Marijuana Comes Out of the Haze

Recent projections of the retail cost of marijuana are encouraging for aspiring cannabis gardeners.

The short story: the cumulative costs of state and local taxes and fees will make recreational marijuana quite expensive: a single roll-your-own marijuana joint could cost $10.

Observers expect that these costs could burden legal providers of marijuana and encourage their black market competitors.

As that drama plays out, these costs also could greatly increase the cost-effectiveness of personal cultivation of cannabis.

Cannabis Leaf

Cannabis Leaf

This image is from Robert Bergman’s online publication: “Growing Marijuana in California” (http://www.ilovegrowingmarijuana.com/growing-marijuana-california/

Background

A year ago, California voters enacted Proposition 64, the Control Regulation and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (the “AUMA”). Along with its other purposes, this proposition authorized personal cultivation of nonmedical (i.e., recreational) cannabis by persons 21 years of age or older, subject to locally adopted regulations.

The County of Santa Cruz has adopted such regulations; they took effect on May 31, 2017. Reportedly, Santa Cruz County was California’s first county to take this action. The County of Monterey anticipates adopting regulations for adult use/recreational cannabis businesses “in the near future” (probably by January 1, 2018).

Personal Cultivation

When California voters approved the AUMA, many people considered trying this previously forbidden recreation. For the record, this column neither recommends nor discourages recreational use of marijuana. That is a personal decision.

A good number of people were—and continue to be—decidedly not interested in marijuana. Still, some other people are interested in growing up to six marijuana plants, which is the maximum number allowed for personal grows. Avid gardeners might have a particular interest in cultivating this unfamiliar new plant, whether or not they wish to explore its psychoactive properties.

Growing your own cannabis and making your own marijuana cigarettes might be compared to growing your own grapes and making your own wine. In both examples, the hobbyist compares the enjoyment of the hobby’s time and cost with the time and cost of simply buying the commercial product.

The projected retail cost of marijuana adds significantly to the appeal of personal cultivation. This column is for gardeners who are interested in exploring that hobby.

When the AUMA was approved, we outlined the stages of cannabis cultivation: sprouting, vegetative growth, flowering, harvesting, and drying & curing. We also provided links to free online resources that offer more detailed information. To review that column, go to http://ongardening.com/?p=2641.

Cannabis information sources are evolving rapidly, so for up-to-date rates, growing advice, etc., search the Internet for “cannabis seeds” and “cannabis cultivation.”

Local Regulations

Also important: adherence to state and local regulations. Santa Cruz County residents should read the local regulations. For easy access, here is a link to “Santa Cruz County Code Chapter 7.134.” Monterey County residents should watch and wait for the adoption of their own county’s regulations.

All parts of these regulations are important, but prospective cannabis growers will need a way to meet the requirement to conduct all stages of cultivation on their own residence grounds inside a locked and secured structure such as a shed or greenhouse, and not visible from a public place. Cannabis can, but may not be, grown outdoors.

Next Steps

The cost of growing cannabis begins with the seeds, which are available from mail-order sources for $10 to $15 per seed, depending on the strain. Choosing which seed to buy and plant involves research or an arbitrary decision. Planting should be scheduled for early spring, so there is time to order seeds, select or create a legal structure for cultivation, and gain at least basic familiarity with the process. Because this plant has the common name “weed,” growing it will not be difficult for capable gardeners. However, as with all plants, very good cultivation produces very good results, so growing cannabis well could challenge even experienced gardeners.

Cultivating Cannabis

The stunning results of this week’s vote include a significant change for gardeners:
removal of a long-standing ban on growing cannabis for personal recreational use by adults.

Voters approved Proposition 64, which legalizes “growing up to six marijuana plants and keeping the marijuana produced by the plants within a private home.” This column provides a brief introduction to the cultivation of marijuana; interested gardeners should read all of the proposition’s provisions related to personal uses of marijuana.

Cannabis (Marijuana), a herb with psychoactive properties, is a genus of the Cannabaceae family. Other genera in this family include Celtis (Hackberry), Humulus (Hop) and about eight other less familiar plants.

There are three species of Cannabis: C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis. There are many C. sativa x indica hybrids that combine sativa’s productivity and indica’s more compact size.

The plant grew originally in mountainous regions northwest of the Himalayas, and is now indigenous to central Asia and India; it grows well in much of California.

Cannabis is dioecious, meaning the genus has separate female and male plants. Only about 6% of flowering plants are dioecious; the great majority is monoecious, having both male and female flowers.

The flowers of well-grown female plants (called sensimilla, meaning “without seeds”) of both C. sativa and C. indica secrete an abundance of chemical compounds (cannabinoids), mostly tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive constituent, and cannabidiol (CBD), which has a range of medical applications.

Growing cannabis for personal use would be well within the skills of typical gardeners: the plant grows so vigorously that it is commonly called “weed.” The reasons for growing your own marijuana include controlling expenses, avoiding synthetic chemicals, and selecting preferred cultivars (“strains”). Growing the plant for optimal production of THC involves some care, so the challenge to succeed could be satisfying in itself.

Local garden centers are unlikely to offer Cannabis seeds or seedlings in the near future. Two local garden center managers told me they would stay out of the Cannabis market at least until federal laws allow personal, recreational use of the plant.

For this reason, the best way to begin is to buy seeds online. A search of the Internet for “Cannabis seeds” will yield links to several vendors offering various strains, each with features of potency, productivity, fragrance, taste, disease resistance, etc. Generally, seeds are offered online in small packets, with prices ranging around $5 to $10 per seed. Growers claim germination rates of 90-95%, so two or more gardeners might share the cost of a seed purchase.

