Cannabis sativa; Canabis indica; Cannabis ruderalis
baby you know
i love you more than
warm biscuits and honey butter
i’ll be with you ‘til dirt turns to diamonds
so don’t get bent
when I say that today’s favorite fifteen
counted down while you were out getting diapers
i leaned over the ninth floor railing
smoked a joint beneath the tired winter sun
come on baby you know
you’re better than black beans with rice
and ham after eight long hours grinding for our room and board
but sometimes a man’s just got to step off and rest
sirens church bells brick
pigeon rustles on a ledge below me
you know I need you more
than a heart-shaped red velvet cake and
a big glass of milk but baby you know that what i
wanted was a quarter hour and a tight one
to be somewhere alone
*(this poem was previously published online at Boiling River Poetry Journal, 2010, and in The Smoking Book Blog, 2011).
I sometimes long for the good old times – those years when every summer I grew a forest of marijuana (Cannabis selections), then smoked it for the duration of the year (the smoking always followed by the eating of anything that wasn’t nailed down). But before you get your knickers in a knot, sister DEA spy, rest assured that Queen Gardener has given up on the production of his annual crop of “special fern” – as one friend who tended my garden during vacations used to refer to it.
I gave up this gardening tradition not because it is illegal and I, as well as my nearly perfect roommates, could be tossed in jail for it, although that is certainly a compelling reason. Almost as compelling is my XXX-rated porn fantasy of being locked away in male-only confinement with hundreds of other lonely, demanding men, their prison-yard muscles tearing out of their thin, orange coveralls and their handsome, criminal faces throwing suggestive glances my way.
Well, then. Perhaps I should start some seedlings right now.
The reason I no longer grow pot is because I so very rarely partake of it these days. My aged sinuses and asthmatic lungs can’t handle the smoke, and even though I could whip up some magic brownies or a thick ganja-laced hot chocolate, delightful when spiced with a bit of cinnamon and cayenne pepper, I really must abstain. You see, dear reader, in my dotage I naturally have enough trouble remembering details, connecting with those around me, and keeping myself motivated. I don’t need any further murkiness.
Therefore, despite the daily devotion to the herb that I maintained throughout most of my younger life, Queen Gardener nowadays usually (usually!) declines.
I smoked weed long before I drank alcohol. In small-town Wyoming, mid-century, it was simply easier to come by. Marijuana was everywhere; alcohol, one had to plan for. And it seems it may have been this way throughout history.
Archeological evidence points to civilizations smoking the devil’s weed as far back as the third millennium BC, as illustrated by charred Cannabis seeds found in an ancient burial site in present day Romania. In 2003, a leather basket filled with cannabis leaves and seeds was found buried with a 2800-year-old mummified shaman in Northwestern China. Cannabis is also known to have been used by the ancient Hindus of India and Nepal, referred to as ganjika in Sanskrit. Why, even smoking pipes dug up from the garden of Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon contain traces of Cannabis.
I doth proclaim, if weed waseth good enough for Shakespeare, it certainly is fair thee well good enough for thine old Queen Gardener.
Cannabis is indigenous to Central and South Asia, and there are three recognized species (as well as many hybrids). The original species are: Cannabis sativa, the tallest at upwards of ten feet and also the most widely cultivated; Cannabis indica (called Indian Hemp), shorter and often cultivated for its more dense growth habit which results in more produce in less space with much less visibility; and Cannabis ruderalis, a wildling which is rarely cultivated for recreational use as it has the lowest level of THC (tetrahydrocannibinol, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana).
I would be far too embarrassed to divulge to you at what age I was first handed a joint. But I will tell you I was no more than fifteen when I set out to try my hand at growing weed. I attempted to germinate one of the seeds that had come along with my most recent pot purchase.
My gardening instinct started early and spread widely.
