So, you're officially a certified medical-marijuana patient in Massachusetts, and you're ready to grow your own medicine. Where to begin? Cannabis cultivation is an art as much as it is a craft — and urban living in our New England climate presents a gamut of indoor-gardening challenges for novices and pro growers alike. I visited two established local grow shops to find out how they help newcomers to the DIY medical-marijuana tribe.
THE BOSTON GARDENER
A cozy little agricultural oasis in Dudley Square, the Boston Gardener has a laid-back, rustic feel; on this chilly day, the shop's windows are fogged up from dewy greenhouse displays. Once inside, my senses are met with organic aromas and the calming hush sound of bubbling hydroponics.
It doesn't take long for shop employee Jay Haile to warmly offer assistance. I ask him what first-time indoor gardeners need in order to start growing their own medicinal cannabis.
"It doesn't matter what you're growing," he says. "I'd first ask about the space you have and how much light you get in that space. The closer to the window, the better."
Then there's the eternal question: soil or hydro? Haile says both methods come with pros and cons. It's easier to grow organic marijuana using soil — but soil can be prone to bugs. Hydroponic plants also grow faster. Nevertheless, Haile says, as an "old-school" gardener, he prefers soil over hydro.
Whichever technique you choose, the first step after obtaining cannabis seeds is helping them through germination. Haile recommends starting seeds in grow plugs, which come in plastic trays with dome-like covers to keep seeds moist and warm. He also suggests buying a heating mat, to keep your germinating tray 75-80 degrees during cold winter months. He shows me a lighting setup that comes with a bulb, a hood, and an adjustable metal stand, which the plants will need when they get taller. I figure basic supplies to get plants through germination and ready to transplant run about $200.
From the sidewalk, GYOstuff (GYO stands for "grow your own") looks more like a scientific toy store than a garden shop. Plants on display glow electric green under bulbs hung with dark metal hoods. Inside, the shop feels high-tech but tranquil, with walls painted alternating blue and green, and shelves forming a maze of bulbs, barrels, tents, and bottles.
Shop owner Eli Constantinou is at the front counter when I arrive.
"I teach tomatoes, and you take it from there," he says, when I ask for guidance on cannabis growing. He says he's kicked people out for obnoxiously ignoring his requests to quell marijuana talk. But if you follow his rules, you'll find hydroponics simplified within minutes.
Constantinou brings me directly to an indoor tent that looks like a thermal lunchbox the size of a refrigerator. Behind a zippered door flap, the tent is lined with reflective silver Mylar; four buckets filled with water and solution sit bubbling below a light fixture. Each bucket has a basket lid filled with clay rocks, where four plants look to be thriving, their roots suspended in the nutrient brew at all times.
As I stare at a deep-water hydroponic setup in a self-contained, light-proof tent that could fit inside a closet, I realize it's the first time I've ever seen indoor cultivation simplified to such a discreet, personally manageable scale.