Article by Sam Riches, Growth Op
My first cannabis plant was not grown from seed but acquired as a clone in late May, via a friend of a friend of a friend who knew a guy. It came with no name, no lineage, no details. Just a little green stem, sprouting up in a brown planter.
I picked it up in the east end of Toronto and buckled it into the backseat. I drove home cautiously, with thoughts of a successful fall harvest in mind.
For the next five months, it lived on the deck of the apartment I share with my partner, nestled next to pots of herbs and vegetables, petunias and potato vines.I wasn’t entirely sure what I was hoping to get out of the experience other than, hopefully, some decent weed. I knew that I wanted to try my hand at growing for the first time and embrace one of the few elements of the Cannabis Act that actually, truly, feels like the lifting of prohibition. But I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond that.
I can tell you now, while the weed is not great, the five months of plant therapy during a global pandemic sure was.
Our neighbours also attempted to grow pot for the first time this summer. With the benefit of being on the first floor, and a garden bed, they planted four plants from seed, and it wasn’t long before our combined grows seemed to change the character of our little backyard nook.Their plants shot up quickly, tall and skinny, swaying in the slightest breeze, like wild grass on prairie plains. Ours took its time, by comparison, growing as wide as it did tall. The squirrels were curious, so were the bees, and of course, the raccoons, who, other than one particularly rowdy night where they dug out about a third of the soil and toppled over the planter, were courteous guests.
The deck became a respite as the plant began to grow and grow and grow.
I vowed to myself early on in the season that this was an experiment to learn from and improve on for next year and that a low yield, or no yield, wouldn’t determine the success of that experiment. It helped take the pressure off, however slightly.
Still, when we returned to our apartment after a few days away in August, I dropped my bags, ran to the deck, and my inspection of the plant yielded a heartbreaking sight, a fuzzy white patch on one of the leaves. Powdery mildew.
Wanting to deal with it quickly, but wiped from being on the road, I cleaned it off with a damp paper towel and then forgot about it. It was too small, I figured, to worry about.
That was a mistake.
Within a few days, the fuzz had grown and travelled to some neighbouring leaves. Now, a new nightly ritual emerged, where I would bathe the infected leaves with a paper towel, dry them off, and hope for the best. I also used a diluted milk spray, which seemed to be mildly effective. The process was laborious but it did slow the fungus from spreading.
I was stressed but was also relieved to learn powdery mildew, while potentially catastrophic, is also quite common.
“If you consumed cannabis in Canada in the last 20 years, you probably had powdery mildew way more than you knew,” Jay Evans, the CEO of Keirton Inc., an agricultural engineering and product design business that works with cannabis, hemp and hops, told me in September.
Evans, who has grown outdoors for 20 years, says one problem novice Canadian pot growers run into is choosing the right seeds. “Most people in Canada are getting genetics designed for indoor growing and they’re trying to grow them outdoors,” he said. “And then they just have nothing but challenges.”
With the right genetics, he explained, powdery mildew shouldn’t be an issue. The real potential for problems, Evans warned me, was still to come.
“You’ll put all this effort and love into growing the plant, everything’s going great, and then you cut the plant down, and you ruin it by drying it wrong and curing it wrong,” he said. “The next thing you know, you have this stuff that smells terrible. And it’s either over dried or under dried or rotted or whatever. And then you just spent three, four months doing this, and you ruined it in a week.”
Master growers, he said, could be cagey about these final steps.
“There’s a lot of people who know how to do it really well and don’t share that secret because it’s the last piece of the art of it. You can differentiate yourself so much from someone else if you do that piece right.”
Unfortunately for myself, I’m nowhere near that artisanal stage of cannabis growing. I just wanted to get the plant over the finish line and if there was enough bud for a few joints, I would consider that a victory.
Even with the stress of the powdery mildew, however, which certainly cut down on the yield, the plant brought joy into my life in other ways.
Routines emerged that became familiar and comfortable. I would inspect the plant a few times a day, trying my best to stay on top of the mildew, to heal it and help it grow. As the pandemic raged on, it became a reliable escape. Strangely, I appreciated the mildew for its consistency, for forcing me to spend more time outdoors, surrounded by the other plants, and feeling some small connection to nature. The smells, the tactic experience of running my hands through the soil, the emerging textures and colours of the plant, it felt like a reminder to slow down and to breathe.
Each day, the scene would change, more growth, more colour, more vibrancy. I learned there are few things as satisfying as watching a drooping plant burst to life after being watered, suddenly tall and lively once again. Plants have a way of offering gentle reminders about the cyclical nature of life, about growth, and death, and renewal, and the importance of patience.