Zen and the Art of Deep Water Culture

So… I decided that I wanted to grow cannabis.

It had re-entered my world after an extended break (more on that another time…), and buying ounces at $320 from dodgy guys in Macca’s car parks was wearing me thin emotionally and financially. I hadn’t smoked much since becoming a father, and the paranoia of getting busted doing a small-time drug deal was taking a toll.

‘Growing my own’ seemed like a way to guarantee supply AND cut out the anxiety involved in scoring. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well… whilst I was happy enough with the outcome, the process from inspiration (and the missus permission!) to harvest/consumption was a difficult one, and I am still continuing to learn. The journey of growing cannabis came at a challenging time in my life, and I have come to find it to be an incredibly therapeutic process – with an awesome bonus at the end.

First Grow

I made just about every mistake that you can. First off I was arrogant. I had a few friends that had run grow ops of various sizes and figured if they could, I could at least have a crack. Thing is, despite the nomenclature “weed” growing, even mid-quality cannabis is not as simple as “plant it and bud will come”. The top growers have not just got lots of experience growing cannabis generally, but they also have deep experience with their preferred strains. I had neither.

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I thought I had done the research. I had looked at dozens of pics over at r/microgrowery. I had gone over the list of items suggested in the FAQ. I had read about types of lighting and differences in strains. I was as ready as if ever be.

I was looking to grow enough to keep me in about an ounce a month on average and had decided on a 0.8 X 0.8 X 1.4m tent. I knew that high-intensity discharge lights such as High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) create a lot of heat… and since I was growing in a tin shed with zero climate control, I figured the heat build-up would be a problem. I decided to go with a Vipaspectra 600W blurple style LED with an actual draw of about 270W. In retrospect, I would have spent a little more money and ordered a quantum board from China via Ali Baba. The blurple worked fine, but the QB I have now shits all over it.

I had ordered seeds through Attitude seed bank and had decided on Lemon OG Kush and Girl Scout Cookies (GSC), both feminised. A friend of mine used them before, and had no problems. I opted for the super-secret guaranteed shipping, paid through PayPal, and crossed my fingers. Once I received a tracking number, I would check daily to see how far away my magic beans were. One day I checked the tracking number, and the status showed as held in customs. I shat myself.

I contacted Attitude, and said I would need to wait 4 weeks (I think…? Curse my stoner memory!) before they could resend the seeds. The knock on the door from the boys in blue never came. Attitude resent the seeds as promised; and the second time, they made it past our fearless border forces without a hitch.

I wasn’t too keen on having to go to a grow shop for advice, so I tried to get as much of the equipment as I could online. In hindsight, this was possibly a result of the general paranoia associated with doing something illegal. Keep in mind, I am not a criminal… except for my cannabis-related activities.

I have always learned best from talking to people… but for this new hobby, I decided to keep my investigations to online forums like FAB and r/microgrowery. Whilst I had been buying cannabis for 20+ years, growing my own seemed more serious. I had heard old stoner stories of hydro shops being fronts for the boys in blue.

I did end up going to a local store to pick up nutrients and a growing medium, once all my other items had arrived from various eBay sellers and online hydro stores. The certificate of appreciation from a local OMC meant I ultimately stayed away. I found another that has a legit website, will take cards and has a sign saying ‘they won’t talk about illegal plants’.

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This is just a personal preference I guess, but I think it is worth having someone you can chat to. A person who can at least talk around the edges of any problems you are having can be invaluable, especially if it’s something like bugs/disease or environmental control.

Getting Started

I had my tent, pots, growing medium, exhaust fan, carbon filter, seeds, nutrients and lights. I also picked up a cheap pH meter, along with some pH up and down. Goodbye Wickr dealers – hello mad yields and quarter-ounce blunts!

I used the paper towel method to sprout the seeds. I popped them in a pot of coco coir with some rockwool. The two pots then found a home in the tent. I watered them with tap water, adjusted to around 6.3pH, and ran my lights. Then I waited and waited. I tried to water the coco around the rockwool around every 3 days, letting it dry between waterings.

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After a couple of weeks, I was heartbroken. The plants were growing, but their progress was soooooo very slow. I obsessively looked over photos of other grows on r/microgrowery and compared my progress with theirs. I now realise that a big reason for my slow initial progress was due to the chilly Victorian winter; I wasn’t heating the space at all. Having now grown in a backyard shed through all 4 seasons (sometimes all in one day down this way), I realise how ignorant I was about the needs of plants generally, not just my precious cannabis seedlings.

