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Super Plants: Cultivating Bigger Bank Accounts

Your super plants will look more like trees than the plants you’re used to seeing in your hydroponics indoor grow room. Your super plants will look more like trees than the plants you’re used to seeing in your hydroponics indoor grow room.

Every commercial grower needs to evaluate the growing style that will work best for him or her based on a range of criteria. Of course, everyone is interested in the quantity of their yield, but it’s also important to consider things like the quality of your harvest, the growth period, the relative ease or difficulty in managing your growing style, and the overall cost-to-profit ratio in the growing system you choose. That might sound overwhelming at first, but I’ve always found that being meticulous pays off in the end.

For me, the best overall solution to these various and often competing factors is super plants. Over the past few years, I’ve discovered that the super plant system produces yields of such amazing quality that it’s well worth the extra time required in the growth period. It’s also the easiest system I’ve come across in terms of crop management, which makes it very desirable if you’re running a fairly large operation.

The super plant system meets my growing criteria in many ways, but the most overwhelmingly attractive trait is the yield. You’ll typically get a large yield from a super plant because the plant itself is so robust, standing five to eight feet tall with a thick stalk. While most people still grow a vast number of smaller plants, as in a Sea of Green (SOG) operation, these monster-sized plants produce much larger and denser fruit.

You’ll typically get a large yield from a super plant because the plant itself is so robust, standing five to eight feet tall with a thick stalk.  

With super plants, I am attempting to grow close replicas to the type of plant you would find in nature. When you grow a smaller plant, you’re stunting its height with a shorter length of life. But both the amount of light and the growth period of a super plant are much closer to the natural state, so you wind up with hearty plants that are ultra healthy, which results in amazing fruit come harvest time. That fruit has the characteristics your customers want.

The main disadvantage, however, is that super plants require a longer growth period. The plants that I’ve been growing the last few years have a vegetative growth cycle of six to eight weeks, and an additional eight to nine weeks to finish the bloom cycle. This may seem long compared to most growers who flip their plants from an 18-hour photosynthesis period to a 12-hour period after one to three weeks in vegetative growth. Remember, however, that their plants are typically only 10 to 20 inches at that point. My plants are 36 to 48 inches before I flip them over into the flower cycle.

That said, it is possible to cut down the vegetative growth period of your super plants. I use a soilless mix similar to Sunshine Mix, which is peat-based with perlite, but a super plants grower using hydroponics can grow much faster and bigger. Using either method, a typical harvest results in per-plant yields that are significantly higher than what most growers are able to accomplish in a 4-x-4-foot area using one 1,000W HPS lamp.

It’s not as easy as it may sound. If you have employees working for your commercial growing business and you want to grow super plants with hydroponics, it’s best to have a master gardener there at all times. Hydroponic monitoring and controlling systems are becoming more accessible, which allows the grower to manage things better from a distance, but hydroponics is a very technical method of growing, and one mistake can lead to serious devastation. For anyone who is a beginner or intermediate level grower, I’d recommend starting in a soilless medium first, rather than leaping right into hydroponics. There’s nothing worse than putting months of effort into a garden, only to have one error cost you thousands of dollars.

Of course, any plant, whether small or large, needs love and care. But when it comes to the amount of attention your operation requires, super plants create far fewer headaches.

Another factor that many growers forget to consider is ease of management, despite the fact that this is a very important for your business. Your time and energy are valuable resources, even if it’s hard to put a dollar amount on these things. And compared to other systems out there, the super plant system can definitely reduce both your workload and your stress.

Of course, any plant, whether small or large, needs love and care. But when it comes to the amount of attention your operation requires, super plants create far fewer headaches. If you have a ton of small plants, it can be very daunting if some of them start to get spider mites or thrips, or acquire powdery mildew. It is sometimes very difficult to know if your crops are sick because you need to pick through and look at each plant top to bottom.

Even though a larger plant might have multiple nodes and branches to check, the super plants are so big that usually when you find a problem, it hasn’t affected your crop very badly. A smaller plant can be ruined in just a couple of days by insects, whereas a larger plant can fend for itself longer because it is much stronger and healthier. This doesn’t mean super plants are immune to the usual troubles, but they have a stronger immune system and a faster immune response to tackle general health concerns when they arise.

Another thing to keep in mind when analyzing how easy or difficult it will be to manage your crop is that super plants require a little more room (including higher ceilings) than other systems. But the amount of fruit you get per square foot can increase massively by training your super plants (which I’ll explain later). In fact, I’ve seen increases of up to 25 percent from facilities running SOG systems that switched over to growing super plants.