My teen-aged garden-prone friends in Wyoming sprouted their seeds in the warm, dark confines of their sock drawers, nestled between layers of moistened paper towels adjacent to the girlie (or in some cases, boylie) magazines. But I am always in favor of the most direct route: I plant my seeds in the dirt. To this day, an argument over the two sprouting methods rages, even though fewer and fewer home gardeners grow from seed. Marijuana is now decriminalized in some form in twenty-three different jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, and medicinal marijuana dispensaries are popping up like literal corner drugstores. To a grower’s joy, these outlets sell embryonic cloned hybrid plants with fantastical names like White Widow, Blue Dream, Bubblelicious, and Alaskan Thunderfuck.
Seeds are bypassed. Color me thunderfucked.
Still, I am old school. I grow from seed. I enjoy the sprouting; the watching as the tiny seedling hardens, matures, and produces. I appreciate the idea that my produce is following a natural cycle, is organic and home-grown. I stick by my seeds and I argue about which germination method is best. As does the other side.
“Not all the seeds sprout!” Freddie-of-Seattle fairly screeches. “By pre-germinating, I am certain not to be left with an empty space.”
No matter the method, pre-germination or direct planting, the seeds you use must be virile if they are to sprout. They should be green and meaty and healthy in appearance. They should not be grey in color and should not be shriveled. A simple test is to drop a couple of test seeds on a hot frying pan. If they pop like tiny firecrackers, they are probably good for planting purposes.
Pot seeds remind me of my years in Salt Lake City, where I cohabitated with the best roommate of my life. Miss Jane and I were perfect buddies, perfect roomies. At one point we agreed, as we always did on everything, that a pair of caged finches would be a lovely addition to our third-floor walk-up apartment. We hung their bamboo container in the west-facing sunroom and named the little birdie couple Peaches and Bailey. Trouble was, neither of us could bear caging them. We opened their door and allowed them free-flight of the suite, which they vastly enjoyed. It is indeed a special pleasure to watch one’s evening TV as a tiny bird whizzes by every few minutes. As creatures of habit, though, every night they returned to their little bamboo home to roost, and occasionally during the night Peaches laid a tiny egg, no bigger than a pearl. But they never truly nested.
We routinely treated them to marijuana seeds which they gobbled like popcorn. And then they commenced to singing, loudly and non-stop. I always thought Bailey sounded a bit like Woody Woodpecker, while Peaches did a solid back-up.
We were a lovely foursome until one day in a pot-inspired spate of murkiness, Peaches flew out the back window, never to return. Bailey died of heartbreak not long thereafter.
It was reefer madness, I swear.
For the germination stage of marijuana growth, if you use the paper towel method, you must carefully place the sprout in loose soil the moment it emerges from the seed shell. If you plant your seeds directly, always bury two or three seeds together as Freddie-of-Seattle is, indeed, correct: not all of the seeds will germinate. Plant them about a half-inch below surface, pointy end up. If more than one sprouts, pluck all but the strongest looking one.
And if you grow the super-potent dispensary hybrid clones, more power to you!
At fifteen, my soil-planted seed germinated. I kept the infant illegality in a coffee tin filled with garden dirt on my bedroom windowsill, hidden from sight behind the vibrant blue and gold curtains my mother had sewn for me.
As it turned out, it was not so well hidden. I came home from my play one day to find the seedling snipped off at ground level and lying chopped to bits atop the soil. Also carefully placed in the Folgers can was a brief note signed by my mother. “Try onions or tomatoes. Not this, not in my house. Love anyway, Mom.”
To this day I envision her fuming in her kitchen that afternoon after discovery of my secret garden, so angry she might have even been swearing (a rarity!), yet unwilling to involve my father or the law or to even risk alienating me.
In retrospect, this vignette is both poignant and typical of my mother’s great grace.
Should your seedlings survive your mother, keep them in as sunny a location as you can. Marijuana plants need an absolute minimum of five hours of sunlight per day (eight is better). Whether seeds or clones, you can plant in late April or early May, after the last frost of the year in your area.
