One Bad Year

One Bad Year

As a friend of mine says, “The season’s not over till the money’s been spent.”

Growing a small personal marijuana stash in your backyard is as easy as growing tomatoes. Pot farming is also the most lucrative agricultural work on the planet. But running a pot farm as a business and having your entire year’s livelihood ride on a successful harvest is fraught with more risks than most imagine.

From seed to sale, here is a list of this-actually-happened-to-someone-I-know ways to lose it all. I’m sure there are more ways to blow it. What did I miss? Share your stories in the comments.

Failure starts with a seed. Last year you pollenated a few branches on your prized strains, but:

  • The pollen didn’t take and you got no seeds.
  • The branch rotted off due to mold. No seeds and you lost your great strain.

It’s February and you’re thinking you need to get you some seeds. So, you:

  • Order them online from Canada or Amsterdam, they never arrive and you lose your money.

You finally get some seeds. Sweet. You put them between two pieces of damp cloth to pre-germinate them before planting (known as “cracking seeds”). You can almost smell the money.

  • But when you soak them, they turn out to be inviable and don’t germinate.
  • You don’t pay attention to things like pH and they don’t germinate or are stunted.
  • Or they germinate and then rot off.
  • Or their little root tips are poking out of the shell nicely, but you space it and the sprouting medium, usually a damp cloth, dries out and they die.
Sprouted pot seeds with fungus-infected root tips.

Sprouted seeds, but note bent, rotten root tips caused by fungal infection.

  • Or you space it and they grow long, stretchy roots, become weak and rot off before you plant them.
  • You space it, the roots grow into the damp cloth and get damaged when you try to remove them.
  • Get them from a friend and they turn out to be some larfy, low-yielding mold-prone strain. You don’t, of course, find this out till harvest.
  • Try a friend’s killer strain, not realizing that you’re getting highly variable F2 crosses, some of which are duds.
Photo of sprouted pot seeds.

Tangled, weakened cannabis sprouts. These should have been planted days ago.

You decide to plant the next batch of of seeds (that you bought for $5/each at a dispensary) directly in potting soil. You carefully tamp each seed down and admire the rows of pots lined up in your greenhouse, anticipating an awesome year.

  • In the morning you see a neat little hole and two empty seed shells in the center of each pot where the mice systematically dug up and ate the seeds. Every last one of them. Remember all that talk about how oil-rich and nutritious hemp seed are? The mice heard it too.

You go back to sprouting seeds on a wet cloth and you get some to germinate properly without killing them. Time to plant them in soil!

  • The sproutlets poke their little cotyledons out of the soil and then topple over dead, succumbing to Botrytis or other varieties of fungus.
  • Slugs and other creeping, crawling herbivores get into your greenhouse and systematically mow down your little sprouts.
  • You don’t pay attention to things like pH and the plants become stunted.
  • Seeing stunted plants, you assume that they need fertilizer. You over-do it and kill them.

By now it’s mid-April, really too late for starting seeds, but you give it one last go and you’ve finally got some 4″ pots of little seedlings. By mid-May or so, you’re ready to plant them out in giant pots, grow bags or potting-soil-filled holes.

  • You roughed-up and bruised the stems in transplanting, making the plants susceptible to stem rot.
  • The bulk soil you bought was too “hot”, or you used bagged soil, but added too much chicken manure. The next morning you find the soil hot composting, with steam coming off of it. Your starts are limp and dead as steamed kale.

It’s late June and the starts you bought from a competent grower are looking great.

  • But one of your helpers left the gate open last night and the deer got in, chowing down on your plants.
  • You leave for three days in 95° weather, without checking the batteries on your water timer. The deer-bitten plants are half-dead when you return.
  • The gophers that keep undermining your plants, exposing the roots and causing wilt, aren’t helping the recovery process much. But, hey, be grateful you don’t have a plague of locusts.
  • A plague of locusts comes through and defoliates your plants before your eyes. It happened to farmers on a ridge top not far from here a few years ago. The farmers scrambled to put up bug-proof hoop greenhouses while watching their crop disappear.
  • You’re a newbie to sexing plants and a friend comes over and lets you know that one third of your plants are actually males. You pull them up and toss them into the compost pile, sobbing.
  • You’re paranoid and don’t let your friends see your patch, so you don’t notice that one third of your plants are males until they blow pollen all over your female plants. Oh, well, at least you’ll have plenty of seeds for next year.
Storm-damaged pot plant.

Storm-damaged pot plant. The photo is right-side-up. It’s the plant that’s sideways.

Mid-August and the buds are swelling. Don’t get too excited because you aren’t done working for nothing yet.

  • You come out one morning to find the breeze and weight of the dew has caused several of your largest branches to snap off.
  • One of those infrequent Humboldt thunderstorms comes through and causes your plants to split and splat and shatter into pieces on the ground because you didn’t stake them up well enough.
  • One or more of your female plants “goes hermie”, that is, develops male flowers intermixed with the female flower clusters (“buds”). You luckily notice and pull it up before too much pollen escapes.
  • You don’t notice the hermies until they blow pollen all over, seeding your buds and making them virtually unsalable. You can always take a tip from the mice and eat all those nutritious hemp seeds. At least you won’t starve.
  • The cops show up, decide you have too many plants for the number of medical marijuana “patients” you’re growing for. They take some or all of your plants. Maybe they take you, too.
Pot plant with powdery mildew.

