According to KoalaMan, a 30-year-old former opal miner who has spent most of his adult life growing cannabis in rugged Australian backcountry, "The wombat is a tiny, furry bugger that digs massive burrows under your plants and eats their roots."
"The wallaby is a miniature kangaroo that travels in packs while eating or trampling your weed," he continued. "They do vicious damage. I lost a crop to them just two weeks before I would have harvested. The only difference is that a wombat will run underground to get away from you but an angry wallaby will kick your ass. Have you ever seen their feet?"
Despite the challenges posed by furry ass-kicking marsupials, Australia presents a variety of exciting opportunities for cannabis growers.
Its geography is impressive. The island continent, bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, and approximately as big as the United States, has unending expanses of foreboding desert, a torpid tropical northern region, snowy mountains, and lovely greenbelts typified by the lush landscape where Nimbin is situated.
Australia is like another planet. It's "down under" in the southern hemisphere, so Australians enjoy summery Christmas at the beach in December, and cool winter days in July.
The country is so vast and uncharted ? with 550 national parks, low population density, and a still-pervasive agrarian tradition ? that most marijuana Australians consume is grown in their own country, outdoors.
Aussie growers in areas with appropriate seasonal temperature variations start their seedlings indoors in October and transplant them outside into Aussie springtime a few weeks later. They look forward to harvests beginning in March and continuing through May. Other growers are able to grow outdoors year round, reaping two to four harvests annually.
Indoor cannabis cultivation is increasingly popular, especially among city dwellers, but ample sunshine, fresh air, and freedom from effective aerial surveillance are usually available to Aussie growers in most of the country's microclimates.
Outdoor marijuana is different from indoor marijuana. In general, Australian outdoor cultivators work with mostly-Sativa varieties characterized by long, thin leaves, extended growing seasons, long internodes and buds, tallness, sturdy stalks and immune systems resistant to wind, intense sun, and pests.
Unless Sativas are altered by pruning, training, or other interventions, they grow to become Christmas-tree shaped plants that average 15 feet high, with large lower branches that often create a three to five foot width profile.
Some growers report "cannabis trees" that top 20 feet high with stalks as thick around as a baseball bat. The topmost colas on some of these beauties have measured more than two feet long.
Sativas are slow-growing plants; some flower intermittently, if at all. Others flower when they have reached a certain height or age, or when they have been triggered by daylength or seasonal variations.
Indica flowers usually take seven weeks or less to ripen, but some varieties of Sativa flowers must ripen for 10 to 16 weeks before fully maturing.
Today's Australian Sativas are probably descendants of seeds imported in the 1970's from Thailand, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa.
The famed "Aussie Bushman" variety, a consistent high yielder favored by growers in the Nimbin area and recently exported to North America (available via Marc Emery Direct Seed Sales), is a modified Sativa into which breeders have introduced Indica genetics via pollination.
Breeders have also selected mother and father Sativas that display "Indica characteristics," such as shorter internodes, shorter height, and fatter buds.
Aussie growers have imported pure Indicas and Indica-dominant hybrids to Australia. Non-native varieties like Haze, Northern Lights, Berry, Skunk and Ice have found their way to kangaroo-land, where they are grown pure or combined with tropical genetics to form potent, adaptable crosses.
Although these varieties are initially best-suited to indoor grows, Aussies have found ways to keep them stable and adapt them to down under outdoor growing conditions, using greenhouses, shadecloths, flower-forcing, mist systems and other techniques.
Key problems with Northern Hemisphere weed grown in Australia are day length mismatches, inability to handle high temperatures, sun intensity, dehydration and susceptibility to molds.
For the cannabis consumer, an important facet of Australia's Sativa dominance is that Sativa cannabinoid profiles produce psychoactive effects that are markedly different from those produced by Indicas.
In general, a Sativa high is characterized by mental stimulation, mild hallucinations, euphoria, creativity, increased heart rate, anxiety, and an absence of "burn-out" and sleepiness.
Sativa cannabinoid profiles are relatively low in the kinds of constituents that most medical marijuana users favor. Compared to Indicas, Sativas do not offer as much analgesia, muscle relaxation, anti-inflammation, subjective body effects, and sedation. Further, Sativas may destabilize people who suffer from dysfunctions like schizophrenia, insomnia, and anxiety disorders.
Some growers who gathered in Nimbin during May's Mardi Grass told me they had LSD-like trips on powerful pure Sativas.
"When I smoked Sativa, I had mind rushes, and it gave me a lot of energy, too much," a female grower told me. "If somebody is an excitable type, watch out for Sativas. It sends you way up. Over the years, I have bred plants that fit perfectly with my personality and what I like to feel when I get high. The right combination of body high and mental clarity that you get from a good hybrid is superb."
The female grower also indicated that Sativa's excitatory characteristics can be reduced by harvesting late in the flowering season.
"Wait until nearly half the flower hairs have browned, and about 20 percent of the resin glands have changed from clear to amber or are starting to droop, and then harvest," she said. "Cannabinoids ripen on the plant. Early in flowering, the high is very light, very up. The longer you wait to harvest, the more likely the cannabinoids will produce a relaxing Indica-like high."
