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First-Time Growing

It’s easy to forget sometimes, in this modern cannabis landscape of
hash oils and infused sodas, of concentrates and packaged THC-laced chocolate bars
that all this goodness comes from a plant. Na

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t’s easy to forget sometimes, in this modern cannabis landscape of
hash oils and infused sodas, of concentrates and packaged THC-laced chocolate bars
that all this goodness comes from a plant.

Nature created it. Our brains have receptors for it. Hearty and
durable, it can grow in many different climates.  Here in Colorado, anyone 21 or over is
allowed to grow six plants. So, I recently asked myself, why aren’t more people
growing their own instead of paying store prices? It turns out, they are.

“Cannabis is forgiving, depending on how you grow it,” said Michelle
LaMay, Dean and CEO of Cannabis University of Colorado in Denver, where
enrollment in the one-day course had doubled since legalization was approved in
2012. “I’ve known people who have never grown anything in their lives and have
become addicted to growing down in that basement,” she said.  “It can actually turn into a wonderful hobby
for them. It gives them something to do every day . . . The plant in the house
alone is a wonderful thing, to visit with it every day.”

So this spring, I decided to grow my own. It was more of a lark than
anything. I had visited sophisticated grow operations, with lights and
hydroponics and professional growers with science degrees. I had none of these
things, just a pot in a room that gets lots of sunlight. I had low
expectations.

Much to my surprise, several months later I found myself with a
gorgeous mature female plant, 5 feet tall and brimming with drool-inducing
buds, glimmering like a green sugar cookie with delicious trichomes. All I knew
about harvesting was there are a lot of ways to get it wrong and ruin months of
effort; I needed help.

 

First Attempt

I had never tried to grow cannabis before. Not a single plant. Growing
up Back East, the legal penalties for cultivation were enough to discourage me.
Later, living in Colorado, it was far easier to get a medical cannabis license
and buy from a store. But, seeing this beautiful thing of nature, which I had
nursed from a seedling, I was determined to get it right. Had I had a grow
light, I would have been giving it 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness a
day, to stimulate budding, but in my sunny room I let nature do that for me.
Then I called Jorge Cervantes, legendary grower and author of Marijuana Horticulture, also known as
the “indoor grower’s Bible,” now in its sixth edition. Surely he could help me
get it right.

“There are a lot of successful growers. It’s not rocket science. It’s
pretty straightforward,” he assured me. The first thing to watch, he said, are
the little white hairs. When 50 percent of the hairs have died and changed
color, harvest time is near.

Another more precise way is to examine the trichomes with a microscope,
starting in the fifth week of flowering. Under 20 to 30 times magnification,
they look like a post with a ball on top. As the plant nears the end of its
life cycle, they will change color from clear to amber. When 30 to 50 percent
have changed, it’s harvest time. You only have a week or so to get optimal
quality before the trichomes degrade too much. So, I asked eagerly, then I can
smoke this thing? “Not so fast,” he says.

 

Fools Rush In

Along with his book, Cervantes has a website, marijuanagrowing.com, and YouTube
videos with hundreds of thousands of views. I turned to a video for the next
steps. Seven to 10 days away from harvest, stop giving the plant nutrients but
continue to water, known as “the flush.” Then stop watering a day or two before
harvesting. Cut the plant at the base and gently trim and save the leaves for
cooking or making hash. Hang individual stalks to dry for five to 15 days, in a
place with around 50 percent humidity and in temperatures of 65 to 85 degrees.

Inspect them daily for any signs of mites or mold, and when the stems
are dry enough they break easily, it’s time to cure. Gently put the buds in an
airtight glass container and leave it in a cool, dry and dark place, opening it
for a few minutes two to four times a day to let excess moisture escape. Turn
them in the container so different sides are exposed to air.

After two weeks in the jar, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your
labor. The biggest mistake amateur growers make is harvesting too soon,
Cervantes said. The plant needs to flower from 60 to up to 120 days, depending
on the strain, too many growers get impatient. Impatience in the drying and
curing can also lead to a subpar crop. As of this writing, my trichomes and
hairs aren’t quite there yet, though it’s not for want of me checking, say,
five times a day. Patience is a virtue.

If there is anything I could have done differently, it would be to buy
a seedling from a dispensary, so I would have a definite strain instead of the
mystery seeds from a bag my buddy gave me. And don’t spend a ton of money of
fancy growing equipment. For an amateur grower, patience and a positive
attitude are more important.

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 “Do not give up,” Cervantes
said. “Continue. Keep it real simple. Grow in soil. It’s easier than
hydroponics.” And LaMay, with Cannabis University, said don’t be daunted by how
complicated a successful grow can seem. “A good clean grow, it does take a lot
of work but cannabis is very forgiving,” she said. “Like my teachers say, they
don’t call it weed for nothing.”

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