How to Grow Killer Weed: exclusive excerpt from new book, The Art of Doing

Excerpted from The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well, by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield. (Camille and Josh interviewed me for the book, too.)

It was the Sixties, and Ed Rosenthal, who listed his future career as "plant geneticist" in his high school yearbook, had discovered pot. After college, living in an oversize apartment in the Bronx, Rosenthal decided to grow his own. The rest is marijuana history as Rosenthal went on to become "The Guru of Ganja" and a godsend to both the home growing hobbyist and the commercial grower. He has authored a dozen books on marijuana cultivation and his popular grower's advice column Ask Ed ran in High Times for two decades and is syndicated internationally.

Here are Rosenthal's 10 tips on "How to Grow Killer Weed."

1. Know the consequences. Face it, pot isn't legal in most places yet. There are almost a million marijuana arrests in America every year, so know your local laws, both state and county. If you get busted in Oklahoma for growing a single plant you can get two years to life. In some states a medical doctor can lose his license for cultivation. A student can lose rights to scholarships. You can even lose your driver's license or right to vote. Ask yourself: "Is growing worth it?" The police blotter is full of stories of people who didn't think it through.

2. Design your garden. Determine the best garden design for your particular needs. If you're squeezed for space, you can grow in a closet. Need a fast turnaround time? Plants grown hydroponically mature more quickly. Don't want to risk being busted with an indoor garden? Grow a guerilla garden in a small hard-to-detect plot. If you're growing medical marijuana, you might be legally limited to a certain number of plants, so design your garden for maximum yield of each plant.

3. Know your limits. When some people first start growing, they want to do too much and get in over their heads. I knew a first-time grower who planted a 400-square-foot indoor garden. He did everything by hand. No irrigation system. No help. Halfway through the first grow cycle he realized, "There's not enough time!" He was having a nervous breakdown. I told him, "Shut off half the lights and do what you can." Growing cannabis is not a fly-by-night project. Start small. Get some experience. Then you can expand into a larger system.

4. Choose your variety wisely. In the late '60s, you collected seeds from friends or whatever marijuana happened to be left around–Columbian Gold or Panama Red. But those plants were more suited to tropical climates. Then the breeders came along, legendary guys like Neville Schoenmaker, who gained access to some of the world's greatest strains of cannabis: Skunk #1, Haze and Pollyanna. They opened mail order seed banks. For the first time you could select strains suited to various climates that grew faster and had much better highs. After 40 years of breeding you have at least a couple of hundred seed banks. You can select for taste, aroma and, of course, the high. Want a couch potato high? Go for Easy Rider. Something more cerebral? Go for Green House Thai. Prefer a party buzz? Try Euforia. Medical marijuana patients can choose from strains to relieve particular ailments. If you are going to go to the trouble of growing why not select the best plant for you?

5. Remember: Marijuana is NOT a magical plant. Some pot smokers believe that marijuana is their mystical ally like Don Juan talked about in the Carlos Castaneda books. They get so excited that they think they can plant a seed in the ground and a few months later they'll be smoking killer pot. But marijuana plays by the same rules as everything else in the plant kingdom. Just like an orchid or a head of lettuce, marijuana requires the right amount of light, CO2, nutrients, water, oxygen and temperature. Educate yourself about the principles of cultivation.

6. Believe your eyes. A plant's reactions to stimuli can be as instantaneous as an animal's. As you tend your garden, step back to watch, the plants will indicate their health. Are they getting enough water? The right spectrum of light? There's a telltale sign for almost every nutrient deficiency. No matter what you've learned from books or other growers, you have to trust your eyes. Once, returning home after a week away, I noticed my plants had drought damage. I shocked the plant sitter when I asked him, "So, how come you didn't water my plants last Thursday?"

7. Harvest no bud before it's ripe. You wouldn't eat a green peach. So why go to all of the work of growing a marijuana crop only to harvest the buds before they're ripe–when they give you the most potent high? Know the cues. Even buds on the same plant don't mature at the same time. Get yourself a photographer's loupe. Up close you'll notice that the buds glisten in the sun as if sprinkled with tiny crystals. That's when the magic moment has arrived.

8. Don't get busted. There are a million ways to get busted. Any one of these might work: tell everyone about your garden, act suspicious, throw late night parties, wave a gun around, don't pay your taxes, be a lousy neighbor, spread a lot of cash around in town, piss off the garbage man, post pictures of your garden on Facebook or grow a garden next to a major airport. Every time you tell someone about your garden, assume you've just told ten people. Anybody, an angry ex or disgruntled roommate, can turn you in.

9. Evolve. Thirty years ago your typical grow room was couple of hanging lights and a fan. The science of marijuana cultivation has changed radically over the years, but some growers think they know everything. I visited a grower once with a terrible garden, a real throwback to the '70s. I took some of his pot to some people and no one would even smoke it. From homemade aeroponics systems to decarboxylation–the best growers realize they have a lot to learn. Cultivation technology is always changing, which can be overwhelming. But that's the way it is.

10. Legalize it. A lot of potheads don't even vote, but every change in the marijuana laws has been the result of a struggle. A lot of people don't have the time to fight for legalization or they don't want their faces recognized, but anyone can make a contribution to the cause. If the 20 million regular users donated $10, that would be $200 million toward marijuana law reform and the law changes would be immediate. Are you for legalization? Then act on your beliefs.

Excerpted by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from " The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It so Well" by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield. Copyright 2013 by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield.

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