The year was 1973, and 26-year old David B. spent the warm summer camping with his wife at Ruth Lake, a picturesque spot on the Mad River along the coast range of Northern California. It was there the young forest ranger had his first experience with growing pot.
Says David, who is now in his early 70s, “The weed we were smoking in those days was low-quality, and always came with a lot of seeds and stems. I saved up a bunch of seeds, not even knowing how to tell male from a female plant, like we do now. There was no internet, no way to find that stuff out, it wasn’t common knowledge.”
What was your experience growing in 1973?
“I started by planting 24 seeds in small cups with top soil. I grew them until they got to be around 2 inches tall, then climbed up into the hill with a backpacking shovel and dug holes in the rocky soil. I didn’t even realize it was a North Slope and not South Slope. I planted them 5-10 feet apart in clear places where there aren’t any bushes and just left them there. The next day, I came back hauling a big plastic jug with water up the hill to check on my plants. When I got there, they were all gone. I realized later the area was just loaded with grasshoppers, and they’d eaten every single plant overnight. That was my very first experience in 1973 growing outdoors.”
How does that experience differ growing pot now, 45 years later?
“When medicinal marijuana became legal in Colorado five years ago, I decided to start growing again. I got my license that first year and bought some clones. It was a brand new business. I knew the clones were from females. I planted them in pots outdoors in the biggest pots I could lift. This time it wasn’t grasshoppers…The deer came and ate them within a day or two, so I had to start over. I put wire fence around them, which seemed to work just great. I put them on flat slope facing South, watered them with a very long garden hose and fertilized them with organic fertilizer. That first crop was wonderful. Now, I plant them indoors in April, leave them in the window for a few weeks until there’s no more frosts, then move them outside when I’m sure we’ve passed the last frost.”
What did you learn those first years?
“Half were Sativas and the other half were Indicas. The Sativas, which thrive in South America and Mexico, love the sun and tend to get very tall. Where we live in Colorado, the wind blows quite a bit, and the days are shorter. The Indicas do a lot better because they are native to Pakistan and India, which is more high country. They are more genetically suited to growing in Colorado rather than the Sativas. They don’t get as tall, but they are fat and wide. I’ve grown pure Indicas and Indica Sativa mixes. Mixes that have the growth form of Indica and the taste and potency and flavor of Sativa have been best for growing outdoors. Clones are easy to grow in containers because they don’t have a tap root like seeds. To make clones, you cut off a small branch and root it (this is called a rooted cutting). Tap roots are not very compatible for growing in containers, because the root wants to grow down quite a distance beyond the container. I sparingly use organic pesticides and organic fertilizers, and always make sure I’m using well-drained potting soil. These days, it’s pretty much trouble free.”
How do you know when to harvest?
“Because my plants are outdoors, I’m always concerned about the first frost. I closely watch the weather in September and into October. About that time is when I decide to harvest. First, I cut all the plants off (some people say you should pull from roots, but my strategy is to get them out of there as fast as I can). I hang them upside down in my garage between the garage doors with strong rope and string. I leave them for a couple of weeks, but not too long. From there, I cut the branches off and put them into their own individual big boxes with tags reminding me which strain is which. I work on them one plant at a time, trimming the buds off as best I can, trimming the seed leaves off the buds, and putting them in fruit jars that have wire bales on them.”
How do you store your flowers?
“I fill up fruit jars, but don’t pack it very hard. I get a Q-tip wet, and lay it on top. I buy humidity gauges from the pet store that are typically for reptiles. I keep track of humidity, trying to keep it more than 50% and less than 60% relative humidity. When the humidity drops below 40%, I wet the Q-tip again and put it back in the fruit jar. I use one gauge for each container. Growing outside under rigorous conditions, I get two fruit jars full of pot buds per plant. On average, I am harvesting 12 fruit jars from six plants. In those fruit jars, flowers will easily keep for a year.”
What are you working on growing now?
“As a forest ranger, I’ve always liked the idea of trying to start from seed. So, last year I started growing half from clones and half from seeds. When I go to the dispensary, I try a little bit of whatever looks interesting. If I like it, I’ll get the seeds for that plant. I’ve had just as good luck growing from seeds as I do with clones, and it’s less expensive. Clones cost around $25-30 apiece. You can get 7-10 seeds for around $75. When I planted them for the first time and saw them side by side, I thought there’s no way they would ever catch up with the clones. The clones were like 6 inches tall, and the seeds were an inch tall, but the seedlings grew much faster in height than the clones. It wasn’t more than a month before they had caught up. By end of the season, they were taller than the clones (but not as bushy).”
Do you have any advice for BEGINNING growers?
“Anyone can do this, without electricity or special equipment. Not under lights, just outside, grown for summer season. I believe it’s cleaner, healthier, tastes better and is stronger than the pot grown under lights indoors. I think I can tell a difference between organic pot that’s grown under lights in a greenhouse by its taste. This approach would work well in almost any Western climate.”