The Grow Project: Finding room in your garden for weed

Growing cannabis in your garden should be no more difficult than growing tomatoes, except when they get stolen.

Cannabis plants shouldn't be harder to grow than any other plant, but why do they seem to be?

In his backyard in Guelph, Ont., botany student Matt Soltys says he's excited to grow cannabis legally. (Rob Krbavac/CBC News)

If you're a regular listener of The Homestretch, you know that director Tracy Fuller has been experiencing the highs and lows of trying to grow weed from seed.

Fuller reached out to an expert for some grow tips, namely University of Guelph botany student Matt Soltys, a former federally licensed cannabis grower. Soltys spoke to host Doug Dirks on Tuesday.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: How challenging can the process be with trying to grow pot at home or in some cases trying to do it as a radio project?

A. The reason I wanted to do a couple of public workshops this year is because I wanted to demystify it and make it accessible to anyone. And actually, people who came my first workshop were mostly middle-aged people who are already gardeners and or maybe who used it [cannabis] when they were teenagers and are curious about it now.

Growing cannabis can be kind of finicky sometimes — they like to have full sun, good soil, and good water. But really, there's nothing uniquely mysterious about cannabis that makes it harder to grow than any other plant.

Q: What what are the challenges of growing cannabis indoors then?

A. Indoors is something I haven't done a lot of. Because I think there are a lot of reasons not to. If you can grow outdoors, it's far better.

Indoors you have to control the lighting. You have to have lights on a timer, and change the timing on the lights when you want the plants to flower.

You also have to have bring soil into your house, and find a place to grow it securely and safely. You also have to deal with things like ventilation and moisture buildup — it's just way more problematic.

Outdoors, mother nature can take care of things. That's a plant programmed to grow, and as long as it has access to sunlight and water and soil, it will do just what it needs to do.

Q: Are there any challenges associated with growing outdoors that people may run into?

A. The most notable and expected problem would be theft. People just feel entitled to steal cannabis for some reason, and maybe that'll change when more people grow it and it's legalized and it's not seen as a novel thing.

There are two subspecies of cannabis: sativa and indica. Indica are shorter, bushier plants that are also adapted to our growing season. So the recommendation is to grow indica — or hybrids. Sativas will grow really tall plants and they won't be ready to harvest before the first frost comes, too.

Powdery mildew and mould are threats later in the season when there's more rain, and temperatures start to drop and the plants really pushing, so you can prune it for airflow, so the air will kind of prevent the right conditions for fungi to develop. Those are the main challenges for outdoors.

Matt Soltys grew his four legal cannabis plants from seeds starting in February. Now the weather is warm enough to transplant them to his backyard garden. (Rob Krbavac/CBC News)

Q: All right, so if you're growing outdoors then and you're going to grow the indica strain, which you said is best suited to Canada, how long from when you first plant to harvest?

A. Usually it's from, like, the early 40s to 60s of number of days of flowering period. You can start in July with a really small plant and it'll still know when to start flowering based on the changing seasons — but normally, it's like a regular growing season for cannabis.

Q: If you go to a gardening centre at this time of year you see fully grown plants. Do you see fully grown pot plants being available to buy anytime soon?

A. I'm not sure if there are some gardening centres or gardening cannabis companies that are making that available soon — I know there are some that are trying and I think there's logistical challenges, too, like mailing live plants, but people do do that. It's way more easy to find a seed.

The one take home point about that is that it is really exciting and empowering to grow your own seed. It makes you more invested in the process.

Q: For first-time cannabis gardeners, what are your biggest tips for the best harvest this year?

A. You want only female plants in your garden. That's the biggest tip. Give it enough space and give it some good soil — high nitrogen fertilizer for the start of the year and then a more balanced fertilizer for the rest of the season. If you give it a good space and tend to it, check on it, address some problems that come up, then you'll get a big harvest.

With files from The Homestretch.



Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: