In early June 2007, Australian grower Joe Walsh (“Aussie Bush Paradise” parts 1 and 2, CC #58 and #60) came to Canada from “Down Under” to escape the southern hemisphere winter and see what all the “BC Bud” hype was about. Around that time I had been shooting the indoor Purple Kush grow room for this issue, and asked the grower, CJ Jones, if he had ever cultivated outdoors in British Columbia. He hadn’t, but was interested in learning, so I asked if he would like to be tutored by an Australian bush-growing expert, knowing Joe would be down for any serious outdoor opportunity. Even though both know how to grow pot, they were each going to be out of their element in the BC wilderness. CJ is a city type, fearful of the great wide-open and used to controlling growing elements indoors, while Joe has lived in the wild outback of Australia much of his life but has never seen a North American bear, mountain wolf, deer, or elk.
The three of us were going to venture into the wilderness to check out a variety of good growing locations I had scouted with Google Earth, using the tips Joe Walsh described in “Growing in the Forest”(CC #60). Luckily, as the chronicler of this horticultural expedition, I was only going to be there to take pictures and videotape the adventure. Cameras, lenses, carrying cases, and video camera came to ten to fifteen pounds of weight — quite enough for me to carry the whole time, and I couldn’t be burdened down with bottles of water; nor was I able to do grunt work while balancing expensive equipment. Joe was excited to head into the BC mountains but wasn’t interested in getting or selling any weed, so he convinced CJ to do most of the physical labor in exchange for the final reward. “I’ll teach you how to do it right, mate,” Joe explained. “But you’ll do all the work – I’m here on vacation!”
I helped by spending many hours staring at Google Earth’s satellite-view of BC’s mountain ranges, looking for a number of suitable patches of land to grow on. I was seeking areas remote enough to be secure, but accessible for vehicles and supplies. After a number of days flying above the digital landscape searching for attractive sites, I settled on an area in the Kootenay mountain region in South Eastern BC. It appeared to offer a good number of remote, fertile sites with southward facing sun exposure. I calculated how the local vegetation would spread by September, the likelihood of summer rain, and the proximity of civilization. Satisfied that this area offered at least six potential sites, I recorded the exact Global Positioning System (GPS) co-ordinates for each.
CJ had called some friends at Advanced Nutrients, and the day before we left for the hills a truck pulled up and unloaded 10 drums of fertilizer with a promise of more as needed. Joe was completely disoriented as we gathered supplies from Home Depot and at Canadian Tire. “That’s not how you spell ‘tyre’,” he said, “and what’s bear spray for?” As for the plants, Joe and CJ chose 340 seeds from four sources: Cash Crop Ken’s Outdoor Mix, Sensi Seed Bank Outdoor Mix, Jordan of the Islands’ Outdoor Mix, and an Aussie mix Joe had had delivered by mail from Down Under.
We arrived in the Kootenay region early in the morning on Tuesday, June 19. Packed into a four-wheel drive jeep, we navigated our way out to the mountains along roads and logging trails, over bumps, ruts and a few movable obstructions. The first spot we had chosen on Google Earth was inaccessible, as logging damage had completely
blocked the access road. The second, third and fourth spots all had locked gates and fences on the property – a recurring bit of information I hadn’t been able to find on my virtual forays with Google Earth. The fifth proposed area was near a fanatical Christian in the last house on the road. He had put up signs along the way threatening Armageddon to those who continued down the trail, which Joe and CJ thought was simply too freaky and deemed the location useless.
Twelve hours after arriving in the mountains it was dusk and we still hadn’t found a grow location. Getting to those five different sites only to discover they weren’t usable took almost an entire day. But there was a sixth location to scout out before nightfall, so we drove carefully along an abandoned logging trail in the fading light. There were no houses or signs of any human activity for fifteen kilometers around, though Joe noted there had been hunters at one time: “Judging by the old shotgun shells along the road, I presume hunters come out here… but not recently. Hunting season must be a while away, around harvest time, so we’re okay for now.”
With only about half an hour of daylight left, we decided to stop and set up camp near the old logging road. The sixth spot was nearby according to our GPS monitor, but darkness had set in and mosquitoes were beginning to buzz around hungrily. We retreated to our tents to sleep so we would be rested for our search of the surrounding terrain in the morning.
