So you want to grow your own marijuana? Here’s what to know
Maybe it’s the convenience of having it in the house, or perhaps you like to do things yourself.
Whatever your reasons are, Massachusetts state laws allow you to take things into your own hands when it comes to marijuana — green thumb included.
People over the age of 21 can grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes (with a maximum of 12 plants per household), so long as they are kept in a locked location and out of public view.
If you’re thinking about growing your own marijuana, there’s plenty to know — where to get seeds, the equipment needed, and, of course, what to keep in mind when tending to your crop.
“There is an up-front cost at first … and it takes time and effort,” said Jon Napoli, owner of the Boston Gardner in Roxbury. “If you want the reward at the end, you have to be patient and put in time every day.”
Here’s a crash course in what growing your own marijuana entails:
How do I get the seeds?
The quickest and perhaps the most direct way to get your hands on some seeds would be to receive them from someone who already has their own grow setup. (Legally, a person can give up to an ounce in seeds, similar to the law surrounding gifting harvested marijuana. You can also have up to 10 ounces of marijuana in your home, although any amount over an ounce must be locked up.)
But if you don’t have that option, you may be able to find some elsewhere.
State regulations allow for licensed retailers to sell seeds, but it’s not clear at this point in time if dispensaries will have those in stock.
Many people purchase seeds online, although it is important to note that under federal law, both possessing marijuana (seeds included) and mailing it across state lines remains illegal.
Online shopping can also be a bit risky, according to Will Ried, manager of Rootdown Hydroponics Indoor Garden Center in Medford, who cautions that if you’re getting seeds from a random seller, you may not be getting your money’s worth.
Overall, seed prices vary. A look at a few online sellers showed prices between $20 and $200, depending on the strain and how many seeds you want (how many are in a single pack also varies between retailers).
What are the basics?
Traditional cannabis plants are either male or female.
If you purchase regular seeds, each seed therefore has a 50-50 chance of growing into either one. Male plants are helpful if you’re looking to produce more seeds, but female plants, which have bigger flowers with higher cannabinoid levels, are the ones you’ll want to harvest, according to Matt Reisman, owner of Gardin Hydroponics & Soil in Braintree.
It can make a packet of regular seeds a real challenge — and a real gamble.
For beginners, Reisman recommends growing from feminized seeds — seeds that, in short, are made to not create any male plants, according to the marijuana information website Leafly.com.
Temperature and lighting
Generally speaking, marijuana plants require about 80 degrees during the day and around 50 degrees at night, Reisman said.
Eighteen hours of light is needed for traditional cannabis seeds to grow in the vegetative cycle. To flower, the plants should have an even 12-hour split between red-orange light and darkness, he said.
How long does it take to grow?
The growing process varies in length, but it usually takes at least four-and-a-half months for a small grow, Reisman said.
However, auto-flowering plants — which stem from a different strain, according to Leafly — require only 70 to 75 days to grow and flower and do not need any changes in their lighting period, said Dan Ruta, manager of Gardin Hydroponics & Soil.
The tradeoff for the faster process though is that these small plants produce less to harvest, he said. (Auto-flowering seeds also have feminized versions, Reisman said.)
“You don’t want to give them too many changes at once because they’re just a very sensitive strain,” Ruta said.
How much marijuana can I harvest from one plant?
There’s no simple answer, according to Ruta.
Many factors play into what you end up with, including the strain, how long you let the plant vegetate, and what kind of nutrients you use.
“There’s a very long list of variables that apply to a yield,” Ruta said.
What is certain, however, is that you’ll have to re-seed every year, he said. Cannabis is not a perennial plant.
What do I need to have?
Equipment can be costly — depending on what you plan to do.
Ried advises beginners to start small. While the law allows for up to 12 plants in a home (six per person), it doesn’t mean you should go for the limit, he said.
“Especially if it’s your first time, I would recommend two or three (plants) really at the most, four if you have the room for it, just because they can quickly spiral and it’s … a lot easier to handle issues with three plants rather than 12 plants,” he said. “So starting small and being able to scale your grow is kind of a good place to start.”
An indoor setup essentially means replicating outdoor conditions in a controlled environment — one where a quality light is your best friend and most important component.
“The number one thing is if you have a bad light, it’s just not going to come out great,” Reisman said.