Introductions to Deep Water Culture

I asked a friend his opinion on my grow so far. He figured the LED lighting was a problem (HPS growers love those bulbs!), but he wasn’t too sure. He had always grown in deep water culture (DWC). I had read about DWC whilst doing my initial research. It didn’t seem as beginner-friendly as other mediums, and mucking about with water/air pumps seemed like a hassle. Something I didn’t realise at the time is that it’s best to start with smaller pots and transplant once or twice during the grow. I ignorantly started with the pot size they would finish up in – although the bikie grow shop I got them from hadn’t thought to give me any heads up.

After a week of seeing bugger all improvement, I decided to take the plunge. I ordered a DWC kit from an eBay seller. It’s basically a 50L storage tub with some holes cut out for the net pots, air hoses and water pump lines. The system is top-fed; meaning that water and nutrients are constantly moving from the base of the plants, down through the roots to the reservoir at the base of the tub. If you are at all handy they are pretty easy to build, and for the money of a bought one, you’ll probably get a much better quality build.

Next problem! Transplanting my precious baby girls from coco into the DWC system. I did some research on YouTube… it appeared that the roots and base of the plant needed to be painstakingly cleaned of all traces of coco, lest ye be smitten by the cannabis Gods. The main concerns seemed to be centered around unwanted organisms, pumps getting clogged, and transplant shock (to the degree that the plant doesn’t recover).

I filled a bucket with water. With the focus of Indiana Jones at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I ever so slowly pulled the seedlings out of the coco and into a bucket of water. I gently massaged as much of my ladies former home out of their roots and from the rockwool as I could, whilst minimising any further disruption.

I took my two ladies and placed them in net pots. I surrounded them with clay pebbles to provide support. I filled the system with water, checked my pH, added 1/4 strength nutrients and switched the system on. Water ran up the hose from the reservoir below and trickled out of the water rings, trickling back down to the reservoir. A little spongy looking stone dispersed away from the external air pump and made sure that the system’s water was well oxygenated. If this was DWC hydro, I guess I was doing it!

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I didn’t happen overnight (not by a long shot!), but it did happen. At first, I thought one of my girls hadn’t survived the transplant; I thought that I must’ve mucked something up! There was no new growth after a week, and some of the lower leaves were dying. I nervously asked a mate for advice about the ailing plant.

He said: “It might die or it just might be fine”. Wise words from a stoner sage. I changed out the water in my reservoir, made sure to adjust the pH when I could, and waited.

After another week, my battler was looking better. She was the smaller of the two still… but looking far healthier, all the same – by the end of the grow, this plant ended up being the highest-yielding. The really exciting thing, however, was hidden beneath. Lifting the reservoir lid revealed both plants, shooting out dozens of clean, white, healthy-looking roots. I am on my third grow currently, and I still get excited when I start to see the roots poking through.

From there, things started to kick along. The rate of growth seemed explosive after the slow start. I very quickly had plants tall enough to top – and then top again – after a few weeks. I was planning on having 8 colas between the two plants. Soon, I was installing netting for a SCROG (screen of green) to train my plant’s bud sites into what I figured was the best way to make use of my light.

What A Plant Needs

Smarter people will give you better detail, but I think of it as air movement and transfer, nutrients, water and light. I was doing pretty well for the last three, but I was relying solely on the exhaust fan to create movement and transfer, as the air was drawn from the passive intake at the base of the tent.

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The thing is, plants need some degree of stress to grow strong, and stronger plants can hold heavier buds. It was only through some mindless scrolling through r/microgrowery and other growing sites that I realised I probably needed another fan to create some more air circulation. I bought a simple clip-on fixed fan (not oscillating) and that seems to have been enough to blow my plants around gently and toughen them up for flowering.

The girls thickened and grew taller. I trained them as best I could to use the most of their space. I wasn’t kidding myself that I was a master grower, but I was certainly growing in confidence. I decided to flip the light to flower; 12 hours each day and night. If all went well I should be harvesting by mid-February. I changed out the nutrients and checked daily for signs of buds.

The plants behave as expected, I started to see signs of my little girls blossoming into full-fledged cannabis womanhood. I decided this was a good time to attach my carbon filter, the last thing I wanted was to almost reach the finish line and be busted because of not managing the scent of flowering cannabis.

The trouble is what started as an environment that was on the chilly side for growing cannabis, was quickly becoming too hot. The tin shed acted like an oven, and during the day I could see the plants wilting. A useful tool to have in this situation is a simple hygrometer (a device that shows humidity and temperature), better is one that will give you a daily maximum and minimum temperature.

