go brown as they age. When you think it’s ripened, you can look at the hairs and you don’t want too many new white or pink hairs at the top. Every little hair is a new flower, which is the sexual origin of the flower, so a bud is made up of hundreds of little flowers. You don’t want too many new flowers to be growing, around 70-80% brown or orange hairs and maybe a bit of some fresh white ones, but not too many. 

You can also use a microscopic lens, which looks at the trichome heads & the crystal on the bud. You can’t see these with your bare eye, so you want to look at those at least at 20x to 50-60x magnification. They start off looking like mushrooms and clear, then milk, then amber, then opaque or brown in colour. The peak ripeness, which is up for debate, is that you want to have them to be milky or amber in colour. Not every trichome will look like that. Most people will look for 50% milky or amber trichomes, and some people will wait until 80% are milky or amber trichomes, it’s a bit of an art.

If you can look at the trichomes under a microscope, that’s the best way to tell when it’s ready. 

For outdoors, you’re really just trying to grow it as long as possible. You don’t need to overcomplicate it too much.

Q: What if you don’t cut it fast enough or waited too long?

Tyler: if you have too much amber or brown colour, you won’t ruin it that much. There’s no science to this, but some people back in the day thought it would make you more sleepy if it’s harvested too late. A bit of science is that the CBN content goes up, and that’s a degradation product of THC, that goes into CBN, which has different effects on the body. It will change it, but it won’t ruin it; it might just have different effects on your body. The same with harvesting it too early – you’ll still get the effects, but you’re just missing out on the peak ripeness period where the cannabinoids and the terpenes are going to be at their peak levels. I also don’t think that THC & terpenes necessarily peak at the same time, but that the THC content peaks before the terpenes peak. 

This is an interesting thing about the legal world, everyone is obsessed with THC, which is unfortunate as people couldn’t measure it previously. I personally don’t think that the higher the THC, the higher you’re going to be from it. There are other things, like the entourage effect, the terpenes, and everything else. 

If you’re doing it on your own at home, and not worrying about the THC, waiting till the peak of the terpenes production to harvest your medicine, it will give you the most enjoyable product.

Curing Your Cannabis Plant

Q: For home growers, what’s the easiest way to cure it? 

Tyler: The most fool-proof way is to first cut down the entire plant at the base (depending on how big it is) and have a shed or somewhere indoors that is out of the sun and rain so that it doesn’t dry out too fast. Having a climate controlled area is preferable. You will want to monitor the rate at which it’s drying. You can start trimming the plant before or after the curing, but ideally, you don’t want to trim first, you want to hang it. The main objective of curing is to have the ideal amount of moisture in the bud at that time. If it dries out too fast or too slow, then you may have missed the boat on curing. Some people use mason jars to slow down the drying process. The stems are thick and retain lots of moisture and putting them in the mason jar allows for the moisture level to be distributed evenly to the rest of the bud, which is why the curing process is so important. 

You want to get the moisture content correct, and slowly dry it within the mason jar, opening the lid every day so it gets fresh air and the gas exchange takes place. You want to ensure that moisture content remains steady and do this for a couple of weeks, even a month or two.

For long term storage, you want it to get it a bit more dry. Curing really is keeping the moisture content around 13%  for a few weeks doing a regular exchange of air. In the curing phase, it will be a bit too wet to smoke and you’ll want to dry it a bit more to the point that you want to consume it. At that point, it’s lost enough moisture that it won’t cure anymore.  For long term storage, you want it to get it a bit drier. 

Q: When you’re making oils, do you still need to cure cannabis? 

Tyler: Yes, anything you’re going to make, you want a good starting product. If you’re making a THC distillate, which most people don’t do at home, then no you don’t need to worry about curing it. But if you’re making an oil as most people do, you’ll want to cure it as you’re retaining the terpenes. 

Humidity & Moisture For Storing & Curing Your Cannabis

Q: Do you use a humidifier sensor inside the mason jars?

Tyler: Yes, you can buy small hydrometers and put them in the mason jar. You want to keep it at 60% humidity. You can also use boveda packs and that helps as it regulates the humidity in the jar, which helps cure your cannabis without having to worry about getting it at the right moisture content. 

Q: Many LPs include Boveda packs, is there any issue with adding moisture back into the plant from a dry product? 

Tyler: It can’t do anything negative,  it will add moisture content to the plant, but it won’t bring back what it lost in the curing process, like terpenes. 

