You have found a forest 200 kilometers (124 miles) from home. What now? The forest isn?t actually there for your growing convenience. In fact, a pot patch in a forest is generally frowned or preyed upon ? risky either way. What you need to do is research. Buy topographical and road maps, preferably ones with logging roads marked out. Get satellite pictures (try looking on www.earth.google.com) for an area and start searching. Look for a creek that isn?t too small, as it needs to stay moist in the dry season when smaller streams will dry up and disappear completely. After that, you need to locate a relatively level spot near the creek. But not too close, as you have to account for bushwalkers traversing the stream in their pursuit of happiness! Generally, keep it not less than 100 meters (328 feet) from the creek. Most people are afraid of the forest and won?t venture much further than that for fear of getting lost!
Once you have found a potential growing spot, you then need to look for another, and another. Have at least a dozen places in mind, because when you get out into the field things can be very different than what you imagined. Absolutely carry a global positioning system device (GPS receiver) as it will make navigating from spot to potential spot much easier. I recommend either the Garmin or the Magellan models, as they are well supported, very common, and pretty cheap ($100 and up) these days. Binoculars are handy as well. When you actually get out into the forest you need to take into account that your maps may be old and the bush might not be there; perhaps the area has been logged or is prepared for logging, or no longer easily accessible for whatever reason. There are so many variables.
Oziexplorer is a GPS mapping program compatible with most makes and models of GPS receivers and digital maps. It is easily downloaded, cheap, super easy to use ? possibly the best mapping program available today. Check out the free version available at www.oziexplorer.com.
So let?s say you?ve found a good area with a fine creek. You climb about 150 meters up to a bit of a flat. It?s perfect, but what about sunlight? The more the better; so how is the tree coverage? Are they thick or sparse? You need to think about the seasons and the sun?s trajectory. Look at the undergrowth. Heavy stuff, but when you start off with a truly perfect spot you won?t end up with heartache later. If the trees are thick and you start thinking about Mr. Chainsaw, forget it! Too loud. Noise can carry many kilometers through the mountains.
Searching for the Site
There are a couple of ways to do planting and the one you choose will dictate what type of clearing you need. Look for a spot at least three times the size of the actual intended patch. Then again, if you want to string the plants throughout the forest, you don?t require such a large area but it will mean much more legwork!
If there has been a bush fire within the last two years, you will often find the fire did a lot of your work. It can pay to check out these places. If you?re lucky, you?ll find an area where a storm has brought down a large tree, and took a dozen other trees down with it. A bit of a mess, but nothing a bit of elbow grease and a handsaw (no noisy chainsaws!) couldn?t sort out. The fallen tree is good because once downed, the tree leaves a space and a big break of light where there wouldn?t ordinarily be any. Once cleared, that spot will stay a reliable place to grow for many years. You should have a nice flattish spot to grow in the middle of a big park or forest with ample water and sunlight supply, and sufficiently out of the way so a casual bushwalker won?t find it.
Now you need to go home and get ready for the planting. First of all you need to work out the route to the site, but there is a small problem. Every time you travel through the bush you step on leaves and sticks. This leaves a path that a person can follow after only one or two journeys. So how do you stop yourself from creating a trail for others to follow? The first most obvious way is to walk different routes each time; this is fine if you are only visiting occasionally. If you plan on taking supplies and things in, and traveling often, then it becomes difficult. You?ll have to learn the art of de-tracking.
To effectively de-track, you must make the trail look as though no one has ever been there. The best way is to slowly walk backwards scratching the leaf litter as you go, simulating a forest animal scratching for bugs. If you can, pull a branch or two across the trail behind you to make an obstruction in the path. Never cut branches or even break them, as they stay that way forever and a skilled tracker can tell the difference between a natural break and a deliberate human one. Weave your track through the natural pathways rather than bulldoze your way through; that means going up or down the land scape in gradual roundabout ways, as an animal in the forest does, following subtle natural paths.
