Inside The Cannabis Cup with Nico Escondido of High Times

nico escondido

The Cannabis Cup is the most prestigious award in the cannabis industry. Growers compete for the glory, but what does is take to win?

High Times cultivation editor, Nico Escondido takes us behind the scenes and tells us what really goes on and what the judging process is like. He also discusses how to avoid the most common cannabis cultivation mistakes.

*Get the FREE CannaInsider Podcast for your smartphone, CLICK HERE.*

Key Takeaways:
[2:01] – Nico’s background
[5:44] – Nico talks about his day-to-day work life at High Times
[8:35] – Nico discusses the Cannabis Cup
[18:03] – Increasing your chances of winning a Cannabis Cup
[23:53] – Nico talks about the Cannabis Genetics Institute
[27:16] – Nico talks about genetics and traits
[32:23] – Horticulture technology
[35:08] – Nico gives his opinion on LED versus traditional lighting
[38:52] – Typical growing mistakes
[42:11] – Bad growing habits
[50:43] – Photobiology and genetics to him
[53:06] – New York Medical Marijuana Legalization
[59:35] – How to find Nico’s work


Click Here to Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at That’s Are you an accredited investor looking to get access to the best cannabis investing opportunities? Join me at the next ArcView Group event. The ArcView Group is the premier angel investor network focused exclusively on the cannabis industry. There is simply no other place where you can find this quality and diversity of cannabis industry investment opportunities months or even years before the general public. If that’s not enough, you will also be networking with the top investors, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the cannabis space. I have personally made many of my best connections and lifelong friendships at ArcView events. If you are an accredited investor and would like to join me as an ArcView member, please email me at to get started. Now here’s your program.

I’m really excited to have the High Times Cultivation Editor and expert grower Nico Escondido with us today. Welcome to CannaInsider Nico.

Nico: Thanks Matt. Thanks for having me. I’m a big fan of the program, and I’ve been listening in and I knew I was going to be on your show. And you guys really have a great cross section of the industry. It’s a very interesting show.

Matthew: Oh thank you.

Nico: Yeah, absolutely.

Matthew: To give us a sense of geography can you tell us where you are in the world today?

Nico: Today I’m in my hometown which is New York City. That’s where the High Times offices are in Manhattan. And it’s a bit warm and a bit muggy here in New York City as usual.

Matthew: Okay, and before we jump into everything you’re doing at High Times, can you give us a little background on yourself and how you got into the cannabis industry?

Nico: Yeah sure. I guess it goes back, I mean, I’ve been growing, I’ve been a grower for over 20 years now. I started as a teenager. And then breaking into the industry back before there was an industry was a bit of a challenge, because I’ve been at High Times now for almost 10 years. And first at High Times it’s really… it’s a tough thing to find people who can excel in both industries that we have these base meetings, publishing of course and then also cannabis. So to find guys like myself, like Danny Danko, the Jorge Cervantes, the Harry Reisig [ph] guys who can write, but also know a bit, a fair bit about cannabis, it’s a tough racket.

You know for me it’s just like everything else. It’s a bit of who you know and a bit of timing. So I guess at the turn of the century, in 2002 my girlfriend now my wife, and I decided to just hit the road. And we went down to Mexico where we had some family, and we helped them do the old conversion from smuggler to grower because they’d been down here for years and the Mexican brick weed product that we all know from our youth was starting to fizzle out and get overtaken by the Canadian weed. And they needed to step up their game. So we went down there and it was a great experience. We learned a lot. We helped set up huge hydro warehouses down there. We did that for a few years before finally coming back to the United States.

And once I got back here I continued to grow, but I was also writing at a newspaper, a small weekly paper. And a few stories back then got picked up by the Associated Press, and a friend of mine saw my name. She gave me a call. She said oh would you like to write for High Times. I said yeah right sure. She set that up and it turns out her neighbor was the Associate Publisher at the time for High Times. So she made the connection for me, and the rest is history.

Matthew: So was the article in the Associated Press, was it cannabis related?

Nico: No not at all. We were living in New Jersey. It was a small, weekly paper. I was a beat writer for one of these towns here. Actually it was a snake that had gotten shipped accidently in a box in a return to Samsung, and when they opened the DVD player a snake popped out. And it had travelled all the way from Tennessee or somewhere. I forget, and I had written this kind of quirky story about this snake. Anyway it was just one of those kind of mainstream, pop culture story things that got picked up by the Associated Press. It had my byline on it, and that’s what happened. So you never know, you know, you think you’re in this rut. You think you’re doing something that really doesn’t interest you. You’re writing about snakes in the mail, and the next thing you know you’re sitting at High Times having an interview with Danny Danko and Rick Cusick.

Matthew: That’s a great story. Now what is your day-to-day life like working at High Times? I mean both there in New York City in the office and then when you’re going out on the road doing various things.

Nico: Yeah I mean the gig at High Times requires a lot of travel. When I first started at the magazine I would say I was probably on the road about 50 percent of the time. And now with the events that we do seven times a year plus editorial there’s a lot of travel, and there’s a lot of shifting of gears. You know kind of going between content production on the editorial side and then putting on the Cannabis Cups. When I first started at High Times I was on assignment probably, I don’t know, half the time. But it was really a dream job at the beginning. Not that it’s not anymore, but you know you tend to burn out with that much travel.

