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Growing your own

If you want to grow cannabis starting July 1 when it becomes legal in Oregon, you might be out of luck.

Not only is it already late in the growing season, but you might not be able to legally obtain seeds or starts — essentially small plants that already have been sexed or cloned.

Speaking of sex, the first thing you need to know about pot is that all the magic happens in the female plant. Male plants should be banished from grow sites altogether unless you want lots of seeds and very few buds.

Jon Cunningham, 45, who has grown medical marijuana in rural Jackson County for six years, says, “July 1 is really, really late. The old saying, ‘Knee high by the first of July’ for corn is pretty much true about cannabis.”

Cunningham’s own crop is about 3 to 4 feet tall. He starts early under lights, and then brings his plants into the sun around the end of May so they take advantage of the long days.

If you’re starting from seed at this late date, you’ll end up with a very short plant and a small harvest, Cunningham says.

The ability to sex plants is one skill that might prove a bit daunting for most novices, Cunningham says.

If you can find starts on July 1 you will have better luck, he says. But buying or selling recreational marijuana doesn't become legal until next year. Starts are sold at medical marijuana dispensaries, but only to participants in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

Like other growers, Cunningham says he welcomes the legalization of recreational marijuana on July 1 but is still unsure about the rules being devised by the Legislature and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

He says growers and the public alike will be confused about what they can or can’t do.

“It’s the wild, Wild West out there,” he says.

Most of the techniques used to grow tomatoes and other crops are similar for cannabis, says Cunningham, who prefaces his remarks by saying that growers all have their own methods.

“The plant is really responsive to whatever you do,” he says.

Cunningham has grown indoors and outdoors and says in his mind, there is only one way to grow the best cannabis.

“The outdoor plant is superior,” he says.

He suggests growing each plant in 100-gallon pots at this late date in the season, and he recommends high-quality, composted soil. Many growers use 600- to 800-gallon pots, but they also start in early spring, he says.

Cannabis loves sun — the more the better — but it will grow with six hours of sunlight or less.

“It’s a weed, and it will grow wherever you plant it,” Cunningham says. “But if it’s not grown right, it won’t be as potent and it won’t grow to its full potential.”

Cunningham makes his own organic soil but says an amateur grower could get away with store-bought bags of soil.

“You want a couple of feet of deep, well-drained organic soil,” he suggests.

Cunningham says the soil should have plenty of nitrogen in it during the vegetative stage, then plenty of phosphorous available for flowering. Potassium is needed throughout the growing cycle. Cunningham uses bat guano as a supplement to add nitrogen.

At this time of year, his garden smells more like manure than pot. He also grows other herbs in his garden and hopes to one day offer tours to the public, depending on what’s permissible under Oregon law.

Many of the things he grows end up at Breeze Botanicals in Ashland and Gold Hill, owned by his wife, Brie Malarkey.

Cunningham says some people use chemical supplements, but he avoids them because they affect the smell, the flavor and the type of high.

“It is going to affect quality,” Cunningham says.

He waters deep and infrequently, depending on the weather.

“Watering is the hardest part,” he says. “ I’m always erring on the side of they don’t need water.”

Initially, he puts about 500 gallons of water on his dozens of large pots to make sure the soil is saturated. After planting, he has watered only once, with about 250 gallons, but heavily mulches to retain the moisture. Even after several weeks of growing, his soil is still damp. Cunningham prefers growing in pots because the native soil is composed mostly of clay that doesn't drain well.

Once the plants get bigger and the days get hotter, he will water every three days.

If the plant is well cared for, it shouldn’t need insecticides, Cunningham says.

The plant goes through a vigorous vegetative stage where it develops most of its height prior to and just after the solstice on June 21. Then, sometime in August, when the days get shorter with less than 14 hours of sunlight, the plant switches to a flowering stage.

Depending on the strain, some plants can be harvested in the first week of October.

He says he knows it's time to bring in his crop when the oil capsules that coat the buds and leaves go from a clear color to amber.

Once the plants are harvested, they have to be carefully dried for about one to two weeks. Then the leaves are snipped off so that mostly dried buds are left.

“Trimming is the most work,” Cunningham says. “The rest of it is just gardening.”

The buds should be put in a sealed container that is checked frequently to make sure everything is dry.

He stores the cured cannabis in glass jars and in a place that gets no hotter than 65 degrees.

“All of it is really commonsense,” Cunningham says. 

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

Starter plants are recommended this late in the growing season, but getting them legally may prove problematic. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Jon Cunningham has grown medical marijuana in rural Jackson County for six years. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell