Operation: Black Diesel

Greetings one and all, and welcome to what might be my final project, something I am calling Operation: Black Diesel. From the beginning I have been an inventor and hacker in life and so I have turned those skills to growing cannabis. Often I will have a theory of what might work but will never know until I test it in real life.

Operation: Black Diesel is one of and probably my last project, at least of this size. My dementia has made standard growing almost impossible without help but I have enough left in me to test this out. It is sort of a culmination of all that I have learned so far.

The goal for O:BD is simple, yet daunting: how to make an indoor plant yield twice the normal amount of product. That is what I am shooting for and hoping for but my gut tells me that this will at least bring the yield to at least 50% more than usual. It is called Operation: Black Diesel because that is the strain I am using for the test. Black Diesel is a 70/30 sativa/indica hybrid strain that likes to stretch. For indoor folks, stretching can mean a lighting nightmare.

Before I go any deeper, let me assure the reader there is no magic behind this, no secret recipe for anything and as of this writing, it is merely the theory of an admittedly diseased mind. I have no training of any kind, outside of the mentoring I had on my first grow. Unlike Mark Watney, I think the only ones fearing my botany powers are my plants...

The Theory:

Ok first lets get a few facts/observations out of the way to better define the problem. These are all things I have seen or done myself:

  • Most medical growers will be growing indoors. The general advantages include you have more control over the environment in terms of weather, temperature, pests, light and water.
  • One of the key downfalls of indoor growing is that unless you actually rebuild part of your home to be a green house, you will end up with one or more "grow tents" which are like mini-rooms that have light discipline. In that way you can have multiple grows going at the same location, each with its one light schedule and feeding regimen. These tents are simple rugged fabric stretched over a metal frame. They come in all sizes  but one thing they all have in common is there are none larger than six feet, simply because anything larger would not fit well in a spare room. At this point it would seem you could grow a 6 foot cannabis plant, a handsome goal in anyones book but first you must subtract two feet for electrical and the LED lamps themselves; now you are down to about four foot plants.
  • Outdoor plants always yield more than indoor simply because they have room to grow and so grow to the size that strain is genetically programmed to.
Add all that up and you can see that as an indoor grower, you are limited to about a four foot plant, regardless of your strains natural growth size. An additional hit that indoor folks take is from the canopy. The canopy is the heavy leaf foliage that appears in the top third of the plant in the bloom cycle. Good news is that this is the plants way of laying out "solar panels" or fanleaves to feed the upper buds nearby. They convert light into sugars which powers the plant. The downside to this is that pretty much all of the bud under this canopy gets way less light since the canopy is a canopy and blocks much of the light the lower branches can use to create fat buds underneath the canopy. The bud below the canopy is usually so bad and small that many growers simply trim off all of the lower branches that will appear below the canopy, under the theory the plant won't waste sugars on buds that will never mature well anyway.

So the canopy is both the great helper of all stuff above it and it retards the growth of stuff under it.  Techniques using side-lighting can help but rarely is this bud worth much more than being turned into wax, beyond most home growers so we tend to live with the air or cherry bud thats at the bottom of the plant, damned-near worthless but not totally worthless so we end up saving it for something.

After putting it all together, I had the idea to see if I could do something cool with all that lower bud. It started with the mental exercise of how to grow a 6 foot plant in an indoor space good for 4 feet max? The solution I came up with was to grow a plant to about 2 feet in a standard soilmix pot in my veg tent, set to 18/6. Light is provided by a 400W T5 Grow light plus a 120W LED panel I can move around the room for things like seedlings, clone cuttings, etc. The soilmix will be 75% coco coir and 25% perlite. I have used this for a few years and works great for me because it is totally inert nutritionally so I can add exactly the nutrient menu I like, not what the soilmix maker likes. I get total control and therefore no surprises what goes into my plants. Plus I have a secondary reason for the soilmix that starts in bloom. Before we hit bloom, I need to introduce you to two more players or facts about this. First is the container. I designed one based on the same design as the rest of my gear but then my wife shows me this ad in something called "Lakeside" for a planter that is about 95% of what I had in mind:

