As a rule of thumb, small things are simpler than large ones: constraining size forces us to constrain complexity as well. This is especially true for marijuana gardens, where a micro-grow presents far fewer potential issues than a warehouse-sized commercial setup. At the same time, however, both for growers who are just getting started as well as veterans seeking more control over their crops (while reducing the amount of time spent tending them), the greatness of purpose and smallness of means can still produce astonishing results.
Take the Messiah, for example. He lives in western New York, near the Canadian border, and has been growing for 10 years. A few years back, he felt that Canadian pot was getting far too much adulation in the pages of High Times. As a result, he founded the Battle at the Bridge Cup, an annual showdown between American and Canadian growers. Over the course of five contests, the Messiah and his network of growers have crushed the Canadian competition, while the Messiah himself has won the top prize for outstanding strain three times.
The Messiah is also a seed breeder extraordinaire, responsible for strains like PK Ripper (Las Vegas Purple Kushx Jack the Ripper from Subcool) and Bubbadential (DNA’s LA Confidential x Bubble Gum from Serious Seeds). Bubbadential was snapped up by Toronto’s Ontario Seed Bank and sold out instantly. However, as proficient as the Messiah is at seed breeding, it’s not really his bag. “I don’t have a lot of space, and I like grow- ing good pot too much,” he explains.
His rooms are nothing special: Instead, they’re functional and easily accessible — and they require a minimum amount of work. His veg room, which nurtures seedlings and clones of 10 different varieties, measures 6′ x 6′ and is outfitted with a six-bulb T5 lamp and a couple of two-bulb shop lights. His flowering room is of similar dimensions and outfitted with three 600-watt high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps and a 6,500-BTU air conditioner. The Messiah gardens on a semi-perpetual harvest cycle and has six strains nearing fruition. His plants aren’t monsters, but the Messiah prefers it that way. “It’s just me,” he points out. “It’s really hard to do a massive-sized plant, being just one person … it takes a while to trim a five-foot plant.”
Even so, many beginners might want to shoot the moon. After all, it’s free pot, isn’t it?
“It’s never free,” the Messiah responds. “Trimming is painful. You sit hunched over, it takes a lot of concentration … it’s just not that easy. Plus bigger plants mean more work downstairs. I’m into growing quality, not quantity. When I grow ’em the size that I like to grow ’em — about three feet high — I harvest an ounce, maybe an ounce and a half. But remember, I’m growing a lot of strains like LA Confidential that produce popcorn-sized buds, not a big mass of colas.”
The Messiah is a container-and-soil guy. “It’s easier and much more forgiving if you make a mistake,” he says. “I’ve done both, but I think the flavors are better and the colors of the buds are more vibrant in soil. If you’re trying to do a commercial garden, yeah, you wanna go with hydro because you’re going to get a better yield. But for my purposes, I lean toward soil.”
He uses Pro-Mix soilless mix, which he blends with Happy Frog potting soil and worm castings. But according to the Messiah, the key to great cannabis is flushing.
“I’m a firm believer that, if you’re going to be using nutrients at 1,500 ppm throughout an eight-week cycle, a week of flushing won’t be long enough to remove all of the nutrient salts — it’s just not gonna happen. I only run mine at 1,200 ppm and I flush for 12 days. I’ve seen guys run 1,500 and 2,000 ppm; I’ve even seen a few guys run 2,200 ppm. And they’re just not getting the nutrient salts out of the plant. One week of flushing won’t do it; they need a solid two weeks of flushing.” (See the sidebar for the Messiah’s preferred nutrient regimen.)
In the suburb of Buffalo where he resides, a tight-knit group of disciples follows the Messiah’s teachings. He’s shared his secrets with a trusted few and they, in turn, have enlightened him with their own newfound wisdom. All of their strains have been entered in past Battle at the Bridge Cups and finished strongly.
Among the Messiah’s followers is a carpenter. He’s single and Jewish, with long hair and a beard. Not surprisingly, how and what he grows is downright uncanny — almost loaves-and-fishes miraculous.
The Carpenter’s growroom is housed in his basement: what looks to be a well-appointed rec room with a laundry annex in the cellar’s adjacent space. Movie and rock’n’roll posters hang on the walls. But behind one oversized poster, there’s a concealed four-foot opening in the wall. Not that you’d ever know it, since the Carpenter has aligned the edges of the opening with the wood moldings he’s installed, so when the poster is removed, a blank wall stares back. No one could detect that behind it, the wheels of a compact grow op are turning.
Though the area is small, the Carpenter has plenty of space to tend plants. Stretching along the far wall is a long workbench; underneath it is his veg area. Two slabs of drywall have been erected perpendicularly in one corner to form a 4′ x 7′ flowering space. A 3-foot- high door serves as its entranceway.
At present, 24 plants are growing there in the “sea of green” style. They’ll reach about three feet high and yield three-quarters of an ounce per plant; winter’s cooler temperatures will bring up that a bit. “I’m not an entrepreneur,” says the Carpenter. “This is a hobby … more like an addiction,” he adds with a laugh.
He sells some of the pot, he says, “but I don’t make my living on this. It just helps out my bottom line. I can’t deprive people of their medicine.”
The Carpenter harvests every two weeks. With 24 plants in flower, plus 60 clones and seedlings maturing under the workbench, his little grow op is “controlled chaos,” he says. In truth, it’s a hands-and-knees operation: The small flowering room requires sliding the plants around, pulling them out to attend to them and then shoving them back into their allotted spots, almost like a game of marijuana musical chairs.
His soil blend is similar to the Messiah’s: Pro-Mix, Happy Frog and earth- worm castings. Among his strains are Purple Kush and Spicy White Devil. The garden relies on a 1,000-watt HPS lamp and a 600-watt LED to throw light to the far edges of the room. The spent air is evacuated by a six-inch fan that blows 24/7 into the exhaust tube. In the veg area, a six-bulb T5 and a single-bulb T5 nurture the clones.
“I control my temperature,” the Carpenter says. “My central AC unit does most of my cooling. But when it gets too hot at the beginning of the summer, I switch my 1,000 down to 750 and lower the hood of the light. I run 750 most of the summer until fall. When it gets a little cooler, I pump it back to 1000 — which is intense — and raise the hood.”
that someone can go into a warehouse and just start growing 300 plants,” the Carpenter says. “Not without a fulltime staff. I’m a one-man show: I do it by myself, and it’s a lot of work. Out of seven days, I’m down here three. But the fourth day, I may pull an all-nighter. I set a certain day aside for that.”
Even the Messiah says it can “be a chore.” Some growers say it’s akin to being a pet owner: You can’t plan vacations without taking your “babies” into consideration.
“There’s a lot of mental stress that comes with growing,” says the Carpenter, “especially when things go wrong and you have to play nurse. Plus you have to worry about the law … and in small towns where there isn’t a lot of crime, pot busts are big scores for cops. Even so, I love it — and it’s worth it.”
Many growers say you should feed your plants with every other watering. But the Messiah thinks that’s too much and that you risk “burning” your plants. (You’ll know when the leaves start turning brown.) He recommends feeding your plants only once a week. Here’s his own special solu- tion, which is mixed into each gallon of water during the bloom phase: