Duke Diamond, cannabis community luminary, is a breeder, grower and steward of cannabis. Raised on a farm in Virginia, husbandry is in his blood. “Agriculture is what we did,” he explains, “It was an organic thing … that led into me trying to grow.” And grow he has. Duke began experimenting with cultivation, sprouting cannabis seed, before he’d even turned 13 years old. By the time he was 16 years old he had a fully mature garden outside.
Duke is, understandably, a private man. There aren’t many who have been privileged enough to visit his farm/property in Colorado, but those who have are always in awe of his collection and his knowledge of it. He is a firm believer in the restorative qualities of cannabis and the reciprocal relationship between grower and plant. “They’ve been with me every step of the way. I’ve took care of them. They’ve took care of me.” Among his treasures are several mother plants, plants that have been passed down to him, including some that are even older than he is. He is happy to spend considerable time detailing their origins and their journey, how long he has had them, and what he has done with them. He considers them friends, “They’ve kept me from being sick. They’ve helped me to recover from being sick and [helped] my friends and family.”
Growing: The six Ps
Diamond, like many in the cannabis community, is a proponent of regenerative or beyond organic growing practices. He recognizes it is a broad topic but believes organic growing is simple because it is founded on evolutionary principles. “These plants, without us, they’ve developed their own communication system with microorganisms and microbes that live in the soil,” he explains. It is a complex system. The plants put down a pheromone combination in their root zone and speak to specific microbes in the soil, which then respond. “All we really need to do is just facilitate it,” he clarifies. Duke believes the plants communicate with the grower just as effectively as they do the land. The growing method he has developed over the years keeps all inputs completely natural and organic and then he adjusts according to the plant’s sign language. The simplicity of the organic approach belies the superiority of the product. Duke has tried growing hydroponically, and found it possible to grow a good product, but the method requires more time and more work to meet the same quality level. “Organic,” he muses, “it flows. It’s what the plant likes. It’s what it wants. The smell, the flavor, overall formation, everything’s more – just right.”
Straightforward though the organic approach is, this is still agriculture and the basics of planting, growing, and harvesting require planning. When consulting, Duke tells his clients that they must plan from beginning to end, “Don’t go 90% through. Take it 100% through.” He details the variables that need to be considered: how many pots, how much space in between them, over how many square feet, with how much trellis and how many stakes? Is there enough space, is it correctly ventilated, is there a temperature control, a humidity control? Have you considered air circulation? Size, it seems, is important, “Whether you got one little plant that you’re growing or…tens of thousands of square feet … you plan the area to size.” Duke recommends going WHAT? between 15-20% of floor space. It is important to have enough space to accommodate the crop without bunching. Duke emphasizes the importance of planning by emphasizing the six Ps, “Proper Planting Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.”
The curing process is just as important. Duke points out, “Whether you’re a hydro guy or soil person, you can grow it perfect and have the best thing on earth and completely screw it up right afterwards.” Duke likes to draw, harvest, and cure in the same way he grows. He has taught his cultivation techniques in a wide variety of climates: Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon and believes you should adjust the environment while curing in the same way you do when growing.
If space is important for growing, then time is king when curing, Duke’s optimal time frame is 14-21 days. When told by other growers that they dry in four or seven days, Duke’s response is, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” His curing method involves breaking the crop down into branches and taking off the fan leaves (also known as shade leaves). He prefers to leave one to two inches of the petiole (the stalk that attaches the leaf blade to the stem) intact to act as a wick and help moisture and chlorophyll seep out of the bud, little by little. He then hangs the crop and recommends setting fans above or below but not directly on the leaves. Again, size is important here, there should be enough space for air movement, and ideally, the room should be flushed twice a day with fresh air.
Terpenes require a pretty high temperature before they burn off, so Duke recommends a cool 60F-65F for drying. He describes his drying process as, “That first day, I actually drop it down to 40% just to start the pull. It’s almost like I try to picture it like siphoning some gas out of a tank. You got to start that pressure up to really get the flow going. Then once you got the flow going, I throttle it back up, so I take it back up to about 45%. Now, I let it ride like that for a day or two and then I actually let it jump back up to 50% and I let that ride for a day. I feel like that almost starts to let it back back up again and then I drop it back to 45 again. I let it go for a couple more days and I kind of throttle back and forth a little bit to slow it down and keep it a little more steady, so if I can back up, I almost feel like I’m letting it back up. Then when I drop it, I’m letting the floodgate open again and then pull a little more out.”
Duke’s passion for this plant and its cultivation is obvious. This is a lifetime’s work. A lifetime filled with risk, experimentation, learning, and discovery. If his philosophy on cultivation could be distilled, it would be: love your plants, grow organically, cure slowly, and don’t forget the six Ps.