The Broccoli Report
Friday, September 24, 2021
Time to read: 7 minutes, 20 seconds. Contains 1468 words.
Consumers Want To Grow At Home. They Just Don’t Know Where To Start.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the plant and gardening industry was profound. Monstera shortages. A rise in Apple-looking hydroponic herbaries in apartment kitchens everywhere. And, yes—a flowering of first-time home grows of cannabis plants on the balcony.
It’s easy to understand why people have started growing cannabis plants at home. In more places than ever before, it’s finally safe and legal. And many folks with a deep connection to the plant have never had the opportunity to see a living cannabis plant IRL, let alone experience their flowering cycle, so growing a plant or two is a compelling way to connect with a plant they love. They’re aesthetically great as houseplants and living decor. Plus, if you do things close to sort of right, you get some decent, pesticide-free flower for free!
But the most surprising contributing factor emerging to this boom of tiny home grows is the awkward lag between cannabis legalization and cannabis sales. In New York and New Jersey, consumers will be lucky to shop for weed by spring 2022. But starting now—right now—New Yorkers and New Jerseyites can grow weed at home. Even in legal states, access to weed retail can be limited. Take Michigan, for example. Recreational sales are up and running, but there is nowhere to buy legal cannabis in Detroit. (The city is still sorting out its application process.)
Growing at home is the most accessible way to engage with cannabis in many legal markets, filling both emotional and practical needs. The problem is: most people have absolutely no idea how to do it or where to start. So today, we’re taking a look at the budding home-grow industry, figuring out where we’re at, what we still need, and noting the people and brands out there ready to collaborate on more ways to liberate our growing community.
It Starts with a Seed
Finding seeds may be the trickiest part of growing at home. Without the ability to buy cannabis seeds or starts (young seedlings ready to hit the soil) from trusted sources, aspiring growers are left hanging.
While they may be able to grow a seed they find in a bud, it’s a gamble—there’s no telling if it will sprout a female plant producing smokeable buds. And the internet is a maze of hundreds of confusing, sometimes sketchy online seed banks lacking transparent sourcing. Consumers are left trying to decode terms like”feminized” (guaranteeing a female plant), “autoflowering” (seeds that develop on a ~10 week timeline, rather than a set ratio of light-to-dark hours), and “dwarf” (indicating smaller-scale, apartment-grow-sized varieties).
In crimson-red states where cannabis legalization is still a futuristic concept, hemp is the only cannabis-related plant anyone can grow at home—whether for a smokeable, high-CBD stash; a more involved home gardening experience; or just a cool, fragrant house plant (because, yes—hemp plants are still in the cannabis family, and smell accordingly). But even in legal states, shifting regulations around what commercial cultivators can provide make selling plants and seeds risky. Things in Oregon have felt comfortable enough for the well-established East Fork Cultivars to start selling hemp seeds through their website. They have also sold starts through Grow It From Home, an e-commerce hemp company selling grow kits, seeds, and culinary-grade hemp for at-home infusing.
Once regulations settle down around seed sales, there will be a huge opportunity for whoever can bring seeds to market in cute indie packets, like Hudson Valley Seed Company. They commission artists to interpret their plants for beautifully packaged veggie and bouquet seed mixes.
Tools and Grow ‘Fit? Check.
Once consumers have the seeds, grow kits are out there:
Dynasty Pot Shop out of Toronto sells a grow kit complete with soil, a grow bag, other plant-containing bits, something called a hydrostone, and trimming shears.
A company called EZMJ sells one with compostable pots.
A Pot For A Pot sells a more comprehensive, less aesthetically thoughtful kit for the same price.
Old Pal has incorporated a permanent Grow Your Own Kit complete with a healthy young cannabis plant.
Even lifestyle brand Mister Green launched custom grow pots this past year.
