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sugar calyx seeds

Sugar calyx seeds
The harvest is not a natural part of the cannabis life cycle per se, but for the grower this is the most crucial and anticipated part of the grow. It is very important to get the timing just right here. Growers must be very careful not to cut down plants that are not yet at the pinnacle of resin production, but they must also be wary of cutting plants too late—at a time when THC production has curtailed, and trichome resin glands begin to degrade (along with other issues, like mould setting in). There are various methods by which even the most amateur grower can tell when buds are truly ripe for the picking. The simplest and quickest way to know is by examining the pistils, or long hairs, that cover the plant’s buds. At the onset of flowering, these pistils are white and stringy. But as the flowering period comes to an end, they begin to turn color, first from white to orange and then again to a dark red, pink or brown.

The Cannabis Life Cycle

Cannabis is what is known as an annual plant. This means that cannabis goes through its entire life cycle within a year. Most strains of cannabis complete their life cycle, from seed to death, in 4-10 months. Cannabis is one of the few annuals that tend to have separate male and female plants. However, it is not unheard of for a cannabis plant to turn into a hermaphrodite* (a plant with both male and female organs) in times of stress. This is especially the case in the wild, where cannabis strains do not have human intervention or care.

The Cannabis Life Cycle

Germination

The process by which a plant grows from a seed. The most common example of germination is the sprouting of a seedling from a seed. This is the very beginning. All that is required to start germination is water, air and heat; the seed will use these to produce food and start its rapid growth. As the seed germinates the first shoot will grow and break out of the shell, this is the tap root. There are many different techniques to germinate seeds. Some just put seeds directly in soil, some in a glass with water. We follow the Serious Seeds method and put the seeds in a damp paper towel, then a ziplock bag that gets hung on the fridge (the roots will all grow in the same direction this way). Once there is a tap root of about half an inch, we put the seed and root in soil, root pointing down, leaving the seed husk visible. After this the plant will begin to grow, forcing its way upwards. It produces its first two leaves (known as the cotyledons), which should force the seed shell off the plant and open the way for them to catch light. The primary task of a newly germinated seed is to obtain as much light energy for food as possible through its new leaves (the first set are called cotyledons).

Seedling

Once the plant has its cotyledons it will focus on developing its next set of leaves. The cotyledons are not true leaves but contain food for the young plant for the first few days. The next pair of leaves that appear are true leaves and are single (and look like little airplane propellers). These will look more stereotypical leaves of a cannabis plant; they will be larger with a serrated edge and the elongated “finger” look that is typically associated with the plant. The focus of the seedling stage is to produce those initial few leaves and build a strong, expansive network of roots in order to facilitate future plant growth. This stage usually ends when the cannabis plant has fully developed its first few sets of leaves. It will have a stem thickness of around 4-6mm and be 3-4 nodes* high.

Vegetative Period

This is the main growing phase of the plant where it will turn from a small seedling into a large, beautiful cannabis plant. It is in this phase that the plant will require all the light and nutrients it can use – just be careful not to overfeed it nutrients, (a common rookie error). Overfeeding and overwatering can be prevented by using small pots and transplanting every couple weeks (when the plant starts to hang over the pot). You can use fabric pots (like these) which help with drainage and airpruning the roots. Once you get more advanced and understand how much water the plant needs, you do fewer transplants (and I would argue that the transplant can be stressful on its own). We grow in our final destination pot immediately after the seedling stage, and are very careful not to overwater–that takes time to understand and gauge properly and is not recommended for most.

Indoors, the grower would use 18-24 hours of light to mimic summer daylight. Your vegetation light is based on preference: increased dark hours will lower electricity bills, but more light hours allow for taller and bulkier plants. We usually go with 20 hours during veg. If the plant has what it requires, it will start by continuing to grow upwards towards the light, producing new leaves while thickening its branches and stems.