Powdery mildew.

Late September, harvest is near and everything looks great.

  • The thieves also think it’s looking great and sneak in at night to chop down your entire crop. Nothing is left in the morning but slashed stems and a trail of leaves where they dragged your plants through the woods.
  • The deer get in again and sit down to $1,000/plate pot dinners.
  • Look how frosty-white the buds and leaves are getting! Oh, wait, that’s powdery mildew.
  • That little brown leaf tip sticking out? Look a little deeper and you discover bud mold has infected your biggest colas, turning them to compost one week before harvest. And it’s supposed to rain tonight. No Thailand trip this winter.
Moldy marijuana bud.

Botrytis bud mold. This whole bud is toast.

  • You get in a dispute with your harvest crew and they quit just as the mold starts, leaving you desperately scrambling to save what you can.
  • You harvest what you can, but don’t have enough air circulation or heat in your drying shed and the rest of the buds mold while you watch, helpless.
  • You have a heater and circulation fans and dehumidifier, but you live off the grid and the generator powering these machines breaks down. Every store in town is completely sold out of generators (this happens, really). Your crop molds while hanging on the line.
  • You fire up the woodstove, but get it too hot and scorch your pot, decreasing its salability.
  • You get broken into, ripped off. Maybe shot.
  • The cops show up and take your weed, maybe take you.
  • You have a dispute with your sharecroppers over whose fault all of the above is. Drama ensues and people’s reputations in town are subjected to a sullying match.
  • Your pissed off caretaker or sharecropper rips you off.
  • You’re a sharecropper or caretaker and the greedy, tweaker grower whom you were stupid enough to work for rips you off.
  • Your ex-boy/girlfriend gets pissed and turns you in. Cops take your pot, maybe take you.
  • Your dry shed catches fire.
  • You bought one of those pop-up canopies from Costco for a dry shed and didn’t secure it well enough. A big gust blows it over in a rain storm one night, scattering and soaking your crop.
Sheriff's vehicle with pot plants.

Humboldt Sheriff deputy with confiscated pot plants.

But, let’s not be so pessimistic. You get your crop dried and stuck in contractor trash bags, waiting till you have some money to trim it.

  • You bagged your pot when it was way too dry and brittle, causing 20% of your bud to crumble to dust in the bag.
  • You stored it too wet and it molds.
  • You get busted.
  • You get ripped off by theives.
  • You get ripped off by your trim crew.
  • Your trimmers under-trim or over-trim because you were not paying attention.

But it somehow works out and by late October you’ve got pounds of trimmed, bagged weed waiting for a buyer.

  • And waiting and waiting and waiting…
  • You decide to try selling to a dispensary in the city and get rejected. (After all this, are you surprised that your skanky weed doesn’t meet the dispensaries’ high standards?)
  • On the way back, you get pulled over in Sonoma County for having a taillight out, get searched and your skanky pot gets confiscated. You get busted.
  • A buyer friend of a friend looks at your weed, says he doesn’t buy Blue Dream, only Sour Diesel.
  • The next friend of a buyer friend only buys OGK. Your friends told you to grow Blue Dream ‘cuz they “knew a guy” who would buy it.
  • But, there’s this other guy your other friend knows who will buy your weed for $1000/lb on a two-month front.

In desperation, you take the offer, and:

  • Never hear from him again.
  • Hear from him after he gets out of jail when he got busted transporting your weed through Kansas.
  • Hear from him after your money got intercepted while his courier was driving back through Kansas.
  • Hear from him about how skanky your weed was, how hard it was to move and how he can’t even pay you for some of the pounds.

You have a few pounds left, so you ship it to another friend of a friend in Florida where you can supposedly get an awesome price.

  • You never hear from your friend again.
  • The weed never arrives.
  • The box arrives, but half the weed is gone and the box has been resealed
  • Your friend sends the cash, but it never arrives.
  • It arrives, but the cops are the ones delivering it. They ask you questions you can’t answer and the money is seized under forfeiture laws.

You meet a buyer willing to pay a fair price, cash on the barrelhead!

  • You get shot and killed.
  • The cash is part or all counterfeit.
  • It’s a $25,000 deal, but the giant roll of $10 bills is too conspicuous to count while siting in your car at the rest area on Hwy 101. When you count it at home, you find it’s $10K short.
  • You don’t even make it home because you get pulled over for speeding and the cops find and confiscate the money.
  • You don’t make it home because it was a sting and now you’re busted.
  • The cops get a search warrant to raid your house where they find the rest of your pot and take it.

You decide to wait till June with your last pounds, hoping the price and demand will go up.

  • Your weed molds because of improper storage.
  • It turns brown because of improper storage.
  • You get broken into and ripped off.
  • You get busted.
  • No one buys it and once the new season’s harvest comes in, your skanky, moldy, seedy, poorly-trimmed pot is “last year’s weed”. You give it to the homeless traveler kids in the park.
  • The townspeople hate you for encouraging the homeless traveler kids in the park.

Growing pot plants is easy. Growing high-quality, marketable weed takes work, skill and constant attention. You can lose all or part of the crop at virtually every point along the way. This list doesn’t even cover problems with greenhouses, clones or light-deps. And while I’m not as in touch with the indoor growing scene, I’d imagine that list is equally long.

Let’s hear your stories.