NECANN hosted its 2nd Annual Illinois Cannabis Convention in Chicago at the McCormick Place Lakeside Centerlast Friday and Saturday. With plenty to offer industry professionals and hobby growers alike, exhibitors included grow supply stores, infused crafts, accessory mongers, and integrated business solutions for commercial cultivation and retail. Despite the barrage of swag and samples, I found myself camped out in one of the guest speaker rooms soaking up knowledge.
The first presentation I sat in on was Urban Worm’s breakdown (so to speak) of composting and soil microbiology. An attendee of the Rodale Institute, Troy Hinke explained the process of assembling compost, brewing a tea from the organic mass, and using it to fertilize gardens. His technique employed a branching air column to deliver oxygen throughout a barrel that contained the decomposing matter, allowing microbes to thrive and process larger pieces into a finer consistency. Hinke currently owns and operates Living Roots Compost Tea and works for Urban Worm Company.
Once a liquid form of the finished compost is extracted, it can be diluted and used as a root drench or foliar spray to provide the plants with bioavailable nutrients and beneficial bacteria. Hinke said he treats his fields with compost tea at least every four weeks, or after any time a pesticide is applied to replenish life in the soil.
In a trial at the Rodale Institute, patches of sodded turf were fed either synthetic nutrients or compost tea. The impact on root length and soil integrity was significant in favor of the all-natural approach. Another experiment in a hemp field showed a three-fold increase in biomass production when compost extract was used, and Hinke said even hydroponic systems can benefit from soil ecology in liquid form, though they will require more thorough cleaning if growers elect to introduce it.
Hinke also discussed the benefits of a diversified cover crop containing brassicas, legumes, grasses and broadleaves, which can enhance the mycorrhizal network in the soil and protect main plants against environmental factors. A proponent of the “chop and drop” method, he advocated for leaving the mowed cover crop in place to decompose gradually into the soil from which it grew, passively feeding live plants in the process.
The next speaker I heard carried the kind of humble gravitas I would expect from a cannabis breeding legend. Ken Estes, creator of the famous Grand Daddy Purple strain, shooed away a slide deck in favor of a more intimate conversation full of general advice and insight into his process. Estes’ cannabis activism started with a motorcycle accident, after which he found the plant to be a better sleep aid and appetite stimulant than pharmaceuticals.
Realizing how much these effects can aid overall recovery, he began growing his own medicine, starting with Thai and Skunk varieties. Having “gotten lucky” with his discovery of GDP, Estes firmly believes that unique and high-quality genetics are the cornerstone of success in the industry, as they provide their own brand name that can instantly bolster the credibility of an untested grower or product. With full faith in his number-one strain, winner of multiple Cannabis Cups, he has kept his original GDP mother alive for more than three decades as he focuses now on selecting “bomb males” for crossbreeding. While promoting his collaboration with Prairie State Genetix, upcoming collaborations with Seed Junky and Berner were hinted at, including an Animal Mints cross known as Purple Mints that had even the seasoned breeder excited.
Amid a brief history lesson and broad explanations of the breeding process, Estes let slip a few specific tips that may help growers achieve their goals. For one, he recommended deliberately inducing stress in the last few days of flowering to get the trichomes (or “crystals,” as the OG called them) to pop. One old-school method he recalls was hammering a nail into the stalk of the plant, though he’s since moved away from this technique.
For a phenohunt, Estes recommended starting male plants about two weeks prior to females so that pollen will be ready to spread once the stigmas come in on the female flowers. The simplicity of his manner of speaking made his years of knowledge seem casually acquired, as if he simply listened to the plants and treated them accordingly rather than constructing a detailed plan.
After hearing Hinke and Estes express their passion for flora, I left the convention inspired and ready to give my own garden professional-grade love. To learn about cannabis-friendly events in Illinois, click here.
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