 Here is a link to the product page for the curious:


I have one of these due to arrive in about a week. What is before you is a planter just under 3 feet wide, with about 7 gallons available for soilmix and and 3 gallon reservoir. The other thing to note is the 3+ foot trellis extending up the back. What I mean to do is, when it is time for bloom I will take my three (or maybe two) Black Diesels I have vegging in one of my rigs in veg right now:

Yeah I get it, I have a chicken or the egg problem here in explaining this because little or none of the gear will look real familiar to normal growers. Thats because I have be a product developer much of my life and since becoming disabled, I have been engineering new ways of growing cannabis for the home disabled grower. This tub rig (don't even have a name for most of the stuff I made) is just one incarnation of a system I developed where I can make this out of really simple and cheap locally available stuff and I can build a component-based system for growing pot indoors. "Component based" is a programming term left over from the old days where you built software to be component based if you could easily plug in new functionality; Photoshop is an excellent example of this.

In this case, component based means that as is, the base system provides constant and controlled aerated nutrient water to 1-2 plants. In the configuration above it holds nutrients at a pretty specific level  thanks to the PVC air distribution system and a shelf from an old green house. This holds my to-go cup rigs (also explained elsewhere) that makes for an extremely portable plug and play environment for plants. For example I can start an autoflower in one of these in the veg tent but say I wish to put it in bloom to get some of my powerful LED light; I just lift it out of the tub of veg nutrients, take it out of the veg tent, put it in the bloom tent (12/12 w/ some 2400 watts of LED grow goodness) and set it in a like tub, this one fed by the bloom nutrient reservoir. The roots or anything tender on this plant are never touched, just the plastic come on the outside. These tubs make excellent overflow containers if you are unsure of how many plants you need for something; you can keep up to 12 teens in a single managed tub. The float valve ensures there is always exactly 5 inches of nutrients in the tub.  Very automatic.

If I swap some components around, it makes an excellent Deep Water Culture hydro rig for two plants:

Swap a few more things and it can now either do straight soil or "soilponics" where an inert soilmix is used and a nutrient feed on the bottom makes sure the soilmix remains fresh and fed. This is the technique I will be doing here, with a twist. Normally when I do soilponics I use regular 5-6 gallon waste baskets that I have drilled out the bottoms of to provide air and waterflow. This works great too, did it like this for years. Looks like this:

Kind of a geeky-cool thing about my rigs is they work indoors or out and I can even grow two different types of growing in the same tub at the same time, say DWC hydro and soil-ponics. I love this system because it is so flexible and so cheap, you are not locked into any one way of doing things.

If you really wanted to get some ideas of the stuff I have invented, I took some pictures during my final grow, which harvested last November. I still grow some but not full continual-harvest production stuff. Just the odd experiment now and then. Made a slideshow of the grow showing all of the crazy stuff I squeezed into that last grow: indoor and outdoor, autoflowers and regular, hydro, soil and everything inbetween and more. Anyhow check out the vid....

Man I got off-track; back to O:BD. So when these get transplanted into that container you saw in the Lakeside advert, the limbs will be loosely tied to the trellis, keeping them as spread out as it practical. Then, I will tip the whole thing 45% so the trellis is on the bottom-side, with the branches carefully anchored down. , Then I will arrange my various LED panels I have (ranging from 120W to 900W) at an angle from the roof of the grow tent, so every part of the plant will get the same level, intensity and type of light. Also, a few panels will be positioned below the trellis and pointed upwards to feed any leaves not on the upper side.