I got to travel the globe and visit the world’s biggest marijuana plantations. I mean Amsterdam, Spain, Israel, Morocco, British Columbia, Africa. I mean you name it, I went shooting for the magazine and writing about cultivation. And I just got to learn so much and meet so many people. It was really a blessing. These days the travel is more on the Cannabis Cup side. I’m going to probably get away two or three times a year to do a nice long piece, a good read for the magazine. But you know other than that when I’m home in New York it’s pretty standard, you know, Mondays are editorial meetings. Thursdays are planning meetings. Wednesdays are our Cannabis Cup meetings. And then it’s just trying to put a book out while trying to set up the next event.

Matthew: Interesting. It sounds like a lot of different stuff you have going on now. Everybody has heard of the Cannabis Cup, and if you haven’t it’s essentially the equivalent of the Stanley Cup in hockey in which the Blackhawks won last night, Go Hawks. Just a little plug there. Can you take us behind the scenes and tell us how growers enter the competition, how a winner is selected and what the lab testing process is? Here in Boulder I believe Native Roots came in number two with the Griz, I think one of their strains here for the last Denver Cannabis Cup. And it’s a huge deal. I mean that’s a note worthy event that goes on your Facebook timeline when you win something like that.

Nico: Oh absolutely.

Matthew: It can really help a dispensary get a lot of business to because everybody wants to try a Cannabis Cup winner. So if you would just kind of walk us behind the scenes. What’s the selection process like? How doe growers enter and how does that whole system work?

Nico: Sure. This is something I can talk about for days. So I’m not sure how much time we have. You might have to cut me off. I serve as the Competition Director as you probably know as well as the Cultivation Editor. So when it comes to Cannabis Cups this is what I do. I run the competition, and before I really get too far into it I have to say that we’ve been doing this now for 28 years. We’ve only been doing it for five or six years here in the states, but this actually goes back into the mid 90s. And I have to give a shout out to our former Editor in Chief and the founder of the Cannabis Cup Steve Hager who had the vision almost three decades ago now to hold this type of event and of course it was annual. It was in Amsterdam every year. We still do the Amsterdam Cup of course, but now with the advent of medical marijuana and legalization we do these all over the United States and some in Europe.

The process has evolved significantly since Steve had it. Back then it wasn’t nearly as big and it wasn’t as organized as it is now. So to start with the competition regularly sees about 500 entries in these cities which is a lot and we developed a system that utilizes obviously judges who score on qualitative characteristics and then we have at least two labs at every cup that runs a host of tests for us, and we get measurements on the quantitative side. What we do then is we actually have created a fairly complex algorithm which we’ve now digitized and put into an online scoring program that we call High Times Score Book. So the judges get to create accounts and login to that. All the score sheets are digital for the entries. All the judging is blind of course.

So if they’re judging, you know, we break it into 12 categories; hybrids, sativa, indica. Same for concentrates, we have CBD categories with edibles and your topicals now. Depending on the category the judge is in they login and the score sheets come up for those entries for that category. And they’re just labeled simply Hybrid 1, Hybrid 2, Hybrid 3. So it will know what the strain is now and who it came from. You know from a logistics standpoint it’s pretty hard to do this especially for a company coming out of New York City to put these on. So we don’t have a lot of time.

So typically, you know, I’m out there on the ground usually two to three weeks beforehand so is our other competition director Craig Coffee [ph] with an intake team and so the competitors have to come and show up a couple weeks before the actual event, and they have to actually submit their entries. We do that for a couple of days and then for a couple of days after that we break it all down. We actually create kits for the judges. Everything has to be put into smaller baggies and labels and put into the correct kits for the judges. We have to make kits for the photographer, kits for the labs, kits for the judges. The judges typically get about 7 to 8 days to judge the entries. We tap the categories now at 50 so they got to smell, you know, it’s work. People think oh what a great job, you know, you’re a judge for the Cannabis Cup. Don’t get me wrong it’s a phenomenal experience, but at the same time you are on the clock man. It’s a job, you’re working and we take it very seriously. And we sometimes drive our judges a little too hard and we’ve learned our lesson in that regard. I never thought it was possible to actually seen an overdose from cannabis. But if you’re an edibles judge, you can certainly disappear for a couple of days.

We’ve kind of backed off on that and kind of instructed our judges on how best to sample the edibles. Yeah it’s a process and it’s something I’m extremely proud of. The score book system is amazing. It’s customizable, it’s scalable, it’s tweakable. Judges will judge, let’s just take flowers for instance, judges will judge on visual aesthetics, on taste, on aroma, on the burnability or the flush of the product and then lastly on the effects. Now a lot of people say well geeze how do you, you know, you have 50 strains to smoke in a week, and how do you know the effects. And you know what I tell them is we’re not looking for the judges to tell me how strong something is.

I get the potency values from the lab. So I know how strong those are. When I say effects I’m asking the judges, you know, you’re a sativa judge. Is it a sativa? Does it belong in this category? Does it have a real uplifting high? Does it cut right through? How does it make you feel? So it’s a bit objective, you know, in that regard. And so we don’t want one judge versus another judge trying to tell us this is stronger than the others. We don’t want any of that. We just want to know how do you feel and does it do the job. Is it an indica? Is it a sativa? And then once they put in all of their lab scores, I’m sorry, once they put in all of their scores at the end of the week I get the lab results. I put those into the system. The lab results account for 30 percent and the judges’ scores count for 70 percent.

