An easy guide to cannabis cultivation for the backyard farmer in you
Few things are more satisfying than growing your own stash. With any luck, Canadians will be able to legally grow recreational marijuana in their own backyards, maybe even by this spring with the feds expected to introduce legislation legalizing weed this week.
The federal government task force that submitted its report in December recommended allowing the personal cultivation of cannabis for non-medical purposes, to a maximum four plants per residence. They haven’t completely freed the weed, but you can still get high thinking about the savings from growing your own stone.
My local storefront dispensary sells dry leaf for $10 to $15 a gram. A single plant can yield about 125 grams on average, though double that and more is possible, which works out to a little less than a cool $2,000 you won’t have to spend on weed. The only investment you’ll need to make is for seeds going from $60 and up for a package of five that you can order online and have mailed to your door.
In advance of the happy day when Canadians can grow their own, here’s some basic advice on planting successfully outdoors. (Let’s leave indoor growing for another day.)
Don’t let males spoil the party
Pot plants are either male or female. For stoning purposes, you want female plants, and you don’t want them to make contact with male pollen. A female plant pollinated by a male stops producing THC (the ingredient that gets you high) and concentrates its energy instead on making seeds.
I recommend buying “feminized” marijuana seeds that grow female plants. If a male plant gets into your grow, yank it out and get it away from the females as soon as you can tell the difference, which will take a few weeks.
How to tell the difference: the female will develop two upraised feather-like stigmas that are usually white- or cream-coloured, generally found on the main stalk. The male plant grows little clusters of bell-like sacs that give off a yellow- coloured pollen.
Preparing your seeds for planting
Start in early April. First soak seeds in water over night. Then place the seeds between thick paper towels, lay them on a plate and cover with water. Place the plate in a warm, dark area and wait for the seeds to crack open. Good seeds can take two to seven days.
Let the taproot grow a little, up to 0.5 cm. Then carefully plant the seeds in a small container in no more than 1 cm of soil. When shoots appear, the seedlings need lots of light, about 16 hours a day, and it has to be of a decent intensity, so put them under a grow light. You want the seedlings to grow to no more than 10 cm, which means the lighting system needs to be elevated to maintain a healthy distance (about 95 cm) as the plants grow taller. Plan on keeping your seedlings under lights for 30 to 45 days before moving them outdoors.
Important tip: don’t just stick them on a windowsill. They’ll be too stringy and likely won’t survive the move outdoors. You want these babies to grow sturdy stalks with a robust root system. Use a plant starter fertilizer (with a 10-52-10 mix) to promote root growth, readily available at hardware stores and garden centres.
Tricks for the move outside
Your plants need a spot with good soil and full sun.
But before they go in the ground, you have to toughen them up. You do this by giving them short bursts of direct sunlight – a minute or two on the first day and five minutes on the second day. Keep your plant in a shady area outside after each dose.
On the third day, give the plants 10 minutes of direct light, 15 the next, 30 after that, and then your plants should be hardy enough to go into the ground.
It’s a good idea to transplant using a starter fertilizer again. Also, pot needs room to grow the more space you give it, the better the yield.
From here on in, the plants need regular watering (a couple of times a week should suffice). Pot plants do not like continuous irrigation, but at the same time you do not want the roots to dry out. Let the surface soil dry out to about a depth of 5 cm before watering.
In late June, you can apply a 20-20-20 fertilizer to stimulate vegetative growth, and again in mid-July. Then in mid-August I recommend using a fertilizer that promotes flowering (5-30-5). No more fertilizing after this point.
Depending on the variety, your plants should be ready to harvest sometime in September or early October. Leaves can be used for cooking and the buds for smoking.
Watch out for mould – and lilacs
After growing weed for more than 40 years, I still find new and unique problems. The pitfalls are too many to get into here, and besides, you’ll learn through experience. For example, I learned a couple of years back not to grow next to lilacs, which have a tendency to get mouldy toward the end of the summer and infect your weed. You should not smoke mouldy weed.
Secrecy is paramount
The biggest threat to a successful harvest is thievery. So you may need to trim the plant to a size that keeps it hidden or do your planting a little later in the year, on the first or second week of July so the plants will only grow to about 1 metre.
Alternatively, you can stake the plant’s branches to the ground and force them to grow sideways. Branches may splinter, but that’s totally cool as long as they stay connected to the rest of the plant. Hidden bonus: staking increases your plant’s exposure to sunlight, and that means higher yields.
Drying your buds
Do this on drying racks in a warm, dry and airy location indoors, making sure to give the buds lots of room. Pack them too tight during the drying process and you risk losing the crop to mould and rot. Your buds should be ready to smoke after two weeks of curing, depending on humidity levels. Take your time and keep an eye out that the plants don’t become too dry. Trim and enjoy! 3
Erik Tanner is a Toronto-based writer and co-author of Highlights: An Illustrated History Of Cannabis.
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