High-wattage lights can be pretty inexpensive on websites like Amazon, and Reisman cautions potential buyers that the wattage advertised isn’t always what you get.
He recommends a ceramic metal halide lamp for beginners — a good quality “high intensity discharge,” or HID, light that’s very energy efficient and used for growing the plant.
For the flowering stage, a red-orange light is needed, so a high pressure sodium lamp, another kind of HID light, is handy, according to Leafly.
Other lighting options include fluorescent lights — while inexpensive, they are less efficient — and LED lights, which can be costly, the website says.
A small tent — one that’s 2-by-4, 3-by-3, or 4-by-4 feet — is also key to both maintaining the right conditions and keeping the marijuana odor from intruding into the rest of your home, according to Ried. Leafly also recommends placing your setup in a spot with easy access to fresh air that’s also cool and dry.
A fan is must for air circulation. A carbon filter also helps remove that well-known smell from escaping the tent, Reisman said.
Depending on how much you’re willing to splurge, a reverse osmosis system can give you purified water for your plants, although spring water also does the trick if you’re a new hobbyist looking to save some cash, according to Reisman, who said simple nutrient programs — versus a multi-bottle nutrient system — can also provide for a good grow for beginners. Ried said growers can go either way on synthetic or organic nutrients regardless if the grow is indoors or outside.
For a more advanced setup, a dehumidifier and an air conditioner can prove useful, depending on the kind of environment you are looking to create, according to Napoli, who said a strain like indica yields a shorter plant more suitable to a small space.
“As far as just like specialty equipment, that really becomes a thing if you’re getting into hydroponics. … You can get certain controllers and timers and stuff like that that will regulate a lot of your fans or your filters,” Ried said. “There’s nothing super specialty I would say you need other than the lighting.”
Altogether, a simple indoor rig could set you back a few hundred dollars, the experts say.
A small, outdoor grow doesn’t have to be a complex setup, according to Reisman.
But keep in mind that the law requires plants be in a locked area, so that means either installing a greenhouse or putting the plants in a fenced-in area under lock and key, Ruta said. The other legal requirement that plants must be kept out of public view means a tall fence (think at least 6 feet, Ruta said) is also a must have.
Organic nutrients that you can find at most garden stores can make for a good outdoor grow, but, naturally, how well your plants fare in the great outdoors also depends on other factors, Reisman said.
Mother Nature in New England, unlike the warmer weather states like California, does not always provide the best conditions for marijuana growing, experts say. (Some advice: Take growing tips from websites based in other parts of the country with a grain of salt, Ried said. “There’s no perfect way to do this.”)
Lots of rain and humidity is problematic and could leave plants moldy and prone to fungus. An outside grow would require keeping plants particularly clean and checking for pests.
“You want as much sun as possible, and, unfortunately in New England, you start losing that sun in the fall and that’s when your plants are starting to flower,” Napoli said.
If you’re looking for a strain to plant outdoors, Napoli said sativas can grow pretty big, which makes them appropriate when you have the space outside. A greenhouse works best though, since the flowering period for sativa may be a bit too long for the Massachusetts climate, he said.
Is it difficult?
“It’s definitely something that you have to pay attention to and take care of and spend time every day on,” Napoli said.
While there’s a common perception that marijuana is a weed — meaning it’ll simply just grow — it doesn’t mean you’ll get a quality harvest, according to Reisman.
“Find a store where they’re willing to mentor you and excited to help you,” Reisman advises. “Don’t be embarrassed … everyone’s a beginner once.”
Bumps in the road may come, but don’t get discouraged, Ried said.
“I would say if you’re afraid you’re going to kill it, you’re going to miswater (sic) it, you’re going to mishandle it, they’re pretty resilient,” he said. “Don’t let that scare you.”
Butsch of Massive Seeds and Roganja, believes organic farming helps produce a top-shelf crop, but he admits that the microclimate in Southern Oregon really allows the plants to thrive. Photos by Pete Alport.
Peter Butsch and his brother, Paul, have been growing cannabis in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley for as long as they can remember. They originally learned the secrets of organic-style cannabis farming from their father, who had grown marijuana on the property since the 1970s, and they’ve been carefully refining those techniques for years to create a sustainable, top-shelf product.