So the system will average all of the judges scores. And then we’ll add in the lab values and the system will score those. And you get a total score out of 100 points. And so really it’s pretty dialed in at this point. I mean we incorporate everything now from THC to CBD to terpenoids, residual solvencies for concentrates. And we show that to the judges at the end. What we’ll do is have a meeting at the end of the week. The judges will all come. They’ll sit down with their group. There’s usually about somewhere between 5 and 7 judges for each category and we sit down and we show them the results from the score book system. We give them the top five. We don’t consider anything outside of the top five, but we do allow the judges to judge to pose the positioning of those strains. The only caveat is that whatever came in first place has to place, and we do that because we put a high value and emphasis on the human element.

You know when we started these Cannabis Cups they were, in the United States anyway, they were Medical Cannabis Cups. So they really were about the patient. They really were about the product, and we didn’t want the lab values skewing that too much. So as a safeguard we have these judges meetings. And it’s a real nice evening for all the judges. We typically run about 70 to 80 judges per Cannabis Cup. We have a nice dinner on the Friday night before the event. The event expo starts on Saturday. All the judges come. They bring (15.35 Plus One) and we get it catered. And we just do breakout sessions and we break them into their groups, and we sit down and we pick the winners.

And it’s really a great process, and what I love about it is there’s a lot of transparency. Everything I just told you is sent to all the competitors so they know how the competition works. We publish it online. And then what we do is if you win a Cannabis Cup, we invite you to come and judge a Cannabis Cup at the next one. And even if you don’t win, you don’t have to. If you just came to us and said hey I’m a competitor. I entered in Los Angeles and Seattle and I’m thinking about coming to Amsterdam, can I be a judge? Fuck yeah, you can be a judge. Come out to Amsterdam, see our process, you know, see it from the other side. See how we do it. You know with any competition at the end when the people think they should have won and they don’t there’s a lot of naysaying. There’s a lot of rumors that go around. And we work very hard to bring integrity to the Cannabis Cup and make it a fair competition. And it’s the best and it’s the biggest in the world. I know there’s a lot of competitions out there these days that try to do similar things, and I support everyone in doing that. I’m a bit bias, ours is the best.

Matthew: Wow that’s an amazing amount of detail and work that goes into it. I’m glad you shared that. I don’t know how many people really know how in depth it goes, but I’m glad there really is a process. And you mentioned how the Cannabis Cup started in Amsterdam. Actually Arjan Roscam was on the show and he shared how when the Cup came there it really changed the whole course of history for him. Similar to how when your article came out about the Samsung and the snake and everything, his whole life changed with the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. So that’s fascinating.

Nico: Arjan’s been there from the beginning. Him and Falco and Greenhouse are great supporters. I actually did hear a little bit of that interview you did and it was excellent. I applaud really Matt your reach and the people you get to come on the show. It’s a great archive and history of our industry.

Matthew: Thank you. Is there anything entrants into the Cannabis Cup can do to increase their chances of winning even if that’s just eliminating stupid mistakes or little things, little pitfalls they might encounter?

Nico: Yeah there are a couple of things that I tell people. The first mistake people make is that they think that the strongest cannabis is going to win and that’s absolutely not true. We get lab values these days that hit in the high 20s, you know, 27, 28. I think I had a 29 percent in Denver this past April. While those are nice, they don’t win. What usually wins is somewhere in the high teens, low 20s, but what wins is taste. Flavor is paramount. And so there’s two things I tell competitors that they can do in this regard, and the first is obviously make sure you flush your crop at the end. And I’m a big believer in a solid two week flush. No nutrients. I might even go three weeks depends on if I’m doing organics or not.

The second is obviously cure. You know don’t bring anything that’s going to be too wet or too fresh and not burn right because the judges, I mean, they’re sophisticated. These are experts we pick from a large database now of judges. We have over 1,000 in it, and they’re all experts from the industry. So you know if they roll up a joint and it doesn’t burn white at the tip and it gets all kind of black and resin-y and cloudy, you know, that’s not going to win. And then as far as taste goes I have to say the competition has really opened my eyes because from the score book the database we’ve created and how much info we have I get to go back and really analyze the winning strain.

We have the competitors fill our entry forms of their entry everything from did you grow from seed or clone, what nutrients did you use, what medium did you use, lighting, indoor/outdoor. You name it, we have the info on every strain that’s entered. And so when we get the winners I get to go back and I really get to correlate all of that data, and I can tell you that a majority of the winners are grown organically.

Matthew: Wow that’s great to know.

Nico: Yeah isn’t that something? Not to give a shameless plug to my ole buddy Kyle Christian, but his new veganic nutrient line has produced, you know, I mean quite a few winners and a couple at every Cup. And so much so that I’ve started using it, and the organic and the veganic stuff just really brings out that flavor. You might not get as big of yield I guess, but when you’re growing a specialized crop for a competition, that’s what I would recommend.

Matthew: You bring up a good point here. It’s not about THC concentration. It’s about flavor, but there’s a few objective things that get measured; THC, CBD. What do you think the next thing that everybody’s going to want to see measured is?

