Maintaining an Outdoor Garden
The following important variables will be discussed in this chapter in detail:
A. Light quality (i.e. lots of sunshine). In general, more light is better, but some breeds can grow well in lower light levels. Also, pruning and bending plants can bring more usable light to the plant. Smart outdoor growers design their gardens so that they can maximize sunlight hours for the entire growing season.
B. The right plant. The strain will make or break a crop. With all other variables perfect, a grower can produce a failed garden if the plant is not suited for the climate, or if it is unproductive. Certain strains may prove more resistant to problems that are beyond the grower’s control such as frost, excessive rainfall, fluctuating root temperatures, hailstorms, heavy winds, or inadequate nutrients.
C. Proper feeding and watering. A good medium is necessary for the plants to reach their full potential. The plants’ diet will affect yield and quality. Underwatering plants can be bad news.
D. Ideal root temperature. If the root temperature is good, plant growth can be maximized. Plant roots that are under the ground can be cooled or heated, depending upon the climate where the plants are grown.
E. Ideal air temperature. These factors are beyond a grower’s control if he grows under the sun, but they can be controlled in a greenhouse. A grower should use the most productive calendar months for growing.
F. Predator control. A grower must do his homework here, or he could end up with no plants at any given time.
G. Care. Plants grow better if they are loved, rather than just stared at with dollar signs in the eyes.
H. The proper gardening system. It is critical to use a system that leads to maximum productivity, with minimal waste. It is also critical to use a system that caters to particular needs. For example, does a grower want a low maintenance garden, or a more elaborate system that requires more effort in order to get the maximum yield in the minimum amount of time?
This chapter gives all the details a grower may want to know in order to build a custom gardening system that will fulfill particular needs, such as soilless mix gardens, and hydroponic systems that use more complicated irrigation techniques. Soilless mix is the easiest and most forgiving medium for both the novice and pro.
Plants can be transplanted at any time of the vegetative growth phase. As a general rule, plants should be able to spread their roots and not become too root-bound. Plants should not be transplanted during flowering.
Transplanting is easy; here are the steps:
A. A hole is made.
B. Plant roots are placed into the hole. Roots should not be exposed!
C. The roots are covered without being damaged.
D. Roots are moistened if medium is dry.
Plants can be transplanted from one medium to another. For example, plants in rockwool, clay, perlite, soilless mix, or dirt can go into any other medium.
Plant roots will adapt to various root environments. The key is to feed the roots properly at all times.
For example, a plant in peat moss or soilless mix that is transplanted to clay or perlite will need a new feeding program, because soilless mix can be constantly irrigated or it can go days between irrigation. However, roots located in a medium such as clay cannot go days between waterings, given that plants are grown under a strong climate.
The same holds true if a plant is transplanted from a medium like rockwool or clay into soil or soilless mix.
Plants should never be transplanted during flowering because the plants can receive too much of a shock.
All predator control—such as protection from rats, slugs, and bears—should be in place when plants are transplanted.
Pure and Not So Pure
Using pure, clean water is the easiest way to increase the yield in the garden.
The quality of an outdoor water supply will vary from creek to creek, river to river, spring to spring, pond to pond, various artesian well sources, rainwater zones, and so on. For example, a company may have sprayed toxic substances to kill vegetation nearby. The residue may have a long, full life and therefore toxify the surrounding water supplies.
Nevertheless, getting water from a creek or other water source that runs through chemically untreated land would be just fine.
Water filters, reverse osmosis machines, distillation devices, and rainwater reservoirs are all methods of obtaining pure water.
All of the above purifying methods can be performed for large and small quantities of water. Machines and filters to handle larger amounts of water will cost more.
Some machines and filters remove dissolved solids better than others. The better units normally cost more.
Removing Chlorine Only
There are cheap filters that can be attached to faucets that remove chlorine from the water. Often, chlorine is the domestic gardener’s worst enemy.
Desalinization: Diluted Sea Water
Desalinizing sea water is an expensive option for making quality use of sea water, although prices of these units have come down significantly over the past few years.
Water should be a few miles from a flat creek or river that runs into an ocean, for salt water travels upstream. Watering with diluted sea water will retard the growth rate. The rate will vary depending on the saline content in the water.
Preferably the water will have a temperature near 65 to 70°F. However, watering with a temperature between 60 and 80°F is also okay.
Any running water will work. If cold water is used, it is recommended to use a system that needs infrequent irrigation, or a slow drip so that the roots do not get constantly saturated with chilly water.
Adaptability to water temperature varies from strain to strain.
Without this big ball in the sky, outdoor cultivation would be impossible. To some, the sun is easily overlooked as a cultivation tool, while for others it is an important static growing device that one plays with to maximize yields, lower watering needs, and alter the timing of harvest. The following information is a more detailed look at these examples.
