I grew up in the hippy hideaway of Western Massachusetts, nicknamed the “happy valley”. This is a region where local cannabis cultivation has been a long-standing tradition dating back to the 1970s (or really much earlier if you consider hemp and Indigenous farming). Growing up there the 2000s, this translated to having access to some of the best Mass Super Skunk, East Coast Sour Diesel, and Chem D money could buy.
I may have been but a mere emo teen, with access to only ditch weed, but I was also blessed with a best friend whose older brother was plugged in. This dude’s clique was thick in the Western Mass medical cannabis game so at 17, my friends and I had all the “kind bud” we could afford with our lunch money.
In hindsight, this, in addition to my ferocity for learning random shit, is what first sparked my interest in learning to grow weed. When I smoked that meticulously grown Sour Diesel full of terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids, it was night and day from the brick weed I’d otherwise have access to.
Being a teenager, I had nowhere at home to pursue this interest. I spent hours reading online about outdoor growing and even used the newly released Google Earth (Maps beta, yes I’m a nerd) to scour my neighborhood for spots I could plant some seeds. Ultimately I was dissuaded by local laws and being a bit overwhelmed by what method to use (there were so many!), but I never stopped researching.
Fast forward a few years and I’m in college. First time living away from home and I’m rooming with my buddy from above. Our dorm has two small closets and we’re in New Hampshire, who despite their motto of “Live Free or Die” and lack of motorcycle helmet laws, was draconian about cannabis at the time.
In this definition terrible setting, I took an old footlocker, lined the inside with cleaned potato chip bags turned inside out (free mylar!), and threw a few long fluorescent plant lights in one end. It stood vertically and I was able to germinate and start vegging a few bag seeds in that puppy. I was thrilled, but more or less immediately had to ”pull the plug” for various reasons. I was hooked, I just needed a space.
Patiently I waited…
A few years later, I found myself living off-campus in a secure apartment with two small closets in my room. Game time!
Growing up, I valued time snowboarding over money, so I was always ballin’ on a budget with growing. It was helpful that I LOVE building things myself, and I set upon building a custom stealth setup for myself that my landlord wouldn’t notice even if they were next to it. This was no small feat, but I’d found a really active microgrowing community online that had already forged many paths.
I studied their designs, bought some seeds online with digital money for security, and came up with stacking two 35 gallon Rubbermaid bins into a modified R2D2 CFL grow cabinet:
It definitely wasn’t pretty, or adequately fire-safe, but it sure as hell beat that footlocker in my dorm room. I even had air circulation! This is, unfortunately, the only picture of my early grow setups because I also started getting more into operational security at this time and basically stopped documenting anything cannabis on electronics due to NH laws. Fortunately, I was able to find this image and a few nug shots cached on an old hard drive (go 5 years in IT!).
My first few attempts were sub-par, but I slowly taught myself about soil, lighting, climate, and all the other good stuff that goes into growing great weed. My first upgrade was to take a bathroom vanity light fixture and hack it into a six 42W CFL bulb array on the lid of these two stacked Rubbermaid bins. Still, I quickly outgrew this setup and started envisioning what an ideal stealth setup would look like on a budget.
Getting Dressed UP
There are a million plans online for going to Ikea or buying an amour and setting it up to grow in with a $1000 budget, but I had about a $200 budget, so I took my time and slowly gathered supplies.
What I ended up with I wish so badly I had a complete picture of because I think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever made. Below is a picture from years later when I was getting rid of it, but basically, I took a used dresser I got for free, chopped the front part off all the drawers, and made them into a big door held on by super heavy magnets.
I painted the inside white with Bin primer because it was free as well, then spent most of my budget on 8 5600K 42w CFL bulbs, electrical equipment, and an expensive ass piece of glass that could go between the light compartment at the top and the grow compartment at the bottom. I also put hinges on the top compartment so I could access the bulbs and air filter.
The plan was to draw air from under the dresser, through the cab, across the lights, through a DIY carbon filter, then out the back. After everything was battened down with weather stripping and light guards, the only detectable aspect of this cab was the subtle hum of the exhaust fan that could easily be masked by some music.
In the end, the cab fit two 5 gallon buckets or 4 3 gallon trash cans and I was thrilled. I started my autos while I saved up for another set of warm (2700K) CFLs for flowering. I knew this was the last step for me in growing buds I could be proud of because my previous setup was really lacking light. This is why I also focused on the cooling being a key part of this project because I knew if I kept the cab cool I could BLAST light at these ladies.
At this point, I was getting really into the soil as well, so I came out with some decent flower and finally had big enough yields to do fun things like making dry sift hash and edibles. The funny thing was I couldn’t really share any of my flower with anyone outside a tiny circle because it was super obvious it wasn’t from a dealer. We had ok weed in New Hampshire, but nothing that looked like this:
It seems the universe had an answer to this newfound education and abundance of dank nugs I couldn’t really share, and that came in the form of ripping one of my vital organs in half while riding with my friends on a powder day at Loon. I popped off a big lip on the side of the trail and when I landed in the powder I did a little summersault, elbowing myself in the spleen causing it to rupture right down the middle.