The Crop and Your Cover
Once you have selected your spot and found a safe, secure way to get there, then you can actually start the long process to getting a crop in. The next thing that needs to be considered is how much time you are going to spend there. If you are planning on growing 20- 30 pounds, then you will need to be in the patch quite often ? at least once a week, ideally twice! And when you are there it isn?t just a little two-hour stint. It?ll be an overnight job, so you need to transport to the location and stow your vehicle overnight without attracting attention.
First of all, you need a cover if you are stopped on the road and spoken to. As you are right out in the bush, the question will arise: what are you up to out here? How you respond will be a big indication as to what you are really up to. You must have a natural and reasonable answer, taking into account the type of person you?re dealing with. Each area has its own special qualities. I have always liked ?I am a photographer studying the habits of (fill in the blank), as it lives out this way somewhere ? still looking, but gaining on it!? It isn?t too redneck, or too green. Just make sure you actually have a tripod, camera, a few lenses, and a couple of film canisters lying about. This always looks good. If your story is deemed false you will find a reception committee waiting at some point in the future. If you?re lucky it will only be the police; but if you really screw up, there will be six men with pick handles! They?ll beat the location of your patch out of you. It happens, and it isn?t funny, so your cover story has to be perfect. Your own health depends on it.
When you leave your car, stick a note on the windshield, such as ?Photographer, CB channel 11, have GPS, will be back midday.? In the remote forest, this note tells whoever sees the car (could be park rangers) that you are responsible, you have safety equipment, and you know your estimated time of return. They will check again in a couple of days, and if your vehicle is gone by then, all is fine. If and when you are seen there again, you have established some credibility so they won?t worry about you.
Ideally you only need the vehicle a couple of times to drop off the heavy stuff, like long-life food, tents, clothing, cooking equipment, buckets, tools and everything else you may need. After that, all you need to do is travel out on a dirt bike, which are perfect for the pot grower: they are fast, go anywhere, leave a tiny print, and can be hidden very easily. In the event that you need to get out of your area immediately, it is by far the quickest mode of transport in the forest. A car would have no hope of catching you!
Setting Up The Site
So you have by now realized that to get even this far without putting one plant in the ground, it has started to cost a couple of dollars… well guess what? It will keep on costing. Some people seem to think that growing is a simple case of wandering through the bush scattering seeds here and there, then coming back a few months later and harvesting the happy plants. No no no. Not the case at all! It?s much more challenging and demanding.
Now that you?ve got your tent, tools, food, and water access transported into the future growing area, you need to prepare the ground for planting ? do it with airplanes and helicopters in mind! The forest is full of patterns, but one pattern that isn?t natural is rows, straight lines, or repetitive equal spacing. These things stand out from the air. Pilots looking out and seeing ?something that wasn?t right? have found many patches, and the weedhunting cops use this in conjunction with known growing areas, so keep this in mind when you begin to plant your patch.
Till the ground but don?t make any rows. Depending on the local wildlife conditions you may need to fence the patch, but it depends on the animals around (though typically, I recommend it). Once tilled, plant seeds directly into the ground. Some people germinate seeds at home and carry the seedlings to the patch about seven days after germination. I find that starting with trays and transplanting into the earth stunts them a bit. It?s really up to you and what you prefer.
When planting the seeds, remember that 50% of them will be males. How much area you want the plants to cover depends how much space you want to give each plant. Cannabis plants can grow to a diameter of 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) if you let them! Your spacing of plants will help determine if they bush outwards or grow upwards.
Tending To The Patch
Now you can take a little breather, but just make sure the plants have plenty of water to help them grow. As the season progresses you will have to de-male the patch. This is relatively easy, but the more plants you have the harder it gets, as you only need one male to sneak by and all your hard work is seeded, and people don?t like seed in the weed!