One thing from my past that made me think this will work is I had one grow a while back and the main top of this plant was a foot taller than the bottom of the highest light. To save things early on I used Low Stress Training to cause the plant to curve almost horizontal for a foot before ending in the old "top". It turned out that most of the buds on that branch grew towards the light which was away from any leaves and other coverings. These buds would have been cherry bud at best if grown traditionally. By growing them horizontally they all got uniform lighting and it showed in the output. The branch looked like this:

As the plant stretches I will keep re-anchoring the branches until bloom-stretch stops. Then it will be a matter of keeping the limbs/leaves apart and (at least the first time with this) make sure the lighting is the best I can do.  The point of this is to give the plant two extra feet of room to grow (thus the tilting) and to fatten the buds you do have, accomplished by the upper and lower LEDS arrayed along the anchored plant limbs. Every bud will have direct exposure to the best light; no buds will be hidden beneath or behind leaves.

So far in the project I started three Black Diesel seeds in my seed-starter, something else I need to write about but once germinated they were placed in this little six-seater DWC hydro unit I got off of Amazon for about 20 bones.
The roots are forming nicely in the deep water culture rig

Carefully positioning the roots in the hydroton
After transplant in my magic upside down to go cups

Once they seriously healthy root systems developed, I transplanted them into hydroton-filled plastic cups with holes drilled in the bottom to allow aerated water flow. These are just sitting in a pool of veg nutrients and will be vegged another 3 weeks or so like this before bloom. Wait until you see the transplanting trick these things can do...

I will update this page with links to new stories I publish on the topic of Operation: Black Diesel. This will be the best place to follow the story.

Update 08 July 2018: after a week or so in the tub, I added 5 GG#4s and a Sunset Sherbet to the mix for the outdoor portion of this comedy so thought to show the progress of the Black Diesels in my tub-thing....

Update 24 July 2018: OK this is the (a) big day for Operation: Black Diesel! As of yesterday everything came together. It was delayed a bit when I got the trellis planter assembled and ready to go when I noticed a little design problem:
Yep, a water feed hole right where I mean to be tipping this thing, meaning nutes would drain out all over the floor and never fill the tub to capacity.

Solution: Plastic plumb seal kit, also works on radiators and nuclear reactors. Arrived in mail yesterday, applied yesterday and solution:

Dam you drain hole!

Hey, dirt will be on this side...
So once that was leak-tested this morning (passed) I mixed up 10 gallons of soil mix, 75% coco coir and 25% industrial Perlite. Moved the trellis planter into the bloom tent, added the soil mix and spiked it with a few gallons of bloom nutrients:

Spiking soilmix (which is inert nutritionally) with bloom nutrients

Then it came time to transplant in two Black Diesels I have been vegging for the project. Doing my usual transplant two-step I:

1. Dug a hole the size of the cup:
Hole dug, hard to see

2. Remove lid from bottom of cup, set up in hole:
3. Pack soil in around the cup, then slide the cup up and over the plant, completing the transplant. Makes 'em fast and easy (and foolproof for us fools):
Yes I know the rail is off; these are super-cheap and knock loose easily
Finally I drained off the veg nutrients in the tub with the remaining Black Diesel, moved the tub to bloom, hooked up air and nutrients and it too was ready to rock as overflow/backup for the main project.

End of day, bloom looked like this:

Tomorrow, I need to install the aquarium pump and timer into the overflow tub (screen left) that will periodically pump food and water into that feed hole you see on the planter (screen right). Finally, I will attach the harness I made to help support this grow at an angle. I wanted to give it 24 hours straight up and down before royally screwing with the plants sense of direction....

Once that is done, aside from pinning the limbs to the trellis as they grow (and upping the lights), the work for this project is largely done, now all that is left is to watch it grow, the fun part of cultivating cannabis.....


Update: 14 August 2018
Minor update 1: When we hooked up the pump to the dripper hose, we had the pump on 100% yet seemed to barely push any water thru to the plants. Came down the a simple logic problem that the tub I was pulling the nutrients from had to be taller than where it was dripping (came thru perfect then) but as luck would have it, being a gravity-fed system to begin with, raising the tub with the pump high enough to work and I will have raised it to the point the nutrients would actually feed back into the reservoir.