I made sure the water levels were maintained and invested in a beneficial bacteria product (similar to Hydroguard that you may see American redditors refer too) containing Mycorrhizae. My understanding is this creates an environment where beneficial bacteria outcompete the harmful bacteria for nutrients. This can be of benefit if you are seeing root rot (roots turning brown), but in my case, I was being over-cautious and was just hoping it would help with the heat stress.

Whether or not I was right, the plants continued to develop and despite the droop in the hottest part of the day, the buds were fattening. At this point, I ran into another of the headaches that I hope others can avoid; managing the smell of stinky fattening buds. I thought my eBay exhaust and carbon filter kit was enough, but in reality, it was cheap and pretty useless.

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The problem wasn’t the filter, but the exhaust fan. Proper silenced fans used in commercial grows are expensive, but they do the job properly. My cheap arse fan wasn’t strong enough to push air through the filter in enough volume to eliminate odour. Opening the shed meant being hit in the face with odour. I checked and double-checked with others to be sure that the smell wasn’t noticeable outside of the shed; no-one could smell it, so I tried to let it go.

Trouble is, I can be a pretty anxious person at times. Cannabis can be really helpful for that! Growing cannabis is super rewarding and educational, but it can be stressful. When my first grow was finishing up I lost a lot of sleep getting up and double-checking the shed was locked or thinking I heard a noise. In my experience, there can be a paranoia associated with growing cannabis that should be respected. That said I think you shouldn’t let it stop you from getting to know this wonderful plant.

Harvesting

The day had come, my Lemon OG Kush was ready to harvest. The Girl Scout Cookies still had some time to go so I was going to let that go for a few more weeks. Pro-tip! Figure out where you will be drying if you still have plants finishing in your tent/grow space. I ended up using a laundry cupboard to dry the OG whilst the GSC finished growing, the whole house smelt like bud for the next week. My missus was not happy, to say the least. I try to keep to one strain now to eliminate the issue.

I hung the GSC up to dry in the tent when it was done and started trimming the OG. There is truly no work that I have done that is as satisfying as trimming my homegrown cannabis. Getting to see the way the plant grew as you trim down to tasty nugs is truly a blessing. I put the ended results in glass jars with Boveda packs to maintain a humidity of 62%.

The result was not the best smoke I’ve ever had. I have fond memories of the Northern Lights I would get as a teen and I recall it as the most bomb stuff I ever had; mine was just decent. It was sure as fuck better than any Wickr PGR bullshit, that’s for sure. I yielded a little over six ounces with some trim that I made into cannabis coconut oil. Absolute blast off stuff!

I am in my third grow now and I’ve dialled a few things in. My environmental control was a lot better through the cooler months this year, and I should be able to avoid growing in the heat of summer based on better yields last grow and (hopefully!) of my current grow.

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Concluding Remarks

Growing cannabis saved me. It saved me money, time (“what time did he say he’d be here?”) and dealing with people I’d rather not associate with. It gave me a new hobby and some skills that serve that hobby. It also gave me a sense of freedom; I can grow my own medicine, I don’t have to wait around for the government to legalise or change the medical restrictions to suit me.

To my mind growing your own is an act of civil disobedience. I feel disheartened in the traditional approach of signing petitions or writing to my local MP (I don’t want my local MP knowing I consume cannabis at all!) and I think direct action is what works best for me. Learning and putting in place the skills needed to grow cannabis is the best expression of a middle finger to the Morrison government that I can think of.

All the guides will tell you growing in coco or soil is best for beginners; fewer parts, fewer things to go wrong etc. They’re probably right, but to be honest it doesn’t matter how you grow, just grow! My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.

Andy

Author: Andy

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spaceman
spaceman
10 months ago

beautiful, inspiring story! i cant wait to be able to say: My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner! i too have been buying for 20+yrs, dealing with shady people, robbed 3 times totaling $1500 stolen right out of my hands… im also in vic and have sussed out the laws to minimize the impact, should i get caught growing my own. the time is now. i did grow 1 gal outdoors once and received a couple of trichomes. it was the most rewarding feeling of my life, and 100% naturel and pretty decent too. herbal plants all around… Read more »

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[…] bud-chasing population are not so. Only the most dedicated of us are constructing space buckets or hydro setups. On the other hand… the hash scene in Australia is a void that is calling out to be filled by […]

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[…] jump to a yarn on nutrients, moving quickly to the topics of hydroponics, horticulture methods and deep water cultures. Once we reach a point where we all agree that living soil is best, we transition into some […]

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