That whole ordeal is a story in its own right, as the State Police followed me to the hospital to arrest me on cannabis charges while I was being read my last rights waiting for blood to be flown in, but I digress.
Down for the Count…
So here I am, January in New Hampshire, fresh out of two weeks in the ICU on pain meds, with an organ that’s hanging on by a thread. Fortunately, I had the BEST roommate (shoutout HP) in the world who not only got rid of the heat but also helped take care of me, but I was in bad shape.
By this time, I’d already lost a friend to narcotics (at the beginning of what would be an all too familiar pattern to this day), and I was very much determined to not use prescription pain medicine after leaving the ICU where I was not allowed to use plant medicine.
Fortunately, the universe always provides if you put out the right energy and my roommate had made sure the plant medicine I’d been slowly learning to cultivate over the years was ready for me when I got home.
This experience was a paradigm shift for me and made me completely rethink cannabis as true medicine
This experience was a paradigm shift for me and made me completely rethink cannabis as true medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I always used it after a long day snowboarding or to deal with injuries, but this was different. The spleen really is a major organ, and it needed to be repaired, not just coddled and numbed.
In a recent High Times Online interview I did with the lovely Sharon Letts, we talked about this period, and I reflected on it for the first time in a while. She pointed out that there’s evidence to support cannabis as a neuro cellular regenerative plant medicine and that while the THC helped with the pain, it’s highly probable the cannabis also helped heal my body in a way it would not have if I’d not used it or worse, become to rely on (then likely become addicted to) prescription pain medicine.
I spent that Winter POURING over and absorbing all the organic cannabis cultivation knowledge I could find and amassed a cannabis ebook library to rival any weed nerd out there. I got a VPN and joined every big forum, posting by a different name on each and meeting awesome online friends in the process. I made it a goal to stay positive, get better, and do my first guerrilla growth that Summer. This was a goal coming from someone who couldn’t even roll in bed, let alone walk without a shillelagh.
I stayed committed to healing and fucking did it, though. I made a PC case clone cabinet, put a clone in a tiny pot, made a mother, then made enough clones for my first official guerrilla grow deep in the woods of New Hampshire. That mama was my first official cannabonsai. She lived in a juice container with the side cut off, so it was horizontal in the PC case, and eventually was planted outside on a hill top overlooking all the other plants.
I eventually moved back to Massachusetts where I never really found a great spot to grow besides helping friends with their setups. I kept smoking weed but focused on growing things like vegetables, bonsai, and other plants. I saw folks like Manny, Cannabonzai, and Buzai on social media, but life had gotten really busy with my corporate IT job, and growing simply didn’t fit in.
Take That COVID Depression!
Fast-forward again, this time to earlier this year when COVID hit the US and California was on lockdown. Stressful, scary, dystopian, pick your adjective, and we all felt it this year. I like many people were stuck in my small but sunny apartment wishing to be out in nature where I’m most calm. The only answer was to bring nature inside and I got a little overboard with plants of all kinds.
I’d been wanting to get back into growing over the 10 years or so since New Hampshire and even had some seeds in my freezer I’d bought on sale. I saw a post from one of the cannabonsai guys on IG one day and thought, “Damn, that’s sick, and it’s kinda like my old PC plant… Maybe I can do that!”. In the wise words of Ice Tea, I said “fuck it”, dusted off an extra bonsai pot I had on my balcony, and popped an Auto Blue Gorilla seed from Advanced Seeds.
Having studied Bonsai on and off over the years, my natural proclivity was to style my cannabonsai in a way that paid homage to traditional Eastern Bonsai. With this in mind, I selected a basic style called an Informal Upright or Moyogi in Japanese.
Since this was a bit of an ode to missing nature, I included a sculptural element from a meaningful trip I took through Big Sur last year in the form of a cool rock I found at the beach. This combination of cannabis, an homage to classic bonsai styles, and natural sculptural elements of significance have continued to frame my cannabonsai style.
One thing I love about cannabonsai, though, is there is no set style. We’ve got Growzark growing in shoes, Manny mastering autos and building whole scenes, Cannabonzai sculpting beautiful photoperiod ladies, and countless others around the globe putting their own spin on things.
I love this shit…
For me, my Cannabonsai and my YouTube channel were a very welcome escape this year just like my dresser cabinet and deep dive into growing a decade ago was a very welcome escape from that hell. This is one of the reasons I love sharing this art and the practice of growing cannabis, as I feel it has the potential to make other people’s lives better during both the best and worst of times. I’m so happy I grew that little SFVOG mom in the PC case back in the day, spent 1000 hours learning and that I popped that Auto Blue Gorilla seed earlier this year.
Cheers to cultivating happiness!
PS. If you read this whole thing I love you haha. Drop a comment!