So we left it dripping for about 20 minutes, thinking maybe just a constant drip might work (as opposed to interval timing, 10 minutes every 6 hours kind of thing); it did work, it would take even more complexity out of the system, something I crave. Well, checking on it 20 minutes later showed that the pump had pumped all 4 gallons in the tub it was feeding from (and was hosting a DWC Black Diesel) into the trellis planter, which in turn ended up flooding out the front and the back. Yes, you read that right: original seal didn't hold on actual use but about 20lbs of silicone (ok maybe just lots of big globs smeared about) fixed that problem. Tent ended up flooding twice for the same reason, still not sure of whats up but for now will just manually trigger the feed pump as I see it needs it. I hate this not automating it because I know my crappy memory will screw me over first chance it gets but for now, not knowing the exact consumption rate of the planter (which will change over time up to a gallon per plant per day near the end) I can't get a grip on what to set the interval timer at.

However, that fun aside...

The plants are looking great, I have the two trellis plants loosely tied to the trellis with these plastic yoyo hangers I got off Amazon. Since the hangers didn't attach to the plastic trellis, I just grabbed some cord that was made for plants and wrapped it around the trellis in a few strategic spots to give the yoyos something to grab onto when the stretch really starts kicking.

Here is today showing the plants, trellis and how they are attached:
Closer shot of trellis rig; note the plant hangers keeping the main plant growth parallel to the trellis.

Larger view of the trellis rig.

And finally by comparison, here is the other Black Diesel "sister" plant that has been in hydro the whole way, same age and seed batch as the other two...
I know it looks weird under the LED light but this was apparently perfectly topped as the top branches are a nice big Y shape. 

Closeup of the plant and anchor situation...

Well, after all that work its time to sit down for a nice bowl of medicine....peace y'all...

New glass.....
Update: 17 August 2018
The plants in bloom (2 Black Diesels in my reclining planter and BD in a standard DWC rig) now have about 3 and a half weeks of bloom under their belt, not a alot to report other than they are not dying. Doing reasonably well actually. This week I got the two Black Diesels blooming in the planter more adjusted to life on the rack. Basically I got the thing tipped to about 20 degrees or so and the standing water found the one weak point in the seal in back and yep, leaked all over hell. A few days and what felt like pounds of silicone later, it now seems water-tight. So having it tilted already I started the process of tying down the plants to the trellis. I am using these yoyo-like plant hangers that act like a measuring tape to guide the top 2/3 of the Black Diesels. Once these are settled I will tip it the rest of the way (target is 45 degrees my first time out) and finish tying down the rest of the limbs. I will also take advantage of that time to customize a lighting setup to take advantage of the slanted growing arrangement.

Finally today I checked in on my one lone Black Diesel clone I took a ways back and threw it into my mini-DWC rig...and basically forgot about. Days later I am in the process of transplanting the GGs to the outside grow when I check the clone cutting and it had a serious root-ball to show for itself. So once the tub in veg was empty, I rinsed it out and transplanted the clone cutting to a 6-inch netpot with hydroton...this strain is proving to be amazingly robust, check this thing out in the video below....

Midway Update: 20 August 2018; 4 weeks down, 5 to go. I made the following status update to sort of chronicle where we are at the 4-week mark of bloom. The target plants have been suspended at (about) 45 degrees and have had their main limbs carefully tied to the trellis via plant hangers, plus the planter is now auto-fed from the tub next to it, which is hosting the backup Black Diesel plant, although at this point I am doubting its need. Also shows the second generation of Black Diesel I cloned a ways back and now as of yesterday, a third generation of Black Diesel clones have been started in the mini-DWC rig...

