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It’s Wildfire Season, How It Can Affect Your Cannabis Crop

As we head into the heart of wildfire season (August-September), growers in California are on high alert after the disastrous wildfires of 2015, 2017, and 2018.

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As we head into the heart of wildfire season (August-September), growers in California are on high alert after the disastrous wildfires of 2015, 2017, and 2018.

Julia Jacobson and her husband Samuel Ludwig of Aster Farms lost their cannabis crop in the Mendocino Complex Fire last year. “If you live in California, the wildfires will touch you in some way, somehow, at some point. As much as you can prepare, there is no way to truly anticipate what the experience is like, how terrifying nature can be.”

This year has been relatively calm in the Golden State due to helpful August rains. But if a wildfire comes, cannabis farms near it will have to decide whether to destroy their crop. Bud can still get tainted by airborne toxins like pesticides, ash, soot, insulation, fire retardant, building materials, and more, and would be a danger to consumers.

When It’s Necessary to Destroy Smoke-Stressed Plants

Cannabis in the seed stage may be fine and clean if toxic ash has not been introduced into the soil. Plants in the vegetative state can escape damage if toxins haven’t impacted their root systems.

Unfortunately, wildfire season tends to come when outdoor cannabis is in its reproductive (flowering) cycle, which is the most vulnerable time for contamination. Resinous flowers exposed to smoke from wildfires may be coated with dangerous toxins and foreign material—soot, hair, insects, excreta, or other adulterants.

According to Nelson Lindsley, cultivator, consultant, and owner of Poetry of Plants, when that happens, “You might as well start over.”

Farmers may not want to keep bud impacted by smoke because its growth and cannabinoid levels may be stunted. Studies comparing cannabinoid levels between smoke-stressed and control cannabis crops have yet to be published, but according to Lydia Abernethy, Director of Cultivation Science at Steep Hill, we do know that high levels of smoke can reduce UV rays, which promote important processes key to the growth of a plant, like photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, and transpiration.

What Farmers Can Do to Protect Against Wildfires.

Lindsley of Poetry of Plants says farmers often overlook soil testing, but when you’ve got potentially toxic ash settling into the ground and a plant that’s an excellent bio-accumulator, it’s important. He understands the burden: “It takes a lot of time and money to do it the right way.” But making sure your soil is healthy will give you more confidence that your plants are clean.

It may also be helpful for farmers to consider cultivars that are more resistant to wildfire. According to Abernethy, “Plants with denser bud structure or more foliage have more nooks and crannies for microorganism growth. Larfy or airy small popcorn buds may be less impacted by smoke/particulate contamination than large, dense colas. Plants that finish faster [e.g. indicas] may do better than varieties that take longer to flower.”

Some growers try to wash smoke/fire affected flower, but this doesn’t clean off the contaminants. Instead, Abernethy says, ”Extraction may be the best bet for farmers with reduced batch quality to remove impurities, but it might not work well in all cases as we still see about 25% of legal batches barred for entry due to pesticide contamination.”

As for getting crop insurance, insurance companies started to dip their toes into cannabis farming, but huge payouts from wildfire destruction have made them more wary.

For example, a Carpinteria farmer received over one million dollars from a private insurance company after the Thomas Fire of 2017 destroyed his crop; that same insurance carrier was expected to pay out another eight million to other operations that lost crops from that fire. Needless to say, that carrier is no longer offering cannabis crop insurance.

Source: Leafly

Image: (Noah Berger/AP Photo)

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Flowering – The cycle of life

Hopefully by now you are looking at your chosen strains and they are big and healthy and well on their way to filling up most of your available grow-room floor space by utilizing all the lights you have. You should have also done your lower branch pruning about a week before now so your plants have had time to recover and are bursting with energy from the top growth (I bet you are dreaming of the glistening trichomes you will be looking at in the future).

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This is almost an endless subject – every grower will have their tricks and their own ways to do certain things, but the overall goal is the same: get your plants to full maturity and help them be the best that they can be.

