Keep it simple, stoner

Despite having lived in cities for long periods of time, my partner is a nature girl deep down.  She was born on a ranch with farm animals, orchards and a huge vegetable and flower garden, and some of that must have worked its way into her blood.  So even when forced by circumstances to live in the city, she always managed to convince our landlords to let her create some beauty and a teeny-tiny bit of green space – and sometimes it took lots of convincing.  She’s never minded breaking up and moving giant stacks of bricks or piles of broken cement or discarded scaffolding or lumber or pavers or gravel because, I suppose, every time she worked her way down to the inevitable layer of dirt, she must have felt like she was reclaiming a little primordial nature from the concrete.

I’ve never been particularly fond of cities, though I like the amenities well enough.  In contrast, my partner has never been happy with city living, and it was really at her insistence that we headed north when the opportunity arose.  Funny thing, though, once we settled into our cabin in the redwoods, she came to the realization that, up here surrounded by such wild and breathtaking beauty, nature was the gardener – no real need for any human help here.  On the one hand, this made her happy, as it did me.  After all, beautiful is hard to dislike.  On the other, it made her a little sad, because it turns out she’d grown accustomed to keeping a domestic garden.  Of course, it didn’t take long for her to realize that most of the domestic gardening here in our new northern home is done indoors, and often hydroponically.  Not really her style, but she missed gardening and she had a prescription for marijuana, so she decided to grow it herself.  Saves cash, exercises the underutilized green thumb, newly legal – I’m on board.

I guess we don’t look like the “gardening” types, because the first time we stepped into our local hydro store, all of the gunslingers standing at the counter stopped talking and stared.  To be fair, we were out of our element and probably felt it more acutely than they did.  I think that came through by the way we edged our way around the subject, not really knowing how candid we could be about what we were after:

“Uh, yeah.  Uh… We want to grow some, uh, indoor tomatoes…”

Trent-the-trainee just rolled his eyes and began to recite a lengthy list of light housings and ballasts and lamps and timers and fans and ventilators and nutrients and hydroponic watering systems…  He mentioned hiring an electrician to curb the astronomical PG&E bills and consulting a contractor about the grow room…  He talked about fans and conduit and splicing…  Finally, my partner stopped him:

“This seems awfully complicated and expensive just to grow a couple of plants. And I thought you folks were all back-to-the-landers up here – using all of that electricity can’t be good for the environment, right?”

We decided to ignore Trent-the-trainee and the snickering gunslingers at the counter.  A plant is a plant, after all, and we’d never needed electricians or contractors to grow roses.  We  gathered up grow bags, tomato cages, bamboo stakes, a big bag of soil, a watering can, three small bottles of organic nutrients, and one bottle of organic pesticide.  When my partner stepped up to the counter to pay, one of the gunslingers said, “Good luck with the tomatoes,” and all of them laughed.

My partner just smiled, reached over to Trent, lifted the “trainee” tag off of his tee-shirt pocket, and said, “Can I have this?” as she pinned the tag to her own shirt.

We stopped on the way home to purchase some clones from my partner’s local dispensary.  Until moving to the Emerald Triangle, neither of us had really seen a marijuana plant, so we knew next to nothing about strains or sizes or yields or finishing times.  Gardening is gardening, though, and have I mentioned that my partner can turn concrete into beauty like magic?  Whatever knowledge she lacked in this specific crop, the woman knows something about plants, and she knows a healthy one when she sees it, so she grabbed four sturdy-looking clones from off the rack – a White Widow, an L.A. Confidential, a Blueberry, and a C-4.  When she went to pay, the woman behind the counter commented on the “variety,” but at least she didn’t laugh.  She smiled when my partner explained her plan to put the clones in grow bags on her back porch and let nature do the rest, and said, “July is getting kind of a late start, but who knows?  Sixty dollars.”

Failure is a funny thing in that it can lead to unexpected opportunity.  So, first the obvious – the plan to grow on the porch was a bust.  Not much sun shine on a covered porch.  So we decided to go mobile, to follow the sun.  That lasted another day.  The grow bags were heavier than expected, and even though my partner is surprisingly tough, she hadn’t realized that she’d be dragging them all over the yard all day long, chasing the sun between the long shadows thrown up by our corridor of redwoods.  Being so far off the main road, she also hadn’t realized that periodic visits from UPS, FedEX, and the mailman would prove problematic in terms of discretion.  It’s legal to grow somewhere between six and twenty-five plants per parcel, but we felt no need to advertise.  And then there were the nocturnal visits from a variety of critters who like to nibble on plant leaves and stems.  She’s stubborn, though, and I’m sure, a little haunted by the laughter of those gunslingers in the hydro store.  So she soldiered on. The end, however, was soon in sight.

