The more you grow

Cannabis is easy to cultivate and inexpensive

Maturing Alien Fire cannabis plants from a local backyard grow.

Maturing Alien Fire cannabis plants from a local backyard grow.

Photo by Ken Magri

They don’t call it “green gold” for nothing. Cannabis was California’s largest cash crop in 2017. The $23.3 billion estimate topped the next five commodities of milk, almonds, grapes, cattle and lettuce combined, according to the Orange County Register. So why not grow some yourself?

Anyone who can grow a decent crop of backyard tomatoes can grow dispensary-quality buds. As long as it’s legal where you live, it’s like growing cash and it just takes a little time and loving care.

Good seeds and clones

Today’s cannabis seeds benefit from the accumulated research of thousands of growers. Seeds from dispensaries are guaranteed to be female, and come in a wide variety of sativa and indica strains, including CDB-only strains with no psychoactive properties.

A few local dispensaries sell clones, which are starter cannabis plants. Clones come from branches that were clipped, or “cloned,” from a mother plant. Clones are best for a quick start, because they come ready to transplant, at 6 to 10 inches high. Metro Cannabis and River City Phoenix dispensaries both offer clones from the renowned Dark Heart Nursery, whose weekly drop-offs sell out so quickly that customers start lining up before dawn.

On rare occasions, a perfectly good seed will pop out of a store-bought bud. Sometimes it’s because of genetics, a sort-of hermaphroditic fluke. Or a tiny bit of male pollen might have found its way there. In any case, consider it a gift from the grower. If the seed is spotted or marbled, and darkish, it is ready to plant.

How to germinate seeds

Everyone has a favorite method for germinating seeds, but the “Amsterdam technique” is the most reliable. Fill a dish with filtered water and drop in a folded paper towel. Place a cannabis seed between sheets of the submerged paper. Leave the dish in the dark for a couple days, or until a white sprout pokes out from the seed a half-inch or so. When germinating, make sure that the seed is always wet.

Seed scuffing isn’t required, but helps. Scuff up part of the seed with fine sandpaper before germinating. This creates a weak spot for the new growth to break through. Once germinated, plant the new sprout a half inch deep in potting soil.

Outdoor or indoor

Growing outdoors is less expensive because the light source is free. But it’s illegal in Sacramento County. “Indoors” doesn’t mean hydroponic growing. Plants grown inside do equally well in soil containers, and won’t require the meticulous attention needed for hydroponic grows. For less than $300, a grow room can be installed in an interior space as small as a closet. Simple grow-tent set ups allow 24/7 growing all year long. More importantly, they eliminate the risk of bug and mold infestation.

There are several single-plant grow tent designs, costing as little as $150. Chico’s makes a good one. Four full-spectrum LED grow-lights, a timer, a fabric grow-pot (for better drainage) and fertilizers will cost another $130. Add a water filter and a tiny fan, and you are ready to go.

Soils and fertilizers

Don’t plant cannabis in cheap dirt as the plant will absorb all the toxins. Mainstream nurseries carry great potting soils, and the workers don’t snicker anymore when you say you’re growing cannabis. Oregon’s Only #4 potting soil, from Grower Supply House, is a great mix, specifically designed for growing cannabis indoors or outside.

Use one good fertilizer for the growing stage, and another for the flowering stage. The recommended amounts on most fertilizers are set as high as the plant will tolerate without burning up from over-feeding. A better approach is to dilute the fertilizer to a quarter strength, and feed the plant more often. This puts less stress on the plant by giving it a lighter, but steadier supply of nutrients.


This is the most common mistake. Don’t drown the plant with each watering. Roots in waterlogged soil can die because they aren’t absorbing the oxygen needed to function normally. Cannabis leaves curl downward and turn yellowish when overwatered. To prevent this, use a fabric container, or one with several drainage holes at the bottom. Set the container upon a grate, a half-inch above the ground. Use a water meter to monitor saturation, or simply lift up the container. If it feels too heavy, cut back on the watering until the first two inches of soil are dry to the touch.

The flowering period

Indoor growers must initiate their own flowering period. Cut the light cycle from 22 hours per day down to 11 hours. The plant will think autumn is coming and begin to flower. Switch to a flowering fertilizer, and grow for seven to nine more weeks before harvest time.

When to harvest

Harvest when half of the cannabinoids on a bud turn from milky to opaque white. A strong magnifying glass is needed to see them up close. Some growers harvest only a part of the plant, leaving the rest to grow a bit longer. Dry the plants by hanging them in the coolest, darkest place possible. A fan helps keep the air flowing. When a branch snaps upon bending, it is completely dry. The buds should be sticky, but dry. There are different philosophies to trimming. While some favor a light dry trim, others trim as soon as the plant is harvested, and go in for a tighter bud. Use small scissors, or buy a bud trimmer. Keep the trimmed buds inside glass jars, cool and away from light. Remember to open the jars up every so often, to make sure there is no residual moisture inside that can create mold. is a good overall resource for advice from seed-to-harvest.