IT'S ONLY A MATTER of time before recreational marijuana is legalized in Oregon. As soon as that day comes, undoubtedly a flurry of Portland's gardeners will take to neighborhoods the city over to grow crops of their own. It seems logical. Why give all that money to a dealer or dispensary when you have space to grow your own Lemon Diesel? How hard can it be? There must be a reason it's called weed, right? Let's find out, before you turn your house into a jungle of ganja:
A local medical-marijuana grower—let's call him Harry Pothead—recently showed me around his operation, which he operates year-round, inside, where he's not subject to Oregon's drippy weather. It's in a large rental house he's been at for years, where a herd of hippies used to hunker down in every room. An adorable black gargoyle of a dog greets me at the door and I'm given the full tour of the joint (ha?), beginning with the top floor, where Harry's starter plants sit under lamps. The attic is filled with potting soil bags, an intricate venting system that snakes through the large room, and two large, healthy mother plants. Deeper into the cavernous space, Harry has his grow room, large tents with lights hanging from the ceiling. The lights are on a strict daily schedule—12 hours of utter darkness, followed by 12 hours under the hot grow lamps. Here, the plants grow into gawky teenagers before Harry moves them downstairs, where they'll get even larger.
The "garden," as he calls it, is in the basement, in a windowless room with pallets on the floor and lights hanging from the claustrophobic close-in ceiling. This is where all the magic happens. There's Bubba Kush and some tropical-smelling Pineapple Diesel, all about a month into their cycle, a couple months out from harvest. Harry explains that he recently had a crop disaster—he thought it might be a fungus or bugs, and he spent weeks trying to figure out what was destroying his plants, but it was too late and thousands in income was lost. It was rats! He wasn't sure why rodents would even care about marijuana plants—maybe they were in it for the gnawing, or for nesting materials, or for a source of water from the stalks—either way he was out a huge chunk of change.
This gets to the heart of why indoor marijuana growing might not be for everyone. It can be expensive to get started (and you might end up with toothy house guests). Harry recommends buying a small grow tent, which keeps out unwanted light and allows you to control the environment. Those can set you back up to $500, and then you have to buy lights, hardware to hook up the lights, soil, and a good filter and ventilation system.
Why not just grow a couple plants on your patio, where the sun and air is free? Harry says there wouldn't be "too much stopping you, particularly if it were legal. Pot plants grow great outdoors." But, he says, "Our growing season is a little short... fall rain brings mold and powdery mildew. Security against theft would be my biggest concern." Even if legal, marijuana will be considerably more valuable than a garden of kale. Combined with slugs, bugs, and poachers, that musty basement starts to look like a pretty good garden.
Ultimately, Harry recommends buying Jorge Cervantes' book Indoor Marijuana Horticulture and "finding a pot-grower buddy" to glean their knowledge (they're full of useful tips, and they can also get you going with some seedlings). Turns out, like regular gardening, it's not particularly easy growing green, at least the quality stuff.
Harry also makes a good point: Lots of people are growing weed, but only a few are growing good weed. Depending on your fortitude, you can spend hours a week tending to a couple of raggedy-ass plants, or you can drop a bit of cash on primo organic green, attended to by a guy or gal who's been coddling their crop for months. Or think of it like this: Would you rather run up your water bill to grow two rows of corn in your yard, or buy a juicy and well-priced ear at the farmers' market? I don't really see the fun of fighting fungus when I could be getting stoned on the couch and watching Twin Peaks. But I suppose this is what separates the true pioneers from the hobbyists.