Growing pot outdoors is not as easy as you would think. If you want to grow a quality product you have to approach the issue as a business.
It was in the winter of 1980 that I first branched out from simply vending quality pot to actually growing and processing it. I was part of a small group of entrepreneurs in the Southern Oregon area, and soon we were growing massive amounts of bud.
At the peak of our operation, we had about 15 sites spread over the drainage of two of Southern Oregon’s largest rivers. Each site consisted of between two to eight beds on each creek or spring. We hauled over 1,200 seedlings to just one creek system. One round of the entire operation took two days to complete and covered over 250 miles!
In this article, I will show you what it takes to get your outdoor crop from seed to finished product, ready to be sold on the open market.
Finding a spot
You have to spend some time finding the right spot to grow the crop. You should pick up some maps of the area you are interested in. A good place to find quality maps is your local Forest Service headquarters. You can also find highly detailed maps at stores that supply hikers and hunters. I suggest getting two maps from different sources to provide you with the best information.
Study your maps, then make some exploratory trips to do a rough survey of the area. Remember that your sites must be within a reasonable distance for you to drive and haul the supplies you need.
The best time to survey potential sites is in the summer. I always carried a compass with me when on site-scouting expeditions, to check the sun’s path relative to the possible garden’s spot. Remember that the sun moves in the sky as spring turns to summer and then into fall. Maximum sun exposure is a critical element in the production of quality pot.
Try to assess the relative seclusion of your potential spot. As you walk through the woods, pay close attention to signs of human intrusion. Look for footprints and for ribbons tied to branches by surveyors or loggers. Note the commercial activity in the area of your site.
We once had a killer bed system going, but a couple of weeks before harvest the entire area was logged! If only we had seen the various signs that were evident in the weeks leading up to that day, we could have avoided the problem. The road into the area had been surveyed and timber cruisers had tied ribbons marking the best trees and the ways to get them out. The ribbons were only yards from our site, yet we didn’t see them because we weren’t looking for them! So be aware of your surroundings.
Tools and supplies
So you’ve found the perfect site. It has water, sun, and seclusion. It is within a reasonable distance of your home. Now you have to prepare the beds for your crop.
This is where the hard work starts. Here is a list of the basic tools and supplies that you need to get you started, and to give you some idea of the commitment you must make to undertake this task:
– Picks or pickaxes
– Backpacks (for hauling stuff into and out of your sites)
– Plastic hose (3/4 inch, black plastic hose will do)
– Fence wire
– Ax and/or bow saw
– Heavy-duty garbage bags
– Rope (for tying off your loads of supplies to your pack)
– Fertilizer (rabbit manure is gold, liquid fish fertilizer is also very good)
– Blooming mixture
– Soil conditioning additives (vermiculite, mulch or commercial manure mixture, bone meal, peat moss, etc.)
This list includes only the actual stuff needed to get your beds into the condition required to grow quality marijuana. You will also need to have healthy seedlings or cuttings to transplant into your beds when spring comes. Preparing these is an art in itself.
You will have to visit your local garden supply store, farmers co-op, or other such place to get the soil conditioners you will need. Does it look suspicious to pull up to the loading dock of your local supply store and hand the dockworker your receipt for a dozen bags of peat moss, 20 bags of manure and 100 pounds of bone meal? Hell yes! And it doesn’t help when you pull up in a ’67 Volkswagen van painted with Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane album covers! You have to use some common sense. I recommend purchasing from several suppliers over a period of weeks.
Preparing the site
Growing pot is very hard work. You have to be in good physical condition to haul in your supplies, prepare the sites and care for your crop.
To properly prepare the beds for your plants, you have to haul in hundreds (even thousands) of pounds of supplies. The natural forest soil is not the ideal medium for growing pot. Marijuana requires rich, fertile soil. You will turn the soil that you find into the best farming patch possible.
When you get all your supplies to your site, you have to clear the bed areas and prepare the soil. First you must break up the natural soil using picks and shovels, removing most of the roots and rocks from the bed. Once your bed is cleared, you should mix in the soil additives, following the instructions on the packages to determine the amounts to use.
In a bed about 10 feet by 20 feet, you would use one bale of peat moss, 20 pounds of bone meal and about 30 bags of mulch or commercial manure. By the way, each bag of mulch weighs about 40 pounds. You need to carry all of this in on your back. I used to work out for three hours every day to be in the right shape to do this job.
The next step is to fence the bed off using the fence wire you brought. The more strands, the better. The fence wire will usually keep out inquisitive deer, but elk will just calmly walk right through.
You will need to establish a watering system using the plastic hose to create water-lines from a nearby creek or stream. Water is essential to growing a good marijuana garden. You need a reliable source of water and a way to get a large quantity of water to your plants. I became proficient at running hundreds of feet of plastic hose to feed my sites. We would build small dams on creeks to hold water to feed our sites, if necessary.
Tending to problems
You have to tend to your crop during the growing season. You can’t just sit on your ass at home and expect to reap a bountiful harvest. Marijuana requires huge amounts of water and food to produce giant, THC-laden blooms. You will have to visit your sites about every 10 to 14 days to check on the water supply, add fertilizers and maintain your fencing.
I’ve found that a water-soluble fertilizer, like liquid fish, works the best. You can dump it right into the intake of your watering system. You will need many gallons of this stuff; buy it by the case during the early spring and store it discreetly at your site.
During the course of the growing season, you will have to deal with a lot of things that you didn’t expect. Deer and other wildlife will
thrash your beds. Sudden storms will smash down your plants with downpours of rain and gusty winds. Your truck will break down in the middle of nowhere, your cell phone won’t work and your dog will get lost.
As you round a blind corner on a deserted gravel road in the middle of the forest, you will run smack into a tree planting crew about to start their work on your creek. As you drive merrily along a narrow road, you will encounter a truck with law enforcement officials parked on the side of the road, studying a map. They will stare incredulously as you drive by and immediately run your license, finding out who you are and where you live.
Growing pot is hard, risky work. You must weigh the risks against the possible gains and make your own decision.
So now you have made it through the summer and fall is in the air. You are now at a crucial stage of your new career. Harvest is coming! You must have the facilities to handle your crop properly. The curing of marijuana is very critical. All your work can be destroyed by improper curing techniques. You need a big house, preferably with a garage or outbuildings or both.
In the late summer you should have scoped out a place to cure the crop you have made so much effort to grow. A large three or four-bedroom house with a garage and/or shop is what you are looking for. Of course, you will not be using your real name to rent the place, as you will be committing a felony while you are there, as will everyone else who associates with you!
Let’s say you have a great house in a remote location secured for your curing process. It has to be by itself, because curing marijuana produces a dramatic odor that can carry for blocks. You have survived the growing season and the moment of truth is at hand. You applied the right amount of blooming agent during the late summer. How do you know when your plants are ready to be harvested?
At some point during the late summer, your beloved plants will have started to develop the flowers you desire. The buds you will be harvesting will be dripping with resin and exuding an intoxicating odor. They will weigh down the branches of the plant with their mass.
When starved for water, the buds produce even more resin, and the light, blonde or yellowish-colored hairs that cover the buds will begin to darken. You must make a judgement call as to when the buds are at their peak. Generally this occurs at the point when the buds are just beginning to show the darkening of the hairs, and you can see resin glands shining like little crystals covering the buds.
In the field, your teams of harvesters will use large knives or machetes to hack the buds from the branches of the plants. You don’t need to bring in the branches, just the valuable buds.
You have to get your crop from the field to your curing house. A pick-up with a canopy is the ideal vehicle for this phase of the operation. Using garbage bags or even cardboard boxes, you can haul the buds out of the patch and transport them to your curing house.
Drying and curing
Your harvested bounty is going to take up a lot of room. The buds must be hung like laundry, with ample air space around each bud to properly cure your crop and produce gourmet-quality marijuana.
We strung heavy twine in all the available areas of our curing house and garage. We put lines at about three and six feet off the floor, spaced about three feet apart so a person could walk between the rows of drying pot. All this has to be done before you harvest a single plant.
Air movement is essential to curing the buds and preventing the growth and spread of mold, which can destroy a room full of pot in a very short time. Use oscillating fans to provide the air movement needed. You may need to rotate the buds from the corners of your curing rooms to promote even drying and curing.
Monitor the condition of the product for drying rate and mold. If you find buds with mold, get them out of the room as soon as possible to keep the mold from spreading.
When the buds begin to show signs of drying, usually about the third day after harvest, you should have your crew start to remove the large fan leaves from the bud branches. This will facilitate the curing process and save work later, during the trimming and weighing stages. Keep the huge mass of trimmed material, sometimes referred to as “shake,” picked up and tidy. You will have lots of it if your crop is large.
After about seven days, squeeze a medium-sized bud between your thumb and forefinger. It should yield with a little firmness and the outer small leaves and hairs should crush and crumble. It should then rebound slightly after you release it. It is now ready for storage and sale, or further curing.
At this point, the aroma will be very noticeable. If anybody were to walk up to your house the smell would be unmistakable! Keep this point in mind when picking out your curing house.
Take a small quantity of the bud, and with your fellow agriculturists, try it out. You should be sober when you try your product to fully critique it. If it lights, and stays lit, it’s dry. This is pretty simple, but a fine point that is sometimes missed by amateurs.
We found that the best method for storage of our crop was to use a vacuum sealing machine. We took a trip to our local discount store and bought a sealing machine, along with a dozen rolls of sealing pouches. Yes, we got some looks at the checkout as you can imagine. Nobody buys a dozen rolls of sealing pouches at one time. We went to another store to buy the next dozen.
A quality scale is required to weigh out your harvest. There are digital electronic scales that make this chore much easier. We set up an assembly line to make this tedious task more efficient.
The home sealing units that were used at the time were not the food service quality machines used in modern food processing today. They didn’t crush the buds, but were perfect for inducing a vacuum on a small pouch.
If using a powerful vacuum sealer, the buds should be put into a cheap plastic container, and then sealed, so that the buds are not crushed and ruined.
