Outdoor Growing: The Best “How-to” Article
GROWING OUTDOORS Copyright 2002 by Jorge Cervantes
Tom, an American, is one of the most successful growers I have ever interviewed. His methods are extremely simple and easy. He is a smart, lazy man who pays attention to Mother Nature. Tom’s complete and simple understanding of plant growth makes him a very successful guerilla grower. These simple concepts are key to assimilating guerilla growing.
………..Wild marijuana plants are vigorous, aggressive, competitive weeds. Some varieties have a large root system which helps them survive moisture stress and poor soil. Plants spaced at least 10 feet apart will grow to a height of 3 – 5 feet in dry climates. Cannabis is a survivor. Given control of a growing area of 4 to 12 square feet, in poor soil, mature plants will grow to about 5 feet tall with a strong terminal main bud or cola. The yield is relatively heavy considering the amount of cultivation work. Add a little more effort during soil preparation and planting to grow several times more dope. Loosen the soil, amend it a little and throw in a handful of polymers*.
Cover the soil around the plant with a thick layer of natural mulch to attract condensed water and to keep soil moisture from evaporating. Just these simple measures may double the yield. *polymer crystals are small crystals that expand to about 15 times their size when moistened by water. They are added to soil to prolong time between watering.
Reasonable soil will grow a plant that is 7 – 8 feet tall with roots that spread 5 feet across and 6 feet deep. This plant will yield 2 – 10 times more marijuana than if planted in poor soil.
Polymer crystals hold water and gradually release it as the soil dries out. Polymer crystals cut watering frequency dramatically. To prepare an outdoor garden, remove the weeds in the fall, dig planting holes and prepare the soil. The soil will absorb rainfall and be well mixed the next spring. Cover each planting hole with a layer of mulch to protect it from winter rains and temperatures. This layer of mulch is very important. Do not leave soil bare all winter.
Transplant seedlings or clones in spring and grow marijuana plants as you would tomatoes. If growing in poor soil, give each plant a hole that is 4 feet deep and 4 feet in diameter and refill with your best compost/potting soil/planting mix. Break up the soil in a wide 6-foot radius, only 6 – 8 inches deep, because roots branch out. To water cheaply and effectively, cut a 3/16th hole in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. Mix an inexpensive all purpose water-soluble fertilizer with 5-gallons of water in the bucket and put the hole by the stem of the plant. Growing like this, only with 4 – 6 buckets of water will last all summer. Water with one bucket every 10 days during hot weather. Watering with this regimen, the plants will grow as well as if they had lots of water.
If plants receive no water, a small bud grows on top of plant. A 5 foot tall plant may produce from 1 – 6 ounces of smokable bud. This same plant, given just a little water, will grow much better and produce more high quality smoke.
Grow a plant that takes 20 – 40 gallons of supplemental water per growing season, or grow a plant that gets an infinite amount of water and achieve very near the same weight at harvest. Why?
First the plant must use all water in the soil. The plant must get all the nutrients it needs that naturally occur in the subsoil. If you slightly increase the water and nutrient supply, you get a much stronger and robust plant. How much water is there in the soil already?
Reasonable soil has one inch of water per foot of area. There are about 30 gallons of water already in the soil in 4 x 4 x 4-feet area of reasonable soil. Look for big green stands of vegetation. Kill green vegetation in the fall and grow the garden the following spring. One of the main things to look for is an adequate water supply. Many parts of the US and different parts of the world get rainfall in the summer growing season to support a dry land crop. The rainfall you need is from ¼ to 1 inch per week. It is very important that it rains regularly during the spring and summer months. Dry fall weather is the best for harvests. Heavy rains and high humidity will cause bud mold.
Site Preparation and Soil
Preparing three sites required three different strategies. The small greenhouse needs a little bit of heat to speed growth. Easy ways to warm a greenhouse include natural heat generated by the sun and artificial heat from electricity or burning fossil fuel. To conserve the natural heat from the sun, Vansterdan lined the bottom of the greenhouse with two inches of Styrofoam. He also placed a one- inch-thick lining six inches high around the bottom perimeter of the greenhouse. He constructed the greenhouse from Filon, a corrugated, translucent fiberglass. The low-slung greenhouse looks like a small storage area because you can’t see inside. Filon transmits enough light for vegetative growth even when low levels of natural sunlight are available. To add more heat, Vansterdan used duct tape to fasten heating cable to the Styrofoam floor and covered it with a thin piece of sheet metal to transmit the heat evenly.
Marijuana blends and is camouflaged by many different back yard plants. Look for plants with similar leaf shapes that grow fast.
Vansterdan is an avid vegetable gardener and has been adding manure and compost to the raised beds in his backyard garden for more than 10 years. His neighbors are used to his fanatic gardening and do not suspect him of growing marijuana. Every spring he spreads three cubic yards of finished compost and manure over the garden. He adds dolomite lime to raise and stabilize the acidic pH and rototills it into the soil. Once vegetables are planted and growing well,
Vansterdan transplants hardened-off clones into the garden plot. “The soil is so rich and fertile, I don’t even need a shovel to dig a planting hole. I just open the soil with my hand, put the clone in and press soil around the root ball before watering it in” said Vansterdan with the pride of a confirmed organic gardener.
The soil in cool coastal regions is heavy clay that warms slowly and drains poorly. Raised beds turn both of these detriments into compliments. Beds need to be raised 6 – 8 inches to provide the benefits of warmth and improved drainage. Using raised beds, Vansterdan plants from two weeks to a month earlier than other gardeners. If poor drainage is the only obstacle and making raised beds too difficult because of a remote garden location, smart growers loosen clay soils with a pick and shovel before cultivating in granulated gypsum to break up clay soil.
The basics of composting are simple: collect organic matter: grass clippings, chopped up branches and vegetative matter, pile it up and let it rot. The pile must be at least one yard square to hold more heat than is dissipated. “It’s easy to make compost,” said Vansterdan. “In the summer, professional gardeners cut grass and other yard debris and haul it away. I asked one of them to dump the debris at the end of my driveway. He gives me about three cubic yards a week. By the end of the summer, I have more than 40 yards of grass clippings and garden debris. I mix it with wood chips to provide carbon and air. The following year, I have 3 to 6 cubic yards of the best compost in the world!”
“I know one hard core grower that plants spring crops on top of compost piles. He piles the compost up two or three feet high, making a raised bed. Next he throws 3 or 4 inches of good dirt on top and plants foot-tall clones, aye. By the time the roots penetrate down into the compost, it has cooled down and doesn’t burn. The compost keeps the clones warm and he puts a greenhouse on top to protect the foliage. If he’s lucky and the weather cooperates, he harvests a spring crop.” said Vansterdan with a bewildered grin.
Mountain and Bog Soil.
“Most of the soil around here is full of Douglas fir needles and is very acidic. The pH is around 5, which makes plants grow slowly, aye. I look for patches where pasture grass grows. The soil is normally a little poor, lacking nutrients, so I have two strategies. The first one, I use for low lying areas. To plant in marshy, grassy areas, I cut a square yard of moist sod from the ground with a shovel, turn it over, and plant in it. This way I can transplant about 50 clones in a day. The marshy ground supplies enough water and I just add a bit of time-release fertilizer when I transplant, aye. I add another handful of flowering time-release fertilizer when I go back and check them the first week in August. Sure, the plants don’t grow as big as the ones in my back yard, but I don’t work too hard, aye.”
To plant in marshy, grassy areas, this grower cuts a square yard of moist sod from the ground with a shovel, turns the entire piece over (180 degrees) and plants in it.
Vansterdan has been planting in the mountains for 12 years in secret gardens only accessible by foot or mountain bike. He harvests about half of the clones he plants. The rest are lost to humans and other animals, insects, fungus and weather. “Growing in BC is different than growing around Toronto, aye. The weather here on the Lower Mainland is mild in the summer, with occasional rain showers. The heavy rains start in September. If your crop isn’t out of the ground by the middle of September, the buds get wet and moldy, usually gray mold (botrytis), sometimes powdery mildew starts earlier on leaves. Toronto is in the middle of the continent and a lot hotter and more humid. Plants grow faster, but still need to be out of the ground before the frost,” said Vansterdan, with a strong Canadian accent.
