When COVID-19 hit the U.S. last spring, people responded by stress-buying live chicks, making sourdough starter, and planting victory gardens. Celebs like Zooey Deschanel and Jennie Garth posted on social media about growing vegetables at home, and Nicole Richie started rapping about the virtues of home-grown produce.
Master gardener Ron Finley’s philosophical course on creating a home garden is one of the most popular in the Masterclass online education series. The self-reliance of growing your own food is “gangster,” says Finley, who famously created a community garden in the ‘food desert’ of his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. In his 2013 TED talk, Finley declares, “gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do.”
Home Growing In America
Cannabis growers have defied laws for decades in the U.S. — federal penalties for growing dictate a punishment of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Even so, weed is legal for adult use in 15 states, and for medical use in 35. It was declared essential during the pandemic in every state with legal marijuana, allowing sales to continue in some form; most legal states also allow growing a small number of plants at home. Check NORML for up-to-date information on your location, as cannabis laws vary widely from state to state.
Last summer, as the lockdown in Los Angeles stretched from weeks into months, I watched Ron Finley’s Masterclass on the philosophy of gardening. After taking in over two hours of his botanical tutoring, I planted a few pots of herbs and tomatoes on my patio. It felt like a little victory. A few days later, when I drove past a long line of masked-up customers waiting to get into my neighborhood dispensary, I realized the time was ripe to add cannabis to my tiny garden: though federal penalties are intimidating, in California — where weed is legal for medical and recreational use — the law allows growing up to six plants.
Grow Your Own Medicine
Googling “how to grow your own weed” when starting my research into home growing, I found that one of the first grow instruction manuals published in the U.S. was in an insert in a 1971 issue of Rolling Stone, written by a grower named Mel Frank, who went on to co-author two popular books with fellow cultivator Ed Rosenthal. The two were frequent contributors to High Times, the main resource for home cultivators for decades, until the landscape shifted with legalization in Colorado and Washington in 2012, and cannabis info websites like Leafly and Weedmaps sprouted up.
Home grow techniques have changed quite a bit since the ’70s. A recent book written by former High Times cultivation editor Danny Danko, Cannabis: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Marijuana walks the reader through planting and feeding a marijuana crop to harvesting and curing it, and making tinctures and edibles. Danko and I worked together at High Times, and I’ve watched him inspire and educate countless home growers over the years.
Growing your own weed is fulfilling and fun, Danko says: “There’s nothing like firing up that first joint when you’ve harvested and dry-cured a plant that you grew. For patients, especially — there’s no better feeling than creating your own medicine.”
Danko also hosts a podcast called “Grow Bud Yourself!” offering cultivation tips and interviews with expert growers like cultivator Jorge Cervantes, the celebrated author of Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower’s Bible.
Start Out Small, and Learn As You Grow
In 2009, a young man in Colorado named Danny Murr read Cervantes’ book, and, at the urging of his father, started growing his own cannabis as medicine. At the time, Murr was relying on prescription painkillers for a variety of ailments. He weaned himself entirely off pain meds in just a few months using homegrown marijuana, and discovered that he loved tending to his plants in the process. “I found growing as therapeutic, if not more so, than the actual ingestion of cannabis,” he says.
Murr now runs a family-owned craft cannabis company called AlpinStash, and posts tutorials for first-time cultivators on YouTube. He emphasizes that growing weed at home should be easy and inexpensive. “The most successful first-time home growers that I’ve coached have started off with some sort of low-intensity lighting,” Murr says. “A few years ago, my dad grew a great plant using a compact fluorescent desk lamp.”
Murr suggests buying feminized cannabis seeds, which produce female plants (only female pot plants produce smokeable buds; males produce pollen). If you have access to a reputable breeder, you can also purchase a cutting, known as a clone. If you don’t have access to buying seeds or clones legally, you may find a trusted friend or local grower will share their genetics with you — and if they do, make sure to share your stash when you harvest, and pay that green goodwill forward.
My Very Own Home Grow
Here in California, Dark Heart Nursery specializes in cultivating clones for growers. A Dark Heart sales rep recommended the nursery’s Easy Pot for my garden, assuring me, “it’s like ChiaPet cannabis.” Easy Pot plants are autoflowering hybrid strains, meaning the plant isn’t photoperiod sensitive like most cannabis, and will flower automatically after a few weeks no matter how much light it receives.
I bought an Easy Pot of a strain called Sol Mate, and put it in the sunniest spot on my patio. It came potted in soil containing slow-release fertilizer, so all I needed to add was water — but not too much, I was cautioned. Each evening, I pushed my fingers into the soil to see if it was dried out. After a couple of days of checking its tender green leaves and tiny buds for mites with a burgeoning sense of self-reliance, I realized that I needed to take her inside to keep her safe from the elements. I put her in a bright corner of my living room and supplemented the natural sunlight with — you guessed it — a fluorescent desk lamp.
I harvested a little less than an ounce of homegrown weed after a couple of months. It wouldn’t impress a serious cannabis connoisseur, but the sweet, pungent buds offered an easy smoke and a wonderful, relaxing high — enhanced by my sense of accomplishment.