During the dark days of marijuana prohibition, growing cannabis was a solitary lifestyle characterized by secrecy and paranoia, an underground world inhabited almost exclusively by men. Draconian drug laws created risks unacceptable to most women, especially mothers who stood to lose custody of their children for being “unfit.”
When MzJill, co-founder of TGA Seeds, started growing 20 years ago, “it wasn’t common, safe or cool to be a grower,” she recalls, describing life in a suburban cul-de-sac as the single mother of three young children, where she struggled to blend in with the neighbors and go unnoticed by the authorities. “I was a legal medical grower, but I was always so afraid to have anyone find mom, I didn’t want trouble, I didn’t want to be robbed, and I didn’t want my children to be judged.”
Producing her own medicine was more cost-effective than purchasing it, so MzJill set up a discreetly camouflaged free-standing room in her garage and used hydroponic methods because she didn’t want to dispose of conspicuous bags of soil. After she was advised to avoid the nearest hydro store due to DEA surveillance, she created her own bubbler-bucket system with items found from local plumbing and hardware stores. “I had to make my own net pots with a drill, and I used aquatic plant food,” she remembers. “When I first met Subcool, he drilled holes in my hydro buckets and converted me to soil!”
As their relationship blossomed, the couple continued to grow, founding TGA Seeds in 2001. Their seed company soon became the first well-known, aboveground cannabis-genetics source native to the United States, and their varieties continue to dominate the Pacific Northwest. The originator of powerful strains like Jillybean, MzJill says her most recent breeding project is a tribute to a fallen friend, Brian Damewood, who lost this struggle with ALS last June. “He was able to smoke the first harvest from the plant two days before he passed,” she says. “We created Brian Berry Cough to help bring awareness of ALS and keep Brian’s name alive.” A highly potent hybrid of Kyle Kushman’s Strawberry Cough crossed with a Cherry Space Queen male, the newly dubbed Brian Berry tastes like “Jolly Rancher’s strawberry and cherry, with traces of grapes and lemons in certain phenotypes.”
As a superstar breeder and tireless cannabis advocate, MzJill has become the most recognizable female face in the emerging homegrown cannabis-genetics industry, inspiring countless other women to pop seeds and get growing. “In the beginning, I didn’t realize I was taking a stand for women to become a part of the industry and be recognized,” she remarks. “In a way, I made it okay for others to come out and take part in a world where it was all men.”
Like a mother plant herself, MzJill’s “cuttings” grew into a new crop of motivated female farmers, attracted to the marijuana industry by their passion for the plant. Many of these young women describe both a spiritual connection to cannabis and an emotional bond with the female cannabis plant. “Women have a special touch with the plant, more of a nurturing effect than men do,” MzJill says. “I seem to have a knack for choosing the mom that we’ll end up using for our mother plant!”
As cannabis becomes increasingly legal in different US states, more and more women are choosing careers working with their favorite flower, bringing balance and new perspectives to a once male-dominated subculture. And as marijuana becomes a multibillion-dollar business, many more women will try cannabis products—especially ones designed, marketed and sold to them by other women.
For young women interested in a cannabis career, MzJill advises: “Don’t let anything hold you back. Be kind and help other people, but don’t let anyone take advantage of you.”
With those wise words in mind, let’s meet some of the new lady cultivators who are devoting their lives to growing cannabis and legalizing it for everyone. Check out our Grower Girls gallery for pics!
Grower at Buds & Roses, Los Angeles, CA
A veganic cultivator mentored by Kyle Kushman, Alyssa believes that being a woman gives her a unique advantage over her male counterparts. “I view gardening time as ‘girl time,’ hanging out with the ladies and giving them lots of love. I think my plants look better and produce more when given only positive energy. I shield them from negativity.”
Favorite strains: Grape Ape, Super Lemon Haze, Platinum Girl Scout Cookies
Gardening method: Indoors, in soil, with 1,000-watt high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights
Pest control: Integrated pest management
Hash method: Fresh-frozen (“We cut down entire plants and freeze the flowers to make ice hash later.”)
Alyssa’s grow tips:
Be curious: Always ask questions, especially if someone is sharing their knowledge.
Be humble: Look for ways to improve and take constructive criticism.
Be flexible: Bend, don’t break! Don’t insist your way is the best or only way to do something.
Lexi “Rowdi” Yarborough
Independent grower near Santa Cruz, CA
A tattoo artist, medical marijuana patient, model, grower and activist, Rowdi loves to stay busy on the farm! “My philosophy on life is: It’s all about the experience,” she says. “I grew up with little or no money, so I have always gypsied around… I got involved in growing marijuana because I believe in legalization and I love herb!”
Favorite strain: Sour Diesel
Gardening method: Outdoors, in soil, and using a light-deprivation greenhouse
Amendments: Veganic compost teas
Hash method: Dry-sift and bubble bags
Rowdi’s grow tips:
Be clean: Make sure everything is swept off the ground, put away your tools, and pick up dead leaves so you don’t invite pest problems.
Be observant: Monitor your plants regularly for signs of trouble. You can read their fan leaves like you read a book.
Be disciplined: Check your pH regularly to make sure you have the desired results in both your soil and water.
Be generous: As your plants grow, transplant them into bigger containers so they don’t get root-bound. Giving roots space to spread out will lead to healthier plants and higher yields.
Independent grower in Hawaii
After learning on the job for years as an assistant grower, Cara currently manages her own indoor grow in the Aloha State. “This is a newfound passion in my life!” Cara says. “I have friends who are guiding me and sharing their secrets to help me become a gifted grower. Being mentored this way is a beautiful process—I’m having fun learning and growing!”
Favorite strains: God’s Gift, Banana OG and all OG strains
Gardening method: An indoor 10’ x 10’ room with six 1,000-watt HPS lights
Pest control: Neem oil and Azamax
Hash method: Ice wax and dry-sift
Cara’s grow tips:
Use seeds: Plants grown from seed get bigger faster and are more resilient to pests and diseases.
Be vigilant: Monitor pH balance and ppm levels often.
Be patient: Wait until the plants are truly ripe to harvest. Trichomes should be milky white and about one-third amber in color when you chop them down.
MzJill’s Time-Tested Grow Tips
Selecting mother plants: “Examine plant structure and look for closely alternating branches. From experience, I know that the more stacking of the branches, the more potent and better-quality medicine I can get from those plants.”
Selecting male plants for breeding: “We do smell-testing, and the males that smell the best are worth experimenting with. We also look at their type of growth to rule out hemp-like traits.”
Using soil: “Plants produce more cannabinoids and flavor when grown in soil. It’s more natural, as the plant has to break down the nutrients itself, akin to how people should eat whole foods, not processed, boxed foods. You want your plants to be as natural as possible.”
Going solventless: “I don’t think you can get all the chemicals out of hash produced with solvents, and it’s possibly unsafe for patients with altered immune systems to take in all those chemicals. You only get one set of lungs, and I prefer to smoke the cleanest that you can smoke!”
Controlling pests: “We use Hot Shot pest strips, which are a chemical solution, but we’re not rubbing them against the plants—it’s just in the same room. We use diatomaceous earth for pest problems in the soil.”
Keeping it sterile: “Always quarantine clones before introducing them into your regular growroom. Don’t allow pets in grow areas, and always go into the growroom with clean, fresh clothes on. If you go into a friend’s growroom and then into your room, you can introduce spores, molds and mildews.”
Curing in glass: “You gotta get all that extra moisture out for a smooth smoke. We jar-cure everything and avoid using plastic, because glass confers superior flavor.”
(Photo by Sunnie Rizzolo)
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