How I Became An All-Organic Marijuana Grower

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All photos by Jessica Catalano

My experience growing marijuana was minimal at best when I lived on the East and West coast. I would help people water, trim and babysit, but I never had the chance to utilize those skills to branch out on my own.

When I first started growing in Colorado, it didn’t cost me more than $200 to get started and I had a closet, not a grow room. I was gifted the plant G-13, which was an exceptional plant to acquire at the time. Little did I know, I would find that between passion and a green thumb, I was delving into something I would become fanatic over, just like my cooking.

A walk-in closet, oscillating fan, tinfoil, and HPS light were all I had to work with my first grow. Both my father and late grandfather possess(ed) impressive green thumbs, enough to rival many professional landscapers. With this in mind, I remember telling myself, “If these plants do well, then I can start getting serious with this, but if these plants do badly then I will find a talented person to grow it for me.”

My first grow-- in the closet.

My first grow– in the closet.

So I began my journey. Sure, I didn’t have the optimal growing conditions at the time, but I made it work beautifully for the most shanty of setups. I used Happy Frog soil that I mixed with earth worm castings, bat guano, and a little bit of extra perlite to ensure aeration.

I would then use an organic tea once a week to fertilize the plants while they were in the vegetative state and then switch to another tea during flowering. The water the plants received was not pH’d down with chemicals but rather left in open jugs that pH’d naturally by the air in a 24-48 hour period.

With the guidance of friends, fellow growers and books, I was able to successfully have an impressive first harvest. Friends, fellow growers, and even myself, couldn’t believe the quality of my medicine as a first-time grower. This new found confidence led to me to push myself as a new grower and absorb everything I could learn like a sponge.

I have always been a minimalist at heart, but when it came to gardening, I wanted to apply the same concept. Organic, minimal and natural as possible. I never liked over complicated or chemical concoctions that promised to produce the highest yields and the fattest buds and found that buds grown with heavy chemicals never compared to organically grown medicine. I could taste, smell and feel the difference.

GROW 101

Vegetative vs Flowering State

Plants growing in the “vegetative” state have not sprouted flowers, or buds, but instead are acquiring height and leaves in order to prepare for flowering. Plants in the “flowering” state have received the signal from the sun or the grow lights (days getting shorter, moving from summer to fall) that it is time to reproduce, and so begin growing flowers. The flowers are what are dried and used as medicine.

Water pH

Plants respond to specific pH levels in water. Many growers use solutions to alter the pH of the water.

The Difference Between Sativa and Indica

The terms “sativa” and “indica” refer to the origins of the plant, which also determine both the growing characteristics as well as the effect of the finished product. Sativas originated from the equator and grow tall plants with long branches. Characteristics of the high are often upbeat, energetic and motivating. Indicas originated north and south of the tropics and grow shorter, but often with thicker flowers. Characteristics of the high are often mellow, pain-relieving and munchie-inducing.

As a new grower, I wanted to strive for organic ingredients derived from the earth that would create incredible organic medicine, even if that meant an average or below average yield. So, I continued on my journey sticking my nose in books, magazines and online grow videos. I would also pick friends’ and growers’ brains to learn as much as I could.

I understood the information they were sharing with me was sacred in a way, as they did not have to take the time to teach me. I absorbed everything and took each style of growing to heart. Some grow methods I didn’t agree with, but I was open to learning while trying to figure out organic alternatives with the person I was speaking with. Learning from passionate medical growers is something I will never forget, as this knowledge is a gift that must be passed down to others.

Grow after grow, I pushed myself and employed tactics I learned from people I was comfortable with.

Each grow became progressively better, until I hit my first wall. I bought two beautiful Lamb’s Bread clones, which were the true Jamaican Landrace strain. This sativa-dominant strain oozes a beautiful cheese, yeast, earth, spice and slightly sweet aroma. The medicinal effects of this strain are superb and strong on the body. I loved this strain because it was perfect for writing, work out recovery, inflammation, running, muscle pain, snowboarding, processing your internal dialog, and producing a huge platform for bountiful creativity.

