You'll need more than a green thumb and a personal production license to start growing your own medical cannabis plants. Franci Bailey, gardener at CG, gave us some pointers on starting a successful home grow operation.
Weekly Alibi: So where does someone even start with home growing after they get their personal production license? Just go get seeds? Or one of those little plants you see around?
Bailey: Lots of LNPPs [licensed nonprofit producer] will sell clones. They hesitate to do that anymore because we're so limited in the number of plants we can grow, but they're looking at changing the rules—like the clone won't actually count as a plant until you get it into its growing media.
So the easiest way to get started is to get a clone from a known female or to buy a feminized seed. Seeds actually grow into a healthier plant in my opinion. It seems to me that after a few lifetimes the plant will start to lose its genetic makeup. I don't know if that's factual—but as I continually clone the same strain without adding a new seed, it just seems that the plant's ability to produce a good amount of bud at the end of its life deteriorates. It's anecdotal, but I've been growing since 2008—so 10 years this year.
But usually people that want to start growing marijuana will have a resource available to them. There's lots of great websites where they can buy a seed from, or maybe someone that they know is already growing. And actually if someone came here and asked for a plant, we could actually grow a plant and sell it to them as a way to get started.
They have to have a personal production license, of course, and you're limited to the number of plants that New Mexico allows: 4 mature flowering plants and 12 immature plants. But once you have a known female, if you're careful with that plant and give it the proper nutrients and light, you could almost grow forever from that same mother.
What are some of the common mistakes people make starting out?
Lots of people might buy a media that doesn't have any nutrients itself, so the plant is dependent on the grower to provide everything it needs to grow, and they'll only give it water. There's lots of fertilizers out there that are perfectly fine for marijuana—MiracleGro or any kind of basic fertilizer you can get at Home Depot—but then of course there are stores that cater to growing marijuana and sell specialty nutrients, and those make the plant look a little better in my opinion because it's giving that specific plant what it needs. Just like you can buy tomato fertilizer or rose fertilizer, you can buy marijuana fertilizer, and it's always better to go that way.
If you just spent an hour a week diddling around with your four plants, they should produce nicely for you.
You need to feed them regularly. So if you get them on a watering schedule, don't miss. If you're watering them Monday, Wednesday and Friday, don't ever miss a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. The plant becomes used to being fed regularly, and even if in your opinion the plant has had enough to eat, it's expecting to get fed. So it will get hungry.
In its vegetative state, the marijuana plant needs 18 hours of light per day. That tricks the plant into believing that it's early in the summer, and all it's doing is growing its green vegetative growth. Once you switch its light schedule down to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness per day, it will automatically think, “It's time for me to start blooming.” So indoors you're looking at 8 to 10 weeks for the plant to reach its maturity.
But in its vegetative state, it will grow to infinite size if it's outside. I've seen marijuana plants with stalks five inches in diameter, like a tree, out in the Emerald Triangle in California. And those plants are just amazing to see. The fragrance when you walk through there is just … I've been there one time and—I hate it when people use this word all the time—but it was awesome. It really made me feel awe. That grower said those plants would net him 10 pounds a piece. And he had a field of them.
Are you allowed to grow outside here in New Mexico?
You can grow it outside here. Personal production license dictates that you need to make sure that your neighbors are unaware of what you're doing. When you apply you have to designate your area where you're going to be growing and say what you're going to do to allay the neighbor's nosiness.
Weird. Any cool personal tips that could help new growers?
When I grow I get most of the foliage off the bottom and spread the tops as far as my space will allow, because the bud at the top of the plant is always better than the stuff below—what we call “popcorn.”
It's a really simple technique. I use a 15-gallon pot, and when the plant starts to get tall, I'll put 4 stakes around it and use a piece of chicken wire or horse fencing, but its powder-coated, so it's tidy. I pull it all the way over the top of the plant and I zip tie it to the four stakes.
I'll do that while they go into bloom. The first couple of weeks in bloom, they'll still grow—they'll add about a third to their size. As they're doing that, I pull the branches and try to get one little bud site into each of the squares of the wire. We call that “scrogging.” SCROG stands for “screen of green” on some acronymic level.
Marijuana will generally grow like a Christmas tree, and it will get that one beautiful cola at the top if you let it be. What you want to do is when the plant reaches about 12 inches, we use this method called “fimming.” You actually pull apart the small leaves at a bud site and you pinch the inner leaves off. “Fimming” stands for “fuck I missed,” because someone was pinching back their plants and made a mistake, but the plant produced more than they thought it would.
As you fim those sites, you want the plant to turn into little bushes, as opposed to Christmas tree-shaped, so you'll get all these nice sites at the top that get the most light. The more lumens you provide for the flower, the more nuggets you get.
Is it hard to grow at home?
No. If you provide the plant with the right environment and fed it regularly, it should be fine. If you just spent an hour a week diddling around with your four plants, they should produce nicely for you.