Before leaving Vancouver, we had pored over the topography on Google Earth and decided our patch should be between 900 meters and 1,500 meters in elevation. Our campsite was at 1,400 meters, a bit high but within our range of choice. Joe claims the highest quality of cannabis is grown at higher altitudes, such as Nepal, Manali, Hawaii, British Columbia, California, Peru, and Afghanistan. The UV rays from the sun are more intense, and some suspect UV rays help produce THC. The latitude in northern New South Wales where Joe grew cannabis is south of the equator at latitude 28.30, while our campsite was at 50.30 north of the equator. Would this huge difference in latitude produce different results in the weed? Would higher altitude make a difference, considering the latitude? The altitude where we eventually decided to plant was 1,380 meters, and we speculated that the second frost might come around between September 15 and 25. The first frost will not kill most pot plants, and can turn them a nice purple, but about seven days are required after a first frost for the resin to fully mature. That is why the date of the second frost is the key; cannabis rarely survives two frosts. The Canada weather guide says the area gets at least 30mm of rain in each summer month, so these seeds would have to sprout by July 1 to be able to have any hope of a reasonable late planting harvest by September 20.
At 6 am on Wednesday, June 20, Joe was up and eager to get going. After a big breakfast and a coffee, Joe said he’d get to the site and back in two hours, and we’d soon know if it was the right place. Joe knew how to move through bushes quickly and silently as he had lived in the Australian outback, but CJ was noisy, slow moving, left “tells” (signs of human activity) everywhere, and had also brought his Staffordshire terrier along, which jumped around excitedly exploring all the new smells. Even though the dog wasn’t a barker, “you can never rely on a dog to not bark,” Joe had explained. “Sound travels far out here in big sky country. You can’t have any noise bring attention to your activity. When we come back next weekend, no dog.” We all agreed that the work would be much easier – and safer – if the Terrier stayed home next time. Joe disappeared into the early morning mist carrying a two-way radio to keep in contact, while CJ decided to take the vehicle and drive up to higher elevations to survey the surrounding terrain with binoculars.
Along the road, CJ encountered a family of bears, but didn’t feel frightened as they scampered off. We were all carrying bear spray, because bears were especially active in these woods at that time of year. The active ingredient in bear spray (and pepper spray) is capsaicin, a chemical extracted from the chili pepper family of plants. A bit of advice we learned from BC boys is that if you come across a baby bear cub you can be sure that the mother is nearby, and in that case, get away as soon as possible! Bears typically won’t attack people, unless they feel threatened or think their young are in danger – so you don’t want to be between a baby bear and its mother. The best way to avoid meeting any bears while moving through the bush is to scare them away by making a lot of noise, and wearing anti-bear gear like bells on wristbands. However, pot growers in the outback must be completely silent to avoid detection, so bear protection is needed in the form of bear spray.
While CJ was driving around, Joe navigated his way to the sixth spot we had chosen on Google Earth. It was a huge open clear-cut area that had probably been logged around two years ago, and through binoculars he could see there was logging going on a hillside about one kilometer away and two cows were visible at about 1.5 kilometers. Troubling. The challenge was to find a location with access through the bush, but without anyone noticing tracks, following sounds, or discovering the plants. There was sufficient low growth to cover new seedlings without shading them out and a few large puddles of water nearby. The water had the potential to dry up as summer passed, but the existing plants were looking healthy. Joe sized up the site for 20 minutes, and by nine o’clock in the morning CJ and Joe were both back at camp discussing the merits of the areas each had explored. We would not bring a vehicle within two kilometers of the chosen patch location, as wheel tracks are the worst giveaway of an illegal garden in the wild. The second worst giveaway is noise; speaking too loudly can disturb birds, which is noticed by any curious people within a kilometer. Voices also travel far in the open, which you realize when you trip and fall and yell “Fuck!” only to hear your painful howls echoing across a great distance, definitely ruining the necessary invisibility you must maintain. Our adversaries out here are thieves, loggers, tree-planters – maybe even you, the reader, looking for our patch on Google Earth!
We decided to look at the patch CJ had taken favor to from afar. By now it was 10am and Joe, fearing that the day was passing all too quickly, decided that he and I would set off without CJ, who was not fond of demanding climbs. After a steep initial hill, we found that it was fairly easy traveling because the trees had suffered the effects of pine beetles and were thin, making walking quick. The spot turned out to be very nice, sunny, and judging by the shadows, received sun very shortly after sunrise, making it a perfect place to plant. There was a creek about 200 meters away, which would make watering easier than expected, and it was at that creek where we came close to a black bear, snuffling through the undergrowth. It wasn’t a very big one and didn’t notice us 15 feet away, but large enough to have Joe immediately anxious and with bear spray out like a pistol in the outback –his first experience up close and personal with “a big bitey”, as he called it. The snorting bear bolted away as soon as it saw us and was out of sight within five seconds. Joe still had his bear spray can out and looked at me. “So, if the bear makes a charge, how good is this stuff?” I had to wonder that myself! Joe logged the location on the GPS and we quickly made our way back to where CJ and the vehicle were waiting.
