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It's been about 6 months since the cultivation of Marijuana was legalized in South Africa and 6 months since I planted my first seed. In those 6 months, I've had just about every issue imaginable. From pests to airflow problems to bad soil and so much more. Below I've compiled a list of everything I've learned, hoping that in future, it might help other "budding" growers!
1. Shop Around
If you are eager to start growing, you might be tempted to buy the first gear you can get your hands on. But if you shop around, you are sure to save a few bucks.
You can check out a list of reliable South African online shops at https://www.sastoners.com/shops
Only trustworthy shops are added to this page. If you have any questions, e-mail the shops directly. One thing I can say about the grow shops in South Africa is that the service is always world-class and they know what they are talking about!
But don't stop there! You can find even better prices by using PriceCheck! PriceCheck isn't an online shop, but instead, PriceCheck compares prices from various shops in South Africa and offers you cheaper alternatives. It makes finding the lowest price easy!
Also, check out what I had to buy for my first grow.
2. It’s an expensive and time-consuming hobby
It is generally accepted that you can grow better buds indoor than outdoor. Someone is yet to prove me otherwise. So unless you are happy with mediocre weed, indoor is going to be the way to go. And indoor growing is not cheap.
You will need a wide range of different things, including a grow tent, grow light, soil, pot plants, fertilizer, ratchets, scissors, extractor fans, thermometers, hygrometers, fly ribbons, spray bottles, buckets, gloves, rooting soil etc. And that is only for the growing part. If your situation is anything like mine, you will most likely also have to spend some time and money creating a space where you can actually put your grow tent. This might mean installing an aircon to regulate humidity, or maybe more extreme measures, like closing off a window or breaking down a wall. These costs can quickly add up!
The initial costs will eventually even itself out, but depending on how much you consume, it might take a while to do so. Sadly, the costs have turned many potential growers away from the idea of growing themselves.
3. Start with a good strain
You need good genetics to produce good weed. The strain is therefore extremely important. Do you want THC overload, or maybe a bit more CBD? Do you want a fast-growing plant or bigger yields? Sativa or Indica? Regular, photoperiod or feminized?
There's a lot to consider when getting seeds. If you are unsure, go for variety! I made the mistake of planting 4 of the same strain the first time. You get tired of smoking the same stuff after a while. Now I never plant more than 1 seed of a specific strain.
Check out the shops page for companies that can provide you with more information on seeds.
4. Keep a journal (at least, when you start)
I kept a journal for the first 5 months of growing. It was a simple spreadsheet with dates and key events on it. This helped me to learn how long plants take to grow in the environment I created, how Autoflowers vary from Photoperiods, how my nutrient schedule affected plants etc. All of this information was crucial in learning to grow weed. If you are just starting off, definitely keep track of what you do. You will be surprised how useful this information becomes.
Tip: You can take your journal-ing to another level by posting it on a forum like 420magazine.com. You won't find a more useful community in the world! These guys will give you the absolute best advice on growing. I am fairly certain that my first two grows would have been unsmokeable if it was not for these guys. In fact, I can say with certainty that I would have grown very weak and dangerous weed if the 420magazine.com community didn't give me the expert advice that they did.
5. Soil is extremely important
My first month of growing was a total waste of time because I used the wrong soil. After 30 days, my plants were only a few cms tall. It was because I used normal potting soil. I figured if I asked the local nursery for their “best potting soil”, I’d be fine. That is not the case. You need very specific soil for growing marijuana. A soil with good drainage and good water retention is important. If you can also get the initial nutrient requirements in there from the start, it will certainly help too!
I now use a Premium Classic from Freedom Farms which contains: Coco Coir, Worm Castings, Compost, Perlite, Vermiculite, Volcanic Rock Dust, Bone Meal, Gypsum, Dolomite Lime, Kelp Meal, Organic Nutrients. A mix that is half Perlite and half Coco Coir could also do the trick, but I will always use these pre-mixed bags because I know it is exactly what the plants needs for the first month. .
6. Avoid DIY, especially when it comes to tents
I wasted a lot of money on my first attempt at getting a tent going. My first issue was thinking a 1-meter high tent would work. It's not easy to work in such a small space. I'd actually go as far as saying it's impossible. In my opinion, 1.8 meter is the minimum, but 2 meters is really what you want. I would take higher if I could, but with a little bit of LST (more on that later), you won't easily need more than 2 meters.