“I know every farmer thinks they grow the best weed — and I do too,” Peter Butsch says, laughing at his own boldness.
But no one can blame Butsch for his obvious bias. After all, he knows the time and energy required to grow his delectable crop and he understands the minute details that went into the cultivation process at Roganja, a state-licensed producer in the heart of Oregon’s cannabis country.
Roganja uses green manure that includes daikon radishes and fava beans to prepare the soil.
Healthy soil is the lifeblood of any organic farming operation.
But truly organic, living soil can’t be created overnight. It often takes years of properly developing the soil to create the right microbial balance. At Roganja, this ongoing process ramps up in early March when Butsch plants a cover crop of legumes, beans, peas and radishes. The daikon radishes and fava beans are particularly important at this stage, he says.
The daikon radish roots act like “thousands of drills in the soil” and provide necessary aeration. The fava bean roots extend six feet deep into the soil, helping translocate deeply buried nutrients closer to the surface.
The nitrogen-fixing cover crop was planted March 1, then chopped down about three months later. While some farmers prefer to harvest their cover crops and leave the plant material on top of the soil, Butsch cuts down the plants and reincorporates the “green manure” into the soil. He tills the field and integrates the decomposing cover crop into the native dirt. The process adds biomass and helps the beneficial bacteria and fungi thrive. It also produces naturally occurring fulvic acid, a common element in organic farming that helps with nutrient uptake.
“The plants just love that fulvic acid,” Butsch says.
Roganja is allowed up to 40,000 square feet of canopy.
Growing from Seed
While the cover crop grows outdoors, Roganja raises cannabis seedlings in a nursery greenhouse that doesn’t use artificial light. About 90% of the company’s plants are started from seed rather than clones.
This year, seeds were planted March 7 and transplanted into Southern Oregon’s great outdoors in May and June. A small amount of potting soil mixed with the native soil helps ease the transition, Butsch says.
Throughout the season, a wide array of organic nutrients are used to bolster the plants as needed, including crab, fish and kelp amendments, as well as llama and chicken manure. Butsch believes diversity is key in organic farming.
“The more diversity you bring in, the more nutrients are available to the plants,” he says.
The company has had some lab tests done on soil in the past, but most of the amendments are based on intuition, Butsch says. It’s a skill that’s been honed over the years of learning the microclimate and the region’s soil.
The result is an “indoor-quality” flower produced in a sustainable, low-impact manner and currently carried by about 30 Oregon retail shops. Meanwhile, the Butsch brothers also run Massive Seeds, a separate brand focused on genetics.
Because all adults in Oregon are allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants for personal use, 10-packs of Massive Seeds are available at about 15 retail outlets and the company also sells some seeds to other commercial farmers.
Look to La Luna
Using the cycle of the moon could be a pathway to more productive plants, but scientists tend to be skeptical
By Garrett Rudolph
How do most outdoor growers determine when to plant their cannabis crops?
Like many elements of the marijuana industry, the answer varies widely from one cultivator to the next. While some stick to a set date at the beginning of the season, others rely heavily on intuition or they’ll follow an agricultural calendar of projected “frost-free days.”
And some growers abide by a higher power: the waxing and waning of the moon, a technique as old as farming itself and one with just as many fervent followers as it has science-based skeptics.
The concept is that the moon’s gravitational pull impacts moisture in plants, the soil and water table, so planting at the optimal phase helps produce healthier crops and larger yields.
Adding another layer to the complexity of the subject is that while most lunar planting calendars list favorable planting dates for a wide range of flowers and vegetables, cannabis is, not surprisingly, absent from most lists. That means growers who want to plant based on the cycle of the moon would have to find a comparable plant to use as a guideline or refine their own schedule through years of experience.
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, annual flowers and above-ground vegetables should be planted during the waxing of the moon (from the day it is new to the day it is full). The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s lunar calendar divides North America into four regions. Southern California and Florida are Area 1; Northern California and the majority of Washington and Oregon are classified as Area 2; Colorado, New England and Southern Canada are Area 3; Northern Canada is Area 4.
So for example, the “moon favorable” planting dates for tomatoes in Area 2 are March 27 to April 11, while spring wheat in the same region would be April 26 to May 7.
Flowering bulbs, biennial and perennial flowers and below-ground vegetables should be planted during the moon’s dark cycles (waning).