Flowering plants love to get as much sun as possible. Anyone who has grown indoors and has played with light intensity will see this. But the more sun a plant receives, the more water it will need.
If water supply is not an issue, then full sun is the way to go. Plants will mature sooner with larger flowers in full sun. However, the flowers may get so dense and large that additional support for them is a must.
If water is lacking at the site, whether from inadequate water because of hot weather or from neglect, it can be detrimental to the plant’s life and productivity. An option here is to plant in a spot where trees or other obstacles block out a certain percentage of sunlight; for example, in a location where plants receive only 8 hours of direct light on the longest day of the year.
When blocking aids such as trees are used, it is possible to manipulate the blockage for certain times of day. For example, a set of trees can block out the morning, evening, or afternoon sun. It is best not to leave out afternoon sun. The less direct light a plant gets, the longer it will take to be ready for harvesting.
Steady Harvesting with One Strain
Growing with identical clones or different seedlots offers an opportunity to stagger the harvest. For example, a strain fully matures in early September when grown in full sun. If identical clones are taken and planted in different amounts of sunshine, the ripening time can be extended throughout the fall. If double harvests are included in the program by removing the larger tops soon before maturity, then the harvest season can be extended further.
These techniques are really efficient and effective for a smaller grower who has the time to try to get the largest possible harvest and yet have steady work. Another option (and depending on the situation, maybe the best option) and the quickest harvesting technique is to pull all the plants at once. Some people like harvest season, while others like to get it over with.
The time of transplanting from the indoor environment may affect the timing of harvest. For example, one fresh cutting transplanted on May 15 may finish at the same time as its genetic twin sister transplanted on June 1, given that they were exposed to the same sunlight conditions. However, two identical clones of another strain may finish flowering at different times, given that they were also transplanted on May 15 and June 1. In the second case, both clones received the same hours of sunshine.
Flowering plants in vegetative growth can be triggered to flower if the plants are given a daily photoperiod that is less than 12 hours. For example, plants can be forced to flower if they are exposed to complete darkness in a greenhouse for 12 hours (or slightly more) per day.
Plants can grow and adapt to all sorts of climates. This means that what is good for one plant of the same species is not necessarily good for another. Since most gardeners are after quality and quantity, they often grow breeds that are area specific.
Plants can flower above 90 to 100°F and do wonders. Some plants prefer warm days and cool nights. Some plants prefer warm days and warm nights. Some plants can do well in various conditions, while others cannot.
To play it safe, flowering plants should be grown during frost-free conditions, since spring and fall frosts have the potential to screw up (or kill) the plant. All other factors, such as excessive rainfall, poor light, high heat, cool temperatures, etc., can be dealt with as long as the strain is acclimatized to the local weather conditions, and the plants are well fed.
Root temperature should not be too cool nor too hot. A temperature near 65 to 70°F is recommended. However, root temperature that falls between 60 to 80°F is sufficient. Different plant strains have varying levels of adaptability to the root temperature factor.
Plants that have their roots underground can be kept cooler in hot climates and warmer in cool climates.
Pruning and Bending
Pruning is a process of pinching the top shoot(s) so the plant will grow bushier and provide more tops, while staying shorter. Pruning is recommended if the vegetative cycle is long enough for the hormones to effectively transfer to the new set of tops (at least one month of vegetative growth after pruning is recommended). The plant hormones in the plant’s top shoot are auxins, which cause a plant to grow tall. Auxins travel to the next set of top shoots after the original top shoot is removed. With pruning, auxins will form in several shoots to promote several leaders of new growth.
Pruning a month before flowering or even earlier (anywhere from two months after germination) will result in more tops. These tops may be nearly identical in size and should be close in size to that of the top had it not been pruned.
Pruning may be done more than once during the vegetation process, thus creating a flower-multiplying effect. Some strains accept pruning and grow large flowers and fruits, while some strains will have downsized flower production as a result of pruning.
Once again, it is good to have an affiliation with and a history of desired strains, so that production is maximized with pruning methods.
At some time during cultivating practices, a predator such as a slug may be chowing down anywhere its taste flowers desire. The plant can recover if enough vegetation is left and it is not just a stick. This will depend on the plant’s rate of production and the amount of vegetation being eaten by the predator.
In the early seedling, late seedling, and early vegetation phases, a slug will eat the plant down to a stick and not leave any green vegetation.
A deer, on the other hand, may nibble on new growing shoots or on the entire plant, and then walk away. A plant lives through this treatment, or it doesn’t. If it does, every shoot that was eaten will result in the plant growing differently than it would normally.
One source revealed that his best plant in a four-plant plot was the result of a slug pruning job. Therefore, slug damage may not be detrimental.
A similar problem is broken limb damage from an animal such as a bear walking over a plant in its path. Sometimes the broken limb can be taped with duct tape and it will be fine, but sometimes the break will cause wilting and death to the branch.