The final straw for the moveable garden came on a day when she was wheelbarrowing the plants from place to place, and was surprised by the sudden appearance of a delivery truck zooming down our driveway.  I wasn’t around to see it, unfortunately, but here’s how she described it:  Startled in the midst of her (legal) wrongdoing, she let go of the barrow, and out tumbled the plants and grow bags onto the gravel, right in front of the surprisingly-unsurprised delivery guy.  The partner was horrified, no doubt fearing that her (legal) behavior would be immediately reported to the feds.  While visions of lady-prison danced in my partner’s head, the delivery guy smiled a big smile, got out of the truck, and helped her to scoop soil back into the grow bags and to gently repot the clones.  When he was done, he fetched a tin out of the glove box, rolled a bone, and shared it with her.  

After the delivery-man incident, we decided that we’d need to try something different.    One day I was replacing the spiral-y compact fluorescent bulb in my reading lamp, and I said, “I know you can’t grow your plants under regular bulbs because you need too many watts and the bulbs get too hot.  But I’ve always wondered about the new compact fluorescent light bulbs we’re all using now to save energy.  Same light output as the old bulbs, right?  But the new bulbs are nowhere near as hot and run on less watts.  You should think about it.”

She thought about it a lot.  Her out-loud musings turned almost exclusively to bulbs.  “Did you know that because compact fluorescent bulbs can be screwed into any standard light fixture, start-up costs are lessened considerably?  Did you further know that bulbs that aren’t as hot will lessen ventilation and climate control costs and therefore save even more energy and money?”  She got on the internet and did some research.  Before I knew it, she had ordered low-wattage, high output compact fluorescent light bulbs in the right spectrum for vegging and flowering.  She bought some lamps on ebay that had multiple sockets and bendable arms, as well as a small de-humidifier and three oscillating fans.  As he brought box after box of lighting goods to our doorstep, I have no doubt that the delivery guy understood what was going on.  However, I seriously doubt he had any concept of what he had unleashed.  Neither did the gunslingers at the hydro store.  As for my partner, she cleared the tools out of her tool shed, opened the window, turned on the fans, set the light timer, and put her plants under the lamps.  Then she waited.

When the plants kept growing, and we got our first full month’s PG&E bill and it was under eighty dollars for our whole household (well pump, indoor lights, stove, fridge, water heater, all household appliances AND grow shed), she was encouraged to wait some more.

Curious about the results?  K.I.S.S. part two, next week.  Stay tuned.  Hope springs eternal for the gunslinger-in-training.


14 Responses to “Keep it simple, stoner”

  1. February 7, 2010 at 8:08 am

    This post has many handy tips, they have got seriously made it simpler for me

  2. 2 Kym
    February 7, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    $80 sure beats the $1000’s most indoor growers pay.

  3. 3 pat
    February 9, 2010 at 8:41 am

    I don’t believe your story about the grow shop employees. They see people from all walks of life and the “tomato” story happens multiple times a day… pulleaze…

  4. 4 Kyle
    February 9, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Ive finaly figured out the secret to the lesbian grow op, do it compleatly retarded with diffrent colored lights i think the whole rainbow is repusented here, then let the light leaks make it all herm out and suck at life. no wonder your having such a hard time fiting in around here. Your blog explains its all.

  5. 5 Mr. Nice
    February 9, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    pssssht Kyle. You’re not helping.

    Before I knew it, she had ordered low-wattage, high output compact fluorescent light bulbs in the right spectrum for vegging and flowering.

    It’s gonna suck dude.

    The biggest thing you are missing here is a high-cost item which they probably tried to sell you at the hydro depot: a reflector. Those cheapass ebay reflectors are not going to evenly distribute light. Those lights may put out less heat by themselves, but you will get hot spots and light distance issues without a proper horticultural reflector.

    The only method I seen done without reflectors is to hang bulbs vertically in between plants. This is fine, but then you need cool-tubes to keep the bulbs from lighting everything up. Even fluos can catch a leaf and burn. If you go that route, keep the goddamn fan for the cool tube on the same circuit as the light. This might not make immediate sense, but when the circuit breaker for the fan trips and the light is still cooking away, it will make sense.

    As far as “in the right spectrum,” don’t kid yourself. There are optimal built-in ballast fluorescent bulbs out there. They are designed for horticultural use. G.E. “T5 daylight” bulbs are not the same thing. Aside from PG&E subsidies, there is a reason why these are cheap shit and hydro stores aren’t trying to sling these. You don’t even see these at nurseries. They are designed for household illumination.

    Keep in mind that even those tabletop automatic flower garden things on QVC have proper horticultural-grade fluorescent bulbs and low absorption reflectors. Frankly, you’d probably get product more out of the home shopping special than a bunch of desk lamps.

    The dehumidifier is a good idea. What is your plan for carbon dioxide? There is going to be a point at which the CO2 concentration in the room will be way above that of the inch around the leaf surfaces. This is why folks cook up CO2 or run fresh air.