Cultivation of the Cannabis plant proceeds through stages:

  • Sprouting Stage. Germinate seeds in the spring by placing them in a damp paper towel. The seeds should show a small white taproot within 72 hours. Plant the seeds ¼-inch deep in planting mix with the root pointing down in a small biodegradable container, e.g., a peat pot. Keep the soil slightly damp with de-chlorinated water (leave tap water in an open container for 24 hours to release chlorine gas). Leave for 1 to 3 weeks.
  • Vegetative Growth Stage. Move the small plant (still in its biodegradable container) to a 3-to-5 gallon pot filled with planting mix plus compost. The mix should be kept slightly damp with slightly acidic (low pH) water, and the plant should receive maximum sunlight. If growing indoors, maintain 72–85°F, and provide a high level of light for 18–24 hours/day. Feed the plant with high-nitrogen fertilizer. During this stage, prune off about ¾ of the top growth tip to promote new top growth and additional buds. This is also the right stage to take cuttings for the propagation of clones.
  • Flowering Stage. Once the plant grows to18 inches or more in height, it will be ready for flowering. To stimulate flowering, provide strong light for 12 hours/day, and complete darkness for 12 hours/day. If the plants have been growing outdoors, this could require moving the plants indoors for the dark period each day. During this stage, the plants could double in size.
cannabis-plant-in-bud

Cannabis plant in bud

  • Harvesting Stage. Reaching this stage could take 5 weeks, during which the plant benefits from phosphorus (e.g., chicken or bat compost tea) more than nitrogen. As the buds develop, they will emit resinous trichomes that will change from clear to cloudy to amber in color. Using a low-power magnifier, watch for when about 50% of the trichomes become amber, indicating that the buds are ready for harvest. Cut each of the bud masses, keeping them large and intact.
cannabis-trichomes-magnified

Cannabis trichomes, magnified

  • Drying and Curing Stage. Air-drying is simplest and most popular. Suspend the bud cuttings upside down in a room with moving air for about seven days. Then, place them in airtight glass jars for at least 2 weeks. Longer is better. To release moisture, open the jars daily to during the 1st week, and every other day during the 2nd The marijuana should then be ready to smoke.

There is much to learn. Several “how-to” articles and short books are freely available online, revealing perhaps what generous marijuana cultivators do while their plants grow. To find and download these resources, search the Internet for “how to grow marijuana,” or visit selected websites listred below.

Growing your own marijuana is like making your own wine: it’s possible but not for every gardener. Let us know of your experience!

Online Resources

the-marijuana-grow-bible

marijuana-the-ultimate-organic-guide

marijuana-cultivation

I Love Growing Marijuana — An experienced cultivator of marijuana, Robert Bergman, maintains this website which offers many free or low-cost resources for cultivating Cannabis. The site also offers a variety of Cannabis seeds, with brief descriptions of their properties.

Seed Supreme — Another source of Cannabis seeds.

Waiting for Organic Pot

A young friend recently took a look at my garden and suggested that I could grow a few marijuana plants for personal use.

I looked into it, out of curiosity.

Long before I searched for sources of seeds or seedlings, or cultivation advice, I learned that, unless I had a genuine medical need for the herb, growing marijuana (Cannabis sativa) in my garden would be illegal. The related regulations at the local, state and federal levels are full of contradictions and different perspectives, and are in flux.

I’ll wait.

Many hundreds of illegal marijuana “grows” exist already in the Monterey Bay area, and thousands in California, including many in California’s “Emerald Triangle” of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity Counties. The numbers are growing, and it is not difficult to find pot, if one were to be inclined to try it.

Last week, at the 36th annual Eco-Farm Conference, in Pacific Grove, Dr. Andy Gordus of California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, described and illustrated the impacts of illegal and therefore unregulated marijuana grows in California. The growers are illegally clearing forest lands, damming streams, digging wells that drain streams that wildlife depend on, polluting waterways and killing wildlife with pesticides, leaving mountains of trash, and otherwise being really bad neighbors.

Marijuana plants, like other plants, are subject to a variety of pests and diseases, and growers use a variety of synthetic agricultural chemicals, including some highly toxic materials that are being smuggled in from Mexico. Such chemicals may be sprayed on growing plants, or applied systemically. Also, because rats and other animals chew through plastic irrigation lines, rat poisons are often used.

Marijuana products may be used by inhaling, ingesting, and absorbing through the skin. These diverse forms of use mean that users should ensure that their marijuana does not contain toxic substances. Consumers of marijuana products ideally could rely on the organic label, but at this time there is no such label for these products. Consumers can only rely on trusted sources.

California does not approve any aspect of marijuana cultivation, including pesticides, because it continues to be illegal at the federal level. The federal government also does not recommend pesticides for illegal crops.

In this bizarre environment, California has provided informational guidelines that include a short list of organic pesticides and natural rodenticides that “may be used in and around marijuana cultivation sites consistent with the label.” Visit www.waterboards.ca.gov and search for “Legal Pest Management Practices for Marijuana Growers in California.”

For more information, visit the websites of the Santa Cruz County’s Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee, or Organic Cannabis Growers Society.

For now, I’ll wait.

During four days last week, the Eco-Farm Conference provided updates about a wide range of organic gardening and farming practices, and related state and federal policies. The short story is that organic, sustainable and regenerative gardening is healthy and expanding steadily. I’ll have more to report in future columns.