When the plant begins to reach a certain level of maturity it will start to focus its efforts bulking outwards instead of upwards, creating more branches and nodes. At this point you can start looking for “pre-flowers.” These are tiny versions of adult sex parts, and when you see them you can tell what gender the plant is going to be. They usually show up in the upper parts of the plant, closer to the light. Finally a calyx start to form around the nodes of the plant, and you are in the final part of the vegetative period. This is an indication that the plant is ready to flower. Alternatively, if you have male plant, it will start to form tiny pods that will eventually produce pollen to pollinate* another plant.

Flowering Period

The flowering period starts towards the end of summer, when the plant gets less light as the days get shorter (indoors, the light cycle is reduced to 12 hours light, 12 hours dark). This is an indication to the plant that its life cycle is nearly up, and it needs to think about reproduction. It is around this time that the males will start to produce pollen and the females produce flowers (buds). Should the females’ flowers come into contact with the male pollen then they will begin to produce seeds within their buds. Once seeds are made the buds will open in order to allow for the seeds to disperse by natural means and start the entire life cycle all over again. Cannabis cultivators tend to worry about their females getting pollinated because seedy pot is not good for smoking. The best way to overcome this is to move males to a separate place as soon as they are identifiable and stop any risk of contamination. It is always best to produce seeds in a separate area, away from the main crop.

Harvest

The harvest is not a natural part of the cannabis life cycle per se, but for the grower this is the most crucial and anticipated part of the grow. It is very important to get the timing just right here. Growers must be very careful not to cut down plants that are not yet at the pinnacle of resin production, but they must also be wary of cutting plants too late—at a time when THC production has curtailed, and trichome resin glands begin to degrade (along with other issues, like mould setting in). There are various methods by which even the most amateur grower can tell when buds are truly ripe for the picking. The simplest and quickest way to know is by examining the pistils, or long hairs, that cover the plant’s buds. At the onset of flowering, these pistils are white and stringy. But as the flowering period comes to an end, they begin to turn color, first from white to orange and then again to a dark red, pink or brown.

These color changes signify the maturation of the buds; however, the color and time frame may vary significantly across different varieties of cannabis. The best method for determining ripeness is through trichome examination. Trichomes are the actual resin glands that contain THC and other psychoactive cannabinoids, and they are very delicate and easily ruptured. These trichomes are visible on the outside of buds and small leaves and look like little white sugar crystals to the naked eye. However, with the power of a magnifying glass or simple microscope, you can see that trichomes are comprised of a stalk and resin head (that look like a penis) and are clear or white in color.

As with pistils, trichomes also begin to change color as the buds mature. But in this scenario, a grower wants to harvest buds before they get too dark in color. Even a subtle amber hue in these glands could mean that cannabinoids have begun breaking down and decomposing, which means less potent pot. Advanced growers use a 45x-100x microscope and look for a creamy or milky white color in the trichomes that tells them it’s time to harvest. We usually aim for 75%-80% milky, 10%-15% amber, 5%-10% clear.

Trimming

Once you have your ideal trichome level (whatever it may be), using trimming scissors (like these), cut down the plants, and start trimming the leaves. As you are cutting down the plant, inspect your bud carefully and ensure that you are not trimming plants that have bud rot (a fluffy looking mould that only appears in the last week or so of flowering that you may have missed). Your goal is to trim all the leaves off. We hold the bud upside down and clip the veins of any leaves we see, trying to get them out whole. Any excess leaves will look weird and shriveled when the bud starts to dry so try to focus on getting the veined leaves fully and then just trim the edges of the rest. You could leave more leaf on there, especially if it is coated in trichomes, but the final end product could look gnarly. Those extra leaves are better saved for hash production. You can also avoid trimming the buds that are on the bottom of the plant–they dry to almost nothing and aren’t worth the time you will put into them. Those under buds are also a good choice for hash production. Make sure you trim most of the stem off and be as close to the bud as possible (leaving a long stem is a pain in the jarring and curing process).

