Start clearing out the hall closet — it's time to get hydroponic.
Marijuana became legal in the District of Columbia on Thursday, but a conflict with Congress stopped the city from writing regulations that would allow the drug to be sold and taxed. Faced with those limitations, city officials are now pushing the policy of "home grow, home use."
Basically, you can grow and consume small amounts of weed at home without breaking the law (unless you live in a federally subsidized building).
But how do you get started?
First of all, visit Mike Bayard, the owner of Capital City Hydroponics. He runs a shop in Northwest D.C. that supplies materials for people who grow all types of plants indoors.
Bayard expects a spike in business and he's now offering beginner setups that range in price from $420 to $1,250. The kits include a tent, fan, lights, air filter and other home-grow hardware, but you can expect another couple hundred in additional costs along the way, for things like nutrients and potting materials.
He won't address marijuana growing directly, but cultivating a tomato plant is pretty similar. Bayard walked us through the process to set up your "tomato" grow operation:
(seven to 10 days)
First, you'll have to find some seeds. The hydroponic shop doesn't sell them, so you'll probably have to ask around. Seed sharing in D.C. is now perfectly legal, so don't be surprised if some generous folks start turning up online.
There are tons of options when it comes to growing ganja, so we'll keep it simple. Many people start by germinating a seed, using either soil or a hydroponic system, which supplies the plant with water and nutrients. You can also get a cutting from another plant.
Under the new law, D.C. allows residents to possess six plants, and, of those, only three can be mature. To grow three "tomato" plants, Bayard recommends starting with at least eight seeds and then keeping the three healthiest sprouts.
You'll begin by placing the seeds in a plastic, mini-greenhouse ($45 or so). During this stage, plants will need 24 hours of lighting, so you'll need some sort of light rig and potting container. Keep watering to a minimum: a daily misting to moisten the soil will do the trick.
2. Vegetative growth
(two to four weeks)
If all goes well, your seeds will start growing roots. Now it's time to move them to the big kid playground.
That means a tent or a grow room (a closet would work). You'll expose them to a more powerful light, but for a shorter period of time each day — 18 hours with light, six hours without.
"You'll start to force the plant to grow up a little quicker," Baynard said. "You're mimicking the seasons."
Perfect for growing tomatoes (Credit: Ted Hesson/Fusion)
You'll also start adding some nutrients to your water mixture. The options are wide and varied, from synthetics like "Jungle Juice" to vegan organic products that could make the grade at Whole Foods.
The nutrients tend to have one thing in common: they're a mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, with varying levels depending on the plant's stage of growth. Capital City Hydroponics sells an organic starter pack for $50 that covers all the bases.
Want bigger plants? Let them grow longer.
(eight to 12 weeks)
Now it's time to get some buds. You'll force the plant to mature by exposing it to even more powerful light and amping up the feeding regimen. You'll also cut the light to 12 hours a day.
"Just like a baby, you feed it baby food and stuff, but once it starts getting teeth, you feed it different types of things," Baynard said.
Here's where the fancy grow setup comes into play. As we mentioned, the setups can be pricey. Even someone who purchases the $420 lighting rig will need to buy a strong light for this stage, which can cost several hundred dollars more.
Something is missing here (Credit: Ted Hesson/Fusion)
You'll want to feed the plant a water/nutrient mix more aggressively, but then flush it with just water for the last two weeks of the cycle, so that the nutrients don't harm the flavor.
Capital City Hydroponics won't comment on harvesting, but WikiHow has some pointers.
The site says to harvest around the time when at least half of the plant's hairs have turned from white to amber brown. As you become more experienced, you can experiment with different harvest times and compare the finished product.
You can either cut down the entire plant or remove branches one at a time. You'll want to trim the buds, too, removing any leaves.
High Times stresses the importance of trimming the plants by hand (you'll be doing that anyway, since you're at home).
"When buds are hand trimmed and hang dried with skill, less resin is knocked off the harvest and a greater potency, flavor and aromas result," they said in an article last year.
5. Hang to dry
High Times recommends keeping buds in a room that is warm and dry for a few days and then gradually letting it cool down.
You'll know the buds are ready when the branches snap.
The yield of a marijuana plant can vary greatly depending on everything from genetics to your gardening skills. But getting an ounce to several ounces from a plant isn't uncommon.
The D.C. law allows you to keep the pot that your plants yield, as long as you don't carry more than two ounces on your person. Depending on how much your plants produce and how much you consume, this could end up being quite a bounty.
Don't know what to do with it? Enjoy your homegrown herbs responsibly in the company of family and friends, but remember that selling marijuana in D.C. is still illegal. And if you don't live in the District, please check your state laws to make sure personal marijuana cultivation is permitted.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.