“So he grows a little garden in the backyard by the fence / He’s consuming what he’s growing nowadays in self-defense / He gets out there in the twilight zone / Sometimes when it just don’t make no sense.”
The Old Hippie from the 1985 Bellamy Brothers song will have an easier time tending his backyard marijuana now that it is legal in Maine. Legal to light up, that is. It’s not yet legal to buy it.
Growing advice is likely to be scarce, however.
The local sources most Mainers go to for gardening help will not assist with growing marijuana. John Rebar of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension said that because the extension receives money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, funding would be threatened if it did any work on cannabis.
While the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) is conducting trials for a program to see if medical marijuana meets standards similar to organic, director Ted Quaday said MOFGA has “no plans to develop a program around marijuana propagation for home gardeners.” He did say organic methods would serve home marijuana growers well.
So although I have never grown marijuana myself, I’ve done some research and compiled some tips.
Getting seeds or cuttings to start your cannabis is going to be the first tricky part.
The best solution is to befriend someone who has a prescription for medical marijuana, said Josh Quint, who works for the Canuvo medical cannabis dispensary in Biddeford. Since 2011, patients with prescriptions have been allowed to grow marijuana at home, under the direction of a dispensary.
While it is illegal to sell any parts of marijuana plants, it is legal to give them away. (I think a return gift of flowers or vegetables from your garden would be permitted.) Quint suggests you clone plants by taking cuttings, because there will be less genetic variation than if you start from seeds.
Start by cutting healthy side shoots 2 to 4 inches long from a healthy, preferably non-flowering, marijuana plant. Take more than you need because you’ll want to pick the best-looking plants to continue growing and some will fail. Cut off the bottom two leaves and re-cut the stem just below where you removed the leaves. Put the cuttings immediately into lukewarm water. Then treat the stem with a rooting hormone, such as Rootone, and place it into a previously moistened seed-starting pot filled with rock wool or other seed-starting mix. I suggest the Sprout Island Organic Seeds Starter from Coast of Maine’s Organic Products, because the 20-year-old company has its headquarters in Portland and its production facility in East Machias. Buy local!
Keep the plants covered with a moisture dome (a clear plastic top) and lighted with growing lights for 18 hours a day until they have shown growth.
Once you have the small seedlings, you can grow cannabis indoors or outdoors. Indoors will provide more consistent growing conditions and probably a better product – but expect to spend more for equipment and electricity.
Erick Garcia, store manager of GrowLife in Portland, said the store supplies materials for indoor growers of everything from microgreens for winter salads to cannabis. He said people often choose hydroponic systems, in which plants are grown on water solutions that provide nutrients without soil. A basic home hydroponic system costs about $500, Garcia said. (I’ll save hydroponics growing for another day.)
Growing indoors takes a lot of room and a lot of light. Marijuana plants can grow up to 6 feet tall, and the new state law permits you to grow six flowering and 12 (immature) non-flowering plants (see sidebar), in addition to seedlings that can reach two feet tall.
Growing in a south-facing window will not work – you will need artificial light. Seedlings and immature plants require light 18 hours a day, with complete darkness the remaining six. To induce blossom once the plants are large enough – it is the blossom or buds that are dried and then smoked or added to food – you reduce the light to 12 hours a day, imitating the approach of winter.
Grow the large plants in large buckets or pots with drainage holes, filled with fertile soil mixture as their growing medium. Cameron Bonsey of Coast of Maine said the company’s Stonington Blend Grower’s Mix is the top choice for marijuana growers. Keep the soil moist but not wet and, if the plants don’t do well, fertilize with fish emulsion or other liquid fertilizers.
Growing outdoors requires full sun – technically at least six hours – and it must be on your own property or a friend’s, with written permission. You will want to amend the soil with compost and other organic fertilizers, and don’t let the soil dry out. Because of Maine’s short growing season, start the seedlings indoors and plant them outside after the last frost. You could give them a boost by using a cold frame or other covering at the start.
Some websites suggest pruning the marijuana plants to keep them a bit smaller than the 6 feet they can grow. But prune them before you reduce or, if the plants are outside, before the days begin to shorten significantly.
Whatever your method, your production of usable marijuana from six plants will be ounces, not pounds.
After all this effort, you’ll have a good base to decide whether you prefer to buy it or grow your own. Once buying becomes legal, that is.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]