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A naive grower’s guide to great weed

Amanda Thompson is a giant nerd, but she thinks cannabis plants look really cool. So if the yes votes prevail and it’s legalised, she’ll be growing a couple. Here’s her entirely hypothetical guide to how to do it.

Voted yet? I have. As you get older, you get the joy of doing things early. Like eating at 5.30 in the pm to beat the rush and going on holiday at 5.30 in the am to beat the traffic. And it’s a well-known fact that the vote I cast last Saturday counts more than the vote you roll-out-of-bed-lackadaisical-last-minuters will cast this Saturday.

And it occurred to me as I stepped fresh from exercising my democratic rights, come next week I could finally be on the way to realising my long-term dream of growing a huge hooch hedge in front of my house.

Any cops out there reading The Spinoff – and yes, that is a totally plausible scenario, we appeal to a wide audience OK – if you’re going to come around and dig up my garden feel free, just have the decency to upend the blue compost bin and mix that in while you’re there. Since growing, possessing or using any amount of marijuana is illegal right now, I don’t have any plants. Anticlimactic, I know.

Always a goody-good, my first experience with cannabis was as a supremely disinterested kid at Nambassa 79, getting annoyed by a strange smell explained to me by my then stepmother as a smoke “some people think is a bit naughty”. I remained unimpressed. The hippy life in general never appealed. Even at seven I could see it involved a lot more amateur nudity and Little River Band tunes than I would ever enjoy.  As a youth of limited means hanging around with other such losers, we smoked more cannabis than drank alcohol, but not out of preference – it was simply cheaper to buy from our cousins and easier to scrounge off our dads. (Perhaps something you NO voters out there might want to take into consideration, if you think legalising dope means making it more available to kids.)

But being a chronic asthmatic as well as a giant nerd, it didn’t take me long to work out I didn’t need any help from a dooby (or a drug-related conviction) to be depressed and unmotivated enough to get through a giant bag of Twisties at noon with the curtains closed. Like razor-thin eyebrows and my treasured fake Prada purse, a pack of dak on a Friday night is just a distant and slightly embarrassing memory for me now. I’ve never really been interested in the herb for its mind-bending properties anyway – I just want a bunch of 8 foot sativas. Cannabis sativa/indica and their hybrids are a fascinating range of horribly ugly plants that can sometimes grow into aromatic bushes more than two metres high with violently coloured leaves and strange flowers, and I’ve always really wanted to grow one.

And that’s the unburning question none of the referendum debates have yet covered. The whys and why nots for personal growing and use have been chewed over ad nauseam, but what about the hows? Where would the innocent and uneducated Mary Jane gardener such as myself start? Is it really better to grow your greens indoors or was that always about stealth? A dodgy friend once gave me a little tinfoil of seeds to try out but I was so frightened of The Law I hid them at the back of my hot water cupboard and promptly sold the house.

Now that I live on a large sunny property on the warm side of the country, on the brink of my seeds becoming possibly completely legal, I regret my haste. Once I am (hopefully) allowed the four proposed healthy shrubs per household, I’m keen to see what I can cultivate. Here’s the gardener’s research I have conducted discreetly and completely verbally within my community (although I have done enough Google searches to fill in the gaps that I’m on someone’s watchlist somewhere, I suspect.)  

Medicinal cannabis growing at Hikurangi Enterprises in Ruatoria (Photo: Supplied)

Indoors or out?

Why would you bother with indoors? In the past it’s been the only way because – well, illegal, remember. And although I know someone who dated someone who had an easygoing crop share arrangement with the town constable who lived over his back fence, mostly growers of the past put their trust in a hidden heat lamp or some secretive hydroponics. Boring! Expensive! Fiddly! Plants grown this way will stay as short as the ceiling in your wardrobe. Plus they tend to take on the flavour of their surroundings, which is why you’ve taken a disappointing drag of “Loser’s Basement” at a party so often. I’m definitely going for outdoors for my crop, and thinking about surrounding it with basil or mint – lemon balm?! – just to experiment. My knowledgeable Uncle Bud – definitely not his real name although wouldn’t that be hilarious if it was – says you might want to start your plants inside if you have frosts in spring. Frosts are a guaranteed killer and the plants need a really long grow time – sorry most South Islanders beyond Nelson, the outdoor option is clearly unavailable to you unless you use very big biceps to lug your very big plants in very heavy pots inside at the first hint of a chill.

*Ed’s note: the legislation stipulates that plants must be grown “out of public sight”, so best you keep your hypothetical plants away from the front gate.


Always start with the soil, my fellow gardeners. My close professional horticulturist pal tells me with the right soil, you can do anything – and growing great weed is surely no exception. Dig up your garden, turn in some good compost and the well-aged shit of a herbivore – sheep pellets are easiest, you can buy organic brands just about anywhere. Based on my general greenthumbyness and some unreliable research, I suspect a lusty, hairy marijuana plant of epic size could be classed as a “gross feeder” – the gardening equivalent of a greedy pig. So pile up that compost. Rake it all too. You don’t want any hard lumps of clay or rocks in there, you do want lots of good organic decay and healthy drainage going on. Soggy soil will rot the roots. If you really want to get all Heisenberg, get a PH level testing kit from a local gardening place – but most North Island soil is brilliant for growing cannabis or hemp, being slightly acidic. If your soil is too acid, add a small amount of lime. If it’s too alkaline, you want sulphur –  go cautiously with these additives. Uncle Bud buys in a quality potting mix for his greenhouse pots.

Because I want a lot of leaves and terrifying height and I’m not really interested in buds, I’d also put my plant in an area with a lot of light, protected from blustery winds, and water it often. You may need to cover it or provide some shade in the last few months of summer if you want to trigger flowering before cold weather kills it off. You do want a little bit of breeze, in a perfect set-up – Uncle Bud says if his greenhouse has a downside, it’s the moulds and mildews and pests that can flourish in a close, humid environment. “Bloody spider mites,” he sighs, his burly shoulders sagging. “If you get those, you’re farrrrked, mate. Just farrrked.” 

Which strain?

Here’s where it gets interesting. You can buy a dizzying array of exciting seeds and starter kits from overseas suppliers based in areas where growing is legal – but don’t. It’s not legal and MPI takes a dim view of people flouting our biosecurity laws. I’m hopeful one day I can get – completely legally and safely – this 

and this

and this 

beautiful plant to startle my neighbours. 

In the meantime, New Zealand strains are among the best in the world, hardened and completely unique to this country. More than one of the overseas websites I visited was openly begging for leads on getting hold of some Te Puke Thunder or Coromandel Gold seeds.

Uncle Bud warns against scoring seeds off a mate’s mate though – especially if you are growing for something to smoke. Dodgy seeds will grow dodgy plants, and dodgy cannabis plants can do all sort of freaky things including suddenly growing a vegetable penis and ruthlessly pollinating every other plant you own, ruining the lot. [image of male plant]

His advice is to get a clone – a cutting – off a healthy, trustworthy female plant you have laid eyes on, and bung it in some root hormone solution, available at any garden centre. Cloning means your fully grown plant will be identical to her mother – all useful cannabis plants are female. Your wee cuttings should be kept away from the sun while they are setting themselves up, growing threadlike roots; perhaps put them in pots for a few weeks. Once a few leaves grow and they’re looking healthy, they can be planted outside to flourish and grow at a frightening rate. Not today, of course – today everything I have discussed is completely illegal. And not tomorrow, and maybe not any time soon.

But one day.

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