Another advantage of growing super plants is the easy and cost-effective setup. In my facility, I hang 1,000W bulbs vertically in a grow room, often without a reflector on them, so it’s just a bare bulb. I usually have an equal ratio of bulbs to plants. In my current setup, that’s 50 plants and 50 bulbs on a grid system. Each bulb hangs about two-thirds of the way down the plant, but with some plants, when they reach over six feet tall, I’ll take a second bulb and hang it a bit lower so there are two bulbs on the plant. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there are only two bulbs hitting the plant. If you run a grid system, there can be many plants in the middle of the room that have four lights, one on each corner, pushing the light into the plant. This definitely makes for a well-rounded, heavy yielding plant.

Plants on the outer edge of the grid will not have four bulbs on them, so I have T5 high-output fluorescent lighting to increase growth on the sides of the plants that don’t receive as much light. Another way I help compensate is to give every plant a third of a turn daily so all sides receive equal amounts of light over time. Yet another strategy is to take the weaker plants from the outside and push them to the middle after a period of time, placing the more robust plants on the outer portion of the grid.

With this simple setup, I don’t have to invest hundreds of dollars in extra shades or reflectors, and I don’t have to purchase extra cuttings or clones because I have only 50 plants. Each plant is very cost effective,  and I don’t have 1,500 plants to worry about, like I would in another growing system.

By the time I turn the plant to its bloom cycle, I’ve usually removed the bottom two feet of branches unless they are of a size that makes me feel confident they’ll produce enough large fruits.

When starting off with super plants, another consideration is the importance of choosing the right strain. There are several strains that are perfect for growing in large size because they grow thick, with multiple branches. When that same plant is grown in the SOG method, it’s stunted and never able to achieve its potential in terms of growth or output. On the other hand, there are some strains that you want to stay away from. Some strains stretch as they grow and don’t necessarily get stronger, but rather taller and thinner. You need to pick a strain that is thick and that you can keep training along the way to make sure that you’re getting the best production out of that mammoth plant.

You will also want to give your plants a good home right from the start. Choose the size of plant pot based on how long you plan on vegging your plant. You will probably end up using 20-gallon plant pots, but going heavier than that is a waste of space and the pots are hard to move when they’re wet. Some super strains tend to get root-bound in a 10- or 12-gallon container, so you’ll need to be aware of your plants’ needs.

If you’re ready to take a little extra care with your process, well-timed transplanting can garner the best results. For example, I have sometimes started with pots as small as two gallons. The trick is to transplant your plants in a timely way, moving up to 5-gallon, 10-gallon, etc. It’s best to move the plant up step by step because if you start with a large pot, the plant will not experience optimal growth. Plants do better in pots gauged for their size and height at a given point in time, so you may end up transplanting three or four times, which is a lot of work, but it’ll pay off in the end when you see the fruits or your labor.

Once you’re all set up and your plants are growing, there are some ways to maximize the output of your garden. One of those ways is pruning. At a young age—just a few weeks into vegetative growth—I pinch the top of the plant to force the side branches and the bottom branches to grow up, causing the plant to grow more evenly. When the side branches/secondaries stretch, they stay uniform with what used to be the dominant growing point, which leads to a wider, thicker more robust plant. 

You can also choose to “top” your super plant, which means cutting off the top of your main branch to create multiple tops instead of one. From about three weeks onwards, I start to prune off completely the weaker bottom branches. By the time I turn the plant to its bloom cycle, I’ve usually removed the bottom two feet of branches unless they are of a size that makes me feel confident they’ll produce enough large fruits.

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I also implement tomato cages to train the plants. I tie the branches onto the side rungs as they grow through the cages. This keeps the large plant steady so that it doesn’t use all of its energy keeping itself upright.

When it comes to nutrients, you can use the same nutrients with super plants that you would use in most other systems, but in the latter part of the super plant cycle, things can change. Because of their large size, super plants metabolize their food much faster. A plant in a 20-gallon pot at week three of bloom can take a full watering every day, and can also accept a much higher ppm (parts per million) of plant nutrients. Because they are larger, super plants have more mass to spread out those nutrients, whereas smaller plants receiving upwards of 2,000 ppm can sustain heavy fertilizer damage.

And finally, at the end of your cycle, reusing your soilless or hydroponic growing medium is usually a good idea. But be aware that you must take steps throughout the growing cycle to ensure there isn’t a buildup of phosphorus or potassium that will harm your newborn plants when the next cycle begins. I highly recommend you use mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacteria to colonize the root system. Products like Voodoo Juice, Piranha, and Tarantula speed up the process of breaking down decaying organic matter like old plant roots, which in turn makes for an even better growing medium than what you started with at the beginning of the next cycle.

Super plants are a revolutionary step forward in commercial growing. By using the super plants system, you will see massive increases in yield, as well as in the health and vigor of your plants. You will also have fewer headaches because you’re dealing with a limited number of plants, which makes it easy to pick out problems and nip them in the bud. If you are willing to fine-tune your skills to grow super plants, you will be absolutely amazed at the look and feel of your harvest. But more importantly, your customers will love the results.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 11 July 2012 17:15

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