However, in a 1991 New York Times article, Cynthia Rosenzweig, an agronomist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, called the benefits of lunar planting schedules “mythology”.
“There has to be a physical reason why the moon’s different phases would affect soil properties, soil temperature, moisture content, precipitation, which are the actual physical factors that make seeds germinate,” she told The Times. “And that isn’t documentable.”
Frank Abramopoulos, an astrophysicist interviewed in the same Times article, echoed Rosenzweig’s outlook on the subject.
“The tidal force — the gravitational pull of the moon — would be there, but at a level smaller than would affect any biochemical processes,” he said.
1 – Marc Cathey, the former director of the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., was also interviewed for the Times article and said lunar planting connects modern farmers with their forebears who had to rely substantially more on weather patterns — but today’s technology and genetic improvements have lessened Mother Nature’s stranglehold over successful crop production.
“These things like planting by the zodiac and the phases of the moon were based on close observations of periods of chill and clouds and exposure to light and the ups and downs of barometric pressure,” he said. “But they were damped out by sprinklers and fertilizer and peat moss and tomato seeds that germinate so well, every dadgum one comes up.”
Yet, thousands of gardeners — both of the hobbyist and commercial variety — swear by the lunar calendar.
It’s more about the fact that planting by the moon does work — for one reason or another — not about how it works.
“While science may not fully understand why planting by the moon works, anecdotal evidence suggests that it does,” Richard Telford wrote for the Permaculture Research Institute in a 2015 article on the organization’s website.
Planting by the cycle of the moon is one of the oldest techniques in farming.
Roganja embraces another technique that separates it from other cannabis producers: using the cycles of the moon to determine its planting schedule.
It means the growers have to pay close attention to the waxing and waning of the moon, and you’re more likely to find a copy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac being used around the Jackson County farm than you are one of the dozens of marijuana growing guides published by self-proclaimed experts.
At first blush, it might sound like hippie pot grower folk lore, but farmers have been using agricultural astrology for thousands of years.
Butsch says the difference can be seen in the “overall vigor” of the plants.
“The weather patterns seem to follow the moon cycles,” he adds. “It always seems that a nice rain will fall right after planting.”
The METRC system has been “kind of a nightmare” for farms that use a multi-harvest strategy, Butsch says.
Roganja and Massive Seeds have transitioned from Oregon’s medical program into the state’s emerging recreational market. As a Tier II outdoor grow, the company is allowed up to 40,000 square feet of canopy.
While many growers have struggled with Oregon’s strict pesticide regulations, Butsch says he likes that the state implemented such a rigorous set of guidelines.
Roganja and Massive Seeds have received the Certified Kind stamp of approval, meaning they do not use chemical pesticides and follow standards that closely mirror the USDA’s National Organic Program.
However, Oregon’s seed-to-sale tracking requirements have been a different story. Using Franwell’s METRC system has been “kind of a nightmare,” Butsch says.
While the program itself works fine, Butsch says it wasn’t really built for farms like Roganja, which uses a multi-harvest strategy, cutting down the top colas early and letting the rest of the plant continue to develop. The company may harvest a single plant multiple times, making it extremely costly and time consuming to track every gram from every plant with METRC during a process that may take a month or more.
“I think there’s a better way to still have oversight, but put a little more trust in people,” Butsch says.
While the Butsch brothers deserve their share of credit for Roganja’s quality crops, they acknowledge Mother Nature’s role in creating some of the country’s finest cannabis.
The Roganja and Massive Seeds gardens are located in a five-acre irrigated pasture on a 30-acre plot of land in Jackson County. It’s situated in one of the hottest parts of the Rogue Valley, and the Butsch brothers have been breeding strains specifically acclimated to the hot, dry, Upper Rogue microclimate that generally works well for sativas. Strains like Rogue Valley Wreck, Lemon Pineapple and Pineapple Pomegranate have thrived in the area.
Roganja has helped Portland State University with a study of Oregon’s cannabis terroirs and how genetic traits are adapted to geographical regions. Early research indicates six or seven different unique terroirs in Southern Oregon.
Butsch believes quality of the final product is the combination of well-suited genetics, the Rogue Valley’s legendary microclimate and use of organic farming practices.