Growing Cannabis Indoors Vs. Outdoors

Q: Would you recommend the seed in the ground or indoors first? 

Tyler: You can definitely start it outdoors by putting the seed right in the ground, it just depends on how big you want it to be. One thing to be aware of is that birds and animals like the seeds and will eat them, so you may want to cover or protect them. 

Q: For transplanting your plant, at what point do you know when to transfer it to an outdoor grow from indoor? 

Tyler: It depends on your goal of how big you want them to grow. If you start them early, you can get big plants even up to 14-15ft, which are bigger than many people can manage.  Check with the weather and wait till after the frost point. 

If you start them inside with a light system, you’ll want to “harden them off” as you transition them. The fluorescent bulb is different from the sun. So, the baby plants that you put right into the sun can get fried and take some heavy damage. The way to get around that is slowly acclimating them to the UV a bit at a time. An hour a day the first day and then gradually adding more time until it gets used to the sun, just like us. 

Benefits of Growing Cannabis Indoors

  • Hygiene – You can control the environment better, having a clean and hygienic space. This is very important as you’re growing your own medicine, you want to make sure it’s clean and safe for consumption, free of any germs, fungus, or microscopic organisms.
  • Climate Control – You can provide the lighting and temperature control that your plants need, and you don’t need to rely on mother nature.
  • Multiple Harvests – Cannabis has a few flowering periods per year and you need the right conditions to maximize your harvest. Some suggest having a room for the vegetation phase that requires 18 hours of light and one for flowering, which needs 12 hours of light. This is controlled by the grower and can allow for multiple harvests.

Benefits Growing Cannabis Outdoors

  • Lower costs – You rely on the sun and don’t need to pay for electricity. You can also have buckets of rainwater to use. 
  • Bigger yields – You can pretty much let them get as big as you want whereas indoor you’re limited to space
  • Environmentally friendly – You’re using the sun and wind which is free compared to electricity

Q: For an outdoor grow, do you want to cover the soil so there’s not extra water? How delicate is the plant?  

Tyler: It’s hard to kill the plant, but easy to make it unhealthy – the most important thing is the soil that it’s in. Both the soil and the container are important as they have different properties when it comes to how they retain and drain the water. If you have thicker clay soil, you may want to cover it if there’s a lot of rain but it’s not necessary; if it’s more sand-like, you don’t need to worry about it. 

Q: When you’re growing in Canada, is there anything we need to know about?

Tyler: Temperature is a big one. We have a relatively short season and the fall weather can come too soon. The most important thing for cannabis is the flowering period. That is the most difficult thing – but the further south you live in Canada, the more options you’ll have as to what strain you’ll grow and what strains will finish in that climate, as you have a longer growing season compared to other areas. If you live far north, you might want to think of auto-flowering strains.

You’re rolling dice in October for the weather. It’s usually around Thanksgiving time where most strains are close to ripeness, with some years being better than others. You luck out if there’s more sun and less rain. That’s one of the hardest things about growing outdoors – you can’t control the weather. 

To make it a safer product outdoors, there’s only so much you can do. Post harvest curing and drying is very important for safety reasons to follow the proper steps so you don’t get mould, as it’s very easy to run into mould and pests. If you have mould post-harvest, you need a microscope to see it, so you want to be careful when you dry it out.   

Cloning Your Cannabis Plant

Q: If your plant is growing too big, can you cut it and make a clone? 

Tyler: Yes, that’s what a clone is. If the clone is in the vegetative cycle, it won’t grow buds as long as it’s bright for longer than 12 hours, up to 20 hours, with 4 hours of darkness.  

You can cut a branch off, stick it in the medium and it will grow roots. Once the plant has buds on it, it’s harder to create a clone, so it should be done in the vegetative state. 

Q: Will it stress out the plant if you cut it?

Tyler: No, you don’t want to cut off too much of it. Generally, the rule is that you want to keep it below 30% of the plant when pruning, which is encouraged to cut off the leaves closer to the soil. Some are denser and will benefit from some pruning. It’s best to keep it at a minimum and do it in the morning or night, which won’t stress out the plant. 

If you see yellow or dying leaves, you can take those off, but if they’re green and healthy, leave them on. That’s how the plant makes its energy, through photosynthesis. 