Small update: Its not that things have changed but more of an observation of how things are turning out. When I first cooked up this crazy idea I didn't really know what would happen, not really. So now that flower is fully engaged, the plants are tilted as they will be for "life" I can kind of see how things are turning out. Not all as-expected but again, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect to begin with. What has actually turned out is a combination of training by tying down the main plants to the trellis, the canopy as it were has developed into a kind of half-bowl shape, with no significant buds under the canopy, unlike in every other grow I have done. So carefully placing light along its axis, I will have met my goal of every bud on the plant getting the best light available. It is resulted in something like a SCROG effect w/o the SCROG. Granted this is the 50% point in the bloom cycle for this strain, the way this is growing is turning out very interesting indeed. Here are two views of the trellis so you get some idea how the canopy is growing and how the bud-sites are all more or less even from where the light would be:
Grow from the front; all significant budsites get equal light

You can see the sort of "half-bowl" this growth pattern is producing. I will use that soon.

I don't know if I will seriously be up to any more grows this time around but if I am able to, the next time will see a second planter/trellis rig set up facing this one so they tilt away from each other. If I do the training right, this will sort of complete the "bowl" concept of growth. Then I can position the strongest/best light in between them and not even ceiling height like I must to most times, and the effect of all of this will be for the plants to wrap around the light, instead of trying to surround the plants with light in a normal grow. Finally, I will place fans behind and underneath these so the air is blown up thru the leaves and pushes what little heat is made from the lights to the ceiling were it will be ejected from the tent. I will set up a single tub of mine to be auto-fed from the main 33-gallon bloom rez, but then this will have no plants in it itself. It will have twin aquarium pumps sitting in the tub, fully covered from light, and tubes reaching to the built-in rez in each planter. Finally I have two low-profile water-detection switches that will control when those pumps run. This will make it a strange yet fully automatic grow.

Peace, Jeff

Oh one last thing I forgot to add: As of this picture, this project was only using a single 600W LED grow light but now that its starting to spread out and flower more, I added an additional 120W panel angled at the lower parts so total 720W (simulated, LED after all). I have enough light to up it many more times if I desired to but I am starting to develop and hypothesis that there can be too much light (aside from light-generated heat). I think what might happen is if the light intensity far out-strips the plants ability to absorb it due to low CO2 or other reasons, this actually damages the plant. I have seen this first-hand. When I first got onto LEDs I made the beginner mistake of thinking as long as the heat is controlled, more light equals more bud. Sorry, Jeff but thats bullshit. Up to a point its true but that point is the one I mentioned, if the plant can't use all the light thats blasting at it, it damages the plant in some way. Outwardly it looks like heat damage which is really confusing when you are new because you go "Heat damage but no heat? WTF?". I roasted an entire crop that way, not knowing any better, thinking I was doing right.

Well, this time, 80% of my LED lights are off or not even installed; I have one 300W grow panel on the spare BD in hydro, a 600W + 120 W LED on the main project, a 300W panel in veg keeping that beast of a BD clone happy and finally I have a 120W LED panel hanging over the clones I just took that are hopefully rooting happily. So far, not going overboard on the light seems to be a step in the right direction; for all thats going on in there, nothing in bloom looks in stress or under-served by light, air or nutrition. Its a balance I try to hit but don't always achieve.

Update 31 August 2018: The two projects have now overlapped! Details here....


So now I have Black Diesels on the outside challenge and the monster clone I had taken is now in bloom. This should rock hard. And I figured out how to my a true hydro-soil-hybrid medium. Actually its a kludge because I had to put a rooted hydro plant in soil outside...click the link to see what I did.


Update: 4 Sept 2018. Two days ago Beth and I did what I considered the final tie-down of the trellis project. Its beyond the half-way point in bloom, the flowers are forming nicely on the trellis. We went through and made sure all flowers had equal exposure under the light. *In theory* we are within three weeks of harvest but as I view the buds as of this date, I think I am looking at another four minimum. Normally I snag buds kinda whenever wanted or needed, usually somewhere near the normal harvest cycle. This time I want to be super-certain I am harvesting these at peak maturity for all of the obvious reasons.