The males can be identified by the fact that they show earlier than the females, and if you look to the intersection of the branches and the trunk, you can see little ?balls?. Watch these carefully, as the plant can sometimes still turn into a female; but generally, it?s a male indicator. When you identify the plant as a male, rip it out of the ground and destroy the balls (pollen flowers), then bury it all in the ground. This gives nutrients back to the earth and stops the flowers from opening and fertilizing the ladies. You should be in the patch every second day once a male is found, so you?re able to get all the males before they open and pollinate your ladies. Males show up over a three-week period, most within ten days. My colleague Joe Walsh will tell you what kind of desperate situation can occur when one is not entirely focused on work and males blow their load all over the patch! (His story is also in this issue)
When getting rid of males always check close to the ground because they like to hide down there. Males will do anything to get lucky! They know what you are trying to do, so be super careful! Another trick they like is to grow just outside the perimeter where you are not looking, and then fully flower and dispense pollen. The first sign of that kind of trouble is finding your new female buds filled with seed! So make sure to check your perimeter for rogue males.
After three weeks the males will have tapered off and by then the females will be starting to feel a little unsatisfied. The females also know what you are doing, and you will find a few of them will turn themselves into hermaphrodites (meaning male stamens appear within the female flowers ? a tricky way to ensure reproduction)! This is really challenging when it happens, as you cannot just break off the offending branch, because she will just turn hermaphroditic on another branch. You?ll have to pull out the whole plant and bury her. You have to be careful with the hermies because they will often put the bi-sexual mating parts very close to the main stem, or even right out on the tip of a big long branch, or select a part of the branch that turns back into the plant and makes it all hermaphroditic! They know you by now, and will exploit your weaknesses. The plants know your habits. Their only mission is reproduction, making seeds ? and you are their enemy. It is a biological/botanical imperative of the female plants to thwart you, and you?re on their turf. I can tell you, after months of being intimate with this aspect of nature, cannabis is an extremely intelligent and adaptive species.
Once the hermaphrodites have been made aware of who is boss, you?ve got to keep the pests and animals (?critters? to most growers around the world) away from the plants. All they want to do is eat and kill. The thing is, while you are busily looking after the little ones in your patch keeping the boys out and stopping the girls from having fun, there is a whole forest full of animals looking hungrily at your pride and joy, animals that will ? if allowed ? eat everything you?ve got.
Generally the worst offenders will be the herbivores. You can lay blood and bone to drive them off, but this can also have the effect of attracting carnivores looking for a meal. You can fence the area but that requires additional resources you may or may not have access to. Depending on the type of animal you?re dealing with a fence may make no difference at all. There are various ?home remedies? for deterrents: big cat urine, dog fur, a can of Skoot (to keep the deer away), beer for slugs, copper for slugs, and many more may work. Beware of unintended consequences! Another way to keep out the curious creatures is to plant in a thicket (blackberry bushes, bracken) and have only one entrance that can be barricaded.
Another group of critters just waiting to say hello to your plants is the kingdom of insects and bugs. Grasshoppers and other small pests will really go to town on your pride and joy, and not a lot can be done about it unless you want to spray insecticide around. This is effective but there are moral issues involved, as your crop and the environment may well be poisoned by such a decision.
Success Means Keeping Quiet
In reality there are hundreds of things that will conspire to stop you from pulling off the patch. You will have spent a pretty dollar by the time it gets even close to harvest time.
You cannot let your guard down for a minute. You must always be ready for a police raid, or a person pulling you over on the road demanding to know who you are and what you are doing. You must be able to keep your mouth shut and not blab at the bar or the club how you?re ?pulling off the big one?. It would be better if you didn?t have a girlfriend either. Bad decisions regarding partners and girlfriends kill more patches than any other circumstance, excepting poor preparation. (Eighty percent of police ?detective work? is waiting for a disgruntled girlfriend or wife to call 911 when she?s mad at her partner. Don?t tell us you weren?t warned!)
My advice to you is this: if you are committed to getting out there and really truly doing it, you might very well succeed. But if you cannot be bothered to follow the proper procedures you will surely get failure; busted, ripped off or losing your crop. Great growers know that harvesting the rewards of cannabis takes hard work, good preparation, some nerve, and a little bit of luck.
In The Next Issue:
I will discuss the logistics of harvesting, curing and finding good customers for your hard-earned product. I?ll also share some tips on making water extracted hash and weed oil in the bush, drying and curing onsite, and grow site restoration.