The second issue was that I thought I could build something for cheaper than the R2000 tent at the store. I was wrong. My terrible attempt at building a box eventually cost me well over R3500 and I eventually threw it away and bought a tent. Buying a tent was a fantastic decision. The grow tents available have everything you need and at a fraction of the cost of what it would cost you to build it. Don't make my mistake and build something, just buy the tent!
The same goes for most aspects of growing. When it comes to growing, someone has most likely already built the perfect tool. Shop around and find that tool. Try to avoid constructing your own solutions purely for the sake of saving money. There are of course exceptions, but where possible, try to stick to what has been tried and tested.
7. Learn LST Early On
When my plants finally started growing, they didn't seem to hold back. My one plant collapsed because the branches shot up too quickly. Another plant grew so tall, I had to find creative ways to move the lights higher because it showed signs of light burn. All of these could have been solved or at least alleviated by using LST.
LST stands for "Low Stress Training". It is the simplest and least intrusive method to shape your plant into a more desirable form. LST will help you avoid light burn and stop your plants from collapsing, but it can also improve yields significantly!
LST requires twist tie's or string that you use to tie down certain branches to the side of the plant container. By tying down the branches, you not only keep the overall height of the plant down to a more manageable level, but you can also keep all colas at the same level. A marijuana plant will naturally have one big cola in the middle as the plant will form the shape of a Christmas tree. LST will allow you to have several colas at the top, which is a sure way to increase yields!
Unless you have unlimited height, you will need to learn to do LST. I thought with my 2-meter high tent, I could just leave my plants and they would grow and fit without issues. I was wrong. Even with a 2-meter tent, I need to do some LST. Remember, you are likely to lose some of the height at the top and at the bottom. Adding trays for drainage will mean that your plants will be positioned at least 10 to 30 cm from the ground, while lights at the top will be about 10 to 30cm from the top. Most lights require that you keep them at least 30 cm from the plant, so you again lose another 30 cm at the top. So technically you only have between 1.1 meters and 1.5 meters of grow space in a 2-meter tent!
8. Use a Light Meter
A lumen meter or light meter is a way to measure “light intensity”. I thought it might be a good way to actually compare different lights and determine which brand is better, but measuring light quality is far more complex than just measuring lumens.
So why do you need a light meter? Despite not being able to really tell the quality of a light, it can be a great way to figure out how to best position your plants. You want all the buds to get as much light as possible and a lumen meter can give you a numerical value that you can compare.
For example, if you get 7000 lumens on buds directly under a light and only 1000 lumens when the plants are not directly under a light, this massive difference indicates you will need to move the plant so there is more light on the part only getting 1000 lumens.
9. Light Distance is Important
I burnt my plants in the first month because I kept the lights too close. Once burnt, that part that is burnt is essentially dead. It won't recover. You need to avoid this at all costs.
Knowing how far away to keep your lights can be tricky. Different lights have different distances. The best is to ask the manufacturer for their recommended distance for Marijuana plants. If you are still in doubt, keep it at least 30 cms away from your plants, but rather start even higher and slowly move the lights closer over time. The moment you see any sign of light stress, immediately move the lights further away!
10. Autoflowers vs Photoperiod
I've grown both and my official preference is Autoflowers. There are pros and cons to growing either and I think the choice will have a lot to do with your personal growing style and environment.
The main reason I love Autoflowers is actually because of Eskom. With power outages in South Africa, it can be a real pain to make sure your photoperiod plants get the right amount of light each day. If your light schedule is interrupted, the worst that can happen with an Autoflower is that your harvest might be less potent. However, a photoperiod can bloom early, or turn hermaphrodite, both of which can really mess up your grow. The flexibility with regards to the light schedule is why I'm only doing Autoflowers from now on.
Photoperiod plants have one major benefit over Autoflowers, namely "cloning". By making use of cloning, you can plant one photoperiod plant and never have to plant a seed again. Cloning is the simple process whereby you take a cut from a photoperiod plant with which you create a whole new plant. This is a major benefit and it becomes more beneficial, the larger your grow is.