These two clones were the last line of this strain from the dispensary I bought them at and I understood that if anything happened to them, I was shit out of luck. I, along with my now fiancée, adopted a puppy who broke into the grow room when we were at work.

I came home to rockwool, dirt and fan leaves strewn all over the floor. Little Miss Jenny had eaten both of the Lamb’s Bread plants and a Maui Waui plant. We were devastated, but also highly concerned for Little Miss Jenny as she had also eaten rockwool in addition to the plants.  She survived with no ill after effects but we were both distraught beyond belief over our loss. When growing, learning to cut your losses and learn from your mistakes is crucial.

I continued grow after grow, trying different methods and dialing in my own style. Growers and friends would tease me and told me I needed to go to California because I wanted to grow naturally tall plants. I wanted them to be in their most organic state and not interfere with their growth.

One of my first finished, trimmed, organic flowers. Pure beauty.

One of my first finished, trimmed, organic flowers. Pure beauty.

Ideally, I wanted to guerilla grow outside in the mountains and let the plants just grow naturally. This wasn’t going to happen, so I began to warm up to the idea of topping plants as it was best for indoor grows. I also learned from my mistakes in the garden such as: heat stress, wind stress, light stress, root bound issues, nutrient lock out (due to roots being bound), nutrient deficiencies, and thrips (little bastard insects).

Each problem was incredibly stressful but luckily, between grow books, online grow forums and great friends, I was able to remedy the situations very quickly. Working at a dispensary that operates mainly as a clone store also helped me to learn about such things as nutrient deficiencies, genetics, growing techniques and cloning.

In a little over a year, the grow space eventually shifted from a walk-in closet to a full-fledged grow room with separate flowering and vegetative spaces. I upgraded from a 250-watt HPS light to 1,000-watt HPS light and finally had all the appropriate equipment I needed to run a proper grow. I turned the large walk-in closet into a vegetative and cloning room which allowed me to transfer plants from one stage to the other. This day was like Christmas for me, I felt incredibly blessed to work with this equipment and to be able to keep pushing my skills as a grower.

I also switched soils during this transition to TGA Super Soil (Dioxide), which was referred by and gifted to me by two close friends. I instantly fell in love. My plants have never looked so healthy, grown so aggressively, and looked so lush as they have with TGA’s Super Soil. The mycorrhizal fungi and microbes within this soil help to create strong liberal root growth that allows the plant to take up the nutrients it needs efficiently.

It also provides for proper soil aeration and water retention so you don’t get root rot (a problem I have personally experienced twice). I was also turned on to Rocky Mountain Worm Castings, which I also immediately became obsessed with. Not all worm castings are created equal, and this company proves that. At 99% purity, they provide an incredibly high concentration of microbes and bacteria that help to increase vegetative growth and yields without the worry of nutrient burn. I use the worm castings by making a tea then adding it to the soil as a booster once a week. I also adopted aggressive topping paired with a trellis. Minimalistic and easy with impressive results.

My journey through growing medical grade cannabis has been passionate, intense, challenging, but most of all, enjoyable. I find when I am gardening, I am at peace, relaxed, and it serves as a form of therapy for me.

"When I am gardening, I am at peace."

“When I am gardening, I am at peace.”

Keeping your hands busy with something enjoyable allows your mind to work through thoughts, issues, and problems while relaxing you. Interacting with your plants on a personal level not only helps you but also your plants.

Playing music, hugging, caressing the leaves and talking to them, really helps the growth of the plants, they respond to positive energy. Growing is an experience that one day everyone in the world will be able to practice without penalty if we all continue fighting the great fight.

People are allowed to take prescription pills without repercussions or harassment. Therefore, we all need to fight for the right to grow great medicine and the ability to medicate (almost) anywhere without consequence.

After all, it is just a plant that has been put on this earth for us to use medically and for a multitude of other uses. I will keep fighting for the day where medical marijuana will be accepted again and revered as a plant that has natural qualities that will change the world. With that, I cannot wait for the day when the social chatter and propaganda against this plant slowly fades into the shadows to die. This plant is our natural born right.