Tap tap tap. Cold rain’s plopping on the grow tent’s roof. It’s a gray Friday afternoon in Norwalk, CA and the weatherman says it’s going to pour tonight. “I don’t like the rain, man,” Chris, the set-up’s proprietor, says as he gazes at his plants. “It’s not good for them.”
The first time his crops took on a downpour it was ugly, soggy bad news. 3 AM and Chris was in bed. Before he even knew he was awake, he heard the rain beating on his roof and thought, “Oh, shit. The plants.” Then he was up and flying into the backyard, finding his tent buckling under the monsoon-style storm.
Like everything else involved with his grow, Chris had built the tent himself. He used PVC pipes and plastic film. Back then the roof wasn’t steep enough to keep that quantity of rain running off the sides. Fifty gallons had pooled on the plastic roof, weighing it down, snapping some of the connectors holding the structure together, and pressing down on the plants.
First Chris tried to lift the fifty gallons from underneath, to push it up six feet high and shove it off the side of the roof. That was about as hard as it sounds – “a one hour workout in the middle of the morning” – so he finally sliced the ceiling open with a scalpel used for scarring clones. It opened the flood gates down on him and one of his plants. But he learned from it. He glued and rewired the structure, replaced the bad connectors, and installed new gutters to collect rainwater, filter it and use to water his garden. He doesn’t fight the rain in the middle of the night anymore. Like a Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do disciple, he uses his opponent’s strength to his own advantage.
And now we’re looking at his new and improved operation: 5 x 20 rows of Gorilla Glue #4, Better Than Yours OG, Platinum Bubba Kush, Cherry Pie, and a handful of other juicy strains. They’re almost four weeks into flowering and the buds are starting to pop out of the stalks. There’s just a hint of dankness mixing in the air with that thin minty smell of baby plants.
“You’re buying yourself a full time job” when you get into this, Chris tells me. He’s the only one who works at his set up and it is hard work. But the man is twenty years old and he supports himself, his lady, and his two year-old son with his grow. He’s got the financial self-sustainability most Americans dream of. So what did it take for him to get it? What was the key?
“You got to do it,” he says. “You got to actually go out and do it, and try otherwise you won’t know what it is… You got to try to be successful.”
He started with some free clones they were giving away at a local collective and got his first farming lessons from a dude who came by delivering for a local collective. This delivery guy was an older cat who grew as a side job and took the time to show Chris the ropes. That and YouTube taught him all the basics.
But the most important part of his story, what really made his success possible, is that he powered through two shitty harvests that didn’t produce. “My first two harvests were nothing, you know. I didn’t dry it right. I grew it literally for nothing.” But it wasn’t for nothing. Like that big rainstorm, it instructed him on how to do it right. That’s how he got to the point where he can support him and his family with his plants.
Strains: Platinum Bubba Kush, Critical Kush, 818 HeadBand , Gorilla Glue #4, Better Than Yours OG, Cherry Pie, Girl Scout Cookies and a Jack the Ripper that he calls “superb.”
Each plant gets a 3×3 foot hole dug 2 feet into the ground and filled with FoxFarm mix, coconut coir, Amazon SuperBioChar, earthworm castings, bat guano, pure forest hummus, Mykos Mycorrhiza root promoter, and Nectar For The Gods Nutrients and Foliar.
Heat: A CO2 burner. He says it’s way cheaper than the propane heater he used to use, which cost up to $20 for every two days of use. The CO2 doesn’t give as much heat, but it’s enough, and it gives the plants some carbon dioxide at the same time.
What Chris says really makes his set up special is that he goes into the ground. He only supplements what’s already there. He tries to let the plants and the soil do as much of the work as possible.
“A lot of starters think you know they go and buy all these nutrients, you know. A plant doesn’t really need as much as you think… They only need the basics, really. People go out and do the most, spend the most. They don’t really need that. The plant only needs basic loving care and three or four supplements for its nutrients.”
All of this started with Chris’s own medical needs. As a teenager (which is just a few years ago), he was diagnosed with scoliosis. His back was warped to a 56 degree curvature. He says doctors often apply braces at 25 degrees, so this was intensely severe and it gave him painful back spasms.
He went to chiropractors and thought about surgery before being prescribed cannabis. He combined that with some physical therapy and he says he doesn’t get the spasms anymore. Then he learned how to grow his own medicine and started working as a clone provider for a local collective.
But life in the cannabis community isn’t often simple. Even when it’s all documented and above board, like in Chris’s case, it complicates other parts of his life. I ask him how he manages to keep off the radar of people who might want to try to rip him off – a backyard operation in a residential neighborhood can look like a good target to some. His answer: “No new friends. No new friends.”
And he doesn’t have many social ties in the business. He says he only knows one other grower and that he’s “really to himself as well… [We] run into each other here and there at the hydro shop, you know.” But that’s it. Because the industry is halfway-hushed up, a lot of the socializing is forced onto Instagram. Chris says he talks to people sometimes on IG and trades information with them, but he doesn’t know their real names or much about where they are. He’s on his own.
But on his own works for him. He’s got enough to sustain his family, the medicine he needs, and more than that, he likes it. “It’s fun. It’s definitely fun… I love watching the plant grow, you know. From small to big, you know, and watching them produce. It’s pretty interesting what this plant can do.” He looks out on his plants. We’re listening to the rain tap-tap and watching the plants grow while we pass a blunt rolled with his homegrown Girl Scout Cookies. The man looks content. Hell yeah, it’s interesting what it can do.