By Old Hippie
Growing your own gives you the chance to obtain exactly the right kind for your own medical conditions, secure in the knowledge that nothing bad has been added to it. Once you start harvesting from even a small grow operation, you may never have to buy medicine from a dispensary again! You’ll save money, though you’ll still probably end up spending some, especially getting started (see Supplies You’ll Need at bottom). We can all but guarantee you’ll end up with several ounces of high-grade medicine for your trouble.
Each month, we’ll give you the information you need to keep going, assuming you start along with us in this issue. We’ll help you learn how to make your plants grow, fight off bugs and the dreaded powdery mildew, get your plants to flower, and keep it all stealthy. And by the fall, we’ll take you through the harvest and curing. But you’ll have to smoke it yourself
We’re assuming, for simplicity and otherwise, that you’re a legal medical marijuana patient in California, you’ve never done this before, and that even though it’s generally state-legal for you to grow your own, you’d still like to avoid unwanted attention from law enforcement and possible ripoff artists alike. Yes, you can grow safely, even in an apartment, if you’re careful. And you can probably get started within 24 hours from right now.
We’re also going to focus on growing your plants using a simple, reliable method in good old soil, rather than using hydroponics, since discussing the different methods of hydroponics alone could easily fill several articles this size. Get your first complete growth cycle and harvest under your belt using soil, and you’ll see what kind of farmer you are.
If you’re careful while working with your plants, water, soil, and fertilizer every day, you’re a good candidate for hydroponics, which involves pumps, plastic tubing, and sloshy quantities of liquid nutrients inside your house. If you’re a laid-back type who doesn’t want to calculate critical dosages and such, you might be better off sticking to dirt. You can get good yields and great buds using either method.
If you’re growing outdoors, your job is easier, all you basically need are your starter plants, water, earth, and sunlight. Your biggest problem with growing outside is that people can often spot your plants unless you’re careful to hide them well inside privacy fencing and (preferably) among other plants. Take notice that in the flowering season, they will smell unmistakable to some, so this wouldn’t be a good idea in a crowded residential area. Nobody is likely to believe your story about breeding skunks, and they’re actually illegal as pets in California anyway.
If you’re growing the legal limit of plants for a single person (see Legality article), it’s unlikely that they’ll be spotted from the air by law enforcement, because they’re generally looking for much larger installations. Still, it never hurts to spread out the plants so that nobody will see that particular uniform green color usually associated with cannabis.
Growing indoors is what most people do, because it’s steathier, easier to control, and you can grow three or more harvests every year. If necessary, you can grow a couple of plants right inside a specially-equipped PC case or cabinet, on a few spare shelves, or in a small closet. The more room you have, the more (and bigger!) plants you can grow. The less room you have, the more problems you’ll have with heat and crowding. You’re better off with a few healthy plants than crowding the legal limit into a small space and have them all succumb to heat or stress.
We highly recommend using an empty closet for your first grow, if available. It provides plenty of room for you to work and grow 4 to 6 nice plants, enough air to help dissipate heat if you’re using 150 watts or less of grow lights, and a handy door to keep out prying eyes. Speaking of which, we also recommend you tell nobody about your new garden, no matter how much you may want to impress your friends. By the time the story gets around and changed, someone will think you’re growing 4 to 6 pounds of weed, and some kind of trouble will ensue.
There are four main stages of a cannabis garden: infancy, vegetative growth, flowering, and curing. This month, we’ll concentrate on getting your baby plants started and making ready for the next stage.
Those Adorable Baby Girls
There are basically two ways of getting starter plants: grow them from seeds or acquire clones. Seeds have the advantage of allowing you to select the exact genetics you’re looking for: indica, sativa, or hybrid strains (based on what medical symptoms you’re dealing with); growth patterns (some plants grow short and bushy and some tall; mixing them at the same time can be tricky); and seeds are often supplied by breeders on the cutting edge of genetics, giving you access to the latest advances.
