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The life cycle of a cannabis plant, from seed to store

TORONTO — Licensed cannabis producers are ramping up production to address shortages that have plagued the pot market since legalization in October, but the time required to grow the average marijuana plant means consumers likely have a few more weeks to wait.

Cannabis lives up to its nickname and grows like a weed, but the plant needs as many as 18 weeks to progress from seed to harvest before it even moves on to processing and packaging.

The life cycle of a cannabis plant, from seed to store Back to video

Licensed producer CannTrust walked The Canadian Press through their cultivation and processing facilities to get a close look at the process. Here are the various life stages of the cannabis plant: from seed to plant to processing and packaging.

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Most commercial cannabis growers skip the seed stage and grow new plants from cuttings of established ones, as seeds take longer and are prone to genetic variation, which can affect product quality.

Cuttings are taken from so-called “mother plants” grown for the purpose of genetic cloning. The moniker stems from the fact that they must be female — male plants produce pollen and seeds but female plants produce the coveted cannabinoid-filled flower.

“Every plant in the greenhouse is a female plant,” said Michael Camplin, general manager of CannTrust’s Niagara-area cultivation facility. “There are no males allowed in this facility.”

Growing a new plant from cuttings produces genetically identical plants, allowing producers to generate cannabis from a certain strain with particular characteristics, he said.

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“It’s called a mother plant because it’s producing basically children,” Camplin said. “It’s producing young plants that will have the same characteristics as the mother.”

Small cuttings are taken from the mother plants and planted into a moist starter cube in a low light and high humidity environment.

“They’re literally babied along,” Camplin said.

After two weeks, the roots start to sprout through the starter cube and the seedling is transplanted to a larger cube. After an additional two weeks of growth, the young cannabis plant is moved to a slightly larger base.

3) Vegetative state

Once beyond the seedling stage, the plant enters the vegetative state and is encouraged to grow up and out. This is done by controlling the amount of light the plant receives.

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If the plant receives 18 hours of daylight or more in a given day, it will continue to grow without producing any flower, Camplin said.

Getting the plant to produce flowers involves convincing it that autumn is approaching, which means cutting back on the light cycle.

“Marijuana plants are very light sensitive, and they are triggered to go into flower when the day length shortens in nature, as the summer starts to turn into fall,” he said. “The days get shorter, and the plant knows that it’s time to reproduce.”

Mimicking the change in seasons by shortening the daylight period to 12 hours will prompt the plant to flower and produced the desired bud.

The time needed for a plant to flower depends on the strain, but it can range from as little as seven weeks to as much as 10 weeks, Camplin said.

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Once the flowering plant has reached the desired stage, it is time to harvest. The plant’s flower or bud is coated in tiny, glistening hair-like glands called trichomes that contain the active ingredients in the plant called cannabinoids. The best-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, known as THC and CBD. Trichomes also contain terpenes, the fragrant oils which produce a unique taste and smell.

The plants are cut and cannabis buds are mechanically separated from the stems and leaves, before being inspected and then trimmed by hand, Camplin said.

The fresh cannabis flower is then dried on racks for up to two weeks. The buds are then stored in loosely closed plastic bags in large bins, which help to control the humidity, for two weeks.

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“That equalizes the moisture level, and every day they’re opened and stirred — or burped as they say in the drying room — and closed back up,” Camplin said.

Keeping them in the closed bins also help the buds retain the terpenes, he said.

Once the drying is complete, the bud is graded by size. Larger buds are usually preferred for dried flower sales while smaller buds are often earmarked for oil, he said.

7) Testing and processing

At this stage, the cannabis is tested for quality before it is cleared for the manufacturing process, said Chris Lucky, CannTrust’s vice-president of supply chain and manufacturing. On average, it takes 10 to 11 days to get the lab results back.

Once the buds pass the appropriate tests, the pot is then either packaged for sale or put through an extraction process to produce cannabis oil.

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The buds chosen to produce oils are put through an industrial-sized grinder and then baked. Similar to when cannabis is smoked, the heating process activates the ingredients within the bud that provide the medicinal effects, Anna Jakobsmeier, CannTrust’s director of extraction and refinement, said.