Nico: That’s a great question. We just had a long talk at the office last week about this. Someone was asking me about CBDs and they were saying, how much THC do you need with CBD or do you need any THC to activate the CBD. And we had this whole long conversation, and at the end of it I said, you know, what’s funny about this conversation is that next year it will be about a different cannabinoid, and the year after that it will start to be about specific terpenoids. And after that it will be the entourage effect that we hear so much about which is how various cannabinoids and terpenoids interact to create an effect. And then once we get passed that and we figure out those different combinations, then it’s going to be how do those combinations react in each individual person’s chemotype.

So this question is immensely interesting and it is the question because what I think it shows is that this is just the tip of the iceberg here Matt, what you’re asking about. And the reason for that and the problem is that we don’t have a federal legalization bill here in this country, and so that stymies any legitimate and long term research we can do in this regard. I mean we’ve known about CBD for quite a few years now. But it’s really just coming into the mainstream, and the politicians are getting into it and doctors are getting into it. But those kind of people who aren’t in our industry with us here every day, you know, they don’t know about CHCV or A. They don’t know about terpenoids. They don’t know about mercene. They don’t know about the various effects of these other things. And then the combination of those therein.

Yeah I think the future, to answer your question more specifically, I think the future is going to push more into terpenoids because terpenoids and flavonoids produce that flavor which is really, that’s the selling point in these dispensaries and you know, in terms of marketability. All these strains are strong. You know, they’re all going to get you high. So it’s going to come down to what’s your palate, what’s your preference, what’s your taste, what’s your flavor and that’s very marketable. Oh you know, I like grape and I like blueberry and bubble gum. Who knows, you know this banana craze and the Tangie [ph] and all this stuff. So terpenoids I think is where you’re going to see it go. The question is when, how long is it going to take us to get there, and how much research is going to be allowed on this front.

Matthew: Switching gears a little bit, what is the Cannabis Genetics Institute? What are you doing there?

Nico: The Cannabis Genetic Institute, CGI we’re calling it for short, it’s a side project of mine, my latest side project. And, you know I’ve taken a little bit of a break from doing the videos in my spare time, and I decided to try my hands in genetics. So I have to say first that I’m very lucky to have a great partner in this endeavor who is one of our popular writers at High Times in Amsterdam, Mr. Harry Resin, who has moved his family from Amsterdam. And he and I together with a few of our other partners we’ve built the Cannabis Genetic Institute and it’s out in California.

It’s in its infancy so I don’t want to say too much about it. We haven’t really launched it publicly, but the aim of it is for it to be a place of education, research and development for cannabis genetics. It’s something that’s not about money. It’s certainly not about awards. I mean as far as your typical C companies and stuff like that, I could never enter a Cannabis Cup or anything of the sort. So it’s not about any of that. It’s purely about the plant and about people, about educating and about helping readers and about really reinvigorating the cannabis gene pool which is a concern of mine. It’s kind of my cannabis philanthropy if you will.

I saw a documentary I guess, you know, years back and it was about the Svalbard Seed Bank, the doomsday seed bank up there in Norway that has every conceivable plant and flower and botanical variety in seed form up there frozen. And I thought we need that for cannabis, you know. I’ve heard that there’s cannabis in that vault and I’m sure there’s hemp and whatnot, but that’s how this idea spawned, and I thought okay well I have quite a collection of genetics. We just started launching some cryo preservation freezers and started storing seeds, and that evolved into getting, we’re building a testing facility, that evolved into doing some breeding work.

And so that’s kind of where we are now. We have a good group of people in there. We lit the facility I guess maybe eight months ago. So we’re just in the beginning of our testing and our selections and I hope, Matt, that it becomes a… not a, I mean, an institute for sure, an institution, but not like a college, but a place for collaboration. A place where, you know, I obviously have a lot of contacts and access within the industry and a lot of good friends. It seems like all of my friends are breeders in the industry. So I hope it’s a place where we can all come together and do good things for the cannabis community.

Matthew: How do you feel about genetic versus environmental effects, and what traits are you measuring and most interested in?

Nico: Well they say the equation for a phenotype is simply genotype plus environment. So what that basically tells us is that you grow ten seeds, you get ten different phenotypes, a lot of that is a environmental factor. So while the genetics play a huge role it really depends on where you are in the lineage meaning what generation you are, how many crosses, how many back crosses and how stable you can get something meaning will it show the traits that you think it will show or will it show variation. And for me what I’m looking for is I’m looking for variation at this point. Every good breeder out there is looking for that diamond in the rough which is the mutant phenotype. If you want to create something new or you want to find something new you got to make crosses, and you got to get offspring and you got to grow them out and do a mass selection and really look for something different.

And that’s part of the problem these days is that everything has become a clone only strain. And what’s essentially happening is we’re losing the males. We’re losing that Y chromosome, and so that’s why you hear like oh man can I get seed to that, and they say oh it’s only clone only. And while you live on the other side of the country and now you have figure out how to ship some cuttings across the country or something like that, and it’s sad. It’s sad because that means that we don’t have the male for that plant anymore. And if you think back way back to our father’s generation and you think of the Tie Stick and the Maui Wowie and some of these legendary strains, we don’t have them anymore. You know, you might find them somewhere, but they’re not the same, and it’s because they’ve been bred out and nobody’s kept the males. So that’s part of the mission at CGI and that’s what I’m looking for when it comes to new phenos and genetic drift and stuff like that.

Matthew: So you gave us a sense there a little bit about seeds and seed versus clone, but do you think more people should be growing from seed? Do you think it’s a problem to be growing so much from clone and just getting away entirely from seeds just because it’s faster?