Clones, on the other hand, allow you to buy a female baby plant that’s already growing and healthy, and take it home that same day. Top dispensaries often have a wide variety of clones available, though you may not always find the exact strain you’re looking for, so it helps to call ahead. Clones generally cost from $10 to $15 each, a bit more than seeds.
Even if you manage to find your favorite strain in either the seed or clone variety, we recommend growing a number of different strains your first time. Some strains or clone lines may be hardier or more resistant to certain plant diseases or pests than others, and this way you have more chances of making it all the way to harvest. In general, kushes tend to be very tough and easy to grow, so get some of those if you can.
To germinate seeds, soak them in a cup of water overnight, then lay them wrapped inside a moist paper towel for a few days until they develop tiny roots. Then carefully put them into the holes in individual rockwool cubes (root down!) and cover with shredded rockwool from the bottom of the cube. Keep this moist too. When it finally sprouts from the cube, your baby plant is ready for its close-up and can start being exposed to the bright lights (see below). When you see roots come from the cube, you should transplant it into soil. It will take 3 to 4 weeks for the roots to fully develop, so you’ll need patience.
Just taking a clone home from the store involves a certain amount of stress this time of year: it’s hot out! Either it will bake in your car, or it will get dried out by the air conditioner. So make sure you water it as soon as you get it home. Then put it in a low-stress location (not under powerful grow lights, but a T5 or single CFL is OK) for a day or two. After you’re sure it’s recovered, you should check the root ball by turning the plant upside down and gently pulling the cup off the soil (clones are traditionally grown and delivered in red 16 ounce Solo cups).
If the plant is rootbound, you’ll know because the roots will be curling around the bottom of the soil. That’s your signal to transplant it immediately to a larger pot so it has room to grow properly. Ideally, this should be a two- to three-gallon size. You can even use a plastic bucket, as long as it’s opaque, because if light gets through to the damp soil it could trigger algae growth, which is bad.
Once seedlings have roots, are a few inches tall, and well on their way, they’re miniature plants just like clones. In either case, you should gradually increase their exposure to higher light levels each day for a week or two. Always do this by bringing the light closer gradually; don’t change the amount of time it’s on, which should be 18 hours a day from the beginning until flowering time. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, until the plant becomes rootbound or starts growing so large that it’s clear it should be transplanted.
All About Soil And Pots For Your Pot
Plants need water, light, and nutrients to grow, and a medium to support their roots. Soil provides that medium as well as the nutrients, so it pays to use good soil. You also have to insure proper drainage and ventilation so that the roots can get air and don’t develop mold or “root rot”. So a proper pot for your pot is not a classic clay “flower pot” with a single small hole at the bottom, but a plastic one or a bucket that you can drill extra holes in. Use a 3/16” bit and do something like this:
That’s three or four holes on the bottom, and three or four more on the sides, just above the bottom. Now, pour the following into your pot, in this order (starting on the bottom):
• 1 inch of perlite (to enable drainage out and oxygen in)
• 2 inches of Miracle-Gro Moisture Control soil to buffer against too much or too little watering (optional, but recommended if you can’t tend your plants every day)
• Fill the rest with FoxFarm Ocean Forest soil (leaving room for the plant and root ball)
Even if you’re planting outdoors, you can treat the hole you dig in the earth like a large flower pot. Fill it with the same high-quality mix you’d use indoors, and your young plant will be assured of the proper nutrients and conditions for a good start in life.
It’s often said that cannabis prefers to be dried out periodically, but some people take this too far and the next thing they know, they’re looking at dead plants. What you want to do is water the soil very well, until you see water starting to come out the bottom drain holes. Then don’t water it again until the top half-inch of the soil is dry (although you should check each plant every day, since different strains use different amounts of water). That will give you the best balance between overwatering and underwatering.
Lights! Cannabis! Action!