“We’re manipulating it to now provide the medicine,” she said.

The baked cannabis is then placed into an extraction machine that uses heated and pressurized carbon dioxide to separate the cannabinoids from the plant.

“You’re removing the cannabinoids, as well as some other components of the plant, but you’re leaving behind the actual dried product,” she said.

The resulting liquid containing the cannabinoids is mixed with a carrier oil, such as a type of coconut oil known as Medium Chain Triglycerides or MCT oil. The oil is then bottled or put into capsules and packaged for sale.

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9) Packaging and Labelling

The finished products are packaged and labelled as per Health Canada’s guidelines, which include strict limits on the use of colours, graphics and logos.

Products destined for Canada’s adult use market receive an excise stamp, which indicate that the product was produced legally and that applicable duties were paid. Each product must have a stamp corresponding to the province or territory where it will be sold.

Complications with the stamp were blamed by many pot producers for causing a bottleneck in the supply chain, contributing to the shortage. Problems cited by producers included a delay in receiving the stamps, as well as the need for glue to affix the stamps, which slowed down the process.

Cannabis is a brand new industry, and companies are learning and refining the processes as they go, and incorporating automation to speed up the process where possible, Lucky said.

“Everybody is learning the processes… There’s a lot of things we have done as an organization, and industry across the board, in terms of how we can automate.”

How to Weed Your Garden Like a Pro: Part I

What is it about the task of removing unwanted plants from our garden that causes us to hate it so much? Weeding seems to be the one thing that can turn every gardener into a world-class complainer. Could it be that it is deeply dissatisfying drudgery? Or that it feels endless and soul-crushing? Oh, the dreaded task of weeding!

It seems like something we need to discuss.

First, if you’re a gardener at heart, I’ll bet I can improve your attitude and brighten your spirits if you’ll just stick with me through this blog.

Let’s start by talking about two critical components to effective, positive weeding. The first is mindset. The second is approach. When you align the correct mindset with the right approach, weeding isn’t such a painful exercise.

To get into mindset, let’s take a shallow dive into the topic of maintenance in general and attitudes toward it and be sure to watch the how-to-weed video below.

There are, of course, any number of things in life that need to be maintained. We care for our homes with daily, weekly, monthly and even seasonal tasks, many of which include some level of cleaning. If we want our car to last, we need to maintain it with regular check-ups and periodic service. Pet owners have their own set of regular maintenance tasks, including feeding, grooming, exercising, and vet check-ups. As humans, we need quite a bit of maintenance, too; showers and shaves, teeth brushing and flossing, annual check-ups and teeth cleanings.

Life is full of tasks and everything that is important to us requires some level of regular maintenance to keep things happy, healthy, and at peak performance. Personal hygiene, house-cleaning, car and pet care become routine and even a matter of habit.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Maintaining a healthy, properly-functioning garden is no different than any of these other areas of our lives. Getting into the habit of regular, routine care and maintenance of your garden will reap the same benefits you experience when you take proper care of yourself, your home, pets, and vehicles.

Now it’s time to talk about approach.

How and when you weed is as important as why you weed. There are three distinct elements to the practice of weeding that I’d like you to adopt in order to become a stellar weeder. The tools you choose, the technique you use, and the timing of the task will be what separates a weekend warrior from a stone-cold pro.

Crabgrass (Digitaria) and Pigweed (Amaranth) are taking up residence in this newly planted garden. It’s TIME to weed!

TOOLS: Your hands alone are not the best tools for weeding. The main reason is because you often can’t remove weeds entirely with your hands. Do you really think those weeds WANT to come out? They do not. They’re grabbing on with those roots fully intending to stay right where they are.

I think to myself (and, yes, often SAY it out loud) — that’s not weeding! That’s simply disturbing the plant. Ever disturbed a hornets’ nest? They get mad and come after you. So when you simply disturb the weed, removing neither all the vegetation nor the roots fully, the plant just thinks it’s been threatened, gathers its resources, and either grows back or sets seeds as an act of revenge to ensure it will live on even after you kill it.