If the weather coperates and Vansterdan plants early in the year, clones establish a dense root system and don’t need much water during the growing season. A heavy layer of mulch helps conserve water and combat weeds.
Hardening-off Cuttings and Seedlings
After clones have rooted in rockwool cubes for three weeks, Vansterdan transplants them into 4-inch pots full of organic soil mix. He handles root cubes carefully and waters transplants heavily so roots grow into the new soil. He leaves the cuttings under a 400- watt HP sodium lamp for two weeks before moving them outdoors to harden-off in the greenhouse. He keeps clones in trays (nursery flats) so they are easy to handle. Since there is not enough room for all of the transplanted clones in the greenhouse, Vansterdan fills the greenhouse three different times. The first crop of clones is transplanted into the soil or 3-gallon pots and set out in the back yard garden after they have hardened-off for two or three weeks. The second crop of clones is moved in to harden-off and later transplanted to the local mountain plots. The third set of clones is moved into the greenhouse and grown until they are about 18 inches tall before he prompts flowering. Vansterdan covers the greenhouse to induce flowering with 12 hours of darkness.
Transplanting to the Mountain Site
The clones he transplants to the mountain site are grown in a tall container to promote a strong deep root system. The containers Vansterdan uses to clone the plants in are 6 inches tall and 3 inches square.
“I learned this trick when I worked for the Forrest Service, aye,” explained Vansterdan, “They grow tree seedlings in tall containers so they will have a deep strong root system. The deep, dense root system makes a strong plant, aye. I won’t be able to water or give much care to these babies. A strong root system makes up for the lack of care”.
Clones in tall containers with a deep root system have the best chance of survival in remote, low maintenance gardens. A clone buried deep in ground will grow roots along the stem in a few weeks. Planting the root ball a few inches deeper makes plants easier to maintain.
Other growers transplant foot-tall clones with smaller root systems. They remove the first few sets of leaves and bury the root ball deeper in the ground, leaving only six inches of foliage above ground. The clone will grow roots along the underground stem in the next few weeks.
“I try to go back and check on the clones two or three times after I plant them. Every time I go back there I pee around the plants to scare the deer and rabbits away. I also save urine in a bottle and sprinkle it around them, because I run out,” said Vansterdan with a grin.
Seed Germination and Care
Cannabis seeds need only water, heat and air to germinate. Seeds, without light, properly watered, will germinate in 2 – 10 days, in temperatures from 70 – 90 degrees F. Germination is faster at higher temperatures but declines if temperatures climb above 90 degrees F. When the seed germinates, the outside protective shell splits and a tiny, white sprout (tap root) pops out. The seed leaves emerge from within the shell as they push upward in search of light.
One popular way to germinate seeds is placing seeds in a moist paper towel or cheesecloth, in a warm room, (70 – 90 degrees F.) and make sure they are in darkness.
Germinating seeds between moist paper towels virtually ensures success.
At germination, a seed sprouts, sets roots, grows roundish cotoleydon leaves and the first set of true leaves.
Water the cloth daily, keep it moist and let excess water drain away freely. The seed germinates in a few days. The seed contains an adequate food supply for germination and watering with a mild mix of liquid fertilizer will hasten growth. In humid climates, water with a mild bleach or fungicide solution (2 – 5 drops per gallon) to prevent fungus.
Plant seeds once the white sprout is visible. Do not expose the tender rootlet to prolonged, intense light or wind. Plant the germinated seed ¼” to ½ " deep in planting medium with the white sprout tip (the root) pointing down. Lay the seed on its side if confused about which end is up.
The second popular germination method is to sow the seed in a shallow planter (flat), peat pellet or rooting cube and keep the planting medium evenly moist. Transplant 2 – 4 weeks after the seedling emerges from the soil. Use a spoon to remove the root ball and keep it intact when transplanting.
A heat pad or heat tape under or in soil will accelerate germination without drying the soil too fast. A common problem for novices when germinating seeds is over-watering. Keep the soil uniformly moist, but not soggy. Plant seeds in a nursery flat and put them in a warm (not hot) place like on top of the refrigerator. Put a wet piece of paper on top of the soil to retain the moisture. Remove the paper as soon as seeds sprout through soil. Leaving the paper on the soil will inhibit growth. Often seeds only need one initial watering when this method is used. A shallow flat or planter with a heat pad underneath may require daily watering, while a deep, one gallon pot needs water every 2 or 3 days. When the surface is dry (¼-inch deep) it is time to water.
