High Country: How to cultivate your own cannabis with tips from a pro gardener
Let Johanna Silver, former Sunset magazine editor and author of ‘Growing Weed in the Garden’ be your guide.
Backyard gardening has bloomed as coronavirus has forced us to stay home since the start of growing season this year. As Charlotte Mendelson wrote in April for the New Yorker, “There is no balm to the soul greater than planting seeds.”
I’ve self- soothed outside this summer tending to a plot in my community garden; and inside, watching more gardening shows than I ever thought were consumable. “Martha Knows Best” on HGTV is a brilliant extension of the lifestyle icon’s own dreamy, day-in-the-life account of quarantine on Instagram.
While Martha Stewart doesn’t cultivate cannabis (that we know of, at least) on her farm in Bedford, New York, she has given her stamp of approval on an all-encompassing handbook, “Growing Weed in the Garden.”
“Beautifully photographed and with clear, expert advice, this very good primer for growing grass makes it easy to harvest and process a fine crop at home,” Stewart praises on its back cover. “I need two copies — one for me and one for Snoop.”
Released earlier this year, the 256- page text was authored by Johanna Silver, a Berkeley, California-based writer who was the garden editor at Sunset magazine for a decade and now contributes regularly to Better Homes & Gardens and Martha Stewart Living.
The book was born from a 2018 San Francisco Chronicle assignment to follow a cannabis growing cycle from seed to stash. Admittedly “not a stoner at all,” Silver set out to “grow weed in the backyard and document it as a gardener,” continuing to cover cannabis gardening in a reoccurring column while learning about an entirely new plant in the process.
“I knew nothing — I didn’t know if it actually was indeed this incredibly mysterious plant that was very complicated to grow,” Silver recalled recently when we talked by phone. “I had people who were telling me — people who knew a thing or two — ‘No, you really can’t grow this without lights.’ And I’m like, ‘Wait, what? That can’t be true. It’s literally a plant.’”
Silver compares growing cannabis to growing tomatoes: “Cannabis has been grown as a warm season annual everywhere where humans have ever lived.” A native of Denver, Silver admits, “I did not grow up gardening. I was not swinging from the trees or picking blueberries from the yard with my mom.”
She adds, “I actually think that my lack of being this green, sunny hippie wild child is a strength, because I completely understand what it’s like to have no knowledge and how to approach it from zero. I really tried to speak to the beginner, the newbie, the one who is scared, but damn it, wants to try.”
That approach has also translated into a video series for the cannabis website Leafly, where Silver shares step-by-step instructions from home while planting a new set in her own garden. According to Silver, even though it’s not planting time in most regions, the cusp of harvest season is the perfect moment to get your garden — and what you’ll put in it — sorted for next year.
Silver recommends, “Follow your nose. It’s time to smell, smell, smell. Seek out dispensaries that are well-known for their sungrown cannabis and find what flavor profiles you like and what strains work with your body.”
Here are Silver’s top five pro tips to start “Growing Weed in the Garden” (excluding the obvious first step of reading her book):
1. With harvest season upon us, it’s time to get out there and smell the flowers. Just like a masseuse who wafts essential oils under your nose to see which you like best, you can use your instincts and grow whichever scent draws you in.
2. After the smell test, take samples home to try them. If smoking isn’t your thing, experiment with simple, alcohol-based tinctures or infused coconut oil.
3. Decide where you’ll grow next spring. If you’ve got a veggie patch, that’s ideal. All you need is a small space — anywhere that will receive a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight a day (yes, it’s really that simple).
4. Consider growing a cover crop — a mix of, say, crimson clover and hairy vetch, to be turned into the soil next spring. The “green manure” decomposes, leaving behind rich, organic material in the soil.
5. What is winter for if not ogling seed catalogues? In most states, dispensaries are the only legal spot to procure seeds. For the most stable genetics, look for regional seed companies with transparent breeding practices. My go-to is Humboldt Seed Company — you can actually order seeds from their website (legally shippable to California, Oregon, Maine, and Oklahoma with more locations coming soon).
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Raising spuds was a big business in the Roaring Fork Valley back in 1945 according to this old news article declaring the spuds ready for harvest on Sept. 20, 1945.