Cannabis Growing Equipment

Here are 7 things every cannabis plant needs to grow and thrive for indoor or outdoor grows: 

  1. Growing Medium – This is the stuff your plants grow in, as there are many options such as soil, soilless mix, hydroponics, aeroponics and even aquaponics.
  2. Light – In order to get the best quality and quantity of your medicine, you need to understand the light needed for a cannabis plant, regardless of if you’re using sunlight or lights indoors
  3. Water – Cannabis needs water to survive and grow just like all plants! 
  4. Nutrients – You can purchase nutrients that you just add to your water. Additionally, you can use your compost to create your own nutrients. 
  5. Air – You’ll want a well-ventilated space and a slight breeze is helpful.
  6. Temperature – Cannabis plants can die if exposed to extreme temperatures, so make sure you monitor closely.
  7. Humidity – This applies more for indoor plants to create a pest and mould-free environment. 

Hazards and What to Look Out For

Q: What are some of the biggest issues for home growers trying to grow their own medicine? 

Tyler: If you don’t have any gardening experience, then learning the basics is the most important thing to start with. Watering is the biggest thing for any type of plant, cannabis included, and can be the hardest thing to nail down. Provided you have the right environment for it, you can use a nice spot in your backyard with the correct amount of sunlight, and then watering it becomes the number one thing.

Watch your watering – it’s easy to see the negative effects when you forget to water your plants because it starts to droop and it’s quite easy to tell that it’s thirsty. The negative effects from too much water is harder to see and lost on a lot of people that it’s actually getting too much water. This is probably the number one thing that they do that is bad for their plant. Cannabis likes dry feet, they say, so it doesn’t like soggy roots which cuts off the oxygen to the roots and really affects how the bud grows, including the cannabis plant’s structure and density. 

The pests and that sort of thing outdoors aren’t normally a big thing for the home grower. You might run into something and have bad luck, but for the most part you don’t have to worry too much about it. 

Q: Do you need to do anything about the wind factor? 

Tyler: It depends on how big your plants are. The bigger they are, the more they’ll blow around with the wind, which can break your plant in half, but it can support itself on its own. It’s highly recommended to support the plant and branches, depending on the size as we do get windy days. 

Q: What are a few things that you would say to a medical patient who’s looking to grow their own medicine? 

Tyler: The most important thing is sanitation, which will affect the plant. One of the worst or dangerous things is bringing it from outdoors to indoors, as you’ll bring in many pests inside. This can also threaten your house plants. If you do get mildew,  bud rot, or spider mites, you want to get rid of those things. Most people don’t want to use pesticides or harsh chemicals, which is why the Health Canada regulations are there for a reason.  

Legally Growing Cannabis For Medical Purposes in Canada

Obtaining Your Grow License

In order to grow legal medical cannabis, you need to obtain a prescription from a healthcare practitioner and complete the application form accurately, as Health Canada can deny your request. The grams per day on your prescription determines how many plants you can grow indoor or outdoor. 

In order to legally grow medical cannabis in Canada, you must:

(1) be 18 or older (Or have a designated grower & a responsible caregiving adult)

(2) have no prior cannabis convictions

(3) be prescribed medical cannabis by a healthcare practitioner

(4) fill out and submit an application to Health Canada

What is the processing time for an ACMPR growing License? 

Once you have your growing license from an Apollo healthcare practitioner, we will assist you with guidance in completing the application and express mailing it. Health Canada may take a few weeks to a few months to approve your application, so please follow up with them directly. 

How many plants can I grow as a medical patient? 

Once you’ve received your approved grow application by Health Canada, the number of plants is determined by the grams per day on your prescription and where you’re planning on growing your plants. 

To simply calculate this, for every gram you have per day, you can grow 5 plants indoors or 3 plants outdoors. 

For example, if you have 2 grams per day, you could grow 10 plants indoors or 6 outdoors. If you’re looking to grow indoors and outdoors, check out this link to learn more.

What is the difference between the ACMPR and the Cannabis Act for grow licenses? 

On October 17th, 2018 the ACMPR or Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations was renamed the Cannabis Act of Canada. This was a name change and growers in Canada still refer to the program as the ACMPR, dating back to August 2016 and all of the forms and procedures are the same.

Summary

Growing your own cannabis plants can be a rewarding journey as you bring them to fruition in your own backyard or home. As you can tell, there are many different factors that can affect your plant’s growth, quality, and yield, so you want to make sure the plants you’re growing are safe for consumption. We hope you learned something from this insightful Q&A session with Tyler, and get the opportunity to experiment for yourself with what strains, and methods work best for you. 

 At Apollo, we offer a grow your own ACMPR registration service alongside Health Canada and we are happy to answer any questions for you at grow@apolloresearch.ca.

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