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Grow your own: Gardeners can now add marijuana to their plots at home

  • Wilder Sparks, who with Ashley Sparks opened Hilltown Growers Supply in Shelburne Falls in November, is ready to give customers guidance on growing their own marijuana plants.

  • Hilltown Growers Supply has what a gardener needs to get any seeds started indoors.

  • MEG BANTLEIf they are to succeed, marijuana plants must be started from seed indoors starting early next month, Wilder Sparks says.

  • “We can definitely set people on the right path to what their goal is,” says Wilder Sparks.

  • Yarygin—Getty Images/iStockphoto



For the Bulletin
Saturday, February 17, 2018

Bay Staters are still waiting for finalized regulations for the sale of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, but the rules around adult recreational use were established a year ago.

After voters approved Question 4 on the 2016 ballot, lawmakers passed the “Regulation of the Use and Distribution of Marijuana not Medically Prescribed” law that legalized personal use and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for adults. That law also legalizes growing marijuana plants at home for personal use for those 21 years or older.

The number of plants allowed, however, is limited to six per person, but no more than 12 plants are allowed on the premises at a given time. Keep in mind, though, that possessing or cultivating cannabis is still a federal crime.

For gardeners who want to give growing marijuana a try, there are a few gardening stores that can provide supplies and guidance.

First, an obstacle

It may seem odd to be talking about gardening given the snow on the ground, but cannabis seeds need to be started indoors in February if they are to be planted outside in the spring. Unfortunately, getting the seeds is tricky. Mike Cutler is a Northampton attorney at EvansCutler Attorneys who served on the drafting committee for Question 4 in 2016. He says that adults can share up to one ounce of recreational cannabis, even seeds, but there is no legal way to sell seeds for recreational purposes in Massachusetts yet. And, he says, federal law makes it illegal to import seeds from another state or country. So, basically, the best option is to phone a friend until the Cannabis Control Commission finalizes commercial recreational regulations.

Hilltown Growers Supply, a garden supply store that opened in Shelburne Falls in November, sells all of the supplies needed to start those seeds and is willing to give guidance on how to do it right. Those supplies, owners Ashley and Wilder Sparks point out, aren’t very different from the supplies you need to start any kind of seeds indoors.

The Sparkses are former farmers who learned about cannabis cultivation in California.

“I grew up in Charlemont,” Wilder Sparks said. “We know that people like (cannabis) around here, and you hate to see people you know spending money on something that they have the skills to do themselves and now they’re allowed to do it.”

Wilder Sparks says that the short growing season in this area means gardeners must pay attention to the variety they choose to cultivate.

“You can definitely grow outside in Massachusetts,” he said. “You want your eight-week strains that take less time to finish so that when the weather gets lousy you’re not worrying about mold.”

He recommends indica, a strain of cannabis that has a short flowering period and a high yield.

Wilder Sparks also suggests starting more seeds than needed because only female plants produce the desirable buds. Still, gardeners must keep in mind that state regulations allow no more than six cannabis plants for one person or up to 12 plants at one residence.

“By October you want to be done,” Wilder Sparks said of the growing period.

He advises starting the seeds in early February. He uses start plugs in a plastic tray with a heating mat underneath and a plastic dome to keep the humidity in.

The right conditions

“When they’re babies they really like humidity and warmth,” he said.

The seeds and eventual seedlings also need light. While you can purchase specialty bulbs, fluorescent light bulbs that are made for growing plants are available at most pet and hardware stores and, according to Wilder Sparks, are more cost-effective since they don’t use a lot of electricity.

Ashley Sparks says the seedlings should be grown in a room where the temperature is consistent, so not a basement or storage room that is apt to get cold. And Wilder Sparks recommends using a fertilizer intended for starts to ensure that the young plants have all of the nutrients they need from the beginning.

“Keeping the conditions right when they’re babies is so important,” he said.

After that it’s just making sure that the environment stays humid by adding water when necessary.

Heading outdoors

Once the seedlings are three inches tall they can be transferred to a three-inch pot filled with amended potting soil — soil that contains organic or naturally derived additives — and then to a bigger pot later on. Wilder Sparks advises planting the cannabis plants outside in early May — around Mother’s Day.

He decreases the amount of light the plants get a few weeks before they go outside from 24 hours a day to turning the light off at night. This helps the plants to adjust to the natural light that they will get outdoors.

Unfortunately, it may be hard to tell the difference between male and female plants while the plants are still vegetating, the stage where they put on leaf matter instead of putting energy into flowering, as you winnow them down to the legal number of plants to keep. Some strains will show pre-flowers that can help you weed out the male plants. Female plants will have a pistil- shaped part and male plants will have a more round- shaped part.

Before putting the plants outside, there are a few important things to keep in mind. The first is the limited number of plants allowed. The second is that the plants cannot be visible from a public place, which, Cutler says, includes public sidewalks. The third is that the cannabis plants must be cultivated in an area that is protected by a lock or other security device, meaning fencing will be needed. Cutler says that violating the second two restrictions results in a fine of up to $300 and forfeiture of the marijuana, but not a criminal charge.

Once the garden plot has the proper specifications, it’s ready for the plants. Wilder Sparks says that the bigger the hole you dig and fill with soil and amendments, the bigger the plant might get. He recommends a hole with about a three-foot diameter, though gardeners can adjust that depending on the space they have available, but he emphasizes that width is more important than depth. Other online resources recommend holes of at least two feet wide and deep for clay soils that don’t drain well.

“We can definitely set people on the right path to what their goal is,” Wilder Sparks said. “Our hope is that people want to do it and that they’ll be interested in the knowledge that’s available and just apply it, because once you do it … I’d say it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.”

Hilltown Growers Supply is located at 1105 Mohawk Trail Unit 3, Shelburne Falls

Meg Bantle can be reached at mbantle@valleyadvocate.com.