Everything you need to know as a beginner.
Since the onset of the pandemic, many of us have leaned into quaint pastimes to soothe our existential dread, whether it was baking sourdough, knitting, or doing jigsaw puzzles.
You can grow cannabis indoors, but outdoors is simpler and cheaper. “The sun is free,” says The Cannabis Gardener Ron Johnson, author of How to Grow Organic Cannabis: A Step-by-Step Guide for Growing Marijuana Outdoors. “You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars a month in electrical bills.” An outdoor garden likely won’t allow you to turn over product fast enough, but it’ll suffice if you’re just growing for yourself. Plus, it’s gentler on the planet.
We can't stress this enough: Growing cannabis is illegal in a lot of places, and the penalties — including steep fines and prison time — can be much worse than those for possession, since growing can imply an intent to distribute.
Black and brown folx need to be especially scrupulous about heeding these rules, since law enforcement targets us way more than white people for weed-related charges, even if we consume it at similar rates
Some states prohibit growing cannabis, while others, like my home state of California, permits anyone over age 21 to grow cannabis, but only up to a certain number of plants.
Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, Vermont, and Maine also allow cultivation, but again, the specifics depend on the state. Clarify your rights before you start the glorious path to at-home bud gardening.
Cannabis plants can be either male or female. Female plants yield the plump flowers, a.k.a., “buds,” that we know and love, brimming with psychoactive compounds like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, which gets you high), Modern Farmer explains. Male plants yield much smaller flowers, which people typically don't consume. So if you want to actually indulge in your crop, you’ll want female plants.
If you buy seeds from a seed bank, look for those labeled “feminized,” Johnson says. If you’re a total newbie, he suggests buying clones, which are cuttings from a “mother” female plant, available at some dispensaries, as well as at nurseries. Not only are they easier to obtain, but they’re also “easier to grow. You get a clone, and you transplant it to some soil.”
Johnson says the outdoor grow season lasts from around April to October. If you start late in the season, he suggests buying a large clone, which will have more branches and therefore yield more flower. But, he warns, don’t go overboard. Start with three plants in five-gallon pots; if one dies, you’ll still have two plants, and the pots will limit their growth. A general rule of thumb is that they’ll grow one foot for every gallon of soil.
He recommends mixing your own organic soil (he explains how on his website), which will save you the headache of adding nutrients or pH testing. “The soil is what we call alive,” he says. “It’s always breaking things down to replenish nutrients that are missing.” If you can’t or don’t feel like mixing your own, you can buy organic Pro-Mix soil.
They’ll run rampant, and “you’ll have pounds of weed in your house,” Johnson says. “You don’t need the stress of plants getting out of control, growing over your fence.” If your neighbors can see them, they might complain, and having too many plants could get you arrested.
If you use organic soil, all you’ll really need to do is add water, Johnson says — but don’t overdo it. The number one mistake he sees new growers make is watering their plants too often.
When you do water them, keep going until you see water running off the soil, to ensure the water reaches all of the soil in the pot.
That said, when your plants are fully flowering, you might find yourself watering them daily, based on the following indicators:
Your cannabis will be ready to harvest around October. You’ll know they’re ready when the buds “start to get really, really swollen and packed pretty tight,” Johnson says. But it can be hard to tell for beginners. Many growers say if you think your plant is ready to harvest, wait two weeks; many newbies tend to harvest too early. Or, you could share a photo of your crop on a forum and ask more experienced growers to weigh in.
There are different methods, but Johnson cuts the whole plant at the base and hangs it upside down with twine in a dark room at a temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Add a fan for airflow — you definitely don’t want the room to be humid, which will cause mold to grow, rendering your crop unusable. It’ll probably take around a week to dry.
To check if your cannabis is ready for trimming, perform a break test on each branch. If it bends so much it nearly breaks, it’s ready; if it breaks right away, it might be overly dry, but still usable. Trim off the buds and seal them inside a mason jar for curing, opening it periodically over the course of about four weeks to let moisture escape. Johnson outlines a detailed schedule on his website, including instructions on how to look for mold.