I’m not a competitive person but then I started gardening.
I tried to grow cannabis for the first time last year and was thoroughly trounced by everyone else in my neighbourhood, which in one way felt awesome — it was cool to see how much my neighbours love their weed — but was also a bit of a bummer. My crop wasn’t great and I wanted to do better.
Despite my middling success, I enjoyed the process. You’re outside, there’s a connection to nature, there are the challenges of warding off pests and disease and curious raccoons. There is the labour of the harvest followed by the dutiful drying and curing of the buds, before, finally, the reward.
This year, I hoped for better results. Here’s how I fared.
I didn’t get off to a great start. I was initially hesitant about trying to grow another crop and missed the window to grow from seed. In June, I ended up acquiring two seedlings from a well-intentioned friend.
In the beginning, they looked more like sad bonsai trees than pot plants. The thin wispy stalks, rooted in clay potting soil, drooped to the side. They looked exhausted and more than one friend questioned whether they’d survive.
I transplanted them into new pots and dropped about a hundred dollars on bags of premium potting soil which the garden center employee assured me would give the plants their best chance to thrive. Freshly replanted, I stuck a few wooden barbecue skewers into the soil to keep the plants upright and guide them skyward.
I also acquired two more seedlings, just in case. These ones were healthier and already larger but as they settled in on my deck next to a planter of hot peppers, I couldn’t help but peek my head over the railing, where I saw my neighbour’s plants — started from seed in February — already flourishing.
Across the street, another neighbour, who recently moved in, had four bushy plants on his balcony, waving to the street in the wind. I know the distinctive smell of cannabis isn’t for everyone, and not all are pleased about the proliferation of pot plants in their neighbourhood each summer, but that wasn’t the case on my block.
From the deck, I could spot another few plants down the alley of backyards, each one in varying states of growth, but all serving as connective tissue as another pandemic summer began to unfold. It was not uncommon to see a few of us out in the mornings, a line of silhouettes, watering our plants in rhythm.
Last year, I often didn’t give the plants a drink until the evening. That was a mistake, Jawad Skieneh, the master grower at Greenway Greenhouse Cannabis, told me in July.
“They’re like humans,” he said. “When it’s really hot and sunny, they want more water than fertilizer, just like we want more water than food.”
Overwatering is the number one mistake novice growers make, Skieneh told me. He likened watering the plants at night to jumping into a pool while wearing shoes and going to sleep with sopping socks on.
“You don’t want that plant going to bed wet,” he said.
My neighbour downstairs already seemed to know this. Mostly, he left the plants unattended and they shot up unencumbered. I grew jealous of the raised beds his plants sprouted from, their roots free to spread further and deeper into the soil below. It wasn’t long until the fan leaves towered over another neighbour’s shed and began approaching our deck. Clearly, they were very happy plants.
They are also plants of an unknown origin. He grew them from seeds which he acquired at a party, pre-pandemic. He didn’t have any details about lineage, flowering time or anything else, but it didn’t seem to slow them down.
On the deck, my drooping plants began to make a comeback. The stalks thickened, the leaves spread, and then, eventually, the first pistils emerged. In its own way, this felt like a victory. It was touch and go early in the season and I was skeptical the plants would survive, but ever slowly they grew healthier and greener and larger and prettier.
In the mornings, as I exchanged waves and head nods with my fellow green thumbs, they looked their best. They stood proud and tall in the early light. But there were still challenges ahead.
The plants in early August.
One morning, I woke to find the soil from two of the plants dug up and spread all over the deck. The squirrels had found them. And though my cat showed no interest in the plants, I thought her occasional presence on the deck might deter wildlife from visiting. I was wrong. She was too busy napping to stand guard.
Fortunately, the squirrels also found the potato vines and opted to munch on those leaves and roots instead. One of the plants took on a heavy lean following the squirrel’s landscaping efforts, but otherwise, they proved resilient.
By August, my neighbour’s plants were flowering and taking over their small backyard. Another neighbour within sight had a similar level of success. Around this time, I noticed an influx of bees in the area, which would jump from plant to plant on the deck, buzzing with a happy hum.
The pollen on cannabis plants can attract a range of bee species. In a study published in Environmental Entomology last year, researchers tracked 16 different types of bees that visited cannabis farms in New York, with the tallest plants attracting the most attention. It certainly wasn’t my plants, then, that the bees were after but they still hung around, offering their encouragement.
Things were looking up until a familiar foe returned. One sunny morning, I spotted powdery mildew on one of the plants. Remembering how constant the battle was last summer to keep the fungus at bay, I quickly began treating it with a diluted milk spray, which seemed to help, though it never fully conquered the issue. Fortunately, somehow, the mildew didn’t spread to any of the neighbouring plants or other vegetation on the deck.
Still, the plant that became infected was also performing the best. Rather than chuck the whole thing, I chopped it down, dried it out and I plan to make it into an arthritis salve sometime soon.
Soon after that, the plants around the neighbourhood began to disappear, one by one, their short lives already over. My remaining plants, since they got off to a late start, were the last to go.
Despite one plant lost to mildew, the others fared well, even the wispy ones. When the weather turned earlier this month, I decided it was finally time to cut them down and accept the loss of some potency and yield.
By this point, the green envy I had experienced earlier in the season gave way to acceptance. Gardening is time well spent, and even though we’d only exchanged a few words over the course of the summer, I felt closer to my neighbours, who, from a distance, had shared in on this experience with me. I also figured a little weed is better than no weed at all.
I strung up a few lines of twine, hung the plants over, and waited for the buds to dry. A few days later I was greeted with a gift in the basement I share with my neighbour. Hanging from the ceiling was a bundle of bud, ready to be cured. There were also a few seeds next to it.
Later that week, I learned my neighbours are soon moving out of the province. I will miss them, but I’ll think of them next year, as I plant the seeds of their vibrant mystery strain and watch, this time with gratitude instead of jealousy, as it grows again.
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