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starting weed seeds indoors

Throw a shovelful of manure in a bucket, fill with water, let it sit a couple of days and water with the tea. It worked fine for me. There are “hot” manures and “cold” manures. Hot manures have the highest nitrogen, but have to be aged. Cold cow manure has lower nitrogen but can be used hot out of the barn. Rabbit manure is cold, but some growers call it nitrogen on steroids. If slogging around in barnyards doesn’t appeal to you, you could use fish or seaweed emulsions or any of the other excellent natural fertilizers available at your local hydroponics supplier.

How to Grow Your Own Cannabis Plants From Seeds

Takeaway: Back in the last millennium, before cloning swept the country like the hula hoop, people actually grew cannabis plants from seed. Primitive, huh? But where there’s a will, they’ll surely find a way. While that’s all changed now (hello, cloning!) you can only clone so many times before you have to buy more plants or get back to basics with seeds.

Growing from seed is all about the quality of your seeds. Plants will never be better than the seeds they grew from. Back in the day, there weren’t any seed shops, so seeds were saved from exceptional buds, but it was all a crapshoot with a lot of trial and error. Luckily, now we know better.

Starting from seed isn’t difficult and you don’t need to be an experienced gardener, but the process is a journey in stages, not a direct flight. Cannabis plants are perfect for growing from seed because they have a short life cycle. That being said, be prepared to check your plants every day for moisture, insects, diseases, nutrient deficiencies and light. If you can’t make the time and work commitment, perhaps you should forget the idea. Here’s my list of what I used for my first grow. Nothing high-tech—my grow room was a walk-in closet with louvered doors and a clothes bar to hang my lights.

  • A four-foot table or two sawhorses with plywood on top
  • A piece of thick plastic or a waterproof tablecloth for spill protection
  • Potting soil for seedlings
  • Clean sand
  • Seeds (of desired strain if purchasing)
  • Five-gallon pail for mixing soil
  • A four-foot shop light with chains and S hooks
  • One full-spectrum red fluorescent grow light
  • One regular white fluorescent tube bulb
  • Light timer
  • Five-ounce opaque drink cups
  • Eight-ounce drink cups
  • pH kit
  • Plant flats or trays
  • Plastic kitchen wrap

Best Lighting for Cannabis Seedlings

If you’re on a budget, fluorescents offer the biggest bang for your buck when getting light to you cannabis seedlings. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of electricity and bulb replacement. To make sure all my plants got an equal amount of light, I turned the trays 180 degrees every day. I especially liked the ease of raising the shop light one link at a time as the plants grew. You can maximize your light by using a room with white walls or surrounding your grow table with movable reflecting foil-covered cardboard or hanging sheets of Mylar—mirrors don’t work well for reflecting light.

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Germinating Cannabis

Mature cannabis seeds are dark brown, sometimes with swirly patterns or stripes. Discard immature pale or greenish-colored seeds. I’ve never started seeds in soil, preferring the Japanese method of “proving” seeds first; there’s no sense planting dud seeds. I germinated my seeds in a moistened, loosely rolled up paper towel on a plate in indirect light on the kitchen counter where I could keep an eye on progress. Keep the paper towel moist, but not lying in a puddle of water or the seeds will rot.

Some seeds germinate in a couple of days, while some take up to a week, depending on their temperature. It’s helpful to know that the seeds will produce male and female plants. Back in the Dark Ages, I always started 16 cups of seeds in hope of ending up with four females. That’s no longer a problem if you can buy feminized seeds, which are guaranteed to be females. I planted two sprouted seeds about one inch apart per cup because frequently one seedling will be bigger and stronger than the other. Go with the bigger one and pinch off the smaller one at the soil level.

The beauty of starting seedlings in the opaque cups is that you can see the root growth. Poke some drainage holes around the cup bases. It’s quicker to do the drain holes with the cups in a stack. As you finish each cup, slip it in the other end of the stack or you’ll waste crumpled up cups. Mix the potting soil with enough sand to give the fluffy soil more body. Add water gradually, mixing well to moisten.