We’ve even got a cannabis-cultivating uniform ready: Rose Delights just dropped Grow Clothes, a collection of durable, water-repellent garments made from Halley Stevenson’s utilitarian “hybrid aero fabric.” It’s reminiscent of Cactus Store’s Garden Gi, which, although extremely cool and street-worthy, is about $250 more than anything I can legitimize putting through a weed harvest. Cannabis is a very sticky, fragrant plant—whatever you wear will smell a little to a lot like weed for a while.
This brings me to my next point. While starter kits are helpful, other than a particularly fine-point pair of sharp trimming shears for harvest time, consumers don’t really need anything special to grow weed. What these kits are missing, though, are tools to manage the unique challenge of a particularly aromatic plant.
Failing The Smell Check
In Portland, Maine, a recent letter to the editor illustrates a tricky reality: not everyone loves the smell of weed. And as weed becomes more ubiquitous, tensions over the smell are bound to rise. Many consumers who want to grow live in apartments or urban areas with neighbors close at hand, and even a couple of plants can produce a powerful aroma. These would-be growers need options beyond handheld filters and dryer sheets, and while the average $200 HEPA home air purifier does a good job of eliminating scent from the odd sesh, they are not built for round-the-clock filtering of deliciously dank air during those final weeks of flowering.
Box-like indoor cannabis greenhouses, with their own light and HVAC systems built in, do exist—but most are far from subtle additions to living spaces. The sleeker, more aesthetically pleasing ones are so costly that one might as well rent property elsewhere to grow. I think there’s potential for odor-snatching door jams and pads to help when the scent is at its peak. Visualize those soundproofing pads people buy by the foot to coat the interiors of a recording studio—it would be so helpful to be able to buy custom-sized smell-proofing pads to position around a two-plant indoor grow.
Getting the Dirt
So say you’ve got your seeds, your grow kit, and your cool garden clothes: what’s next? Information is key to a successful grow. For so long, the best resources and guides to growing cannabis were tomes pontificating on complex microbial growing techniques. There are way better options available in 2021—we just need to help consumers find them. Earlier this year, Ten Speed Press contributed to the canon with The Cannabis Gardener, “a beginner’s guide to growing vibrant, healthy plants in every region.” And many a Broccoli team member has turned to Nichole Graf’s Grow Your Own.
For auditory guidance, the GrowCast podcast is a cultivation education hub designed to empower growers from all walks of life. Host Jordan River interviews respected growers who often deserve a far brighter spotlight than they've received, like regenerative pioneer Marybeth Sanchez, horticultural scientist Alexandria Irons, and the mysterious cultivator/plant breeder behind the illustrious Canna Queen Genetics. There’s a ton of valuable information sharing for all levels of growing experience.
With video content gaining algorithmic power, the space for video guides, tutorials, and forums from cannabis, hemp, or ancillary brands is growing. There’s room for sun-grown home-grow clubs, with regular video meetings that allow members to share info and bond as their plants develop, culminating with a celebratory virtual smoke sesh sampling their buds. There’s also room for gardening cohorts developing plants in artful ways, like Cannabonsai, making art with plants they aren’t interested in smoking.
So, these are exciting times for consumers eager to grow their own plants. But is that good news for farms and retailers? If everyone’s growing at home, won’t that be bad for business?
Some states are actually adopting regulations to address this concern. In Nevada, for example, only those who live more than 25 miles from the nearest licensed dispensary are allowed to grow at home. But I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of the dynamic at hand here.
The average cannabis consumer enjoys multiple forms and applications, and the average home grower isn’t also an edible-maker and home processor. Even if they were—they don’t have the curated phenotypes, equipment, and experience to grow really premium cannabis. They want to grow at home to experience cannabis in a new way—in addition to, not instead of. Home growers aren’t a threat to cannabis brands—they’re an open opportunity. Think of it this way: even veteran gardeners with their own greenhouses full of vegetables regularly visit a grocery store for other ingredients.
To the end of secret gardens,