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Mutant cactus plants inspire an unlikely Sonoma County cannabis grow

Well-ensconced in the middle years of life, I am the sort of person who likes planning meals a week ahead, drives a very sensible car, has a 401K and flosses at stoplights. I have never been handcuffed or arrested. I have never been totally naked in public (okay, there was that one streaking incident in college) and I am a reasonably decent parent according to my mostly-adult children who still speak to me regularly.

I also grow marijuana.

Not that I ever really planned to. Many, many attempts over the years to grow vegetables and flowers inevitably ended in disaster. Not just minor disasters, but outrageously, stunningly, epic gardening disasters that defy explanation. As in, “How exactly did you manage to kill a tree and the entire lawn?”

I have no business being in the grow biz for many, many reasons. But somehow I’ve found myself here. Tired of worrying about exactly what types of pesticides may or may not be in the medical marijuana I have used for the last five years paired with steep taxes and my general lack of hobbies have recently led me to a Grand Experiment — growing cannabis.


Fully legal since 2016, adults in California can grow up to six marijuana plants per household. That’s actually a lot of weed. It never really seemed worth the time or effort pre-2018 recreational legalization. Now, as the landscape shifts from medical use to HOLY CRAP THAT’S EXPENSIVE FOR AN EIGHTH!, it seems to make a lot of sense. I don’t blame dispensaries. Lawmakers have created a spaghetti-like web of taxes and regulations that no one can quite figure out, including themselves. I’m sure they’ll figure it out, but I’m not waiting around.

Like I said, I’m old and I’m cheap and I need a hobby. I also had an embarrassing scene at a local dispensary where I got a little huffy about the new prices for my edibles. There may have been an overly dramatic exit in which I told everyone within earshot I was starting a little marijuana garden of my own. So now my pride insists on a follow through.

I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing, but step by step, problem by problem and solution by solution I’ll document the moments of stunning victory and agonizing defeat. Hopefully, I will have a bumper crop at the end. And no, you can’t have any. You might just be able to grow your own, though.

Let’s get this party started because I’m good to grow.

Step One: Wait! I kill every plant I own!

We mostly covered this, but it bears repeating. I’m a black thumb. I feel guilty when people give me plants, because I kill them. Without fail. I can keep children, dogs and sometimes goldfish alive but I don’t do plants. Really. Ask my neighbors who kindly ask me not to water their plants when they’re out of town. This whole growing pot plan seems ill-conceived.

Solution: Screw it. I gotta friend in the biz. He’ll set up me for cheap.

Step Two: Budder on a rainy day

I know this guy named Gaby. He sets up a ton of microgreen gardens for restaurants. He’s crazy about microgreens and wants everyone who to love them too, because they’re full of great nutrients and taste pretty yummy. That doesn’t exactly pay the bills, so Gaby also has a hydroponics and indoor garden supply store in Santa Rosa called The Garden Spout. He knows a whole lot about growing things.

Gaby also spends a lot of time with his mutant cactus plants, carnivorous plants and is currently trying to grow the world’s hottest chili pepper. He claims to be very good at explaining green things to people who kill green things. He can even help me, he says. So on a miserable rainy afternoon, I head over for a chat. Plus, who’s not a sucker for mutant cactus plants. If Gaby can keep those alive, he can definitely keep my pot garden alive.

Gaby's mutant cactus.

Gaby’s mutant cactus.

Of course, at this point, a cannabis grow of my own is all hypothetical. It’s “for a friend”. But in the back of his store, we talk indoor tents and the price to set up a tiny and very legal operation of six plants.

This isn’t Gaby’s first rodeo. For a few hundred dollars and a whole bunch of trips to Friedmans, he says we could do a closet grow. Old school, with like tin foil and fans and MacGyver-y stuff.

No offense, but nope.

Hard no. I’m not living in a fraternity house and I need my closet space.

Okay, he says, for a little more, a tent and maybe a low-end light and some serious how-to, he can set me up for about $700. We’re talking a solid little Subaru kind of a setup.

Nice, I think, but let’s reach for the stars, how much would it be for the BMW-level grow op? Maybe an entry-level BMW.

He thought about it. “Hydroponics!”

“Sure,” I said, not really understanding the answer.

We share a thoughtful moment fueled by rosin. Rain pounds on the roof. We look at the roots of micro-greens for a while. An idea hatches; What if we compared a really simple grow — the Subaru tent — to a hydroponic system that costs five times as much, but grows some supreme herb. Pepper that with the fact that I kill all vegetation on site, am way too old to do this, and frankly my mom will kill me. Sounds like a recipe for a disaster. I’m in.

“So how much, really?”I ask, not entirely sure I’m serious about any of this. Setting up a grow in my garage is idiotic. Mostly because my garage is a mess.

“Lemme get back to you on that,” he says.

Solution: Wait. Clean garage.

This is actually cleaner than my garage.

Up next: The setup

Good to Grow is an ongoing column about a black thumb’s journey to garage cannabis growing. The author prefers to remain anonymous in order not to have people constantly hitting her up for weed. That, and the fact that her mother has no idea she’s doing this.