By J. Hays

After cultivating one cannabis strain, Diablo, indoors for many generations, we decided to take them outside and try some good old fashioned outdoor growing. Logically, we planned our garden ahead of time. Having seen cannabis in the outdoor gardens of others gave us a little insight and better ability to plan, knowing at least how big each plant will get. We decided to place our plants in the best fertile soil, with full southern exposure. As with any garden, light might be the most important influence of all those you can at least somewhat control. The little tree or shed building casting a shadow over your garden in the afternoon can stunt cannabis growth, confuse your plants about bud time, and overall rip off your potential yield.

We didn’t take our soil to the local nursery for analysis, but decided it would be a good idea for next year. What I did do was locate my compost pile in the center of the garden and actively manage it, for its contents to be fully decomposed by planting date. This all worked out well, and the Autumn and Winter manure, leaves, weeds, produce trimmings, plant trimmings and household compost fully decomposed into the blackest, fluffiest soil ever seen in our garden. Each grower has to decide how they wish to feed their plants. I wanted what I felt was a fully organic, home produced crop meaning I fed them nothing commercially produced, so our cannabis was nourished all season on only the original compost spread out and tilled in before planting, and more topical additions of compost, and compost tea. A consideration which we fell short on was the space allowed each plant. Ours were placed eight to ten feet apart, but we should have allotted a minimum of twelve. The last basic component to our garden plan was when to plant. Being that indoor growing really stresses the importance of light hours, we chose to plant after our days had reached a length approaching 16 hours. For us, May 15 is 15 hours, 40 minutes, and danger of frost has passed. Many members of our community put plants out early last spring because we had unusually warm sunny weather and it seemed it would extend the growing season. Unfortunately most of these early plants lacked ample hours of light, and had a variety of difficulties. Most commonly the plants quickly threw hairs as if ready to bud, then they had a long recovery while they reverted to vegetative growth. Also most of these took longer to trigger at the end of season, resulting in immature buds at harvest time. The later that plants mature in our moist climate, the more inevitable mold becomes, and we saw many stunted plants and long faces at the end of season.

After carefully planning, we put our Diablo ladies directly into soil. Many growers purchase large cloth pots and vast quantities of potting soil, but I’d never pass over good garden soil for a mixture that lacks the life of real native soil. The disadvantage we discovered immediately is that the plants are more accessible to pests when they are in the ground. First we battled moles which proved less an issue as the plants grew and rooted deeper, but they managed initially to burrow around and cause small and mid-sized plants to fall over. Cottontails were happy to nibble lower leaves and lay in the shade our little cannabis plants made but they really never caused any harm. The worst pest proved to be deer. Ours didn’t eat the cannabis, but at every opportunity they would lay down on it and smash a plant flat or break it off altogether. We used an electric fence for protection but eventually the deer just jumped over the wires and enjoyed our garden anyway. An eight foot tall fence is required to actually ban them altogether. To our delight we did not have to be concerned over the spider-mites that are the dread of indoor growers. Outdoors, predatory insects take care of these. Free ranging indian runner ducks removed any slugs, beetles, and other potential cannabis predators in our garden and we didn’t require intervention with products.

Indoor growers are accustomed to how cannabis looks when it’s ready to bud. We have seen how large cannabis grows outdoors, but had no idea what to expect from our Diablo strain. We were impressed with the size of the plants outdoors and the variation of leaf color in natural light, but were absolutely unprepared for the incredible structure of growth they became. I pruned them as I would indoor plants when they were three or four feet tall, but really did not know what to do with all that crazy branching and sub-branching, so I left it. In retrospect, I should have removed a lot more internal sub-branching to increase light penetration and air flow and reduce likelihood of mold. Eventually, the huge branches were barely holding themselves up and they had just begun to bud. When one of these massive lower branches broke at the base, I used a hacksaw to clean up the break, and then devised a support technique for our girls. After inquiring within the community, we decided the best tactic would have been the “fence” technique. Use a single cattle or sheep panel. Lay this down over the top of your plant once most of its height has been achieved, resting each corner on a four by four fence post that you previously sank securely into the measured fence distance at the four corners surrounding your plant. Using u-nails across the fence wire, these corners can be secured fairly easily and as the branches continue to grow through the spaces, they are well supported. Since our own cannabis was already progressing in bud growth, I didn’t want to damage them and encourage mold. It was too late to drop a cattle panel over them. Deciding to build a fence around and through them, I took a truckload of bamboo poles from the yard of friends who have a bamboo forest, and used these and copious amounts of duct tape to construct an “almost similar” fence-like structure pushing poles carefully through the branches. This worked like a charm and once supported, the branches went on to double or triple in weight staying right where they should.

The last enemy of cannabis we faced outdoors was mold. Diablo is a hearty and mold-resistant strain. However, all cannabis in the northwest is subject to bud-rotting mold. We know a grower who claims the last few weeks are thousand dollar days. First you gain a thousand dollars each day, and then as the mold begins to take hold, you lose a thousand dollars each day. Although a gain or loss of a thousand dollars is figurative but he is emphasizing that as the plants do the most of their bud bulking in their last days of life, they will lose just as much to bud- rotting mold as they were previously gaining. In the last days we found ourselves checking plants with sleeves and gloves virtually by the hour. The moment we found a spot of mold, we harvested. We threw the few moldy buds in our compost, as any responsible grower does, because no one should smoke mold or products made from moldy cannabis ever. It seems a no-brainer, but many people have tried to convince us that their unmarketable product can be used in concentrates because the processing doesn’t allow mold to exist at the end. I disagree and don’t ever let any sort of contaminate get past my compost or burn pile. Think of these buds as an animal you found dead while hiking, and are considering cooking for your family’s dinner. Don’t consume these things, and please don’t ask someone else to.

Anyone preparing to grow outdoors should gather all information possible about the logistics of growing cannabis in your specific climate. Just as tomatoes need to be planted in the right conditions at the right time, cannabis also requires some planning. Check your daylight hours before planting, protect the girls from frost, pests, and mold as best you can, and enjoy one of the most fulfilling gardening experiences one can have.

Garden kindly!