Drying + Curing

As soon as you have trimmed all your buds, put them onto a mesh dry rack (like these) and let them sit there for at least a week. The buds should be a little bit crispy and the stems should be a little bendy (and thinner stems should snap easily). The buds will shrink a significant amount (and this is when you will see how good or bad your trim job was). After the week on the dry rack put your buds in a glass jar and seal. The main point of the curing process is to bring out the scent and flavour, and takes about a month (sometimes longer). It’s pretty simple–keep in a dark place and open the lid everyday for 10 or 15 minutes. It will take 1 month and up to 6 weeks to fully cure your cannabis. You can smoke before that time, but you won’t be able to fully appreciate the flavour before then.

Glossary

Hermaphrodite: A plant with both male and female organs. You may hear customers shorten this term to “hermie”. Hermaphrodism is caused by outside stressers (like a disruption in the light cycle—letting light into room when the plants are supposed to be sleeping in the dark for example).

Nodes: The stem is normally divided into nodes and internodes: The nodes hold one or more leaves, as well as buds which can grow into branches. Internodes are the interval spaces between the nodes on the stem.

Pollination (Pollinate): Occurs when pollen from the male marijuana plant reaches the female stigmas and finds its way to the egg cell of the female plant that is inside the pistil. After the process of pollination, the seed is produced. Hand pollination is when a breeder takes the pollen from the male plant with a brush and dusts it on the female plant. Outdoors pollination would occur naturally with wind blowing pollen from one side of a grow space to another.

Sugar calyx seeds
Depending on their genetics, seeds can vary greatly in size, from really tiny (800 seeds per gram) to absolutely massive (15 seeds per gram). In mature seeds the outer shell should be covered with attractive dark markings known as “tiger stripes” which, like snowflakes, are unique to each seed and are in reality a thin layer of cells coating the seed and can be rubbed off easily, revealing the true tan/beige colour of the seed beneath.

Anatomy of the Cannabis plant

When it comes to cannabis, the part of the plant that gets all the attention is naturally the bit we’re all growing for: the flowers. But while it’s easy to be enamoured with the beautiful frosty flowers we shouldn’t overlook the rest, because behind the bud there’s a whole plant, with all its component parts, each playing an essential role in bringing us our precious harvest.

Here at Alchimiaweb we strongly believe that the more we know about our favourite plants, the more success we’ll have cultivating them, and the happier we’ll be with the results! For these reasons here we’re going to take a closer look at the cannabis plant and identify all the different elements of its anatomy to help you get to know this wonderful plant a little bit better.

1, male flower, enlarged detail; 2, pollen sac; 3, pollen sac; 4, pollen grain; 5, female flower with bract; 5, female flower, bract removed; 6, female seed cluster, longitudinal section; 7, seed with bract; 8, seed without bract; 9, seed without bract; 10, seed cross section; 11, seed longitudinal section; 12, seed without hull (Franz Eugen Köhler 1887)

The Cannabis seed

For most of us, our introduction to cultivation comes when we buy or are gifted some cannabis seeds for the first time, so let’s set out on our examination of cannabis anatomy starting with the seed.

A healthy, mature cannabis seed will be well-rounded in shape with one pointed end and one flat end. They have a tough outer casing that is rigid to the touch, preventing the seed from being easily crushed. A seam separates the two halves of the shell (also known as the hull or pericarp) and is where the seed opens during germination.

Depending on their genetics, seeds can vary greatly in size, from really tiny (800 seeds per gram) to absolutely massive (15 seeds per gram). In mature seeds the outer shell should be covered with attractive dark markings known as “tiger stripes” which, like snowflakes, are unique to each seed and are in reality a thin layer of cells coating the seed and can be rubbed off easily, revealing the true tan/beige colour of the seed beneath.

Detailed view of a cannabis seed

Inside the seed we will find the embryo of the plant, everything needed to start a new life, dormant until the right conditions of moisture and warmth are met. We have the root, or radicle as it’s known while still in the seed, the cotyledons, those first, fat, rounded embryonic leaves containing the seed’s food reserves for early development. Cannabis is a “dicot” plant, meaning it has two cotyledons. Situated in between the cotyledons, surrounded by the first two true leaves is the apical tip, the point from which the plant will continue growing once germinated.

