Grow your own cannabis with former Sunset editor as your guide

Former Sunset mag Garden Editor Johanna Silver breaks new ground.
Former Sunset mag Garden Editor Johanna Silver breaks new ground.

In 2016, Johanna Silver, Sunset magazine’s former garden editor and author of “The Bold, Dry Garden,” received an intriguing proposal from The Chronicle. Marijuana legalization was on the horizon in California; would she be interested in growing cannabis in her own backyard and writing about it for the GreenState section?

At the time, anyone who opened a book on cultivating cannabis would have found that most guides were for growing indoors, not outdoors. The literature was written in the growers’ vernacular, not with a Sunset Western Garden Book sensibility.

Silver, who cut her teeth on the editorial test garden at Sunset, where she worked for 10 years, took up the challenge. She tucked a few plants among the flowers and vegetable beds in the 1,000-square-foot garden at her home in Berkeley. Although she is an occasional user, it was the plant itself that ended up captivating her. The project led to her second book, “Growing Weed in the Garden” (Abrams, $29.99).

Silver’s fondness for Cannabis sativa, if not necessarily its by-product, is genuine, and her enthusiasm infectious. “Weed is unlike anything I’ve ever grown,” she writes in the introduction. “Not because it’s so complicated, but because it’s fun — the smells are out of this world, it’s sticky as can be, and it grows faster than all get-out. It’s not the hardest thing you can grow. Spoiler alert: It’s called weed for a reason.”

She takes readers on a brief trip through weed’s history, provides a quick botany lesson on the plant (they’re not strains, they’re cultivars) and profiles growers. These sections are worth revisiting later if you’re eager to jump to the gardening section: choosing, sourcing and starting seeds; where to transplant; and how to water.

Bay Area gardeners will find cannabis more forgiving than tomatoes to grow but more difficult to handle once the crop is ready, which Silver says is where the real work begins. She dedicates a chapter to harvesting, drying, curing and trimming. There are ideas for how to use the fruit of your labor, from how to roll a joint to creating a balm, all illustrated with photos by Bay Area photographer Rachel Weill.

And because there’s so much more to learn about this plant, she includes resources and recommended reading. It’s all very useful if, like Silver, cannabis grows on you, too.

Deb Wandell is the editor of GreenState. Email

Deb Wandell San Francisco Chronicle