There are many other pros and cons, but the best way to find out what works for you is to grow both!
11. Always have fly ribbons or sticky paper
The picture above shows the sticky paper available from hydroponics.co.za. I have been unable to find any other places that sell these and they are certainly easier to work with than the traditional fly ribbons. They also attract different types of insects. I stick one yellow and one blue sticky trap in each tent. I use these to monitor whiteflies, but these traps have caught all kinds of flying insects.
I further compliment the use of these sticky traps by also adding at least one fly ribbon per tent. They don't look nice, but they work very well. I get them from Agrimark for the low price of about R10 per pack of 4. They cost about double that at Takealot.
12. Air Conditioner / Climate Control
Your environment is one of the most important factors in the success of your grow. If you don't have the right environment you are going to have all kinds of problems. Too hot? You can expect more pests and less potent buds. Too cold? You can expect slow growth or even overnight death.
You don't really want your temperature to ever go over 25 degrees Celsius. That is very difficult to do in South Africa in summer! If you don't invest in an air conditioner or have a way to regulate the temperature to remain under 25 degrees, you are not going to be growing the best weed you can.
Humidity is also extremely important. Too humid? You can expect bugs or mold. Too dry? Your plants might not absorb enough water which could slow down growth.
The pain about getting this right is that it will often cost you a lot of money to do it properly. In most cases, it will mean you need to buy an air conditioner. Air conditioners are not cheap! Make peace with that, because in all likeliness you are going to have to buy one if you are serious about growing.
13. Have a water inlet in your grow room
I wasted a lot of time carrying water buckets from the tap to the grow room. And it was always a mess with water being spilled everywhere. Eventually, I had enough and decided to add a hose in the grow room. I would have preferred a zinc with a faucet, but a hose worked just as well. I can now fill up the buckets inside the grow room or even water the plants directly.
If you have problems with spider mites or other pests, I highly recommend having a hose in your grow room. If you can't get a pest under control fast enough, a quick wash can go a long way. I’ve had to do it numerous times due to pests and it has been a lifesaver. Be careful though: wet buds can attract mold.
14. Investigate cloning early on
Cloning is when you take a cut from a photoperiod plant and create a brand new plant using that cut. This is how you can use a single photoperiod plant to spawn multiple new plants. By doing this you can essentially grow plants infinitely without having to plant new seeds each time.
Cloning can only be done in the vegetative state. There is also a good chance your first clones might not work out like mine didn’t. So try to experiment with this early on, so you can be sure to have clones ready before switching the lights to 12/12.
If you intend to grow photoperiod plants, then cloning is the way to go because it allows you to consistently make the same quality weed. You only keep the strains going that perform to your standards and over time, you have a collection of only your favourite strains with your favourite traits.
15. Always be clean
I can’t stress this enough. Don’t even set up a tent until you have steralized your grow room. It’s absolulutely crucial that your grow room is as clean as a surgeon’s operating room. Failure to do so will result in some or other pest finding its way into your room and onto your plants. I had no bugs for the first 3 months. I thought I had the best location in the world with no pests. I was wrong. 3 months later my grow room is now the local hangout for all mites in the area. Could it have been avoided had I been cleaner from the start? Maybe, but it certainly would have helped in keeping the numbers down either way. Stay clean!
16. Know the two most common light schedules
18/6 for veg and 12/12 flower is probably all you need to know. This means 18 hours of light, 6 hours off. And 12 hours on, 12 hours off. Autoflowers don't need less light to veg, so you can leave them under 18/6 from day 1 until the day you harvest.
These two schedules are the most commonly used time schedules by most growers. If you are unsure, stick to these. I have tried 24/0, but it seemed too much for the plant. They do need time to rest. So I've stuck to 18/6 for veg and 12/12 for flower ever since. It hasn't let me down yet.
17. Check your timers!
I actually found my electronic timer to be more of a pain than my mechanical ones. You only need a 24 hour timer, so don’t bother getting anything fancier than that.
Be sure to test the timers properly. If "lights out" is at 8 PM, go down at 5 minutes to 8 and sit there and watch the lights go off. Do that a few times so you are sure the timers are working as they should. Same goes for when the lights should go on. And do this every few weeks. I've overlooked a faulty timer that resulted in my one photoperiod getting 24 hours of light for a week! Not good!
