Chitral Hays -- not his real name -- is Jackalope Ranch's resident expert on medical marijuana in Arizona. In Perfectly Blunt, Hays delivers news, reviews, and must-know info.
Now that you're a card-carrying medical marijuana patient, you'd probably like to try your hand at growing your own weed, like our neighbors in Colorado, California, and Washington can. Well, hold on a sec. There are a few rules you need to consider before you can legally grow marijuana in Arizona, the most important stipulation being you must live more than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary. Seeing as 95.2 percent of Arizonans are within that range (you can check a map here), it's not likely that you'll be able to do this. However, if you are outside those boundaries or you're just, uh, curious about what the state's grow-it-yourself guidelines are, here's how to get started growing your own ganja.
Once you have permission, you need to figure out where you're going to cultivate your marijuana. It can't just be out in your garden -- it will need to be in a locked, enclosed area that's away from public view. That could either be a greenhouse, a shed or a one-inch thick gated enclosure with 10-foot walls made with solid metal or concrete. Next, you gotta figure out how to get seeds. The Health Department refuses to "advise anyone on where to obtain the means to grow marijuana," but a farmers market, as we've already covered, is a good bet.
If you can make it through all this red tape, your determination is truly admirable.
First, decide how you'll grow your marijuana. There many different techniques, in fact, some even swear by using piss, but the main methods are: plain dirt, hydroponics, and aeroponics. No matter which you choose (we'll briefly touch on the advantages and disadvantages in a moment) you'll need warmth, light, water, and nutrients.
According to The Marijuana Grower's Guide by Mel Frank and Ed Rosenthal, the optimal day temperature for growing cannabis is between 75 to 86 °F (24 to 30 °C). Light can be either artificial or natural, but since this is Arizona we're talking about, you're probably best off using an indoor system.
With indoor growing, there's an ongoing debate among cultivators over whether you should give your plants a "dark period," as you can leave your lights on 24 hours a day, but it's typically more beneficial to give your cannabis 16 to 20 hours of light and four to 8 hours of night. Eventually, you will want to give your plants an increased dosage of darkness, about an even split of 12 hours of night, 12 hours of day, because this induces flowering.
Speaking of lighting, you'll need to make sure your lights fit the need of your plants, depending on their strain and the space you have. LED lights will work, but they are considered inferior to high-pressure sodium vapor lamps or metal halide lights. You can get these things at your local hydroponics store. Hydro Discount Arizona is in North Phoenix, and The Grow Shop is in central Phoenix, but you could also check your local nursery.
Finally, there's keeping your plants nutritious. Greg Green writes in The Cannabis Grow Bible that depending on the variety, nutritional needs vary widely and are usually determined through trial and error, with various fertilizers (look for the type high in potassium and nitrogen) applied sparingly to avoid burning the plant.
Hydroponics is a popular form of marijuana cultivation, which allows a constant stream of nutrients and water to grow the plant. Instead of soil, you can use an inert medium, such as coco fiber. According to several sources, hydroponic setups have better yields, fewer bugs and mess, but will require special fertilizers and setups that are more expensive.
Aeroponics is similar to hydroponics, but doesn't use a growth medium like soil. Instead, the nutrients and water are constantly sprayed on the roots. This looks like something from NASA and will cost you a lot more (there's no set price, however), but the results can be spectacular, according to some.
Before you put your seeds in any setup, you need to germinate them. You can do this by sticking seeds between wet paper towels or otherwise soaking them until roots and a little seedling pops out. Wet peat pellets seems to work best, as they can be planted directly with little shock to the plant.
This leads to the seedling stage, the most delicate period in the plant's life cycle. It will require moderate humidity, medium to high light levels and adequate but not excessive moisture in the soil (unless you're not using soil). This stage will last from one to four weeks, after which the gender of the plant will begin to appear. Male plants are usually removed, so that the female plants in the area will bud without seeds (known as the "sinsemilla method") and produce much more resin. This video will tell you how to learn the difference between sexes.
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Next comes the vegetative stage, which lasts about two months indoors and will require all the nutrients and light that the plant can get, depending on the plant's genetics. All the plant's focus will be on growing leaves, stems, and roots. It needs approximately one to two months before it will bloom.
When it blooms -- hallelujah! You can then trim and dry the buds and never have to pay for your own medicine again, (assuming you save your seeds and replant them or keep your plants healthy until they die). The amount of weed you'll produce and the number of yields will depend on the strain. Of course, just because you're swimming in marijuana does not mean that you can give it to people who are not patients recognized by the Health Department nor can you sell it. You can freely give it to other patients, but taking anything in return could land you in handcuffs.
Once more, these are just the basics. Every grower has their own nuanced methodology. If you have any tips or tricks, leave your advice in the comments.