I do not have a particularly green thumb. Any gardening success I’ve had—mostly with the pots of cherry tomatoes and herbs on my patio—has been due to good luck and strong sun.
I’m a lazy gardener, not a farmer. This is the same approach I’m taking to growing my own weed.
For the last year or so in Los Angeles, I’ve enjoyed legal access to marijuana. It’s easy enough to go to a dispensary or get it delivered. But you know what might be more fun? Growing it—and spring 2018 seems just the time to give it a go. (Here in California, adults over 21 can grow up to six plants at home for personal use, so long as they’re locked up and not publicly visible. Several US states and Washington, DC have similar laws.)
“You don’t have to have a gigantic grow room, or a huge outdoor cannabis farm,” says Grace Olivia Hicks, the co-founder of Green Carpet Growing, a San Diego, CA-based cannabis cultivation consultancy. “Cannabis doesn’t have to be far away—it’s within reach now and it’s also legally acceptable.”
Still, it’s not quite so easy as plopping a pot of basil on the windowsill. Yes, it’s called “weed” because it grows like one, but cannabis is a complicated plant, and its cultivation has many steps where things can go wrong.
“It’s like a recipe,” says Hicks. “There are certain parts that have to be done correctly and at a certain time to get you from point A to point B to have product at the end.” (See: Willamette Week’s accidental “Pot Massacre of 2017” due to heat and over-fertilization.)
If you live in a place where it’s legal, here are some basics to know before you get started:
Just like those of us planting tomatoes in the spring, weed gardeners are faced with a choice between starting with seeds or small plants. In the cannabis world, many start with the sprouted cuttings commonly known as “clones.” While sprouting a seedling in a wet paper towel has its charm, clones leave far less margin for error.
What’s more, with a clone you can be sure you’re obtaining a female that will produce desirable flowers, also known as buds, if you play your cards right. (“Male plants are the bane of marijuana growers,” wrote Mel Frank in the Marijuana Grower’s Insider’s Guide. “They’re necessary for breeding and hybridizing, but otherwise they’re in the way.”)
In places where recreational marijuana growth is legal, you can find clones at cannabis nurseries, farmer’s markets, dispensaries, and even delivery services.
The resources for prospective pot growers today are incomprehensibly vast.
A recent search of WeedMaps, which is sort of like a cross between Seamless and Yelp for cannabis companies, showed that a clone of LA Confidential—a strain with a reputation for being easy to grow, according to the online resource Leafly—was available for delivery in Los Angeles for $12.
Once a person gets a plant, they can continue to read about how to cultivate it on Leafly or High Times, consult a go-to guide like Frank’s aforementioned Insider’s Guide, or even attend a workshop with the author himself, who occasionally teaches at Fig Earth Supply, a Los Angeles garden store. That’s not to mention the highly personalized consultancy services like those offered by Hicks at Green Carpet Growing.
All these resources can be overwhelming to the casual gardener, as they’re often geared toward those who are willing to invest lots of time, space, and money to harvest the highest yield possible: High Intensity Discharge lighting! Grow tents! Exhaust fans!
What if you just want the herbal equivalent of a handful of cherry tomatoes? “There’s nothing wrong with having a teensy tiny plant with buds on it,” says Hicks. “It’s cute, it’s ornamental, it’s fun.”
Rather than investing in a high-powered indoor setup, Hicks says using the natural power of the sun—either outdoors or on a sunny (but private) windowsill—is a good approach for the minimalist. And while many are particularly nervous when it comes to growing pot, looking at the plant itself will give you some guidance, Hicks says.
“A good window to the soul of your plant is to look at the leaves and know what’s going on,” she says. “It can be really difficult for people to trust what they see with their eyes when cannabis farming. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a plant that people who are growing it are so nervous to grow it… People don’t necessarily trust their instincts with cannabis, but they should.”
The quantity of light that cannabis is exposed to—also known as the photoperiod—will determine whether the plant enters its flowering phase. And because it’s an annual, you’re only going to get those flowers once. That’s why many growers try to save the flowering phase for when the plant is bigger and will produce more buds.
More than 16 hours a day of light will keep plants in their vegetative state, when they’re growing stronger and bushier without producing flowers. So if you wanted your outdoor plant to get a little bigger before it flowers, you might prolong its vegetative state by bringing it into a warm closet with the lights on every night.
Less than 12 hours of light a day will trigger the plant’s flowering phase. So, if you wanted to force a plant to flower, you should time its exposure accordingly. Or, just wait a few months until the days grow shorter, and let nature run its course.
Depending on where you live, if you got a healthy clone from a dispensary today, there’s nothing to say you couldn’t just plant it in nutrient-rich soil in a sunny spot, and have flowers in the fall. By then, you will have read all about how to harvest, dry, and cure them.
And if you fail miserably, just think of it like growing your own veggies. Sometimes gardening is a disappointing heartbreak. But it’s still fun, and you can always buy your kale at the store. And once in a while, you get to have your own homegrown tomatoes, warmed from the sun, sliced and salted on sourdough toast.