The plants can become quite large, so if you are growing directly in the ground, space them about five feet apart. I typically grow mine in terra cotta pots which allows me to move them as I need (including hiding them in a shed or closet when unfriendly eyes come to visit).
Water thoroughly, but allow the soil to dry slightly between watering. Do not fertilize until the plants are established and have at least eight true leaves. Fertilize thereafter with caution (they are sensitive to over-fertilization).
When the babies are very young, they tend to be floppy and to have trouble holding their little heads high. It is advisable to stake them at this point to avoid breakage and to ensure an upright plant after she does harden, which she will when she enters her rapid growth period (the vegetative state).
I was nearly vegetative for most of my teen years, and in my state of perpetual pot-induced bliss, did some pretty stupid things. Like the time I left a full ounce of marijuana in a sandwich baggie in my car’s glove compartment . . . on the very day that my father had promised to replace my radio antennae, which required glove compartment access.
“It’s not mine,” I lied. To no avail, as he of course didn’t believe me and flushed the whole eight dollar bag down the toilet.
Eight dollars! Oh, as I said previously, how I sometimes pine for the good old (inexpensive) times. These days, marijuana, even the lowest-grade Mexican ditch weed, fetches far more than that. The World Drug Report published in 2008 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime claimed that a typical U.S. retail price for marijuana was $238-420 per ounce, depending on quality. This is a range that rings true to my experience and I am here to testify that prices have certainly not dropped since 2008.
The price increase may be a case of “you get what you pay for”, as research undertaken at the University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring Project found that the average level of THC in samples of smoke available on the street increased from four percent in 1983 to almost ten percent in 2007.
But, still. Only eight dollars? And not that long ago!
These days, in the United States, Cannabis is the overall number four cash crop and is number one in many states including California, New York, and Florida. It is estimated that the illegal pot industry generates up to forty-five billion dollars in sales every year. This statistic leads the Queen Gardener to ponder why the Federal government doesn’t just decriminalize, regulate, and tax. Like alcohol, which in my humble opinion truly creates more of a societal problem than any number of stoners ever could. Stoners are, for the most part, bumbling and harmless. Meanwhile, the tax on forty-five billion dollars, plus the savings in reduced drug law enforcement, would pay for millions of school lunches and untold unemployment checks, not to mention the resultant boon to ice cream, potato chip, Astroglide and Reese’s Pieces sales.
I mention Astroglide because, quite frankly, there is nothing quite as scintillating as good, pot-fueled sex. As the kids say these days, “it’s da bomb.” Marijuana can relax the body, allow the racing mind to focus on what is at hand (no pun intended), and create a sense of isolation from the rest of the world. If you are lucky, that is. Sometimes, the opposite is the effect. Queen Gardener himself can no longer imbibe and indulge: If I do, I find my mind wandering in the middle of the act toward what it is I have left undone on my desk, whether or not I remembered to take the laundry out of the dryer, and, oh!, wasn’t that a funny stinger on Big Bang Theory earlier this evening?
As I said: in my dotage, I don’t need additional murkiness.
Sex, however, is very important to the proper cultivation of marijuana, for the plants come in both sexes and for an acceptable end product, you must limit your crop to female plants.
One summer I ended up with two male plants. “It can’t be that bad,” I thought to myself. Wrong. By September I had two robust six-foot plants that, unfortunately, produced little more than a daily dusting of yellow pollen all over everything in their vicinity.
As is the usual case with most things, the males are worthless.
Here’s how to sex your plant:
First, you will need a high quality, hand-held magnifier. Around the middle of July and onward, use said magnifier every few days to look for sex gland growth. The timeframe for reaching sexual maturity (the flowering stage) depends entirely on which species of marijuana you are growing and under what conditions. Hours of light vs. hours of darkness is a primary trigger, but sativa varieties mature later than indicas, and hybrids mature dependent upon their inherited percentage of each variety. Therefore, begin inspecting middle of July, when the flowering state is apt to begin, and continue until sexing is achieved.
Imagine yourself, if you will, crouched beneath an illegal plant, magnifier in hand, searching for sex organs while on lookout for roaming guards. Duck and cover and fondle, so to speak.
Oh, the memories.
In short order you will notice the sex glands developing. They appear at the base of the leaf stem, in the nook where it joins the main stem, and look something like a tiny (hence the magnifier) green sac. A female plant will grow one or two pistilla from the sac, pointed protuberances that, upon very close inspection, will reveal a covering of miniscule white hairs. The pistilla look something like tongues extending outward, their purpose being to catch the male’s pollen.
The male plants will develop balls (seriously) which hang below the sac.
Sounds easy, right? Tongue equals girl, balls equal boy. But I am here to tell you: it is not. It takes practice and more than a bit of time spent on one’s knees with a magnifier inspecting plant sex glands to finally see what is right before your eyes. However, rest assured, once you recognize the difference, you will never forget.
And then comes the hard part. If that baby that you have lovingly tended from a seed back in April to a sexual teenager in July turns out to be a male, there is nothing to be done but rip him up and discard. Just imagine yourself King Herod, ordering the execution of all the boy children. Or Sophie, making her choice, in reverse.
Approximately thirty to fifty percent of marijuana plants are male, so plan accordingly. If you intend to end up with two mature, bud-producing specimens, start with four. If you intend to have good smoke, rip up the boys. Even if you love them, even if you are obsessed with the idea of the plants comingling and producing offspring, my advice remains: rip up the boys. If a male is left intact and allowed to pollinate a girl, she will direct her energy toward seed development. Withhold a male’s pollen and she keeps striving and striving, producing more and more THC to make herself more and more attractive to the absent male (praise be that she is blind and cannot see that he does not exist). This frustrated female marijuana bud is called “sensemilla” (without seeds), and is one of the most sought-after pot products available.
After you rip up and discard the unfortunate males – you could play a somber dirge as you toss them to the compost heap, if that helps lessen your burden – the next step in the growing cycle is patience. As my pot-growing guru, Eric-in-Oakland, advised, “Patience is a virtue.”
Hmmm . . . this is probably not quite the same thing as my Grandmother Rose meant when she repeated this to me. In either case, it has been a life-long lesson, and one that I still struggle with.
I spent a portion of the Denver years cohabitating with the worst roommate ever. Evil Pam and I moved into a house in the western suburbs in early spring, and during the move-in walk-through with the new landlord, noted a ten-by-ten plot in a secluded corner of the backyard fairly brimming over with three-inch marijuana plants.
“I’ll mow those down,” the landlord said with what I detected to be a hint of baiting sadness.
Suffice it to say, after some delicate hemming and hawing and gentle reaching out of feelers, it was agreed upon that the plants would be left intact and, eventually, we would give him a portion of the produce.
Have you ever heard of such stupid tenants? We were to absorb all the risk, complete all of the work, and finally “be allowed” to provide the goods back up the chain of command.
What was that, the mimicking of a gulag work program in Russian Siberia?
No, it was just two young and dumb and totally mismatched roommates.
Those plants grew like, well, weeds. By mid-August, they stood two feet above the eight-foot privacy fence. And at least two feet above both my patience level and, jail fantasy or not, my capacity to remain calm in the face of my own escalated criminal activity. This wasn’t like I had just a couple of plants in terra cotta pots tucked away: this was a jungle, a ten-by-ten-by-ten cube of pure prosecutor’s delight.
One day, in a rare instance of roommate cohesiveness, Evil Pam and I had had it. In a fit of fear we hacked down the immature plants and hung them in the basement to dry. Imagine the manipulating landlord’s dismay when he received not a few baggies of potent and mind-altering bud, but a number of grocery bags stuffed with useless, dried, headache-producing leaves and twigs.