Anyhow the other day we tied branches up and leaves down. We pruned two or three lower-under-preforming branches a few inches in length. We also took the entire first layer of what are normally bottom branches and with fish-line sent them growing horizontally out of the front of the planter. I was going to wait longer before showing the results of that training/tie-down and will do a better article later but Beth and I were both struck by the fact that what is growing in the trellis project look very little like any plant that has grown in the house for the past three years...here is how two Black Diesels look in the trellis rig today:

And remember the lower branches I spoke of? Well here is a closer shot of one of them; note the many bud sites and that the light will hit every bud on the branch equally, hopefully getting the very most out of this plant...

Stay tuned sports fans....

Update: 8 Sept. 2018
A reader pointed out that this last maneuver of having these lower branches grow out the front will cause problems when the buds get heavy. It is true, if nothing was done, they would likely snap off in a week or so. Being Mr. Belt-and-suspenders, I actually had a plan for that, but wanted to wait until the branches leaning out the front had acclimated to the new light position, meaning the buds start to grow "up" instead of "out" in the direction of the branch. Well asl luck would have it (crappy luck), the planter before you is not the first one I ordered. I had initially ordered a planter like this from Lakeside (never EVER order from them...sheesh). Order got lost, then was sent to the wrong place and by the time it finally arrived here, the second one I ordered was already here and had been outfitted with the gear I figured necessary for this project.

However that second planter left me with a second trellis, in sections no less. So I took one of these sections and carefully attached it to the planter just under the front lip, extending out the front. Then I carefully positioned and secured the front-leaning branches. Looks like this:

Tray side view

Tray from the top view

Whole planter

Just a subjective update but tying those down also impressed upon me how much resin this is making, serious sticky icky just touching the leaves, called for latex.

The calendar date on this to harvest is supposedly 20 Sept but this is not less than two weeks from harvest so will just watch it for a while. The various shocks and traumas this went through might explain the need for extra time. The seed package could have been full of shit too. This is my first time with this strain and have no experience with it....

In theory, barring disaster, this should just sit like this and mature, no further assistance from me.


Status update 27 Sept 2018:
I made a short video inspection of various grow projects I have in progress here for a friend and once done I realized I had semi-OK general updates for Operation: Black Diesel and The Desert Challenge. Mostly a warts-and-all look at how things are at less than a week to harvest on the experiment from hell. While not all has turned out as envisioned, much has so far and some stuff actually exceeded expectations. It did teach me a number of things and gave me a ton of design refinement ideas for version 2.0 if there is one (I hope there is).

For now, enjoy the show with my crappy narration...


Well, harvest day came and went with no post here to show how it all came out in the end. I am finding I am not so good at juggling many things at once anymore and I had not just this harvest but actually two others all happen at the same time. I got pics and video of the harvest day here but never put it in the blog. I am adding the information here for completeness of the project and closure.
Even the lower buds where primo

The project itself was a grand success; the act of pinning the limbs to the trellis rig ensured all buds got equal and excellent light. The buds on the bottom limbs yielded buds nearly as good as the best colas on top. There was maybe less than 5% cherry bud anywhere on the plant and even  that can be eliminated in version 2.0, coming soon to a bloom tent near you. Well near me actually but you get the idea.
Didn't matter where on the plant, the buds were all thick and chunky.

I made a quickie video overview of the plant on harvest day, you can see how evenly distributed the excellent buds were. Next version of this will use two planters, one in each direction with a shared local reservoir (and a maintained main reservoir outside the tent). Other than that I won't be changing much for version 2.0; I must wait for the work being done on our house to finish so I can set up to grow room again but that should only be a few more. weeks.

This concludes Operation: Black Diesel.