Fill the cups with the soil mix and tap each cup a couple of times on the table to eliminate air pockets. Add more soil if needed, tap it down again to leave a half-inch space between the top of the soil and the rim of the cup. Repeat until all the cups are filled. Set up your grow table and lights. Ready? The table is all set. The lights are on. The cups are shoulder to shoulder in rows, waiting to fulfill their roles.

Transplanting Cannabis Seedlings

My tools of choice for planting were a small wooden matchstick and a wooden toothpick. I made two small holes with the clean end of the match about one quarter inch deep and a half inch apart and not too close to the side of the cup. I picked out two sprouted seeds at a time from the paper towel, careful not to touch the sprout, and dropped them into the match holes and used the tip of a toothpick to scuff soil into the holes, then lightly tamped the spots with one finger. Keep the remaining sprouted seeds covered so they don’t dry out. Repeat until all the cups are planted.

Put as many cups that fit into shallow flats or trays and then drape a long piece of kitchen plastic wrap over everything, tucking the ends under the trays to create a mini greenhouse. When this step is finished, the plants get to sunbathe under the lights for the next six weeks or so of the seedling phase.

In a few days, two primary leaves will appear and you can do your happy dance. Soon the next pair of leaves will appear and the first ones will drop off. If condensation forms under the plastic wrap, uncover the seedlings to release the excess moisture and then replace with fresh wrap. During the seedling phase, keep the soil moist but not wet and only water from the bottom from so the roots stretch down long and strong.

Water with a spray bottle until the first leaves appear, and then water from the bottom; the soil around the stem needs to stay dry to avoid stem rot. Fill pitchers or buckets with tap water and let sit uncovered until room temperature and the chlorine has evaporated into the air. Hard water is fine, but don’t use artificially softened water because it contains too much salt and other harmful additives.

I’m an organic gardener. While I don’t object to a little bloom booster to convince some reluctant annuals to step it up, I want everything that goes in my body to be as natural as possible. Plants need nitrogen to grow. When I had access to a mountain of free rotted horse manure, I fertilized with manure tea.

Throw a shovelful of manure in a bucket, fill with water, let it sit a couple of days and water with the tea. It worked fine for me. There are “hot” manures and “cold” manures. Hot manures have the highest nitrogen, but have to be aged. Cold cow manure has lower nitrogen but can be used hot out of the barn. Rabbit manure is cold, but some growers call it nitrogen on steroids. If slogging around in barnyards doesn’t appeal to you, you could use fish or seaweed emulsions or any of the other excellent natural fertilizers available at your local hydroponics supplier.

Check your soil pH regularly. Plants grown in soil like a pH about 7. If your soil drops below 6, add a light sprinkling of ground limestone before watering. If the soil is above 8—too alkaline—sprinkle around a concoction of cottonseed meal, lemon peels and ground coffee.

For repotting, discontinue the plastic wrap when the third set of leaves appear. When you see that the roots have reached the bottom of the cups, it’s time to repot the little darlings into the eight-ounce cups. In my experience, the plants do better stepping up to the bigger cup instead of going directly into three-quart pots. Repotting can be tricky, so take your time here. The plants shock easily with too much jostling or rough handling. Get the larger cups ready, poke the drain holes and fill with enough soil mix so the seedlings will be at the same depth as in the first cups. Before removing from the smaller cups, lightly water them so everything stays together.

Tip the cup upside down in your open hand with the seedling stem between your fingers. Gently squeeze the sides of the cup with your other hand and the seedling will drop out in one piece. Don’t pull it out by the stem! Place the seedling in its new home, filling around it with more soil, and make sure it isn’t deeper or shallower than in the smaller cup. This is important. Compress the soil lightly for any air pockets.

Entering the Vegetative Stage

During the vegetative phase, leave the lights on 24/7 and as close to the leaves as possible without touching. If the lights are too high, the stems will grow weak and spindly. You want the plants to remain compact. When your plants really take off, they may grow an inch a day. Keep a sharp eye on the distance between the tops of the plants and the lights. Fluorescents are cool and won’t burn the leaves, but keep adjusting your lights upwards to stay ahead of the growth.