18. Know your chemicals
There are so many different options and so many different opinions on those options. Below I'll discuss a few of the main ones, but it is important to read as much as you can about anything you intend to spray on your plants.
- Diatomacious Earth:
A powder that you can sprinkle on your soil or take 3 tablespoons of it with a liter of water and gently spray it over your plants. Although safe, rather not apply to your buds as it might go into your calyxes and get stuck there. It’s technically safe to eat diatomacious earth, but it’s not good to smoke it.
- Isopropyl alcohol:
Hard to get hold of in some countryies, but this is the only stuff I could get that kills mites and theirs eggs. I use a 9-1 mix and spray plants top to bottom, trying my best to also spray under the leaves. 9-1 is said by some to be quite weak, so you might want to consider higher dosages, but be careful. Too strong might have a negative effect on the plant.
This was said to be the best option against spider mites, but it did not work well for me. I think my dosage may have been low, so I’m still going to try this a few more times. But keep in mind, this is going to become more expensive than the Isopropyl option, because Spinosad isn’t nearly as cheap. Spinosad can be used up to one day before harvest, making it a very safe option.
Do not use this on flowering plants. Use it only on vegging plants. It can be used as a preventative measure and I do recommend using it for that. But there’s also a lot of negativity around neem, so avoiding it can be a good option. However, if you are going end up using neem anyway, you might as well use it from as early on as possible as you will need to stop when the plants start to flower. It usually involves being applied every 7 to 14 days and sticking to this schedule diligently could mean you are a pest-free all the way until flowering.
These are just a few of the things out there. There are loads more and too many to mention here. If you want to use something on your plants not listed here, just be sure to read about it. The last thing you want is to smoke something that has truly damaging chemicals in it.
19. Know when to harvest
The only acceptable way is by using a microscope. Don’t bother relying on any other method. Without a microscope, you cannot see how much THC is in the trichomes. If you cannot see how much there is, you will harvest too early and have super weak weed, or you will harvest too late and have more CBD and less THC (which might not be what you are aiming for). Either way, you need to know exactly, so make sure you have a decent microscope or loupe that can do at least 60x magnification. Ideally ask your local nursery to recommend the best one for plant inspection. You don’t want to go too cheap, otherwise, you will end up just having to buy another one later.
I only harvest when I see a decent amount of amber. I've also noticed that my plants rarely develop equally, which means I usually do a partial harvest where I only harvest the buds that I can see are ready and I leave the rest for a few more days.
Harvesting and curing can be complicated. There is a lot to take into account. I highly recommend reading the following two pages a few times so you are well aware of all aspects of the harvesting, drying and ultimately curing processes.
20. Bud Washing
Can you imagine looking after your plants for 5 months, only to dip it into water, washing off all the amazing THC, only to be left with buds that have zero potency? I could imagine doing it because I really thought that is what would happen if you took a freshly harvested branch of buds and dipped it into a bucket of water. I was completely wrong to think so!
Bud Washing is a technique applied right after harvest where you literally take the chopped off branches and dip it them into four different buckets of water, each with their own additions. This “cleans” the bud from any dust, bugs or anything that may have landed on the bud while it was in the tent.
If you haven't bud washed before, you absolutely need to try it. I don't believe it is optional anymore. Going forward, I don't believe I would ever smoke something again that is not bud-washed.
(Check out our guide to bud washing here)
21. Be a responsible smoker
After your first grow, you are likely to have access to unlimited weed. That was likely your goal, but it means that you will likely smoke more than ever before. This could be bad for your health and even bad for your mental state if you abuse it. Be responsible. You should know your own limits and when you are going too far. And if you don't, have an honest conversation with a friend. It's important that you don't dig a hole for yourself.
Aside from smoking too much, don't ever smoke in a way that could endanger other lives. For example, although I firmly believe that someone who smoked a joint won't drive as badly as someone who drank alcohol, I still don't think it is very responsible to drive when you smoked. Just don't do it.
Thanks for taking the time to read these tips! I could not have done all of this by myself. A lot of the information was indirectly obtained from the 420Magazine.com community, one of the most helpful communities and friendliest group of people I have ever come across.