If there’s any more contentious topic than soil vs. hydroponics, it’s what kind of lights to use for indoor growing. Let’s cover the basics quickly: you need a lot of light (measured in lumens) to grow plants inside, and generally the more the better. Lighting is relatively expensive – either to purchase or for the electricity to keep it running – and it generates heat, which is bad for both the plants (they won’t grow if it’s over 85°F) and for your house (you don’t want to start a fire). So generally people use one of three main approaches:
• Fluorescent lights run fairly cool, but don’t put out a huge amount of light. This can be counteracted by keeping them close to the plants. Their initial cost (at least for CFL bulbs) is minimal.
• HID (high-intensity discharge) lamps put out a lot of light, but generate a lot of heat. This can be counteracted by special lamp hoods and exhaust fans that remove the heat. Most HID lights cost well over $200, and they come in two main types: MH (metal halide) for vegetative growth and HPS (high-pressure sodium) for flowering.
•LED grow lights use very little electricity and generate almost no heat, but don’t put out a lot of light. This can be counteracted by using only LEDs whose wavelengths actually benefit the plant’s growth and flowering, and keeping the light very close to the plants. LED grow lights are generally the most expensive of all, but can pay for themselves over time in saved electricity.
All these choices are claimed to be “most efficient” by their proponents, and they’re all correct: HID lamps put out the most lumens per watt, fluorescents have the least initial cost per watt, and LEDs yield the most grams per watt.
If you’re growing inside a small cabinet, using a hot HID lamp is just asking for a fire; that’s a place for LEDs or fluorescents. Conversely, a large space can benefit greatly from HIDs, as long as you can get rid of the heat.
You can go all-fluorescent: a T5 light for gently raising seedlings and clones, a number of compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) in daylight (6500°K) and cool white (5000°K to 5400°K) for the vegetative (fast growth) stage, and warm white (2700°K) bulbs for flowering.
If you’re working in a relatively small but open space in an air conditioned house (like a half closet), you can probably get away with running the Sun System 4 150 watt HPS light with minimal extra ventilation (you’ll still need a small fan to keep the air moving). The wavelength of HPS is more suited to flowering, but this unit puts out so much light that it works for vegetative growth as well. Once you go to higher wattage than this, you’ll need a bigger space or exhaust fans, or both. Start small and your learning curve will be less expensive.
If you want more information, you can’t go wrong with any of the classic books, such as anything by Jorge Cervantes. Online, you can get good advice at microgrowery.reddit.com/, www.rollitup.org/forum/, and www.greenpassion.org/.
You can also benefit from the California Masters Gardeners Program, which is supported by your tax dollars and run by UC Davis, whose knowledge and leadership in agriculture is world-renowned. All counties in California have a local affiliated program of volunteers who will be happy to help you identify insect and other pests and how to safely kill them, how to fertilize, and so on. Just tell them you’re growing tomatoes, which is a very similar plant to cannabis in many ways, and you’ll be fine.
Supplies You’ll Need
Buckets or flower pots ($1 to $3 each, try a Dollar Store)
FoxFarm Ocean Forest soil ($10)
Extra for growing from seed: Rockwool cubes ($5)
Grow light system:
Good quality mechanical light timer ($10 to $25)
Sun System 4 150 watt HPS light ($75 to $140)
4-tube T5 fluorescent grow light bulbs and fixture ($70 to $130)
Custom CFL fluorescent bulb setup you make yourself ($40 to $70)
Safety chain and hooks to adjust height ($5 to $10)
Adjustable light hangers ($15 to $20)
Optional, But Recommended:
Superthrive ($5/bottle) – medicine for small or sick plants
Reflectix ($10 to $25) – to line bottom and/or sides of growing area to protect walls and floor and reflect light back at plants
24” T5 fluorescent grow light bulb and fixture ($25 to $40) – a low-stress light for baby or sick plants
Many growing supplies can be purchased at local hydroponics or garden stores even cheaper than online. Regular customers often get unadvertised discounts. You’ll also get anonymity if you pay cash, as well as valuable advice from experienced growers.