Vansterdan is a grower who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Because of tolerant laws and an abundance of high-quality marijuana, Vancouver is often compared to Amsterdam, and some have dubbed it “Vansterdam”. Vansterdan showed me how he grows great pot in his backyard and a few mountain sites.
Banana Belt bud
Vancouver is part of Canada’s “Banana Belt”, a climate blessed with moderate temperatures, and an abundance of rain and evergreen conifer forests. Marijuana thrives in BC back yards, while garden patches in mountains and swamps demand little attention after planting. This climate is similar to that of the United Kingdom, Northern and Atlantic coastal Europe, Tasmania and southern New Zealand. Annual rainfall is 100 centimeters (30″) or more, and winter comes early, with low light levels and chilling rain that fosters rampant fungus growth.
Vansterdan has a large south-facing back yard enclosed by a high fence. He integrates his indoor grow room, outdoor greenhouse and outdoor gardens for maximum production. He starts clones under lights and moves them outdoors into a small heated greenhouse, as well as into his backyard and mountain gardens.
Last year, Vansterdan purchased seeds from Dutch and Canadian seed companies. He took about 30 clones from each of the following mother plants: Skunk #1, Jack Herer, Blueberry, Sweet Tooth, Romulan, and Super Silver Haze, a total of 180 clones. Three weeks later, all 180 clones were well-rooted.
Vansterdan chose the strongest half of each variety to move to his outdoor gardens. He moved 30 of these clones into the backyard, and the remaining 60 he transplanted into patches in the nearby mountains.
Site selection & security
Security is a small issue in Vancouver. Vansterdan lives in a conservative neighborhood with neighbors on three sides. Plants can grow to the top of the backyard fence without detection. His greenhouse, located along the southern side of the house, measures 1 x 2 meters and is 1.2 meters tall. He grows 30 marijuana plants in the greenhouse and backyard among the vegetables. Some grow in the ground, while others are kept in pots buried in the ground.
To find good outdoor sites, Vansterdan bought a Ministry of Forestry map of sectors near Vancouver, jumped on his mountain bike and set out to find new turf. His criteria: sunshine, limited public access and good water supply.
“I look for a south-facing hillside where the sun shines all day long. The forest provides good cover for secrecy but the tall trees make too much shade. That’s why I look for stands of thorny blackberries, ferns or meadow grass to plant in,” said Vansterdan, zipping up his rain suit.
Security and site selection are easy in BC. There are few aerial patrols looking for marijuana and the countryside is green all year long, which makes marijuana difficult to distinguish from other foliage. Hikers, fishermen and hunters present the biggest security risk. Other similar climates in northern and coastal Europe are more populated and require more clandestine planting methods. Camouflaging the garden along a fence or among other plants is necessary. In BC, the primary obstacles are cool, wet weather and invasive foliage.
After clones have rooted in rockwool cubes for three weeks, Vansterdam 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 these cuttings under a 400-watt HP sodium lamp for two weeks before moving them outdoors to the greenhouse, where they will “harden-off” (adapt to the more intense sunlight). He keeps clones in nursery flat trays 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 also allowed to harden-off in the greenhouse, and is then and later transplanted to 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 each evening to induce flowering with 12 hours of darkness.
Preparing three sites requires three different strategies.
The small greenhouse needs a little bit of heat to speed growth. There are two easy ways to warm a greenhouse: natural heat generated by the sun and artificial heat from electricity or burning 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, 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.
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 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 to 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 to 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 clayey 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 cubic yard to hold more heat than is dissipated.
“It’s easy to make compost,” says Vansterdan enthusiastically. “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 a huge pile 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. 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 he harvests a spring crop.” said Vansterdan with a bewildered grin.
Vansterdan has been planting in secret mountain gardens for 12 years, at locations accessible only by foot or mountain bike.
“Most of the soil around here is full of Douglas Fir needles and very acidic,” he explains. “The pH is around 5, which makes plants grow slowly. I look for patches where pasture grass grows.
“The soil is normally a little poor, lacking nutrients. 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. 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 either.”
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. The weather here in 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,” concluded Vansterdan.
If the weather co-operates 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.
TRANSPLANTING TO THE MOUNTAIN SITE
The clones he transplants to the mountain site are grown in tall containers to promote a strong, deep root system. The containers Vansterdan uses are 6 inches tall and 3 inches square.
“I learned this trick when I worked for the Forest Service,” 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. 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.”
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 then grow roots along the underground stem over the next few weeks.
This is a pre-publication excerpt from Marijuana Outdoors: Guerilla Growing, by Jorge Cervantes. The book covers everything you need to know to grow outdoors and will be available in Summer 1999. 160 pages, 60 color photos, illustrated, index. Available from Marlin’s Books, 1-888-306-206-7187.