Remember, there are few roots to absorb the water early in life and they are very delicate.
Seedling (cotyledon) leaves are the first to appear after the seed sprouts above the soil. Within a few days, the first true leaves will grow. During the seedling stage, a root system grows rapidly and green growth is slow.
The new root system is very small and requires a modest but constant supply of water. Too much water drowns roots, causing root rot or damping-off. Lack of water dries the infant root system. As the seedlings mature, some will grow faster and stronger.
Others will be weak and leggy. Vansterdan thins out weak plants the third to fifth week and transplants seedlings without any damage.
Root cubes, made from rockwool, peat or OasisTM, are convenient and encourage a strong root system. Peat pots are small compressed peat moss containers with an outside expandable wall. The flat pellets pop-up into a seedling pot when watered. Place the seed or cutting in the wet root cube and keep it evenly moist. For clones, make sure to crimp the top in around the stem so firm contact is made between the stem and the growing medium. When roots show through the sides of the cube it is time to transplant. Slit the side and remove the expandable nylon shell of peat pots before transplanting. When completed properly seedlings and clones suffer no transplant shock. Check peat pots or root cubes daily. Keep them evenly moist, but not soggy. Root cubes and peat pots contain no nutrients. Feed seedlings after the first week and clones as soon as they are rooted with ¼ to ½ strength fertilizer.
Inexpensive heat cables double root growth and are easy to use.
The seed intensive method:
Planting many seeds in a small area is also an option. In loose fertile soil, plant seeds from ¼ to ½- inch deep. Some growers set up small 3 x 3 square foot sites, planting three rows with a seed every few inches. Growers with 4 or 5 small patches are virtually guaranteed a harvest. They grow 2 to 5 small plants in various sites. Infrared photography is less effective against small patches. To make more space, growers cull out weak plants at 4 – 5 weeks and remove males as they appear. =========================
Big Steve is too smart to plant on his own land. He rents a country cabin and always plants on public property or other people’s property. Each year he plants in new locations. He likes to plant in low-traffic spaces among small trees and bushes.
Steve also found two different farm fields that have been out of production for a few years. He has had good crops along rivers and streams, but lost crops to floods twice in the last 10 years. When he planted along rivers, he made sure the plants were not visible from the river. Some years….
……Steve planted in buckets in rocky inaccessible terrain. He doesn’t need to prepare the soil, he just brings in grow bags and fills them with soil on the way. The plants don’t grow as big, but are seldom seen because they are growing where nobody goes or would expect them to be. Plants receive good sunlight on rocky hillsides in untillable soil. A site in dense, short bush, like sticker bushes, is another favorite spot. The sticker bushes grow high enough to prevent people from seeing through them and also serve as a deterrent from people and large animals wandering into the site.
“One of my favorite tricks is to plant where there are lots of mosquitoes,” said Steve with a snicker,
“If I can find a place with wasps, too. That’s a double whammy. I think the best site I ever found was next to a skunk’s den, around a skunk spray. I had to smear the inside of my nose with Vicks Vapor Rub to keep from smelling the skunk spray. Nobody went around there!”
“I plant deep inside patches of poison oak, poison ivy or my favorite: stinging nettles. I save seeds and broadcast them. I just cover any exposed skin with a slick rain suit and gloves to protect me. I wash the suit afterward to get rid of the oils. It’s a great way to keep lightweights away from the patch!” said Steve with a smirk, “if there’s a thief that wants my plants, it will cost them!”
Ideal “trails” are “invisible,” have dense undergrowth and lots of sunlight. Growers walk up river and creek beds to avoid detection. Rapid plant growth will erase any damage to the vegetation between trips. Some growers lightly fertilize their trail if they use it more than a few times, but are careful – wild plants are easy to overfertilize. Other growers never take the same path to their gardens and do everything possible to avoid damaging foliage. In late summer and early fall, damaged foliage usually will not regrow. Big Steve always asks himself: Can I see the trail I just made? If not, great, if so hide it! The more difficult it is for you to get to the site, the less likely someone else will try.