    Good luck with the tomatoes. Keep in mind that you don’t gotta change light schedules to flower. A fan will work, but you should use a paintbrush to pollinate them. Otherwise, some of the clusters won’t get pollinated from a leaf blocking them and so forth. Be sure to use lots of calcium to avoid end rot.

  6. February 10, 2010 at 1:52 am

    When my partner and I discovered that we’re lying lesbian retards, we couldn’t stop laughing. Thank you Pat and Kyle for making my “unwelcome” point better than I ever could. And if you think we’re dumb now, wait till my next post.

    On that note, Arnold: Thanks, but I encourage you to proceed with caution. My next post will go into some of the problems we encountered.

    Thanks, also, to Mr. Nice for the good info. Once again, the voice of reason and experience. With respect, however, don’t be too quick to write off my partner’s desk lamp experiment. Part two coming soon!

  7. 7 Snickerdoodles
    February 10, 2010 at 2:06 am

    A friend uses CFLs on the East Coast, and swears by them. He wired the inside of an Ikea cabinet with a twenty-five bulb array, on all five surfaces (top and the four sides), with a couple small cutouts for intake and exhaust (w/ computer fans as the air movers). He brews beer for C02 – piping the exhaust hose from his carboy into the cabinet. Sure, he gets meager results by Humboldt standards, but it works for him in a state where growing 2 plants could land you in jail for a decade …

    Most of us (non-Emerald triangle natives) started growing with experiments much like yours – just at a younger age. And contrary to Mr. Nice’s know-it-all response – you can get decent buds from alternate methods (non-HID lighting) but the yield is usually disappointing when compared to what a 1000W HPS will do.

    My advice: go for the sun — limb up a few of your redwoods on the south side of your lot and put in a greenhouse – even shady, foggy days produce enough lumens to outclass most HIDs – and if you need additional light, supplement it with a 600W HPS lamp. Double-walled greenhouse coverings are opaque, so you won’t have to worry about the other delivery guys … just the neighborhood rip-offs …

    • February 10, 2010 at 5:35 am

      It really is the recent emergence of CFLs that changed the dynamic. The old-fashioned fluorescents that Mr. Nice is talking about are big and delicate and require special fixtures; and, as he pointed out, they don’t really work that well. We saw those for sale at our local hydro store, too.

      The benefits of the CFLs over the tubes are many – they’re small, they’re cheap, they come in different light spectrums appropriate to vegging and flowering, and they fit into normal lighting fixtures. Hence the 5-arm rainbow-colored lamps (with white paper inserts, you’ll notice, to keep the color spectrum consistent). This solution isn’t anything close to real sunlight, but outdoor growing (as you point out) comes with its own set of problems, and our “fix” was the simplest and cheapest alternative that presented itself.

  8. February 10, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Snickerdoodle is quite right. There are lots of low tech solutions to help you grow for your own consumption; let the commercial agribusiness people lie sleepless at night worrying about whether they’re getting the optimum lumens per square meter to meet their sales quota.

    As for the haters, well, I for one would be happy to have the entire county be flooded by gay people because it will live less room for these dimwits. Welcome and may you prosper, my friends.

  9. February 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Yay, low tech! Thanks, too, for the welcome. And as long as we’re wishing for incursions of under-represented people in the area, I vote for a bigger Vietnamese presence (for purely selfish reasons – I miss the food from my old home near Little Saigon).

  10. February 11, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I vote for more redheads. It’s purely selfish but I find them aesthetically pleasing;>

  11. February 12, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Go to Pho Thien, right across from the old Eureka theater. My pho expert friend who laments the lack of good Vietnamese food less that a 5 hour drive away raved about it. When I went there, I was pretty impressed, decents prices for awesome food.

    • 13 Snickerdoodles
      February 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      Said friend here. The pho at Pho Thien Long is definitely the best within 3.5 hours … I wouldn’t rank it with the best that the Bay Area & San Jose has to offer, but for our neck of the redwoods it stands atop the podium. Don’t even bother to order it at Hue or Mekong …

      Invisible wife also enjoys the Pork BBQ Bun (rice bowl) and the yummy Imperial Rolls, but i stick with them that brung me — The Combo Pho!

      … now we just need a decent Saigon Sub (Banh Mi) joint – the coffee place near me that made a halfway decent one went under about 10 mos. back … and the one at Don’s Donuts doesn’t come close …

      … and don’t get me started on dim sum … definitely time for a late lunch!

      And my vote is for more gay, Vietnamese redheads moving to the area … I used to hang out at this awesome Southeast Asian tranny club in SoMA (SF) that always brought the best bang for the buck in terms of freakout factor when i brought out-of-town guests by … the concept of table service by a blue-haired 6 foot transgendered tower of power usually put the visiting flatlanders well into speechless territory … and they failed to recover their tongues until well out of my care … but at least they ate well!

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