Rotate your plants so they all get enough light. When plants are starting to bud, rough handling or a sudden change in temperature or light will drive them into shock. When you see your plants are beginning to outgrow the cups, it’s time to pot up again, this time to three-quart containers commonly found at nurseries. Always wash used pots in hot soapy water before reusing.

Sexing

Toward the end of the vegetative and budding phase, you’ll be able to sex your plants. Males have two pollen-filled sacs that are easy to see and females have a pair of white V-shaped hairs. One male plant is enough to pollinate all your females so they produce seeds. I didn’t grow for seeds, so I quickly yanked all the male plants. Male plants are low in THC, are harsh-tasting and give many people a massive headache. Unpollinated females produce more flowers, buds and THC.

For even more plants, remove the unproductive lower stems and leaves on your plants, and then make two or three shallow downward slices on the main stem with a clean blade and insert a graft slip dipped in root stimulant in each cut. Put a small piece of tape around the cuts. The grafts can be other varieties, not just the same as the host plant. Soon you’ll have new growth from all your grafts, giving you maximum yields.

Starting weed seeds indoors
Step 2: Now, you need to plant your seeds at the right depth. A good rule of thumb is to plant seeds 2 times deeper than the width of the seed.

Best Way To Germinate Weed Seeds

You’ve probably noticed by now that there are a few different methods you can choose to germinate your cannabis seeds.

Not all of these methods have the same success rate, and your precious cannabis seeds are expensive to buy.

Therefore, you really want to choose the germination method that’s going to give your seeds the best chance to become beautiful, bud producing plants.

So what is the best way to germinate weed seeds? Read on to find out…

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Best Way To Germinate Weed Seeds

First, take a look at the comparison table below to get an idea of some general success rates for each germination method.

We’ll explore each method in more detail below.

Germination Method Success Rating
1. Starter plugs & Seedling Cubes 5/5
2. Planting directly into soil 3/5
3. Soaking seeds in water 4/5
4. Paper towel method 3/5

1. Starter Cubes & Seedling Plugs

This is by far the best method to germinate weed seeds.

Germinating with starter plugs or cubes is easy and the most reliable method on this list.

What Plugs Should You Use?

Options for starter cubes are seemingly endless, but the majority are made of either rockwool or peat.

The differences are subtle, but very important depending on how you plan to grow your plants after germination.

Peat plugs are an organic option, and sometimes contain a small starter nutrient charge which helps young seedlings after germination.

Rockwool cubes, composed of fibrous wool-like material provide great water and air exchange, which is ideal in hydroponics.

Peat plugs hold more water than air compared to rockwool cubes, so they aren’t ideal for hydroponic grows.

So, rockwool or peat? The primary difference comes down to how you will grow the plant after germination.

For hydroponics, rockwool is the better choice.

For soil/coco/etc., peat plugs generally fare better, but ultimately germination will be nearly identical for these two germination mediums.

How To Germinate With Plugs:

Step 1: After buying your plugs or cubes, soak them in water until they are fully saturated.

Step 2: Place your seed(s) into the pre-cut holes in the plugs. Use some of the plug material to gently cover the opening.

Step 3: Put the plugs into a square box or tray and cover with a plastic dome. This ensures a high humidity environment, which increases germination success, and helps seedlings along after germination.

2. Planting Directly Into Soil

This method is as old-school as it gets, drop your seeds in some dirt, add water, and you’re done.

If only it were that easy!

Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple.

There are lots of factors that go into this method, and each must be nearly perfect for germination to occur.

How to germinate seeds directly in soil:

Step 1: Purchase quality soil from a reputable source. You want soil with good drainage, this allows for air exchange; seeds need moisture but you don’t want to drown them.

Step 2: Now, you need to plant your seeds at the right depth. A good rule of thumb is to plant seeds 2 times deeper than the width of the seed.

Step 3: Provide water for your seeds by soaking your container in a tray containing about an inch of water. This allows the soil to be moistened uniformly, preventing over-watering. This also keeps the seed in the perfect place for germination to occur.

