Getting to the next level, Part 3: Cultivation

Today’s topic is cultivation: which producers have the resources and knowledge to get the most from their strains?


Outdoor-grown weed has to work extra hard to compete with the best indoor stuff. Photos by Lumppini (left) and Yarygin (right_; both photos iStock/Getty Images Plus.

By Rhys Juergensen

Welcome, True Believers, to the third and final installment of my guide to cannabis connoisseurship. Last week, we learned that some strains have high THC potentials, strong terpene profiles, and other qualities as a result of survival adaptations and selective breeding. So now that we know why certain varieties have the potential to exhibit certain qualities, we should talk about how growers can deliver this potential. Today’s topic is cultivation: which producers have the resources and knowledge to get the most from their strains?

Another wine comparison

For viticulturists (growers of grapes and makers of wine), it’s all about the “terroir”—which is both a geographical location and the unique set of conditions that come with it. A grape’s character is based on the terroir in which it evolved, and the terroir in which it is grown. The Shirazes to which I’m so partial are adapted to suit a hot climate with not too much precipitation. They need a long growing season in order to fully develop the bold flavours that characterize them. That’s why I buy Shirazes from South Africa and Australia. Their climates are the best suited to make the most of that particular grape.

In the realm of cannabis, there is also a certain amount of prestige associated with geographical location. Because British Columbia offers such a great terroir for a wide number of strains, weed has been grown there—and grown well—for a long time.

As a result, being from B.C. is often cited as a credential, something that bolsters the integrity of one’s brand. Broken Coast, for instance, states on their website that “our roots in British Columbia run deep, and we’re proud of the reputation for quality that our province has developed” (emphasis added).

Yes, B.C. is a great terroir; but now that indoor growing is the new paradigm, and conditions are manufactured and controlled, does it matter where something is grown? In theory, the techniques used by a top-tier grower in B.C. should be replicable anywhere on earth, right?

Not quite.

Modern-day cultivation

All growers have access to the same equipment, but no two of them use the exact same configuration. There are a wide variety of “craft” growing techniques (customized pruning regimes, nutrient delivery systems, et cetera), and each grower has a different philosophy on which is best. Plus, by taking advantage of site-specific natural influences such as living soil and selective natural sunlight (more on that below), a lot of growers do in fact incorporate the terroirs of their operation into their product. 

Between a unique combination of science, technology, and nature, each producer puts their individual stamp on the products they grow.

A few tricks of the trade

You need the right tools for the job if you’re going to push cannabis cultivation into new and exciting territory—which, as I mentioned last time, is a prerequisite for staying on top of the industry. Here’s a look at a few of the cultivation tricks being implemented these days, and how they affect the final product.


Hydroponics and aeroponics (methods of delivering water and nutrients directly to the plants’ roots) are finicky and costly, so most producers stick to good old-fashioned soil. However, rather than just use topsoil from the garden centre, many use “live soil”: a living ecosystem of microbes and insects that resembles the earth you’d find in any healthy, natural environment. This way, helpful insects consume pests, nutrients can be repeatedly re-introduced without leaching, and the soil’s ecosystem strengthens with every harvest.

Broken Coast, Whistler Cannabis Co., and Citizen Stash (all of which are based in B.C.) use living soil harvested from the most fertile regions nearby their facilities. In at least one way, then, consumers really are getting a taste of a unique West Coast terroir when they smoke these companies’ products.


Because most producers grow indoors, most of the cannabis we buy is raised under artificial lighting. However, producers like Citizen Stash, 7ACRES (Ontario), and Carmel Cannabis (Ontario) incorporate natural sunlight into their lighting regimens. They place crops in greenhouses during the early days of their development. Interestingly, BC Simply Bare grows their plants to full maturity in greenhouses, with artificial lighting only occasionally supplementing natural sunlight. Their webpage states that full-spectrum sunlight helps crops “express their full aroma”—and from what I can tell, they’re right. Broken Coast products are unparalleled in terms of the richness and distinction of their terpene profiles.

When artificial lights are used, most growers opt for LEDs. They can emit custom light spectrums (fine-tuned for specific strains), they are efficient, and they don’t produce an excess amount of heat. That said, the growers at 7ACRES use High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights, for their massive light/heat output is good for rapid growth. However, lower light and heat are needed to properly induce the flowering phase and slow down the production of unwanted resins. Citizen Stash gets the best of both worlds by using HPS when their crop is in its growth phase, and switching to LED during the budding stage. It’s this kind of detail that puts their product ahead of 7ACRES’.


