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Jeff Lowenfels: Tips for growing cannabis in era of legalization

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 20, 2015

This is the first column in which I give advice on growing weed, so let me make a few quick asides, starting with this: I feel no need to defend myself when I write about Cannabis sativa. With all due respect, the fight (and associated silliness) is over. Please don't send me "Reefer Madness"-induced comments.

Second, I have been writing this column since 1976. I know that when a handful of readers ask the same question, there are many more who want the answer as well, but were afraid to ask. In all the years I have written this column, only the prospect of growing fresh tomatoes from a newly constructed outdoor greenhouse has garnered as much gardener excitement.

Third, it is time to start celery seeds indoors, under lights, if you want to have starts ready for transplanting in late April. These are tiny seeds and slow growers, and there is a lot of time between now and then. In my humble opinion, one has to really love celery to grow it -- though I am the first to admit, you haven't really tasted it until you've had it right from the garden. You will need supplemental lighting.

All right. So the big question I am getting these days is where to find Cannabis sativa seeds. They don't contain a bit of THC, the drug's active ingredient, but you cannot mail them because of the way federal law defines marijuana (really, folks, that name is racist; it's Cannabis sativa) to mean all parts of the plant, which includes seed unless it is sterilized.

There is a growing trade selling cannabis seeds on the Internet, but it is not yet legal. In fact, from the date Ballot Measure 2 takes effect, Feb. 24, until the state issues regulations -- which could take until May 2016 -- there will be some legal gray areas. So, right now, if you want to obtain cannabis seeds, your best bet will be to obtain them locally -- that is, in state. Personally, I am predicting that cannabis will become the new tomato for home growers and (legal) seed catalogs will follow.

Once you get seeds, you can plant them, but not before you ensure you understand what you have and have enough light. Like petunias, there are lots of varieties of cannabis strains, as they say. I won't go into it here, but some grow larger than others, and some are stronger -- meaning more THC -- so expect at least 2- or 3-foot to 8-foot plants. All do best in well-draining soil full of organics and should not become root bound, which means you will need to transplant up. And plants that big all need lots of supplemental light until at least April. You definitely need some wattage here. Don't waste your time without supplemental lights.

All cannabis seeds should be rolled in endomycorrhizal fungi containing at least Glomus mosseae and Glomus intraradices. And mix some into the soil before potting on, as well. Avoid fertilizers with phosphorus or keep the middle number of the fertilizer very low. Keep the soils just slightly moist. Seeds germinate in about four days and are easy to grow.

Other tips? Cannabis responds well to pinching growing tips by forming branches. Keep it all organic, of course. Bug attacks? Use neem oil-based products. Fertilizers? Organics with low phosphates and mycorrhizal fungi. Questions? Just ask me.

Of course, there is another way to get started growing weed, and that is to use clones. These are cuttings that have been rooted. They have all the characteristics of their parent and, since cannabis plants are male and female, with only the female producing THC, you are assured of the plant's sex when you use a clone. (You can, incidentally, find "feminized" seeds that will only produce female plants). You do not need a male for pollination, as you are not growing for fruit.

One last point. In nature, most cannabis plants flower only as the days get shorter. The main exception are auto-flowering plants. If you can get seeds or cuttings for them, great. Your plants will flower regardless of day length. These are the perfect seeds for growing cannabis outdoors in the Alaska summer.

All other plants will need special care. After about eight weeks or so of growth, you will need to mimic fall to get plants to flower. This may be difficult when days are getting longer and either requires moving indoors or bagging every night. Visit an indoor grow store for some easy solutions, such as tents, or better yet, construct a grow room out of a spare closet, using a good electrician, of course.

So, there you have it. You can start celery this week, buying seed from racks or mail order. And, thanks to Proposition 2, starting Feb. 24 you can legally get some seeds or clones and start growing cannabis.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Starting Your Seeds and Heritage Seeds: Saturday, Feb. 28 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Alaska Botanical Garden. Visit www.alaskabg.org.

Potato Basics: March 7, 10 a.m. Alaska Mill and Feed. Class is free. Call 276-6016 to register or visit www.alaskamillandfeed.com.

Introduction to Beekeeping: March 14, 10 a.m. Alaska Mill and Feed. Call 276-6016 to register or visit www.alaskamillandfeed.com. Class is free.

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