Hydroponics, robotics, high-powered lights — growing weed on an industrial level is a serious business. But according to one local independent grower, getting cannabis to flower is as simple as tending to a house plant.
Tom Neumann, who has a medical licence to grow and consume on his farm in Ardrossan east of Edmonton, thinks anyone who is curious should give growing a shot when it becomes legal on Oct. 17. Each household is permitted to grow four plants.
“It’s no different than growing any other plant,” Neumann said. “My parents managed apartments when I was a kid, and my brother used to grow (marijuana plants) in the hallway.”
Neumann, who recently left the construction business, got a federal licence three years ago to treat arthritis and back pain. His wife also got a growing licence after she was diagnosed with cancer, and the couple started experimenting with oils that helped her through chemotherapy. She has since finished her treatments and recovered.
Neumann’s son also obtained a medical licence and grows on the family farm. Neumann has signed on as a designated grower for a young terminal cancer patient in the community.
Together, the family is legally allowed to grow 38 plants on the farm, where Neumann took StarMetro through his process. He said anyone can get started for $100. He starts growing seeds indoors under 400-watt high-pressure sodium lights, which he estimates add about $20 to his monthly power bill.
Seeds are available at head shops, although it is currently illegal to grow them at home unless you have a medical grower’s licence. At Jupiter on Whyte Ave. in Edmonton, packs of five can run for as low as $40 while a three-pack can go for up to $150, depending on a strain’s genetics and popularity.
Neumann starts each seed in its own pot and, in general, he says the bigger the pot, the bigger the plant. He prefers planting each seed in three- to five-gallon pots in soil with a peat moss base that is enriched with compost from his farm that consists mostly fruit and vegetable scraps.
Tom Neumann tends to some young cannabis plants at his legal home grow operation on Thursday near Ardrossan, Alta.
It takes two to nine months from seed to harvest, depending on the strain, watering four times a week with grow lights trained on the plants for 12 hours a day.
Weather permitting, Neumann prefers to move the plants outside after six weeks, allowing the plants grow taller. Outdoor plants can produce as much as 10 times the yield of an indoor plant. His biggest plant right now stands at about five feet, but he expects it to grow as high as nine feet and produce a kilogram of pot.
The plants are cut down before the buds can flower and are hung up in his cool and dark basement to dry.
“You don’t want it too humid, you don’t want it too dry,” Neumann said, adding it’s important for growers to check them every day and feel the buds. Some growers say the leaves and buds can come off the stalk once the branches are dry enough to snap, but he personally prefers to cut it before they get to that point.
Curing comes next, which is done in sealed glass jars, and the weed is periodically “burped,” meaning the cap is unscrewed for an hour to let out humidity and gas and “get rid of the stinky stuff you don’t want.” He does this every day for the first week, and every third day for the next two weeks.
His 38 plants can produce up to 20 kilograms of marijuana a year.
He has a workshop in a shed for indoor growing, and a fenced-off area at the back of his vegetable garden for the outdoor plants. Finding the right care regime depends on each individual plant and its environment, as well as the grower’s preference.
Tom Neumann talks about some of his methods for growing cannabis at his legal home grow operation on Thursday near Ardrossan, Alta.
“It’s practice. It’s like growing tomatoes,” he said. “If you plant the first seeds and they don’t grow, then next time they grow because you did it a little different. But it’s not difficult.” Growers can use cuttings of plants — called clones — instead of seeds, but Neumann said it’s trickier because a clone will put roots down from the side of a stem and grow sideways.
In six weeks, Neumann plans to launch an interactive web series called the “Grow Show” that will teach people around the world how to grow. He will live-stream the one-hour show on his website three times a week at 4:20 p.m. PT, a sly nod to 4:20 p.m. on April 20, the time and date that many Canadian pot enthusiasts set for a synchronized smoke.
He is already offering tips and promoting the show through Twitter.
Neumann has a two-year plan for his web series that will take people all the way through extracting oils and making edibles — a process that can be dangerous. There have been recorded cases in the United States where homes have caught on fire when residents tried to make their own concentrates using butane as a solvent.
He said disasters can happen when someone is using a gas burner, or sparking a cigarette while using butane in an enclosed space. But, he insisted, the process is simple and safe when done properly. “You’ve got a liquid fuel. Don’t be stupid, you can’t put it by a fire,” he said. “If you do it outside and use common sense, there’s no danger.”
Tom Neumann shows a male cannabis plant at his legal home grow operation on Thursday near Ardrossan, Alta.
Some are nervous over the prospect of homegrowing altogether. Realtor Darcy Torhjelm said homes that have been illegal grow-ops, where residents used hydroponics and additional electricity, often have rampant mould and mildew growth from the humidity and can be hard or impossible to resell.
While those grow-ops often had hundreds of cannabis plants intended for illicit sales, he still has concerns that even four-plant houses could cause problems for buyers and sellers.
“The idea is that four plants are like having potted plants in your house, but this is different because people are growing it with an expectation of getting something back out of it — more than just beautifying the house,” Torhjelm said. “I think the unknown is the problem.”
Anand Sharma, president of the Canadian Condominium Institute, shares some of those concerns. He said it’s possible some condos will ban growing, but it would require 75 per cent of owners to agree in writing to a bylaw change.
According to Service Alberta, landlords can choose to prohibit the growing of cannabis in rental agreements, meaning many low-income residents could be shut out. But Neumann said the homegrown debate is way overblown.
“They’re comparing it to the guys that were growing it for profit in the black market, so they were renting houses to be hidden away and illegally wiring (them) because they didn’t have enough power, and they were trying to grow 50 kilograms of pot.”
Since buying weed will be easy once it’s legal, some have speculated the market will be oversaturated by licensed producers and retail shops in October. As far as Neumann’s concerned, homegrown pot is superior to mass-produced cannabis, because the latter will be packaged, shipped and stored which could compromise its freshness and potency before it reaches the consumer.
“People laugh about homegrown weed,” he said. “There is no comparison, This is craft-grown weed, because I tend them every day with these two paws and these two eyes.”