In the early 1990s, when he was 18 years old, High Times Senior Cultivation Editor Danny Danko got his first taste of the promise of homegrow in the closet of a friend’s Boston apartment.
“My friend John had a 400-watt light, maybe ten or twelve plants flowering. It was mind-blowing,” he reflected recently on a blustery morning at the High Times Manhattan office. “He also had a pumpkin plant in there. I haven’t seen that to this day,” he added with a chuckle. “I thought you needed acres and acres of fields in South America. I didn’t realize it was something you could do in a closet.”
In retrospect, that encounter marked an apt launching-off point for one of cannabis’ most lauded and passionate documentarians, particularly one who has continued to advocate for a DIY approach to cannabis throughout a long and varied career.
Danko’s pot philosophy is crystallized in his new book, “Cannabis: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Marijuana,” released this September. The book caters to a rising breed of novice home growers; it is a return to the fundamentals of growing cannabis and a prime example of the old adage, credited to Albert Einstein, that “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Delivered in eloquent and stately language and complemented with clean-cut illustrations, the book makes clear that Danko more than understands the material at hand.
“There are plenty of [complex] books out there that can be daunting to beginners,” he said. “I wanted something welcoming to this large group of people who are going to get interested in this hobby.”
Danko attributes the rise in homegrow to two main factors: the expanding patchwork of states where homegrow is legal, and what he sees as the rising one-two menace of corporate cannabis and sketchy, large-scale growing practices entering the market.
“Why worry about buying joints from Miracle-Gro when you can grow it yourself and not be worried about [the potential pesticides]?” Danko pointed out. “You can take yourself out of that equation.”
In his new book, Danko draws on a myriad mix of knowledge to inform his readers, including his own experience growing and the innumerable grows he has visited on his travels, from Aurora’s nearly one million square foot grow in Edmonton, Canada to an underground grow deep in the Bronx. He also pulls lessons from his gig writing the High Times advice column “Dear Danko,” which he inherited from veteran grower and author Jorge Cervantes, and his years judging Cannabis Cups around the world.
All experts learn from their mistakes, and Danko is no exception. “Errors are where you learn things,” he said. His initial attempts at growing were with hydroponic systems and he forgot to monitor the water temperature, which led to root rot. “It didn’t occur to me that water temperature could play a role [in growing],” he explained. “You can misdiagnose and make it worse.” In a nod to his book, he added: “It’s important for people to slow down and get back to fundamentals.”
When asked about his top suggestion for beginner growers, Danko’s response was immediate: start with indica strains. “They aren’t as stretchy [as sativas]. They have a shorter flowering time, they’re decent yielders,” he said. “[You can] really get your hands into the dirt without having frustrations of difficult strains.”
He also suggested starting out with affordable seeds; there’s no reason to drop hundreds of dollars on the premium seeds before you know what to do with them.
But Danko’s book isn’t just for beginners. He hopes that more experienced growers will also be able to glean useful information from its pages. As he told me, no one has it all figured out. And the best advice he’s received himself? “Never put minor before major,” he said. “Sometimes you walk into a grow and there are glaring problems, but the grower is focused on the minutiae, like one degree of temperature, but there are dead leaves, puddles of water, invitations for pests and mold.”
A bit wistfully, Danko shared that he isn’t currently growing any cannabis of his own. He is constantly on the road, visiting grows and offering advice at seminars and Cannabis Cups around the world. Furthermore, he said he’s wary of growing in New York City, where homegrow isn’t legal and his public persona puts both himself and his family at legal risk.
Like all of us, Danko awaits the day when Americans can grow legally across the country. In the meantime, however, his guidebook, as well as his do-it-yourself spirit, will hopefully inspire a new generation of informed and curious growers around the world. Danko himself put it best: “Get growing.”
TELL US, have you ever tried growing your own cannabis at home?