Hallelujah. Summer weather is finally here. The long, cold spring in Vermont meant delays and restless nights for many hemp growers. But now, after four weeks under mostly sunny skies, occasional rains and thunderstorms, the high-CBD seedlings have settled in and are starting to show what they can do.
Agronomists talk about the biological and physical processes associated with the life of plants as plant physiology. Yet all gardeners and farmers witness and participate in these miracles in their own way. In this article, we'll take a brief look at the early life of a cannabis plant and then explore the vegetative stage in more depth. This is the most dynamic period in the life of your VT hemp crop, punctuated by rapid growth and supported by nutrients, your hard work, attention and care.
Cannabis sativa is an annual, short-day flowering plant that typically establishes itself as either male or female. As the earth tilts from summer to fall, the outdoor plants rely on the diminishing hours of daylight to initiate the flowering stage. But you knew all that.
It’s how well we do as "parents" to nurture our plants through their adolescence that sets them on their way to becoming mature, full-fledged flowering adults.
Early Stages of Development
As an enterprising Vermont organic hemp farmer, you're already familiar with the first two stages of growth shown above; germination and the seedling stage.
In the proper conditions (warm, dark, and moist), the seed coat cracks and a small embryonic root emerges, initiating germination. After the two oval-shaped leaves open from the seed shell, and the first set of true leaves unfurl, this marks the beginning of the seedling stage; the plant’s most vulnerable period.
Cannabis remains in the seedling stage between 2 to 4 weeks when special care must be given to maintain the proper humidity, temperature, and moisture. Typically, this stage takes place in the controlled conditions of a greenhouse or hoop house.
The Vegetative Stage
By the fourth or fifth week, with the right amount of sunlight, water, nutrients, and care, the plants begin a period of vigorous production.
Below the soil line, the root system spreads wide beneath the mulch and dives deep to reach sub-soil nutrients. This drives dynamic, vertical growth, increases the number and size of the branches, and propels the plant on its journey to the promised land, i.e., flowering.
In the vegetative stage, cannabis excels and can outperform almost any other outdoor crop. Still, there's a lot of work to do, and for the organic grower who knows what's at stake, she is ready with her full support.
What then are some of the keys to optimizing growth during this stage?
Each farmer might prioritize this list differently, using a variety of methods, but here are five of the best practices and seasonal rituals to boost your organic CBD crop:
- Control the weeds.
Triumph over the weeds begins in the early spring. The goal is to plan ahead by laying out your rows and aisles in the field for ease of cultivating or mowing. Also, planting an early cover crop in the aisles has numerous benefits. Hand weeding between the plants, especially around the stem, may be necessary. You can read more about how to "Beat the Weeds" here .
- Be sure the plant stays well-watered without overwatering.
Although hemp is drought tolerant, either ample rainfall (at least 20 inches) or irrigation are needed for the plants to thrive. When irrigating, allow the water to soak deep into the soil. It's okay if the top inch or two dry out periodically. If in doubt, check 3-5 inches below the soil line to be sure the soil is cool and moist (not dry and crumbly, and not soupy and saturated).
- Top dress or fertigate with high-quality organic nutrients and amendments.
Most commercial hemp growers with drip irrigation will use a mix tank and fertilize with the macronutrients, N-P-K about once a week. Replenish the soil microbes with inoculants monthly; many of them only have a 3 to 4-week life cycle. Organic growers on a smaller scale can apply liquid or granular fertilizer around the base of the plant by hand. And remember fellow farmers, more is not better; don't over fertilize.
- Watch for and control pests or diseases.
Daily monitoring is essential. You can stay ahead of most problems by routinely walking your aisles and inspecting plants up close for tell-tale signs of stress, deficiencies, stem cankers, mold, or problem pests. You'll find a lot of helpful information on pests and diseases, here and here.
- Trim lower branches in preparation for flowering.
Trimming the lowest, weak and broken branches removes "dead weight" and most importantly improves air circulation around the plants. This is critical for keeping Botrytis c. (grey mold or bud rot) and other disease-carrying spores at bay.
With the transplanting push behind us, summer is a great time to venture off the farm just a bit, share notes and a craft beer with other growers, and have some fun. We'll be back soon to talk about the most aromatic and exciting season to come, the flowering stage.
What other tips or methods do you use during the “veg stage”? We'd love to hear from you in the comments section below.