Check out this method in action:

This method allows you to start your seed directly in your planting medium, but if you aren’t careful with this technique, you can run into trouble.

Seeds need air and water to germinate, if there’s too much of one, the other falls short, preventing germination.

If planted too deep, the energy available to the seedling won’t be enough for it to break the surface.

This will essentially starve and kill your seedling.

If you don’t plant deep enough, the seedling may dry out, or never become moist enough to germinate.

3. Soaking Seeds in Water

This method is not so much a way to fully germinate your seeds, but rather ensures rapid and reliable germination.

As mentioned in the previous methods, seeds need water to germinate.

This method involves placing seeds in a container filled with water rather than into a plug or the soil.

How to start germination with water:

Step 1: Place your seeds in a container of clean water and allow to soak overnight, or for at least 12 hours.

Step 2: After soaking at least 12 hours, use sterilized tweezers or clean hands to remove the seeds. Immediately place the seeds into your medium, such as a plug or soil.

Check out this method in action:

Why does this work?

This method increases germination rates because the seed is primed, it’s already absorbed water and broken dormancy, so is ready to push out it’s first roots.

4. Paper Towel Method

The paper towel method is similar to soaking seeds in water, but this method will germinate your seeds to the point where the taproot has emerged.

How to germinate seeds with paper towels:

Step 1: Place a folded wet paper towel into a plastic container, or on a plate.

Step 2: Place your seeds on the paper towel with adequate space between them. Cover the seeds with another folded wet paper towel.

Step 3: Put a lid or plastic wrap on the container, or another plate on the plate. Seal the container but leave a small hole for air exchange.

Step 4: Place your plates or container in a warm (70-80F / 21-26C) and dark environment

Like soaking the seeds in water, this method provides lots of water to the seeds to start germination.

But it also allows enough air exchange for the seed to produce a taproot and begin growing into a seedling.

Check out this method in action:

This method helps to increase the chances of germination and seedling success, but can introduce some extra issues.

  • Once seeds have germinated, they may grow into the paper towel, making removal difficult and potentially damaging the fragile seedlings.
  • The paper towels and the container you use for germination must be sterile. This is nearly impossible, so you are likely to grow more than seedlings (i.e. fungus) with this method.
  • The extra handling of sprouted seedlings is the biggest issue with this method. Even if you’re very clean and careful with your seedlings, it is extremely easy to damage or contaminate them. Contamination and early damage can ultimately stunt or kill your baby plants.

Verdict

So what is the best way to germinate weed seeds?

After examining each method, if you absolutely had to pick one, it would be starter cubes and seedling plugs.

If you consider everything that can go wrong when germinating seeds, this method does the most to remove potential pitfalls.

Why Plugs?

  • It’s relatively fool-proof because the cubes can only hold so much water, so no overwatering.
  • The pre-drilled holes are not too deep or too shallow for cannabis seeds.
  • The cubes/plugs hold moisture for long enough time to allow for the seeds to take up water. They also won’t dry out too quickly.
  • They provide a soft medium for young roots to push through.

But the best way to germinate weed seeds would really be a combination of these methods.

Use either the paper towel or water soaking method to get your seeds to uptake water.

Next, transition them to either soil or plugs.

This gives you the advantages of each method, with the least downside of each.

Germination Tips

Here are a few extra tips to follow when trying to germinate your cannabis seeds:

  • Keep temperatures in the area you are germinating seeds between 70-80F (21-26C)
  • Germinate seeds in total darkness
  • Don’t use hard tap water (ppm above 120), it can damage the seed
  • Avoid using chlorinated tap water, it can damage or kill microbes that help young seedlings develop
  • Don’t add nutrients to the water when germinating seeds, the seeds already contain all the nutrients they need
  • When seeds germinate, don’t put them under intense light (HID or sunlight), the seedlings will burn and/or dry out
  • Provide non-intense light (i.e. T-5 fluorescent light) for seedlings as soon as they emerge, this will prevent stretching

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