Roots

When we germinate a cannabis seed, the first thing that emerges from the opened seed will be the tap root which will begin to grow downwards, seeking out moisture and nutrition and colonising the substrate. The root system has three main purposes, not only does it anchor the plant in the substrate, it provides it with water and the nutrients, and it also acts as storage for sugars and starches produced by photosynthesis. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the roots in cannabis cultivation, they really are the foundation upon which everything else is built, without healthy roots we won’t harvest beautiful flowers!

Roots themselves can be classified into three types. Firstly the tap root, which is the principal component of the root system, the subterranean counterpart to the plant’s main stem, pushing vertically downwards and shooting off branches as it grows. These branches are the second type, the fibrous roots, which branch off from the tap root, extending outwards to form an underground network approximately the same size as the aerial part of the plant. A third type of roots are known as adventitious roots, these are the thick roots that sometimes sprout from the stem just above ground. These are the roots that make it possible to reproduce plants by taking cuttings and cloning them.

Adventitious root growing from the stem of a clone

Cannabis plants grown from seed will start life with a tap root system that develops into a fibrous root system, while clones don’t have a tap root, starting instead with adventitious roots before developing a fibrous root system. In all cases, a root system needs an adequate balance of moisture and air to be healthy and if care and conditions are right we will be able to see thick, bright white roots with plenty of fine hairs when we transplant.

The root crown

The part of the plant where the roots and stem join is called the root crown, or sometimes collar, or neck. This is a vital part of the plant, the dividing line between upward and downward growth, where the vascular system switches from roots to stem, and one of the places in the plant where most cell division takes place.

The root crown is naturally situated very close to the surface, where aeration is at its most, however some growers will transplant with the crown buried well below the surface, which encourages adventitious roots to sprout from the buried section of stem. It’s good way to deal with those leggy seedlings that stretched to get to the light and ended up too tall.

Stem and nodes

The stem of the cannabis plant is the part responsible for keeping the plant upright and for supporting the weight of the plant. It contains the vascular system which works to carry moisture and nutrients from the roots to the leaves via xylem cells, and to transport the sugars and starches produced via photosynthesis around the plant for use or storage via the phloem cells. Phloem is otherwise known as bast, the part of the cannabis or hemp plant that is traditionally harvested for fibre to make rope, canvas etc.

Cross section of stem showing a node

The stem, which can sometimes be hollow, is divided by nodes where the lateral branches begin, with the space between them being known as the internode. Seedlings will begin by growing opposite pairs of nodes and leaves but as time passes the nodes will start to grow alternately, sign the plant is mature and ready to flower.

Taller, stretchier Sativa plants will have a larger internode spacing than squat, compact Indica varieties, although environmental factors can also influence internode space. The nodes are where the first flowers appear (pre-flowers), so it’s the first place growers look when trying to determine the sex of plants grown from regular seeds. The small, narrow spear-like leaf growing at each node is called the stipule, and shouldn’t be confused with pre-flowers.

Nodes are one of the parts of the cannabis plant where most growth happens and most hormones are produced, for this reason we always cut clones with at least one node to be planted below ground in the substrate, so it can produce auxins (rooting hormones) to begin root development in the undifferentiated meristem cells of the node.

Leaves and petioles

Cannabis leaves are palmately compound (shaped like the open hand, with multiple parts), with anything from 3 to 13 veined, serrated leaflets or fingers. Indica varieties will generally have wider and shorter leaflets of a lush dark green colour, but fewer in number, while Sativas will have longer, narrower leaflets and can be of a lighter green shade. Of course, cannabis is a hugely diverse genus and there are exceptions to this rule, most notably the Ducksfoot variety, with its webbed leaves. Autoflowering varieties will tend to have smaller leaves, with the shape depending on the individual genetics, but as a general rule leaning more to the Indica side.

Leaf and structure comparison of the different cannabis species

A cannabis plant will have large and small fan-type leaves, which we remove and dispose of at harvest time, and also sugar leaves, which are the small, resin-covered leaves that protrude from the bud. These will either be trimmed away and kept aside for resin extraction, or simply left on the bud and smoked with the flowers.