Nico: I think there’s a definite place for both. And I’m not sure that it’s faster. I think with the cloning, you know, you might save a week or two. But I think there’s pros and cons for both. Obviously if you’re a commercial grower and you’re doing something in large format, you know, cloning is just a lot easier. It’s the way to go. You have consistency and uniformity in your crop and that’s important. But as you know at the same time I’ve seen people growing from clones for, you know, the same clone for ten years. You know what I mean. They’re making clone mothers from clones and then taking clones of that clone mother and make another clone mother. Before you know it they’re at F20 or F25 Generation, you know. And there’s a big debate amongst growers and breeders about genetic drift and meaning what happens after you know ten years of not reinvigorating a strain with new genetics.

And so that’s what we call hybrid vigor, and that’s what you get with seeds. So aside from just the male/female issue and losing that Y chromosome, I think that using seed can really be an interesting way for growers to get something new and reinvigorate their gardens. I don’t think people really look at it that much. You have a lot of smaller home hobbyists and stuff who don’t want to be bothered with throwing down seeds and sexing from male female and then of course now you have feminized seeds which is basically why that revolution started was from a marketing standpoint and salability. But we’re in danger. I’m not saying we’re in grave danger of losing strains or the gene pool going stagnant. But if a hundred years ago we had started to think about global warming then we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in today. But we only started thinking about global warming 20 years ago. So I look at seed versus clone as the same thing. We’re not in a dire situation. I’m not opposed to clones. I use clones all the time as well. We better start thinking about what we’re doing now so that in 50 years we’re not like oh shit, you know, everything is so G Kush.

Matthew: What excites you in terms of horticulture technology that’s out there right now?

Nico: All of it, Matt really, you know, I love technology especially as a component of science because science is what begets progress plain and simple. And that’s, you know, I’m all about the evolution of the plant and the evolution of our laws and the evolution of the interaction of the plant which humans and technology is the cornerstone of that. So I get excited when I see new technology coming into our space because that tells me you know the industry is legitimizing. People are less afraid, companies, manufacturers are less afraid to market to our industry. So those are all good signs.

But what I like the most, I suspect you already know the answer to this, is indoor lighting. I don’t know, I just got into this. It’s the one little niche of cultivation that really struck me years back. And at the time I didn’t think that it would become this platform that I talk on all the time, but it has. It’s something I find extremely interesting especially with the advent of new lighting technology. I actually just finished, probably, I’m going to say one of, if not, the best feature that I have ever done for High Times in ten years and it will be out this summer in the magazine. And it’s all about the new technologies in horticultural lighting, and it covers all the new technologies such as LEDs, plasma lamps, ceramics, the new digital HPS systems. I mean you name it, we got it and we tested it.

We went out and we bought some real expensive scientific equipment to measure the light, a radio spectrometer. I’m sorry a spectroradio meter. I’m dyslexic there. And you know it takes measurements of the light. It gives you the whole spectro chart. It gives you the intensities. And it’s just something that I find to be just fascinating which is photo synthesis which is how plants harvest light energy, and you know create food from it. And then when you take that inside and you just think about light as an artificial sun and how we’re replicating these natural processes indoors and it all starts with lighting, I mean I just geek out on it. I think it’s cool stuff.

Matthew: There’s a lot of people that are really polarized on the topic of LED versus traditional lighting. Where do you stand on that?

Nico: You know in the beginning when these came out, I obviously wasn’t a very big fan of it. High Times as a magazine took a different stance. It’s a bit of a war there in house, but it’s become a big part of the industry that we can’t ignore. And I think that since the time maybe four or five years ago when it first came out until now it’s advanced a lot and it’s made a lot of leaps in terms of the LED technology. But when it comes to lighting, you know, we have to look at light or full spectrum light as nutrition for a plant.

Full spectrum is like taking a multivitamin, and plants need the full spectrum. And there’s a lot of science out there and I won’t get too technical, but there’s a lot of science out there and it likes to break down into its color frequencies. And so you see that a lot with LEDs. And you see just the red and the blue and there’s a lot of arguments for that. And to a certain extent they make sense. Plants process and absorb different wavelengths of spectrum and color differently, but they also use them differently and they each have their own place in those physiological and biological processes. And that’s the part that people don’t realize, and I try to talk on that a lot especially when I do these seminars at our Cannabis Cups, but you know. I tested and you will see in this article when it comes out, I think it’s out in August. There was an LED that came in second in our trials, two months ago when we did it at CGI.

That LED lamp, it produced a white light. You know, or whiter. It wasn’t this pink or purple hue and it was very strong and it really had a very broad spectrum and it was nice. And it’s something I can actually say wow you know, I would use that, but at the same time, that lamp costs $1,600. It uses nearly as much power has an HID lamp does and it creates just as much heat. So those were the initial benefits for LEDs was that they ran cooler and used less power. Well the truth is if you want to LEDs up to an HPS or MH type standards, you’re going to lose those benefits. So it will be interesting to see how the industry goes with that, but I don’t think LEDs are going to take over. I think really the future lies in some of these newer technologies. I was impressed with the ceramics, of course the Gavita bulbs are the new HPS, the digital HPS systems are great. And plasmas are starting to come along. So I think that’s what you’re going to be seeing more of in the near future.

Matthew: Great summary. It sounds like the consumer wins here with all of this incredible competition going on.

Nico: That’s true.