Hopefully by now you are looking at your chosen strains and they are big and healthy and well on their way to filling up most of your available grow-room floor space by utilizing all the lights you have. You should have also done your lower branch pruning about a week before now so your plants have had time to recover and are bursting with energy from the top growth (I bet you are dreaming of the glistening trichomes you will be looking at in the future). Now you are ready for “flicking” or adjusting your lighting timer to the 12hr on/12hr off light cycle to induce flowering in your plants. If you are using bulbs that are not dual spectrum now is the time to change them to either dual or flowering spectrum bulbs.

I have tried the method of leaving your plants in 24 hour darkness before inducing the flowering cycle but I really found no difference in that and just letting the cycle begin by sending them to bed early; just be aware of your timings when initially starting veg so you can easily adjust to the times that suit you when it comes to flowering (factor in watering times, visiting hours etc.) so you can tailor your time to provide the best care to your plants without being rushed. Also bear in mind your surroundings – if you aren’t growing at home, or in a place you visit daily, you don’t want to stand out by visiting at inappropriate times or making your life difficult when moving equipment or consumables about.

 

I tend to do a 50/50 mix of grow and bloom fertilizer in the week before flicking so there is already a slightly higher ratio of flower stimulating nutrients available for the plant to use instantly. I up the ratio slightly to a 75/25 of grow and bloom in the first week as my opinion of this is that you’re asking something living to quickly change and metabolize its food source differently (to concentrate mainly on production rather than overall growth) so a little transition between the two can’t hurt. I certainly haven’t noticed any detrimental effects to doing this.

In the first 3 weeks, I tend to keep my EC at around 1.4 – 1.6 and make slight adjustments as the plant requires. I have noticed that adding an extra nitrogen booster in the early weeks on some strains has increased yields, especially if the strain is prone to early yellowing of the leaves after PK boosting in week 5-6: I find it delays the onset of yellowing during the cycle and this in turn allows the plant to utilize the light it is given more effectively to catalyze and create more natural sugars to send to your buds (increasing weight and flavor but also giving more energy to the plant itself).

Your choices of lighting are also very important. Recently I have been testing the same clones under different lighting situations and have found without doubt that a broader light spectrum has increased the flavor and output of my plants – the K3M grown under standard digital lighting with dual spectrum yielded great results and an amazing flavor but, after getting hold of some PAR rated Gavita 600se pro lights that offer a spectrum basically rated by what the plant can see not what the human eye can and some 250w daylight spectrum bulbs as supplementary lighting, I have seen an increase in yield of 10-20% overall. The supplemental lighting has given it a slightly more rounded

and complex flavor (I’m sure terpenes and flavors develop at different rates when different spectrums of light are available). That’s probably why outdoor grown organic arguably has the best flavors: naturally based food and a completely full and unlimited light spectrum from mother nature herself.

The next couple of weeks (2-3 max.) will be about maintenance and care just to make sure that everything is running smoothly. I have had some results with a couple of strains by giving them a low dose of PK13-14 or equivalent in week 3 (around a 3rd of the suggested dose has increased the speed and size that the flowers have set in and formed). In comparison, cheese clones that didn’t have the slight increase were, on average, half an ounce less per plant than the ones that did but be careful not to give too much as you don’t want to send the wrong chemical signals to your girls just yet (more on that in a minute).

 

Around the end of week 3-4, you should have some lovely little buds developing all over your ladies. Now it’s time to revisit the training and pruning you did shortly before flicking, this will be the last chance to give them another good stripping down of the lower bits that are developing slowly due to lack of light: it seems painful but get rid of them as every flower you remove which is getting no proper light on the lowest sections gains double by allowing the energy to be used up top where it has the best of the light and air. Doing that now will allow the plant time to recover fully before PK boosting in a week or so. pH levels will depend on the substrate and method your using but in a coco mix I would tend to keep it at around 5.8-6.2 as different nutrients become available more at different pH levels. I find a slight variation doesn’t hurt but if you are using any serious nutrient boosters it is essential that you find out what’s in them and what pH range the plant will use them at most effectively or you may end up with a chemical salt build-up that your plant can’t take. This can cause death for your plants via toxic lockout or, in the best case scenario, the need for a serious flush and an extended recovery time to resume normal growth – which is all time not spent growing big tasty buds.