Curing usually happens for around 14 days. Some producers, however, go longer—Carmel Cannabis, for instance, ages their flower for as long as a month. The curing process needs to take place in the dark (UV degrades THC), and the buds need to be sealed in airtight, glass jars so their flavours can fully develop. With curing, it’s almost always the case that longer is better; producers that use glass jars (such as BC Simply Bare and Robinsons) have the advantage of curing after they’re packaged. When you get glass-jar products, I recommend storing them in a dark drawer, with a few two-way humidity control packs, for a few weeks.

Photo by OpenRangeStock/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Small batch = individual care

Every strain has its own set of “ideal” conditions; growers need to know what these are, and have the resources to accommodate them. A small-batch producer selects strains based on how well they will suit their operation, while simultaneously fine-tuning the operation to suit the needs of the strains.

For example, each of BOAZ’s strains is grown in its own customized shipping container. This is a highly controllable “microclimate” where “strain-specific nutrients keep plants healthy and happy” (as described on their website). At Citizen Stash, cultivators monitor and adjust the nutrient mix for every individual plant on a daily basis. That allows them to stay on top of deficiencies and imbalances before they adversely affect the crop. (Their website has great videos giving an insider look at their growing process.)

Small-batch producers are also able to individually trim each plant so that it receives optimal air circulation and light exposure. Lateral rather than vertical growth is encouraged. Smaller buds are removed so as to keep the plant’s resources focused on the biggest, best flowers.

The drawback of small-batch operations, of course, is that limited supply and hefty operating costs make the crop far pricier by the gram than the high-volume options. But state-of-the-art facilities, labour-intensive care, and industry-leading expertise don’t come cheap: it’s usually the case that you get what you pay for.

The other side

West Coast producers are still largely held as the bar-setters for cannabis quality. However, there’s still some interesting stuff happening on the East Coast. Robinsons, from Nova Scotia, is a producer to try out. In addition to having traceable pedigrees and distinctive terpene profiles, the “Robinsons OG” line is one of the few high-quality options to come from an outdoor operation.

Outdoor-grown weed has to work extra hard to compete with the best indoor stuff, but Robinsons has the terroir for the job. When promoting the release of the OG line, president and founder Andrew Robinson described the Annapolis Valley (where his operation is based) as “a unique microclimate inspired by the tidal Gaspereau River, [with] gentle southern sloping hills that provide maximum sun exposure and terroir influence from the Acadian, Wolfville, and Hortonville soils.” Knowing his terroir as well as he does, Robinson selects and breeds strains that have the genetic blueprint to flourish in its conditions.

As his language indicates, Robinson is clearly familiar with viticulture practices—which he incorporates into his cannabis cultivation. The company’s webpage doesn’t go into specifics, but these practices could involve experimenting with water stress (restricting water supply just before harvest to enhance flavours), trellising (shaping the plant to increase bud quality), or planting on sloped land (thus improving sun exposure and drainage).

A very clean high

GG#4 (aka Gorilla Glue #4), the one Robinsons strain that I’ve tried, does have a few outdoor-esque qualities: the nugs, which are attached to somewhat thick stems, are airier than top-shelf, indoor-grown flower. However, the crystal coverage is so dense that the flowers literally glitter, like a geode facing a faint light. The terpenes don’t have a particularly strong presence. However, the profile that does manage to come through is very sweet, with limonene in the spotlight and myrcene laying down the foundation. Taste-wise, the sweetness is unburdened by resinous flavours: it goes down as smoothly as the glacial water that nourished the crop.

The best word to describe the high is clean—very clean. GG#4 is listed as a 50-50 sativa/indica hybrid (hailing from Sour Diesel and a sativa-dominant variation of Chemdawg), but the high leans in favour of cerebral effects. I felt euphoric to the point of being fizzy (and I never, ever feel fizzy), but there was no impediment to the clarity of my cognition. I strongly recommend this strain.


Cannabis cultivation is an incredibly nuanced art, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Luckily, you don’t have to know every little trick implemented by every single producer to make an educated decision.

Photo by Oduvanchik21/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

One main thing to look for is transparency. Because high-quality producers pride themselves on their selection of strain genetics and highly refined cultivation methods, they make this information readily available. When confronted with the plethora of producers claiming to be “small-batch” or “craft cultivators”, take a look at which of them puts their money where their branding is and actually explains their process. After all, you’d only tell everyone how you made a product if you were willing to stand behind it.

Companies that are proud of their product will usually tell you about the people who made it. When a producer lists their team members and their credentials—experience, education, achievements, et cetera—I pay attention.

Lastly, keep an ear out for new innovations. The industry is still booming: new money is pouring in, advancing existing producers and forging new ones. Stay up to date on your cannabis journals, and be ready to take advantage of the next breakthrough in cultivation-related science. True connoisseurship, after all, is more about learning things than it is about knowing them.

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