Leaves from two different hybrids

As a seedling grows, each set of leaves has an increasing, odd number of leaflets, so the first set of leaves above the cotyledons will almost always have a single leaflet, the second pair will have three, the third will have five and the fourth will have seven leaflets, and so on until the plant reaches the usual number as dictated by its genetics.

The leaflets join at the point known as the rachis, from where they attach to the stem or branch by a leaf-stem known as the petiole. Petioles can be of varying length depending on the variety and can naturally vary in colour from green to dark purple, although in normally green plants a purple petiole can often be a sign of a phosphorous deficiency.

The fan leaves function both as solar panels and air conditioning for the plants, with the darker green upper side of the leaf producing energy via photosynthesis and the underside regulating internal processes via stomata, tiny pores that absorb the CO2 needed for photosynthesis and at the same time release water and oxygen. The stomata will close at night to conserve moisture and during the day will respond to heat and humidity levels, opening and closing to constantly balance internal moisture levels with external environmental conditions and keep metabolic functions working.

Flowers

Cannabis is dioecious, meaning the male and female reproductive organs are on different plants. Unless we’re planning on doing some home breeding and making seeds, we won’t be growing any male plants to full maturity, but it’s important to be able to identify them, even if we’re growing exclusively from feminised seeds, just in case.

Female pre-flowers on the left, male flower cluster on the right

The male, staminate flowers effectively resemble green balls on sticks, composed of five petals which open to reveal five pollen-producing stamens. They grow in long, loose bud clusters from internodes on the branch and once pollen is released the male plants will soon die off. Male flowers contain low levels of cannabinoids and terpenes.

Female pistillate flowers are formed of tight clusters of bracts, the small, teardrop-shaped green petals that we growers refer to as calyxes. Each bract or calyx contains the ovary and the pistillate hair or stigma, which is what growers call the pistil and is the part of the flower that catches airborne pollen. Once pollen lands on the stigma, it is transported down the pollen tube to the ovary where fecundation takes place and the seed is formed, filling and swelling the bract as it grows. The thick, white pistil or hair will shrivel and turn a brown or red colour one it has served its purpose. The seeds are usually mature after a further 4-6 weeks time.

Both cannabis flowers and leaves develop beautiful colours

After pollination, female plants will devote their energies towards seed production, at the expense of resin. This means that seeded buds will have lower levels of cannabinoids and terpenes, and is one of the main reasons we strive so hard to grow sinsemilla (seedless) flowers, quite apart from the awful taste of smoking a seed in a joint!

Trichomes

Trichomes clustered on a bud

Botanists are still unsure as to exactly why cannabis plants produce such a large quantity of trichomes, but most agree that they most likely have the function of protecting the flowers and developing seeds, whether from harsh UV light, insects, grazing animals or extremes of temperature.

Trichomes have two different basic types: Glandular and non-glandular, with the principal difference being that non-glandular trichomes grow without a trichome head or gland, having the appearance of small hairs and mainly developing on stems, leaves, petioles and to a lesser extent on the flowers themselves, while glandular trichomes are found mainly on the flowers and sugar leaves, and possess the resinous gland where the cannabinoids and terpenes are secreted.

Glandular trichomes under the microscope

Glandular trichomes are themselves divided into three main kinds, which are: bulbous, the smallest and least numerous; capitate-sessile, which are larger and grow low, close to the leaf surface; and finally capitate-stalked, which are the largest, most numerous trichomes, found in highest concentration on the flowers and those with the greatest cannabinoid content, appearing somewhat like a tall mushroom, with a long stem and a large, rounded head – the iconic image of a trichome.

As the flowers mature, the trichomes will change colour, starting out transparent, passing through a milky-white stage nearing maturity and going on to become amber coloured when fully mature. Different growers will harvest their flowers depending on personal taste and the effect they’re looking for, but on our blog you can read a useful guide to harvesting according to trichome ripeness, which will help you to bring your crop down at the optimum moment.

Hopefully after reading this you’re now a bit more familiar with the anatomy of the cannabis plant and will become a better grower as a result… Knowledge is power!