Actively Aerated Teas: A Must For Every Cannabis Cultivator, Part 1

Brewing actively aerated microbial teas can be the single best activity a cannabis cultivator can participate in.  Every stage of plant growth, perhaps aside from the end of bloom, can benefit from a microbial tea, assuming the tea has the correct ingredients to promote the specific stage of growth it is in.  This first part of the tea brewing series will detail what the benefits of a  microbe tea are, how to make a tea brewer, and what goes in a tea.

The benefits of teas are wide ranging.  When applied to living soil, it replenishes the nutrients the plant consumes, keeping it fertile for weeks on end, as well as aiding in the digestion of the organic inputs already present.  When added to a hydroponic reservoir a day or two before it is time to change the nutrient solution completely, it can prevent pythium from rotting the roots by digesting the pathogen and mitigating some of the salts of the synthetic nutrients.  Cannabis foliage flourishes when sprayed with a living tea, growing more resistant to pests and pathogens as microbes cover the outer surface of the leaves as well as inside the plant tissue.  

To brew a tea, first the apparatus must be constructed.  The simplest tea brewer to assemble is a 5 gallon bucket, an air pump, air tubing, an air stone, and some pantyhose.  Purified water is aerated in the bucket using the air pump/tubing/stone device.  Purified water must be used so no chemicals kill the microbes.  The pantyhose is used to hold the dry organic ingredients, much like a tea bag holds tea leaves.  As the solution is aerated with the pump, the solution is oxygenated and the dry organic ingredients dissolve and separate in the solution.

Another brewing apparatus that is becoming more popular is the vortex tea brewer.  Vortex brewers don’t use air stones, but rather they rapidly circulate the solution moving it from the bottom of the brewer down a series of PVC tubes and then back to the top.  The benefit of a vortex tea brewer is that particulates are never able to settle at the bottom of the brewer, potentially creating an anaerobic pocket.

Many organic and even some inorganic inputs make great tea ingredients, however all teas have three (3) essential components: a ‘base’, a sugar source, and an inoculant.  Which ones are appropriate to use depends on which stage of growth the plant is in.  

The ‘base’ of a tea is the dry organic foundation inputs that are placed in the tea bag.  This foundation is digested by the enzymes the microbes create, and give them surface area to work off of.  Common base ingredients include bat/bird guano, kelp, fish/fish bone meal, worm castings, compost, mineral supplements, humic acid, and alfalfa meal, although many other ingredients work wonderfully.  It is best to use a variety of ingredients, with about one cup of total base per 5 gallons of tea.  Use guano and kelp sparingly as they are very high in salt, which can accumulate, killing microbes and blocking nutrient uptake.

The sugar source of a tea feeds the microbes, allowing them to multiply at a ferocious pace.  Dry molasses is a preferred source, since it is a large and complex sugar which takes the microbes a fair amount of time to consume.  Also worth consideration are plants that are high in sugar, such as sugar beets and sweet potatoes.  Simple sugars are expensive and consumed too quickly in an actively aerated tea.

Inoculants are microbe sources that are used to establish the initial microbe colonies in a tea.  Many sources and products can be used to inoculate a tea, including homemade compost.  Well-matured compost is filled with all types of microbes that can thrive in a tea, multiplying exponentially if the environment is favorable.  However, if compost is unavailable, numerous products from your local hydroponics store work perfectly, including Great White® and Voodoo Juice®.  Some may argue that these products are expensive, but only a little is needed to brew a tea, and tea brewing effectively multiplies the product well beyond its original volume/concentration.

A wide variety of microbes are beneficial to cannabis plants, both at the root zone (rhizosphere) and on the foliage.  Bacteria, protozoa and fungi can all be made by brewing teas.  Which microbes are made in a tea depends on a number of factors, which will be detailed in the second part of the tea brewing series.  Stay tuned!

Cannabis Sex

Male, female, hermaphrodite; cannabis sex is complicated.  Unlike animals, plants are capable of sexing one direction, the other, or both, almost on a whim.  However, cannabis sex can be predicted based on the sex of the seed’s parents and the environment the seed endures during the germination stage.  With a little know how, cannabis sex can nearly be chosen from a seed at will.

Cannabis seeds are sold by strain (genetic lineage), and also by sex.  The sex listed may be either of the following:

-‘Regular’ which means the sexes are segregating; male or female plants can come from a seed. 

-‘Feminized’ which means no segregating; each seed results in a   female plant.

But this is not the end of the story.  Both sexes can turn hermaphroditic, with flowers of the opposite sex growing from the plant even after its sex has already been determined, i.e. male flowers growing on a female plant, or (less commonly) female flowers growing on a male plant.  In some instances, both sexes are represented equally, with an equal number of male and female flowers coming from each flowering site.  A hermaphrodite in a bloom room will create a plethora of immature seeds, ruining the taste and potency of a flower.