From a distance, Joe could hear CJ talking to his dog, and shutting his car door. “Where did you find this kid, anyway?” Joe asked me as we approached, implying CJ was very raw material for bush growing. “It’ll be tough keeping the patch safe with that noise, mate,” he said to CJ as we approached. “You’d better learn a thing or two if you don’t want to be caught or tracked down out here.” After a quick lunch, it was time to do the actual work. CJ packed up the seeds, grabbed a mattock (a pick-axe with one broad end and one pointy end) and shovels, and loaded the gear on his back – he was doing the physical labor related to the growing, after all. CJ’s lack of experience traveling through the bush with a load quickly became apparent; it was like listening to a gypsy caravan, Joe said, horrified.
Thirty minutes later, at 1pm, we arrived at the location. CJ quickly began digging holes, with Joe offering a hand to the newbie now and then. After four hours of solid work, fifty holes were dug in the hard rocky soil and three seeds planted in each. We had brought only three 1.5 liter bottles of water with us, so the holes were watered with only one cup each. The earlier encounter with the bear at the creek swayed us from going to get more water, and we didn’t know exactly how much moisture would be needed, so we decided to call it a day and hope for rain. Struggling back into camp at 7pm, we had dinner and talked about the day before going to sleep, exhausted.
Very early Thursday morning, June 22, we packed up and drove back to Vancouver. All in all, it was a successful two days’ work. We would definitely need some luck for the length of the crop, 85 to 90 days, so we planned to return to the site in six days to see if the seeds had sprouted. Then we would proceed with the next steps. CJ and Joe decided that they would take Advanced Nutrients fertilizers, two bottles of the B Vitamins, and a bucket of Spring Start. Much larger bottles for watering were packed.
Almost a week later, on Wednesday, June 28, in the late morning, we arrived back at our campsite in the Kootenays. We set up the tent and, latched with supplies, went through the scrub brush, carrying the gear to our site. We observed our footprints from the previous week and decided we could never walk this way again, as we would form a permanent track that could ultimately lead someone right to our patch.
We reached the site sweating from the weight of supplies, but the sting of disappointment was worse. Arrival at the patch revealed nothing but bone-dry dirt. It hadn’t rained as hoped, none of the seeds had germinated, and deer prints were everywhere. Frustration yielded to a practical discussion of what needed to be done. We had used 150 seeds in 50 holes the first time, and CJ had brought with us another 200 or so seeds from the outdoor mixes. They replanted three seeds in each of the 50 holes, the hope being that of three seeds at least one female would emerge. This time each hole received 10 liters of water, and one tablespoon per gallon of Advanced Nutrients B vitamin was added.
A total of 26 trips, carrying two bottles of water each time, were required for all fifty spots. Fatigue had set in for CJ, and Joe assumed more and more work as the day wore on. Within five hours of the discovery of failed seedlings, the job was underway. We dragged ourselves back to camp, two kilometers away, exhausted. None of us have ever experienced nagging, bedeviling swarms of thousands of mosquitoes like the ones that attacked us that day. The buggers were noisy, swarming, buzzing in our ears, voraciously biting. They were modestly annoying during the first trip into this area, but now, a week later, the population had exploded and we were the only meal tickets for miles. All three of us had swallowed, accidentally snorted, and squished in our ears the tiny blood-sucking pests. A can of deep woods mosquito repellent (with DEET) only seemed to infuriate the mosquitoes to a more aggravating assault; 30 seconds after we sprayed it on our skin, the mosquitoes seemed more determined and annoying. Close inspection of the can found a boast claiming to repel the mosquitoes for up to six hours! Not these ones, apparently.
Thursday’s dawn saw Joe and CJ awaken, aching all over, to the shrill buzzing of the relentless hordes of “mozzies” waiting by the tent flaps for their breakfast – certainly not the best motivation to get up and go at it. Two hours later they had dragged themselves to the patch. Already there were deer hoof prints again! To deter the deer from trampling the seedlings when they would come up, Joe and CJ mixed 100 grams of Plantskydd deer-repellant powder into one liter of water. It turns out that Plantskydd is a fancy name for instant pig’s blood, according to the package. We had to trust that this obnoxious smelling substance would work, as the seedlings would be up in days. Joe got to work digging more holes and CJ sprayed the blood around the preexisting seed sites. By midday they had planted, watered, and deer-proofed six additional holes. With a total of 56 holes with three seeds each in the ground and at the mercy of nature, we began the walk through the scrub back to camp.
It rained as we departed the patch – good news for the plants, but depressing for us. We arrived back at camp wet, cold, and covered in red blotches from mosquitoes. We immediately packed up to leave. Content, but feeling overworked and raunchy, we drove back to Vancouver. The next week we would return to see if the seeds germinated, and what may have befallen our BC outback patch in the first week. I am
hoping this adventure unfolds in three parts, and concludes with a happy harvest.
Continued next issue…