I’ve always blamed our eviction on Evil Pam’s herd of cats and their wayward toilet habits, but in retrospect I realize it may have been the result of our inept drug cultivation skills.
Patience is a virtue. This is the gospel according to Eric-of-Oakland. And it has proven to be the perfect truth. Eventually, if you just let her be, your Cannabis plant will begin to drop her large “shade” leaves and begin to form the buds – the much sought-after product. When you see them developing, it’s rather like watching that first tomato go from green thumbnail-sized infancy to full-on red lusciousness.
But patience continues to be a virtue long after the buds have developed. In order to end up with the very best product possible, you need to wait until the THC level is at its highest.
Bring out that magnifier, Gert, we ain’t done with it yet.
Once the buds have developed, you will need to inspect them on a daily basis. Under magnification, you will see that the buds and the very small leaves contained within are actually covered in tiny, white hair-like structures called trichomes. These are actually oil glands, and they produce the THC-laden resin, the purpose of which is to help trap the pollen.
You see now why we want no males in the vicinity? A horny spinster is much more desperate than a happily married young mother. Oh, but were it this easy to determine when a potential partner is receptive to advances. Imagine yourself again, at the local dance club, magnifier in hand . . .
As it ripens to its full potential, the droplets of resin that form on the trichomes and tiny leaves transmogrify from transparent goo to lovely amber-colored goo. When amber is reached, it is harvest time. Often the lower branches attain harvest potency before the upper branches, so it is important to observe a selection of buds from your plant.
Here in the District, prime harvest time (depending on the plant variety and what kind of summer we have had) comes around the end of September or the first week of October. If you live in a more Northern clime, it will be earlier (remember, light vs. dark, the “photoperiod”, is a key marker for your plant, and light vs. dark varies from North to South).
Oh, silly reader, we are not yet done.
Once the resin globules show amber, you must clip the bud from the plant, leaving an inch of two of the branch stem. Cut off any large leaves that remain, leaving only the flower bud and the tiny leaves it contains. Then you must hang your harvest by its vestigial stem in a dry, warm location where air can easily circulate around it. If you have an outbuilding, I would suggest using that. If, like me, you live in an eighth-floor condo, you might run a piece of strong across your bathroom or spare bedroom and cure the buds there. In these cases, you might also consider leaving the vent fan running to avert prying neighbor’s noses. You might be used to the smell, but they probably aren’t!
Eric-of-Oakland taught me that the harvested buds are ready for storage when they are dry(ish) to the touch but still have their gooey quality. His test? If it is dry enough to combust in his pipe (or vaporizer, water bong, joint, etc.), then it is ready for storage. He advocates sealing the product in a glass jar and placing it in the freezer. Sunlight and continued exposure to air, he tells me, degrades the potency. I have more than once had difficulty remembering my way home from Eric-of-Oakland’s, so I trust that he is an expert on maintaining potency.
However, should your freezer be unavailable – kids, roommate from hell, or just a need to have it stocked to the brim with emergency supplies – I find that sealing the buds in Ziploc sandwich bags and storing them in a dark drawer, cabinet, or closet works just as well. Remember, though, marijuana has a distinct and pungent odor and some sealing is required to avoid detection (should you need to avoid detection).
Now that you have that stash of free, organic product, let me roll us a joint, a skill I learned from a hairdresser (Marco-of-Salt-Lake-City). Apparently, it is exactly the same technique as turning hair on tiny rollers for a tight perm.
Let’s fire that thing up and see how you did. Inhale, hold, hold, hold, and exhale.
Whoa, man, where’s the fudge? And ice cream. With peanut butter. Are you going to have the rest of that jar of Nutella? Now, where did I leave those Oreos?
Hey, do you mind if I bring this bag of potato chips and this bottle of Astroglide to bed?