By Jade Kine
I’ve got a sweet tooth for sugary, candy-flavored ganja. In fact, sugar is not only the cannabis plant’s source of energy for growth; it’s also the primary factor that determines how good your favorite herb will taste when you smoke it. In my many years of horticultural experimentation, I’ve tried many different sugar supplements to augment my plants’ health and flavor, and I want to share a few of my favorites. Some of this information will be a refresher course for seasoned growers, but I’d like to start at the beginning for the introductory grower and briefly explain the importance of sugar to plants. Plants make their own sugars (carbohydrates) through photosynthesis. Plants combine light energy (from the sun or a high-intensity discharge lamp) with water and CO2 from the atmosphere (or a CO2 tank or burner), and the result is sugar. This sugar is the essential source of energy that’s utilized for all cellular division and the formation of plant structures (i.e., huge, dank buds). Now, you can’t grow a plant in the dark by watering it with sugar, but under otherwise good growing conditions, you can supplement your nutrient solution with extra sugars to boost the natural levels created by photosynthesis and make your plants more vigorous and productive. The real icing on the cake, though, comes from the fact that a little extra sugar will improve not only the yield of your garden but also the flavor of your favorite herb.
For serious growers and/or gadget collectors, you can even measure the amount of sugar (on this scale, we call it “brix,” pronounced bree) in your plant with a device called a refractometer. Don’t shy away from the fancy name if you’re afraid of complicated devices; this tool is super-easy to operate. Using a sap extractor (or a pair of pliers), you can squeeze a drop of juice out of a leaf and then place it on the refractometer’s viewing plate. Look through the lens and you will see an obvious line running across a column of numbers. Brix readings above 12 indicate good plant health and a strong immune system. With a device like this, you’ll impress your friends (“Oooh…a refracto-what?”) and also be able to detect when a change in your feeding program or environment affects your crop as the readings go up or down. Frequent checks of brix content in leaf tissue will tell you whether your plants are on course or falling behind. Peaceful Valley Farm Supply sells refractometers for $100, and you can find them online at groworganic.com.
Until about seven or eight years ago, using sugar as a plant supplement was a little-known trick more often employed by grandmothers on their houseplants than ganja growers on their herb. But now the hydroponics market is full of sugar (carbohydrate) supplements. In the beginning, there were several glucose-based products, such as Carbo Load, Carbo Max, Karbo Boost, etc. These are very cost-effective products as far as plant supplements go, but they’re not as cheap as raw glucose itself (usually sold as dextrose or corn sugar—it’s really the same thing), available at brewery-supply outlets and online for just over $1 per pound—less than $1 a pound if you buy in bulk. While glucose is readily available to plants as a form of supplemental carbohydrates, it’s just one form of a simple sugar and lacks the rich flavor found in other, darker kinds of sugar. It can also be difficult to dissolve: If you dump a large amount into water all at once, it has a tendency to form into a gelatinous wad of goo (of which even a small amount can wreak havoc in a hydro garden with small drippers or emitters). To avoid this, dissolve the amount necessary for your reservoir into a beaker of warm water first and pour off the dissolved liquid. Leave any undissolved materials at the bottom of the beaker and add more water until fully dissolved. The use of these products will indeed boost brix levels, but it doesn’t do much for flavor enhancement, which is what this article is all about.
My all-time-favorite source of supplemental sugar isn’t sold by a plant-nutrient company. It’s Sucanat—a form of dark raw sugar sold as a sweetener for foods in natural-food stores everywhere. But Sucanat is a great sweetener for your sinsemilla, too. Made by Wholesome Sweeteners, Sucanat is short for “Sugar Cane Natural,” a dried cane extract available for under $3 per pound. Sucanat is darker than most organic sugars and has a more molasses-like consistency to it because it hasn’t been separated or refined. It will increase the brix content in plants, but the darker sugar has more vitamins and minerals and a rich caramel aroma as well. Sucanat dissolves readily in hot water and doesn’t seem to turn into goo like dextrose does.