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Bay Area Cannasseur: Tips for a cannabis garden

by Sari Staver

Adolescent cannabis clones. Photo: Sari Staver
Adolescent cannabis clones. Photo: Sari Staver  

Attention: Cannabis shoppers.

If the idea of slashing your budget for pot is appealing, read on.

Dispensary sales, discount no-frills delivery services, and black market marijuana can save you up to 50% off the retail price of flowers, but growing your own beats those by a mile.

You will need a patch of outdoor sunlight — a deck or balcony will do — but once you've found that, the rest is easy — and legal.

I've been doing it for over a decade (when you had to have a doctor's note to comply with the law) and although I had advice from experienced gardeners, I'd never grown anything before and I found the process simple and easy.

Although growing from seed is considered the gold standard of gardening, I recommend newcomers start by growing from small starter plants, known as clones, which are ready to go when you get them home. If you really want to grow from seed, http://www.sparcsf.com has a wide variety for sale.

The time to buy clones is in May for harvest in October or November, when you may have enough to eliminate all your holiday shopping. Cannabis is an annual and the drill gets easier each spring.

Clones have become increasingly difficult to find, but if you're willing to travel to the East Bay, Harborside Oakland (http://www.shopharborside.com) and Berkeley Patients Group (http://www.mybpg.com/) often have a limited selection from the prestigious Dark Heart Nursery. As of Monday, the Harborside clone menu included only one variety, Remedy Heartlet, and BPG was out of stock, but normally both carry at least several varities. Check their websites, or even better, call before going as supplies change constantly. Prices at both locations are $14 and up plus tax. Both dispensaries limit purchases to six per day, the state limit on how many plants a recreational user is allowed to grow. State law also says that cannabis gardeners must grow in an area that is not visible to the public, according to an email from the San Francisco Office of Cannabis.

While I've had great results from Dark Heart Nursery (http://www.darkheartnursery.com) clones in past years, the small variety available and the limits on number of clones you can purchase daily leads me to prefer buying from an unlicensed grower. But in any case, the Dark Heart website has an enormous amount of up-to-date information about growing and is worth checking out. You can also find out which varieties will be delivered to which dispensaries ("clone drop") so you can plan your visit accordingly.

While it is difficult to judge the quality from black market dealers and they typically have a 50-plant minimum purchase, clones are typically 75% cheaper on the black market and several nurseries offer door-to-door delivery or will meet you at a convenient location in San Francisco.

Since Craigslist last year banned all ads with the words "cannabis" or "clone," it has become increasingly difficult to find local growers who sell clones. I used Craigslist for years and was able to find great prices and good quality close to home in a few minutes. This year, I found unlicensed growers through two websites: http://www.budtrader.com and http://www.budbay.com. Each has a constantly updated list of growers, with prices starting at $7 and many with dozens of varieties to choose from.

In addition, there are several large southern California growers who will deliver to the Bay Area. Check the websites of http://www.clonesbros.com and http://www.cloudcityclones.com for pricing and details.

Once you've purchased your clones, you also need some soil because they will soon need to be transplanted into a larger container or into the ground.

A great source for soil is Flower Craft Nursery (http://www.flowercraftgc.com), which sells a variety of soil and related products said to be created specially for cannabis. You'll also want to pick up plastic or clay pots for transplantation. Most clones are about six inches tall, growing in rock wool when you buy them, and need to go into something larger soon after you've brought them home.

If you want to learn more, I recommend the two classic growing texts, "Marijuana Horticulture" by Jorge Cervantes and "Marijuana Grower's Handbook" by Ed Rosenthal. There are hundreds of websites and YouTube videos on growing cannabis.

While it's common wisdom that a south-facing yard will get enough sun to succeed, if your outdoor space is less than ideal, go for it anyway. It's a weed, and weeds grow everywhere.

Finally, and this part can be a little tricky, you'll need to figure out just how much water your plant needs and how often you want to water. The secret is to avoid drowning or starving and learning the signs that your plant may not be happy with the mixture of sunlight and water it's getting.

Harvesting and drying your plants are, for many gardeners, the most exciting part of the process, because you are finally approaching the day you will get to enjoy homegrown, organic pot.

Figuring out the optimal time to harvest your plant is made easy by examining the ripened flowers and comparing it to buds you see on cannabis websites, such as http://www.marijuanagrowing.com, which is Cervantes' website.

Drying is the simplest step; simply hang the branches on string or rope in your doorways. In a few weeks, you are ready to trim and store in an airtight container.

If neighbors complain about the skunky smell coming from your yard, be sure to tell them you're planning to share the crop and will share flowers and other goodies at the end of the year.

Bay Area Cannasseur usually runs the first Thursday of the month. To send column ideas or tips, email Sari Staver at sfsari@gmail.com.

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