Depending on your chosen strain it will have a suggested flowering length of time but I would use this a guide only, unless growing from a clone that has a proven time cycle (but even then use that as an accurate guide as grow-room variants can mean a plant will ripen earlier or later than suggested). Plan out your nutrient regime well to make sure you have everything you need and enough of it. If you have changed strain recently, maybe to a haze that will require a good 12 weeks or so of flower, you will need to change the usual times you PK boost: on an 8-9 week flowering plant that would be around week 5-6; with a haze you would leave this to around week 8. PK13-14 is one of the bottles found in almost every grow-room you have the pleasure of viewing, but what this does is make the plant believe that its flowering cycle is coming to an end so it has to start producing more sticky crystals and pack on weight to mature and ripen as quick as it can before the end of its life cycle. As you can appreciate, sending those type of signals to a plant that requires extra time to mature overall may cause the plant to be forced to mature quicker by nutrient/chemical manipulation before the plant has actually reached the full size potential for its genetics. In other words, you trick it into starting to think of ripening rather than continuing to produce which will impact on your overall yield in both weight and full potential flavor.

 

I seriously advise you to get yourself a good microscope and keep a good eye on your trichomes as they are what will tell you truthfully and accurately if your plant is nearing full maturity or not and if you are within the harvest window. The “amount of red hairs” approach to checking ripeness for me is just a signal to start looking at the color of my trichomes more regularly. From speaking to some close friends, who grow UK Exodus all from clone and the same mother, some people have found up to a week and a half difference in time taken to reach full maturity just down to the grower’s techniques and grow-room setup.

There are many flowering boosters and nutrient supplements on the market, from many different manufacturers, but I have seen amazing results using products such as Bud XL and Shooting Powder in the last few weeks before flush. However, I have reduced the amount of Shooting Powder I use as I have found it is too strong for some strains and K3M certainly prefers about half the amount suggested (giving me a larger yield using less) – experience and practice is key when using these more serious chemical boosters as you can raise your EC above 2.2 in some cases. Your base nutrient mix and PH have to be perfect so the plant can use it quickly and effectively: you don’t want there to be an excess unused by the plant and I would recommend a half-strength nute mix as a flush halfway through serious boosting to allow your plants chance to break down and use any remaining nutrients left over in the medium. This is obviously not an issue for the organic grower as you would not be boosting chemically. I have grown K3M totally organically alongside various other strains but my advice for the people that require both high quality and a good yield is to experiment with your nutrients – try feeding with a complete organic nutrient while chemically boosting. Bud XL will increase sugar production in the buds and tell the plant to send those sugars and carbs to the buds to be used instead of stems and leaves. I mix and match during the boosting, that way the natural sugars and carbs in the organic nutes help provide a more natural rounded flavor when used by the plant for bud and terpene production.

 

Bear in mind the more nutrient and supplements you use the more excess you potentially have to flush out and, depending on your choice of medium, some will be easier to flush than others. In soil you will have to allow enough time to flush and dry your medium a few times to ensure the plant has completely used up all left over nutes in its system and you have successfully leached the remainder from the soil. In a hydro system you can feed your plants slightly longer as once you have flushed and purged your grow system and started to flush you only have to wait for the plant to use whatever is left over in its own system (using drip clean or a similar plant-safe cleaning products through the grow will help keep any nutrient salt build up at bay, it is also effective in coco for the same reason and is a brilliant thing to use for your first couple of flushes in any medium to help accelerate the flushing process). Once this is done, switch to pure water to completely clear the plant ready for harvesting. Flushing and correct drying are some of the most important parts of growing: why spend months growing great flowers to then ruin the quality by not spending an extra few days on flushing them out to make sure?

 

So, by this stage you should be standing in front of some fully flushed healthy plants buckling under the weight of your tasty buds. Let the plant dry out slightly so the medium is nearly dry, this will save you a couple of days drying time overall without rushing the process – but more on that in the future. Right now at Osiris labs we are preparing to defend K3M’s title at the Dopefiend Cup next month, representing the LCC, which is looking to be one hell of a competition with extra categories for concentrates and extracts this year. A lot of work to do getting ready but getting more excited everyday

Until the next time, happy growing and much love and peace

Kem Osiris

Source: WeedWorld Magazine issue 112

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