TECHNIQUE: Weeding is rarely a casual task to be done while walking by. How well does that work for dusting your shelves or waxing your car? No. You have to stop and plan to weed – even if just for 15 minutes. Grab the right tool, a pair of gloves, and a bucket. Pick a three-square-foot plot and weed that. Go after the roots and ALL the vegetation. Fully remove the plant so that it doesn’t have a chance to grow back, dig its roots deeper, or set a bunch of seeds in motion. It’s GONE.

Weeding is digging, I say to my staff. It isn’t pulling, grabbing, ripping or tugging with hands. I am forever saying, “Where is your claw?” “Where is your bucket?” to our newbies. To properly weed, you need to have a tool that will enable you to loosen the soil and get the WHOLE PLANT. Sometimes that’s a cultivator (claw), or a stronger tool such as a Japanese hoe. Or, when faced with a super tough spot or deeply rooted cluster of weeds, you may need a shovel or a four-tined spading fork. It’s time to get serious.

Size up your area and the weeds in it. For shallow rooted weeds such as crabgrass, a claw will do fine. With a deeply rooted weed like Amaranth, a hoe or shovel may be in order.

Soil moisture will also be a factor. The best time to weed is right after it rains, when the soil is moist and loose. In drought conditions, the soil is tight and doesn’t give up weeds readily. Sometimes just watering the morning before you weed can make all the difference in making the task much easier.

TIMING: It may seem like anytime is a good time to weed and on some level you would be right because not weeding isn’t a good approach. But if you really want to be successful and make headway toward having fewer weeds to contend with, then the timing of your work matters.

There are two fundamental timing elements:

Time of Season: All annual weeds (including crabgrass) will go through several seeding cycles in the spring in the race to make as many offspring as possible to keep their kind on the planet. Your job is to weed BEFORE these prolific plants go to seed. Ideally, before they even flower.

ALL plants will set flowers and then those flowers will ripen to seed. The minute you see a weed in flower, you know you are in trouble because seeds are right around the corner. There is an old farmer’s adage that goes, and I am paraphrasing here, “One year of seed gives seven years of weed.” That means when you let even one plant go to seed and deposit those seeds in the soil, you are essentially making a deposit in the bank — the seed bank.

Mother Nature’s soils are one of the most generous banks around. It will not allow those seeds to germinate all at once. Instead, only a measured amount will germinate at any one time. This ensures that more and more seeds can be deposited and more and more weeds can germinate over time. That soil can hold years and years and years of seed, so making further deposits only ensures that these weeds will come endlessly, year after year.

The lesson — get your weeds removed ASAP in their growth cycle to ensure that you are not making deposits in the seed bank.

Time of Project Life: The early stages of a landscape’s life, when it has been first planted and in those first three years, are the most critical for managing weeds. Low-Maintenance is all the rage, but I am here to tell you that low-maintenance can be designed for, but isn’t instant. It is earned with an upfront investment of good planning and design, stellar preparation and planting, and outstanding maintenance. Without these three elements, low-maintenance will be hard to come by, unless chaos is something you enjoy.

So to think that we are going to get away with planting, then walking away and doing nothing because we just designed something “sustainable” is a pipe-dream. If you are going to invest in a landscape, ideally one that is perfectly aligned with your climate and soils and native flora, you better be willing to carry that investment into the next three to five years of care to ensure that you can achieve that natural balance that will be low-maintenance and sustainable.

I am not saying Nature is all chaos, but I am saying that it is wild and often tangled and doesn’t exhibit the order we like in our human spaces. It’s okay to love a good hike in nature and be willing to toil and sweat through brush and thickets. But at home, we tend to like a more manageable, attractive (at least to us) version of nature, and that includes some regular work.

And that means weeding, my friend. Well and often. The payback, though, are beautiful results that are sustainable and deeply satisfying.

Read the second article in this series, How to Weed Your Garden Like a Pro: Part II