Several people would be making up empty pouches of various sizes while others would be filling the pouches and passing them to the person weighing up the product. The person at the scale would make the final weight adjustment, always about a gram heavy, and pass the pouches on to the sealing detail.
One or two people would seal up the pouches and trim off any excess plastic. The sealed pot would then be separated into the various weight categories and hauled off to final storage. We weighed out full pounds, halves, quarters, ounces, half-ounces, quarter-ounces and eighths. This took many days!
We continued to make trips out to the sites to collect our harvest as we had room available. We had miscalculated the vast quantities of pot we were going to be harvesting. We had always planned on a very high failure rate eliminating most of our crops. Even as the harvest approached, we continued to be pessimistic about the success rate of our sites.
It was only as we were in the middle of harvesting our first site that we realized that we were in trouble. As I mentioned earlier, we had filled our curing house on the first trip, from the first creek system. This was a standard three-bedroom house with a two-car garage. After the initial panic attacks subsided, we were overjoyed. More pot equals more money!
We worked around the clock for three days to manage the drying and curing process. We built several drying racks, similar to the racks used to dehydrate food. We used these to dry the buds after we had removed the larger leaves during the initial drying phase. Several people worked on the branches as they hung, removing the larger leaves by hand or with scissors.
As the buds dried, they were moved to the drying racks after having been rough-trimmed while hanging. This process allowed us to have rotating batches of both freshly harvested pot and drying buds.
Risks and rewards
There are some downsides to this lifestyle that you should be fully aware of before running off to buy your first 10 cases of Alaskan Fish Fertilizer. Growing ganja is an illegal thing to do, and it carries some pretty heavy consequences if you get caught. There is anxiety and paranoia around the whole process.
You can’t let anybody know what you are doing. This involves some degree of isolation for a long time. No parties at your curing house! It’s pretty hard to explain the rooms full of wire and twine strung all over the place, much less the pack frames, machetes, bags of vermiculite and so on.
The grower’s lifestyle can be hard on your psyche, your relationships and your loved ones. The rewards can be significant, but they are not without very real costs and great risk.
My own worst-case scenario came the year after our incredible success.
It was near the end of the growing season; we had once again produced a huge crop of very high quality pot. As I drove down a gravel road, dozens of miles from civilization, a Forest Service pick-up passed me going the other way. This is unavoidable, but you don’t want to see these guys more than two or three times during the entire year. I was going to meet one of my partners and take care of our sites over the next few days. As I rounded a sweeping corner only a couple of hundred yards from his campsite, I saw a dozen law enforcement vehicles!
I took a deep breath and pulled my pick-up over and got out. Time for an Oscar-winning performance. My heart was pounding as I approached the nearest deputy. I asked what the hell was going on and introduced myself, using my real name. An officer was already running my plates, so lying about my identity was out of the question.
The officer was very nice, but I could tell they were all tense and their attention was on me. I glanced down the short fire service road to where my buddy was being searched by three camouflaged officers with automatic weapons. I knew if they got the two of us together, it was all over.
I made up a story on the spot, about how I was supposed to meet a friend to do some bow hunting and that I thought this was the right creek, but there must be some kind of foul-up. I could see two helicopters and a small plane circling the entire drainage of the creek.
I asked to see the map they had spread out on the hood of one of the pick-ups parked nearby. I knew the area better than they did, as I had been on every road out there for three years. The officer agreed that there was most definitely some kind of foul-up as they were in the middle of a bust and I needed to get my ass out of there. I thanked him for his help, asked him to keep an eye out for my buddy and said I was going to try the next creek system down the road.
As I turned my truck around I could see they were leading my partner up the fire road to his truck. I drove slowly off until I was about a mile down the road. Then I hammered it and didn’t slow down until I hit the real road, some 30 miles from that site. The adrenaline rush was incredible!
I got to a safe location and made sure my truck was not visible from the street. I figured that I was probably going to jail in the next few hours.
Late that night, I made a phone call to where I knew my partner would be if he weren’t in jail. He answered the phone on the first ring and we had a very short and vague conversation. I said I was ok. He said he was ok. I said I was not going to be available for a while. He said that was a good idea. He asked where I was and I said I wasn’t going to tell him. He thought that was also a good idea. I asked if everything else was ok. He said no. We hung up. I went into hiding for about a week and then all the business partners got together to get the full story.
It had been the single largest raid in the history of the county, covering a half dozen creek systems, and spread out over 20 or 30 square miles. The cops had found every one of our sites! It’s hard to estimate, but we probably lost over 70 pounds of cured product. At the prices we were getting at the time, that’s about $100,000 minimum! You could probably increase that figure as most of our pot was sold off in smaller amounts which were priced accordingly higher.
The bright side was that we still had about nine or 10 other creek systems to take up the slack. Not being in jail was good news, too!
If you are going to take on this lifestyle, you have to commit to it completely. This is hard work and it takes dedication, planning and desire. The rewards can be spectacular, but they can be spectacularly bad as well.
Good luck. You’re going to need it!