Matthew: So I want to get into some practical tips for new growers. There’s a lot of new growers coming online in Nevada, Oregon, even still here in Colorado, but in other states they’re starting to come online. They have a lot of capital but they’re trying to get seasoned growers to help them, but they’re going to make mistakes. If you were to walk into a commercial grow for someone that’s doing it for the first time, what mistakes would you typically see?

Nico: You know I think one of the biggest mistakes that new growers make is in their feeding programs, in their watering and feeding programs. You know of course there’s a lot of over and under watering. And that’s tough because there’s not a real good template that’s standardized for just any grower. It depends on your environment. It depends on your guard and your system, your lighting and all of that, how much water your plants are going to need.

Then more so than that the feeding program, and by feeding I simply mean your nutrient solutions. So you have water, and then when you feed you have your water mixed with nutrients. And I think that right there is probably the biggest mistake. And that isn’t necessarily the grower’s fault. It’s the manufacturer of these nutrients faults because they people, the growers they just read the instructions on the bottle, but those instructions are wrong. You know it’s in the benefit of a nutrient manufacturer for you to use those nutrients as quickly as possible and then go an buy their nutrients again.

So I tell growers you know if you’re going to go buy the bottle, you know, whatever that dosage is those instructions are, half it. You know if it says use X amount, use half of X because you can always add more. But once you get into over fertilizing, that really creates a whole new host of problems that a new grower will not be able to handle. And basically what can happen is, especially with the synthetic nutrients is you over fertilize and you create what’s called nutrient lockup down in your root zone. That’s a buildup of the salts that the synthetic nutrients are really made of, and they kind of bind down in your medium and they prevent your root zone from uptaking any nutrients, and that’s also why flushing is very important.

Now you should always do a fresh water flush once a week just to clean out your medium and get all that residual nutrients out of there. So when I come into grow rooms you know with new growers and they have discolorations and they have fatigued plants and drooping plants and stuff, they say yeah you know I mean I have this nutrient deficiency so I gave it more. And then that didn’t work. So I gave it even more. The problem is just that. You’re giving it too much, and you created nutrient lockup in your root zone. And so it doesn’t matter how much you give it, it’s not getting into the plant.

And so with nutrients less is more, and there’s this formula, it’s called a Lucas Formula which growers can go and Google and look up. And it basically describes how to take a minimalistic approach in your nutrient program. And that’s probably the biggest thing I think for new growers is trying to really feel that situation out.

Matthew: What about let’s say adolescent growers, growers that have been at it for a while. They’re feeling confident in their skills but they may have developed some bad habits. Do you see any bad habits that kind of across the board wherever you go where people are doing a certain thing. They’re having a successful harvest, but they’re making a couple mistakes and they’re not really aware of it.

Nico: I like to write a lot about this. For your average grower, it’s an often overlooked topic but it’s pretty simple, and it’s just pruning. Pruning, topping and trellising and they all kind of interconnect. What a lot of growers don’t realize is that you know when you go in and you have a plant that’s halfway through its life cycle, and you see those real big fan leaves, especially on the lower half of the plant, those should be removed. About halfway through a leaf’s lifecycle, when it gets really big like the size of your hand or whatever, it’s actually using more energy than it’s creating for the plant. And this is even more true the later you get in flowering and you even begin to see some of that yellowing and purpling in the petioles and stuff, those leaves need to be removed.

Every gardener should have a daily pruning program meaning they should go into garden and they should be taking several leaves off of a plant each day. Not too many leaves. I’m talking about you know, just a handful four or five, six leaves. Usually from the lower half of the plant where the growth is older, leave the newer growth at the top alone. That’s not going to shock the plant. It’s not going to stress it out or anything. The plant is not going to try to regrow those lower chutes or lower leaves. It’s just going to take that new energy that it was using and try to sustain that leaf, and it’s going to bring it to the top of the plant. All the energy is going to go to the top of the plant. And of course that’s where the top colas are and the flowers are forming, and that’s where you want the energy. You want the energy going into yields and into potency and into trichome production. So what I tell people all the time is a rigorous pruning program is one of the best things you can do for a plant. In fact I will go so far as to say that the bottom third of your plant that should be empty. I mean it looks unnatural I know that, and it requires time and it’s laborious, but taking that bottom third off and really just letting the top half of that plant flourish is one of the best things you can do for your plant.

Matthew: So that kind of goes against perhaps grower’s instincts where they say oh it looks unsightly or seems unnatural but you’re saying that produces the best harvest.

Nico: Yeah I mean people are afraid to cut the plant. You know, we forget that out in nature everything goes back to Mother Nature in how these plants are. I mean in a rain storm, a regular rainy day with some wind, you know it can lose an entire branch. And I’m not saying that you should take off branches, you know, start with the leaves. Take off the lower chutes when they’re still just coming out. Don’t go in there and take off a whole branch unless of course you have some mold or something awful going on with it. Because even then it can handle it. But if you use a good pruning technique in conjunction with a trellising system meaning just like some mesh netting or something that you put over the canopy and you take off the bottom portions, you take off the yellowing and the big leaves, and you take the new growth and you really spread it out using that trellis and you pull it through the netting, you’re going to get such great light penetration. You’re going to get extra support for your branches. You’re going to direct all that energy that would otherwise be wasted on that lower half of the plant with those little popcorn buds and stuff, and that’s how you’re going to get those nice big cola developments at the top.

Matthew: I’ve watched a lot of your videos where you’re travelling around the world and going to different places. You know on your international travels have you noticed any best practices from cultivators that you’ve turned around and use here in North America or maybe you can tell some North American grower some things you’ve seen outside the U.S. that they can use here, some techniques or ideas.

Nico: That’s an interesting question. I have to say I’m surprised I’m saying this, but the best outdoor gardens that I have seen are in the United States in Northern California. And I say I’m surprised because I have seen a lot of excellent stuff outside of the country, stuff that I mean, like Morocco. I’ve been out to the Rist Mountains, and I’ve been up in Tatyana, and I’ve also been out in the vast country in Northern Spain. I’ve been out in Switzerland. I’ve been out in British Columbia and seen huge huge grows in the rainforest there on Vancouver Island. And I’ve also been in Northern California in Mendocino and I have to say, I mean the biggest and best plants I’ve ever seen have been up there in Humboldt and Mendocino.

Matthew: Perfect weather.

Nico: What’s that?

Matthew: Perfect weather out there.

Nico: Oh geeze I know. If you think that they can grow those giant sequoias and redwoods within that climate, you can probably grow a huge plant. But no I mean I think, you know, it was funny because in Morocco for instance, they may have been doing it out there longer than us, but at the same time they’re very traditional and they’re set in their ways. And so there’s very little sexing of the plants, and there’s very little pruning. So when you go up there all the trees, all the cannabis trees are just, you know, they look like just spears coming out of the ground with one big pot cola. There’s hardly any branches and then when they cut them down, they take them and they drag them all out into the sun and make a big pile and just let them cure and bake right there in the sun. And they have all these weird practices.

And then when you go out to Mendo, you know, they have a 40,000 square foot warehouse, tin frame that they built on the side of a mountain and it’s just holding you know 1,100 pounds of primo cannabis. It’s a big difference than what you see outside of the country versus here. I think that the biggest thing though is that outside of the country when I do see growers they’re not afraid to go big, wherever they’re doing it, they’re pretty comfortable whether it’s legal or not, they’re pretty comfortable with what they’re doing. I’ve seen probably bigger plants I will say outside of the country than I have in the United States. And I’m not sure if that’s because security measures here and people are afraid of getting busted or if it’s just because growers outside of the country in other countries are you know just going for it and just letting the plants go wild so to speak and you’re getting these 14, 15, 16 foot plants. But I mean I’ve seen plants, or trees I should say that yield 10 pounds.

I think that part of the problem outside of the country is money and technology. The growers in Northern California and in Colorado I’ve seen some nice grows outside in Colorado in greenhouses. We have the money here in this country to implement automated irrigation systems, you know, whereas if you go down to Mexico, I mean you’re lucky if you find a hose running through the field with some holes punctured in it. Whereas over here each plant site has four spray emitters staked into the ground with spaghetti lines all nicely spread out. You have natural spring reservoirs with 50,000 gallons of spring water in them. Outside of the country, you know, a lot of these countries are third world that do this and that’s why they’re doing this. They’re growing cannabis because they’re poor and they’re making hash out of it, and they’re exporting it to countries like Amsterdam or the United States or whatever where there is more money. So I have to say the outdoor scene in our country is pretty impressive.

Matthew: You seem like you’re always learning. What from the genetics and photobiology side of things are most interesting to you that listeners might find helpful.

Nico: From the genetics standpoint, I mean, and this often goes back to some of the questions you asked earlier about the Cannabis Cup and about the competition, helping entrants. You know you can only do so much as a great grower. If your genetics are crap, you know that’s half the dial right there. So starting with good genetics is the key. Now people are saying well how do you know that you have good genetics, especially if you don’t have access to clones, if you don’t live in Colorado or California and you don’t have dispensaries, you have to rely on seeds.

That is a problem and that is something that we also want to work on at CGI which is the certification of seeds and certification of strains so people know what they are getting. But I find that the genetic side of things is paramount in terms of what’s the most important when you’re starting out. You know people will say is it indoor versus outdoor or is it technology or my grow medium or my grow system. The first and foremost you need good genetics. At CGI we like to work, we’re working with a lot of land raised stuff and I have a lot of seeds from the mountains of Tatyana and a mountain found in Mexico and stuff I feel is a true land raised pure sativa or pure indica. And then we put it in what I like to think is a great garden you know filled with the best, greatest, latest technologies and everything. And you can only get those strains to go so far.

I mean even the best version of a Mexican or a Moroccan is going to be, you know, and that’s grown I would like to think pretty well is going to be only half as good as some of these new hybrids that we have out there. So genetics goes a long way.

Matthew: Now you’re a New York native. How do you feel about how medical marijuana is being rolled out in New York. If I have it correctly I think there’s going to be five licenses and of those five that will entitle each of the winners four dispensaries. So we have 20 dispensaries for 20 million people in New York. I mean aside from just a numbers problem, how do you feel about in general how it’s being rolled out there?

Nico: I have a lot of problems with a lot of these medical laws in these states and it’s because the people writing the laws, the legislators they just don’t understand what they’re talking about. They don’t understand the plant. They don’t understand the science. They don’t understand horticulture. I think in New York they made some kind of weird law where I think you can’t even… the cannabis can’t even be smoked. It can only be vaporized I’m pretty sure. And all of these people who are awarded the licenses they have to grow their own so there’s no outside growing like there is in California or Colorado.