Hermaphrodites can come from both ‘regular’ and ‘feminized’ seeds and are typically the result of environmental stress during the bloom phase.  That being said, a hermaphrodite is in fact more likely to come from a ‘feminized’ seed.  ‘Feminized’ seeds are created by pollinating a female plant with the pollen from a hermaphrodite’s male flower.  This is because the pollen from a hermaphrodite’s male flowers only carry the genetic information for female or hermaphroditic traits.  Basically, since the father of a ‘feminized’ seed is a hermaphrodite, it is more likely to become a hermaphrodite itself than a ‘regular’ seed with ‘regular’ parents.

Since ‘feminized’ seeds come with a higher probability of hermaphrodites, other methods of achieving higher numbers of females are worth looking into.  Many growers claim to achieve upwards of 90% females with ‘regular’ seeds by germinating them in ideal conditions.  A stable environment with high humidity, blue heavy light, high nitrogen/low potassium in the media, and a shorter photoperiod are said to increase the likelihood of germinating a female (1).  This is called ‘epigenetics’, which means gene expression changes depending on the environment.  If environmental conditions are favorable, it is more beneficial for the species for the seed to become female since females can make seeds themselves.  Females take more energy to mature than males, but has a high probability of success in a favorable environment.  In addition to that, a single male can pollinate many females so fewer males are necessary.

(1)“How to Get More Female Plant’s From Regular Seeds.” CANNA connection, 18th of June  2018, https://www.cannaconnection.com/blog/18582-how-to-get-more-female-plants-from-regular-seeds.

Demystifying Cannabis Genetics

Sourcing high quality cannabis genetics was once a dangerous and difficult proposition, but times have changed. Today, an unprecedented variety of cannabis genetics from across the globe are available to home growers.  Regular seeds, feminized seeds, and auto-flowering seeds adorned with endlessly creative and unique names are sold by entities reputable and otherwise, both domestically and abroad.  All were created by selectively breeding the three cannabis species: Sativa, Indica and Ruderalis. What follows is a description of their respective qualities to help the home grower choose what is most appropriate for their needs.

Unmodified (traditional) cannabis seeds are produced by pollinating a female flower (bud) with the pollen from a male plant, and typically have a 50/50 chance of becoming female or male. Some cultivators claim that when germinated under preferable conditions, a greater ratio of females to males can be achieved.  Most specimens are easy to keep as mother plants, and don’t often suffer hermaphroditic tendencies under normal stress loads.

Feminized cannabis seeds are produced by pollinating a female flower with the pollen of a hermaphrodite. A hermaphrodite has male flowers originating from a female flower, created by stressing a female plant during bloom. This is usually achieved by over-ripening, or by interrupting the plants dark cycle with a light leak.  Feminized seeds eliminate the need to identify and remove male plants from your garden to prevent seed formation in your flowers. It should be noted that it is quite common for hermaphroditism to become a genetic trait, with the offspring producing both flower sexes without the application of stress.

Auto-flowering seeds are hybrids between the sativas, indicas and hybrids known to North America, and ruderalis, a variety originating from Russia and Siberia. In this region, the growing season is very short and the day period during this time is 24 hours/day for about four months.  This means ruderalis must bloom when the day length is well over 12 hours/day, and must do so quickly.  When these traits are bred into sativas/indicas and their hybrids, a plant is created that many find more practical to grow since they finish fast and short, without requiring a timer for lighting.  It should be noted that due to a lack of selective breeding and the difficulty in separating desirable traits, ruderalis varieties are typically of a lower cannabinoid concentration.  To complicate this further, the addition of a third species of cannabis produces wildly unpredictable results regarding flowering times.  Some may have a vegetative stage of varying length, and others will immediately bloom with lower ending yields.  Compounding all these problems are breeders that create auto-flowering seeds that are also feminized.  With this additional genetic caveat, plants become completely unpredictable.  If such a specimen happens to be truly breathtaking, clones cannot be kept as mother plants to reproduce the same results. This forces the grower to either breed their own seeds, or continually purchase them.

Incredible cannabis genetics can come from any of the aforementioned origins, but it is important to choose what is practical for your growing environment and skill level.  Keeping mother plants or breeding for seed production isn’t practical for most, and the type of seeds you purchase will determine what can you can do with them. Endless hours can and should be spent researching online forums and gaining insights through trial and error. However, In the end, it may be best to purchase proven genetics in the form of clones from your local medical dispensary professionals.

PRO TIP: Be certain there are no hitchhiking pests, molds, or viruses on genetics that you acquire by keeping a small quarantine area under observation for a week or so before introducing to your permanent garden. Thank me later.