When grown in a natural, outdoor environment, cannabis is an annual crop, and the responsibilities of outdoor cannabis cultivators in New England change with each season.
The outdoor cannabis season starts in the spring with seeds or ‘clones’ (cuttings from other plants), and progresses through transplanting and growth stages in the summer.
There’s maintenance and fertilization throughout mid-summer, but if you ask any outdoor cannabis cultivator in the northeast, the most important part of the cannabis cultivation season really starts in August.
That’s because we’re cultivating cannabis plants for their flowers (buds), and those flowers start budding and forming based on the light cycle – specifically, when the light cycle reaches *twelve hours of daylight.
When cultivating cannabis inside, that twelve hour cycle can be manipulated simply by changing the timing of when the lights turn on; however, when growing outside, the flowering window is relatively fixed and consistent, varying based on latitude.
Whatever the specific date, once those plants start to flower and bud, it’s a race against Mother Nature.
Now in nature, those plants would likely co-mingle with male plants, become pollinated, and produce seeds, therefore completing their natural annual cycle of self-preservation.
But as cultivators, we’re interrupting this natural process by keeping and harvesting only female, flower-producing cannabis plants.
Instead of pollinating the cannabis flowers, our goal is instead to grow them in order to produce the maximum amount of the sticky, opaque crystals (trichomes) that contain the THC and other compounds.
Different cannabis varieties have different ideal lengths of flowering time, which is usually displayed on the outside of the seed packet. Those flowering times vary from roughly 50-80 days, with some strains taking over twelve weeks to reach peak maturity!
When you look at the seed packet and do the math, you realize that if your plants start flowering on August 15 and take 60 days to complete, they will be ready to harvest around October 15.
If it hasn’t sunk in yet, ask someone who lives in New England to confidently predict the weather for October 15. As the Yankee continues to laugh, consider that the highly-unpredictable October weather is exactly when the cannabis flowers are reaching maturity.
While insects are pests, the damp and chilly weather means that outdoor cultivators must contend with both moisture-based diseases (mold and mildew forming in dense buds), as well as cold temperatures, which can also kill cannabis plants with a single hard frost.
Indeed, with such varying and unpredictable temperatures and weather patterns, the difference between a successful harvest and a total loss can come down to identifying the right harvest window before an especially cold or damp spell.
Often, cultivators are faced with the decision of either harvesting plants before peak maturity when the buds are healthy, but not ideal, or rolling the dice and hoping for a few more days of tolerable weather to finish the plants.
So as the calendar changes to October as the foliage falls off of the hardwoods in New England, consider the cannabis cultivator, whose most challenging season is just beginning…