Growers who think ahead bring any supplies they need – lengths of PVC pipe, gasoline-powered pumps, water tanks, soil, etc. – early in the spring before underbrush has matured and hide the supplies until needed. Sheltering also protects lightweight plastic from ultraviolet light damage.
Good soil can be in short supply on remote hillsides and is often the richest where grassland vegetation is found. Grasslands recycle nutrients in the soil and form rich fertile topsoil. (See “Soil” in Appendix).
“I order bricks of coconut fiber from out in California. Those bricks are great. They are compact and easy to carry. When I break them up and add water they expand to several times their size,” said Steve, showing me how he loads them into his backpack.
A nearby water source makes a grower’s life easier and safer. Growers trample foliage and risk being spotted when hauling water. The more trips, the more noticeable the trail. Look for a summertime water source that does not dry up. Water consumption is determined by the weather. Dry land crops are possible if it rains once every one to four weeks.
Growers flower summer crops by covering small greenhouses to give plants 12 hours of darkness daily. Crops are ripe in 8-12 weeks. Sunlight is less important yet essential. Five hours of direct midday sunlight per day is necessary for acceptable growth, the more the better. Growers who scout sites during winter months visualize how trees will shade the landscape and the higher path the sun will make in the spring and summer.
Flowering females stand out like a neon sign if surrounding foliage dies back before harvest.
If you can have exclusive access to your marijuana patch by boat, you can cut potential traffic substantially.
The police find hundreds of thousands of cannabis plants annually with aerial surveillance and infrared photography. Large plots are easier to spot than small gardens.
Many communities receive federal funds to eradicate marijuana crops. Some police departments sell the property they confiscate and buy new high tech surveillance equipment, firearms, vehicles and other toys to seek out and destroy marijuana and grower’s lives. Marijuana laws in many states are extremely severe. Law enforcement officials lie, cheat and steal to achieve their means. Do not trust them under any circumstances.
“Report a marijuana grower” programs with a cash reward are common in the USA. Six armed and dangerous narcs came to search my home on the word of a snitch. The narcs would not tell me who squealed on me or why, or if the weasel even existed. If anyone knows or even suspects you are growing marijuana, they have tremendous authority over you. A vindictive enemy can also turn you in with no evidence, even if you are not growing! Growers avoid jealous lovers, family members or malicious “friends”. One of the saddest cases I saw was a daughter that extorted money from her father. The father grew marijuana to ease the pain of his glaucoma. His daughter threatened to have him arrested if he did not sell some of the crop to pay her off. When selecting a site, remember there might be hunters (archers, black powder, rifle and shotgun) as well as mushroom and marijuana hunters or other passers by. Check all the regulations if hunting is popular in your area. The patch will have to be hidden from other wilderness users. There also might be dirt bikers or four wheel vehicles lurking.
Security is the number one concern in site preparation. Well concealed gardens are harvested, detected plants are not. Prepare growing sites up to 6 months before planting. For best results, let your amended soil sit for at least a month before planting. If the site is on an incline, planting holes must be terraced into the hillside. Make sure the terrace is large enough to catch any runoff water. Make extra gulleys to catch runoff water and channel it to the growing plant. Make a dish around the planting hole to retain water. In heavy brush, clear a few patches so plants get enough sunlight and plant 3-6 plants in each location. When preparing the soil, I cut back all roots from competing plants and till the planting holes 2 – 3 feet square. Soil along a riverbank is almost always fertile sandy loam. Hide the potential garden from river traffic as well as hikers and fishermen. More sunlight is available near the tops of the trees in dense forest. Ingenious growers use deer/elk hunting stands to grow in trees. They set up a pulley system to lift a large container and potting soil up to sit on the plant stand. Install an irrigation hose from the bottom of the tree directly to the plant. The grower passes by weekly with water and manual or battery operated pump to lift water to the plant high in the tree.
A partner is necessary to work on the ground while the other person works in the tree. Smart growers use a safety line and belt and do not spend more than 4 hours off the ground in one day. Accidents happen to tired climbers.