So as you said there’s definitely a problem with the numbers there. But I think they look at it more as this is a starting point and if all things go according to plan and go well, they will expand it. So I’m not too concerned on that front, but what I’m concerned about is you say something like well we’re going to be progressive and we’re going to be ahead of the curve on this, and we’re going to say there can’t be any smoking. Smoking is bad and it’s unhealthy, and so we’re going to vaporize.

So now these guys don’t even know that what they are essentially you know wrote a bill for was concentrates which means all of the flowers. You know they don’t even get it. You know all of the flowers now have to be, you know, blasted and extracted and turned into concentrates. They don’t even understand what kind of regulation that’s going to require and with these facilities and how dangerous that can be. And then how do you really expect people to consume that? So what you think that vaporizing that these vape pens that everyone is using we think that that’s healthier than smoking cannabis in a joint. You know I’ve got news for you, it’s not. These pens all come from the same two or three factories in China. There’s no sort of regulation on how they’re manufactured, what kind of chemicals and lubricants and all that kind of stuff is used in these factories on these parts. And then we go and we have these heating elements that are not titanium or medical grade ceramic or anything of the sort. We’re applying our concentrates directly on the heating element, and they’re oxidizing. We’re breathing in all kinds of chemicals and fumes.

So this is something that, you know, here’s some politician in Albany and you think okay you know I’m smart. I’m going to write this law, be progressive and the voters are going to vote for me. And he doesn’t even know half of the things that I just said. And then what really irks me is that when people like myself are Danny Danko or people at High Times, you know, we try to reach out sometimes in our home states to these people and say listen I would be happy to consult and do it pro bono and come and sit while you try to formulate these bills and legislation. And they look at us and they laugh. You know they say, we don’t want to talk to a guy from High Times or whatever. And then they go off and they write these bills and they look like clowns.

It really irks me Matt, you know, I could go on forever about it, but you know then you look at a place like Colorado which really has it dialed in. Which really has it regulated, and yeah I mean I know there’s been bumps in the road and everything there’s going to be, but there’s a template right there. There’s a model in Colorado. I mean I would love it all to just be more like California, but you know see that’s the problem is that everybody is definitely afraid. They don’t want to be the next California. They think god California (56.47 shot the bed) and all those hippies are burnt out out there and they don’t know what they’re doing and it’s a free for all. And you know what it might be a free for all out there, but let me ask you something, are there any problems in California regarding cannabis? You know, are kids smoking cannabis more, no. Is there crime, no. You know are people dying from weed overdoses, no. So here’s the politicians and they think they know better and they don’t.

Matthew: Now here’s another New York question for you before we close. I’ve walked around Manhattan quite a bit and every place says they have the original number one New York style pizza. And I’m like how can they all be number one. Which one is the true number one New York City pizza?

Nico: You know I had this same debate with my wife except that it’s over Chinese food because no matter what city I go to there’s a number one Chinese restaurant. And so I’m confused, which one is really number one. I don’t know.

Matthew: Maybe you should start the Chinese Food Cup. There you go.

Nico: I think we’ve had that behind the scenes actually. There’s a lot of munchies going on. About the pizza, I tell people. There’s a chain in New York. It’s called Ray’s Pizza. Okay. If you want a regular, old slice of pizza that’s really true gritty New York, go to a Ray’s Pizza, and I promise you you won’t be disappointed. It’s not artisanal, it’s not gourmet or anything like that. Okay, it’s just your basic New York Style pizza, and whatever it is that makes New York Pizza the best, they boiled it down I think from all the ingredients because they tried to replicate it elsewhere in the country. So all they can really ascertain is that it must be the water. It must be something in the water is what they always say that makes the dough or the flavor. I don’t really think that’s true but that’s what they say. And so you can get a decent slice of pizza at any Ray’s. But if you want, if you really want to know.

Matthew: Okay we do.

Nico: The real deal is a place called Grimaldi’s Pizza, and you will find that only in Brooklyn and Hoboken so you have to cross one of the rivers, and it’s not far, but it’s this old kind of family run. I think there’s maybe only two or three Grimaldi Pizza shops in existence. And that is a bit more or a gourmet, but New York Style Pizza. So that would be my recommendation.

Matthew: That’s great. I’m writing it down. It’s going to go on the list. Well Nico in closing how can listeners follow your work online and read more about you?

Nico: Pick up a copy of the magazine, always on newsstands. Also carried at Barnes and Nobel. Check me out on You know I do a Q&A there. I put up some features. We republish old articles there. And just now I’ve been told I’m starting to become an old man, and I need to get more current. So I’m on social media now. And I do the Twitter and the Instagram @Nico_Escondido and there’s a lot of photos and little tips an stuff on cultivation up on there. And as everyone at High Times, and before we close I just want to give a shout out to everyone at High Times. As you know we are now in our 41st year. We’ve been around. We’re not going anywhere and the people there, my colleagues are great and they’re good friends, they’re good people and they believe in the plant. So I just want to thank all your listeners and thank you for supporting all of us over the years in everything we do. And you know just remember to grow and help the world grow too.

Matthew: Awesome, great closing. Well Nico thanks so much for being on CannaInsider today. We really appreciate it.

Nico: Absolutely. I had a great time. Thanks for having me Matt.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at What are the five major trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on, simply send us an email at feedback at We would love to hear from you.