Way out outback
What's the difference between a koala bear and a kangaroo?
According to one of the Nimbin Cup's primary bud contributors, kangaroos are quick to hop away from growers who disturb them, but koalas are surprisingly aggressive.
"Everybody thinks koalas are cute and sweet, but actually they are cocky," the grower asserted. "They just want to sit and eat eucalyptus all day, but if you mess with them, they'll claw your ass and hiss at you."
Yes, it's a Crocodile Dundee life for people like Mr T and his grow partner Mr P, two of thousands of wild Aussie bushrangers who grow pot indoors and outdoors.
T and P traveled hundreds of miles to Nimbin, bringing with them some of the finest pot grown in Australia in 2002. Some T-P buds were 18 inches long and four inches in diameter. They stored their precious flowers in specially-constructed glass jars that allowed them to hang in mid-air untouched by the containers.
This suspension technique meant that fragile resin glands coating the buds were unharmed, still standing tall, clear and hydrostatically inflated when I photographed the buds several weeks after they were harvested.
Preservation of resin glands is important to T:
"I try not to touch the sticky parts of the buds at all when I am growing them, when I am harvesting, or when I am curing," T says. "I want every bit of resin left on the plant until it's time to smoke. People who crush their pot are breaking open the glands and exposing the cannabinoids to air and heat, which breaks them down. It changes the high and decreases the potency."
Improper curing also decreases potency, T explains.
"If it's too hot, or if you have your tops in the light, it will hurt them," he added. "We hang them in a dark space, about 75?F (24?C) with low humidity and good air circulation. You can smell them drying and curing, and see the color change from bright green to golden or reddish-brown. It's a one to three week process; they are ready for storage and smoking when there is still some life left in them but the stems will break easily if you bend them hard. If you store them with too much moisture, they get molds and the taste will be too greeny."
Connoisseurs and fellow growers lavishly praised P and T's buds. They also enjoyed shiny nuggets of the pair's magnificent "Mullaway" hash ? collected from harvest scissors.
"It's all about taste," P said. "What's the use of taking fantastic genetics and sticking it in fake soil or soil with bad prepwork? When we grow indoors, we use the best organic soil we can get. Sometimes we take grow pots outdoors and put them in the ground. If we plant directly in remote soil, we might have to put in potash, mushroom compost, guano, and chook shit to make bad soil into something better."
"That's Aussie for chicken shit," P explains. "And you can bet that if the soil is rich and clean, the bud won't taste like shit, it will grow faster, and be less likely to wilt. We've had a terrible drought here, so that's important. It's hard to keep the plants alive, especially when the nearest water is several hundred kilometers away."
Worth the work
Watering remote crops, cutting through thorn bushes, creating grow spaces in coastal sand dunes, spending days driving tankers full of H2O, trimming plants repeatedly to force width, shortness and multiple cola development, putting up with the complexities of using organic soil in indoor grow rooms- it's all worth it for people like P and T.
After all, at the end of the Nimbin Cup, they took home the winner's trophies for first place Bubbleberry and second place Bubbleberry crossed with Bubblegum. They won last year too.
"We know people who have been arrested a hundred times for growing," T says. "The judge tries to fine them a hundred dollars and they complain that it's too much. They already have their high pressure sodium lights set up for the next grow. If you're a poor bludger on the dole, growing pot because you want the strongest weed there is, what are they going to do to you, confiscate your tent?"
T and P are mighty men who don't know the meaning of fear, but some growers aren't as cavalier.
I traveled a long way from Nimbin, fording two streams and trudging a mile up a hill infested with leeches, to meet a grower at his rustic cabin in the middle of overgrown wilderness, miles from a paved road.
Towering Sativas, so bud-heavy that several were bent over horizontally, were planted in large hole-riddled barrels sunk in the ground. The barrels contained well-aged compost, forest debris, stream pebbles, and chook manure.
The grower kept looking nervously at the sky, worrying that rainstorms would make his buds too wet, causing internal rot that favored mold, caterpillars and other waste vectors. He also worried about anti-pot helicopter patrols, and cursed the machines under his breath.
This grower was one of the original "gypsy hippies" who helped re-discover the Nimbin area three decades ago. He says marijuana is a "barter crop" that helps him get eggs, butter, honey, used clothing, firewood and other supplies for his wife and three children.
He and his wife use cannabis medicinally, spiritually and recreationally. Their lives are Buddhistic and holistic, with minimal technology, energy consumption, or exposure to the modern world.
They believe their right to grow cannabis is god-given, and that the government's efforts to stop them are evil and ridiculous.
"The plants grow good here nine months of the year," the man said, his eyes gentle as he caressed a crystalline leaf blade that was pencil thin and almost a foot long. "It's something I'd like to share with everybody, especially our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. For those of us living in nature in this old penal colony called Australia, marijuana is one of life's greatest blessings."