Bending is a process of physically moving a limb, branch, or main stock to a new position. There are many ways of doing this. A piece of string or twine may be tied in a knot around the limb and then tied to another string, a log, a tree, or a nearby stake.
Bending allows shoots that have been deprived of light to receive intense light. The exposed shoots can now put on mass much more quickly than when exposed to low light levels, which causes slow and unproductive growth.
Bending is done to obtain maximum light for the inner vegetation and to ensure that all vegetation receives more light. Bending is a good idea indoors or out, but the limbs should not be bent too hard or beyond a point they can’t take physically. This will take practice. Yields will always increase.
If a limb breaks, a grower should immediately look at the vegetation along the broken limb to see if it looks normal. If it is not wilted, then string or tape can be used to secure the break. The limb may also need careful staking. If the limb is severely wilted, cutting it off carefully will permit the plant to heal itself.
Bending can also be used to support limbs and stalks in the event the flowers become so large that the plant cannot support them on its own. Sometimes a happy medium is reached when the flowers become heavy and the limbs adopt a more horizontal position. This naturally exposes the inner leaves to more light and allows more photosynthesis to take place.
Many aspects of cultivation are universal, but predators aren’t. For example, a predator that hangs out and lives on a semi-elevated southwest slope may not live on the northern slope or the other side of the valley. (For example, a rodent could be attracted to that sunny spot and to the vegetation there.) The best way to deal with potential damage from living organisms is by keeping accurate records of the problems encountered.
Deer seem to be put off by mothballs (scattered around the plot every month or two), and tall fencing. Misting plants with plain water and tossing on fine-blended bonemeal or bat guano immediately afterward has been reported to do wonders. Also, goats can be a problem because they will devour all flowers and leaves in sight.
Bugs don’t seem to be a problem if the growing medium and growing conditions are at a decent standard. A little prevention can involve planting a few cloves of garlic at the transplanting time and weekly foliar feeding of liquid kelp (i.e. Nitrozyme® (Growth Plustm) or another brand) from the time the plants are young through near maturity.
To deal with a bug problem immediately, it is recommended to apply an organic insecticidal soap combined with Nitrozyme® (Growth Plustm) every 4 to 10 days while wearing a respirator. Rubbing the bottoms of the leaves gently while spraying will help to ensure that all of the areas get covered and some bugs get squished. The war psychology of bug-smearing may be argued among scientists and other interest groups.
Spider mites seem to be the rookie’s most undetected predator, next to the rat. Spider mites are bugs that suck fluids from the plants, and they can spread diseases. The plants then spend time dealing with the stress, which affects yield.
Understanding what makes mites thrive is half the battle. They like a hot, dry room with weak plants.
They are discouraged by high humidity, and they incubate at a highly productive rate when the temperature rises above 80°F. Misting adds humidity, which helps the stomata to open. This is particularly helpful during foliar feeding, to increase the nutrient intake. Stroking the plants stimulates hormonal activity that will increase growth.
Daily mists are okay until plants are about 3 weeks into the flowering process, after which a twice-a-week misting is recommended. Misting is reduced during flowering because the flowers may begin to mold with over-misting. This will occur in mold-sensitive strains or in plants that are not as healthy as they should be.
There is no cut-and-dried method for determining exactly when to stop misting, but problems from too much misting are more likely to occur when flowers have been formed for 3 weeks or more.
Spraying the undersides of the leaves well is the key, because that is where the spider mites hang. Nevertheless, if spider mites become a problem, spraying every 4 to 7 days with an organic insecticidal soap combined with 1/2-teaspoon per quart of Nitrozyme® (Growth Plustm) will help. The combination of the two is more effective than straight soap. It is advised to rinse the plants the day after the soap spray is applied, using plain water. A respirator should be worn whenever fertilizers or insecticides are sprayed in order to keep the mist out of the lungs.
If spider mites cannot be dealt with at this level, regular misting and foliar feeding with liquid kelp should be enough of a preventative tactic to ensure the mite population does not get out of hand, unless plants are weak from poor cultivating methods.
Predator mites are an expensive method for dealing with the problem. If predator mites are used, it is still a good idea to lower the spider mite population with insecticides before introducing the spider mites. However, it is recommended to wait a few days for the chemical ingredients of the insecticide to wear off before the introduction of the predator mites so that they won’t get zapped.
When mites are at a tolerable level, all else must be going okay. The more mite-free your plants, the better. A grower should not be over-stressed because of a few mites.
The mite population should be as minimal as possible on the mother plant(s). When a mother plant gets a disease, new clones may be hard to root. They may still be productive, but the disease will be a hindrance and can interrupt the normal schedule.
Misting plants daily or every second day soon before or right after the lights come on also helps keep other bugs, such as thrips, under control. Applying an organic insecticidal soap at the rate of 1/2-teaspoon per quart of water, or as recommended on the package, also works in a crisis.
The soap should be rinsed off a couple of days after spraying to remove the soap film from the plants’ stomatas. Stomatas are vital for transpiration. One organic method for keeping bugs under control is planting garlic in soil or soilless mix.
Another organic method to kill bugs is to use pyrethrins, which is an extract from the chrysanthemum plant. A health conscious grower probably would not want to get near the pyrethrins, organic or not.
Other methods to kill all bugs are to use malathion, diazinon, etc. These materials have rather short half-lives, but again they stink like serious toxicity and should not have a place in the garden, except as a last resort.
Anybody needing to use a bug spray, should polish up on his horticulture skills and grow healthy plants, rather than rely on a toxic Band-Aid solution.
A single to double layer of several-inch-high slug tape placed at various diameters around the stalks works well. Setting open containers of beer into the soil around the plot (covered so water can’t dilute the beer) also works well.
Raised containers or beds that are isolated and high off the ground seem to attract fewer slugs than spots on the ground’s surface. Copper surrounding the plot supposedly works well, but it is expensive.
Using slug bait and slug tape is about 100% effective.
If the crop is in a life-or-death situation, it is environmentally friendlier to place the bait in plastic cups sloping downward at the outskirts of the plot, rather than to leave it exposed to the rain. In this way the slugs go in and eat and are then poisoned. Some make it back out, some won’t.
The stuff must stay dry as long as possible because a little goes a long way, and handling less is always best. Reapplying a little Slug Death in the cups every 3 to 5 weeks is recommended to beat the nasty slug.
Small slugs can be hard to find and may leave holes all over the plant, which causes weakening of the plant tissue, which results in slower growth. Rubbing the leaves may be necessary to find these slimy critters.
Slugs are mainly spring feeders. They do their most damage in cool and wet spring conditions. Slugs and rain go hand in hand. They slow down in their movement and diet habits in the hot summer days.
Rats and Mice
Mice tend to like young seedlings, even those that have just germinated. However, once seedlings are 2 to 3 weeks old, mice tend to leave them alone. The seedling zone should be well sealed so that is 100% mouse proof, because they have been known to devour complete starter rooms. Utrasound® is a unit that sends out a frequency that deters mice and rats, yet is not heard by pets and family.
Rats, on the other hand, can be life-threatening to plants. Rats will eat a circle around the outer stalk, at the base of the plant. This will look similar to a tree that is being cut down by a lumberjack.
This removal of the plant tissue will cut off the flow of vital fluids from traveling up and down the plant. Plants will wilt and die soon afterward.
However, some plants can be saved, if they still look normal and healthy. To remedy the situation, it is recommended to cut out a piece of outer bark from a plant of the same species.
Then the patch should be placed over the bark that was eaten so that it connects to the upper and lower parts of the stalk, where the rat had stopped eating.
Now just a little Vaseline and tape will secure this patchwork. This patch will act like a suspension bridge so that it is possible to pass necessary components from the lower and upper sides of the stalk.
The new material will eventually be welded in place. The plant will be fine.
Mothballs around a plot may also act as a deterrent.
Rats do like eating some organic fertilizers such as canola meal and Flower Power.
Bears don’t seem to cause problems unless they decide to give a garbage can or bag a closer inspection. After realizing that it is a lame food source, they tend to move on. Burying garbage bags and cans, and building a raised bed around their contained mix, will offer superior plant protection. Odds seem greater of no attack than of an attack to the plants.
Bears are most destructive in the early spring after a long winter nap, when floral and berry vegetation is low.
A fence (1 to 2 feet high) should be built around the plants in order to keep them out.
It is always best to prevent mold in the flower and stems by having an acclimatized strain that is known to handle the elements, and by regular foliar feeding with Nitrozyme® (Growth Plustm) or a quality liquid kelp. However, for whatever reason, a mold problem may occur. For mold problems, it is recommended to spray an organic fungicide with Nitrozyme® (Growth Plustm). There are other fungicides that are commonly available, such as organic fungicides and Wilson’s® Bordeaux.
A strong strain and a good grow medium are needed at the preventative level. When a disease hits clones, starting again from seed may be the answer. Most diseases can be dealt with, unless the plant receives poor care.
When plants wilt not for lack of water, fusarium is a major possibility. Fusarium targets a plant with weak roots and a water temperature over 70°F. Roots often become unhealthy (brownish) in stagnant, warm water.
Keeping roots healthy (whitish) and water temperature below 70°F is the best preventative measure to deal with fusarium.
If fusarium hits a plant and it becomes wilted and sickly looking, the plant should be pulled immediately so that it will not hinder the other plants. If other plants share the same water (i.e. hydroponic gardening), hydrogen peroxide should be added to the water at a rate of 2 to 5ml per gallon to help sterilize the water.