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A Beginner's Guide to Growing Cannabis

Author, skilled food blogger and long-time gardener Penny Barthel shares tips for starting a cannabis garden.
Written by
Haley Nagasaki and Penny Barthel
March 3, 2023
July 28, 2021

Author, skilled food blogger and long-time gardener Penny Barthel grows happy cannabis plants in her backyard Berkeley, California, garden, alongside citrus trees and culinary herbs. “Cannabis moved right in,” she says, “and became part of the cottage garden look. But really, it’s a cook’s garden.”  

Soon after Penny discovered the plant in her own home cultivation, cannabis became an important ingredient in her recipe formulation. She shares a variety of original creations in her new book, The Cannabis Gardener: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Vibrant, Healthy Plants in Every Region, along with an overview of seedling, vegetative and flowering stages of growth, and information regarding the extensive history and many applications of the cannabis plant.  

“Gardening became a hobby of mine because I love to cook and I love recipe developing. It’s so fascinating to me how I can take this experience in the garden, around flowers and herbs and colors, and translate that into my feeding my body.”

“It’s not just the need to put food on the table, which can be done easily by going to a store, but it’s a way of connecting. Being on the West Coast, there’s a big presence of the land here. The natural world is hugely important and the garden is where the natural world and the human world co-exist, and for me, that translates to my stomach and my kitchen table.” 

Penny was featured in Sunset Magazine for an eye-catching rose-infused cocktail, after prolific author and gardener Johanna Silver noticed her food blog. Because they both live in the Bay Area, the two women developed a friendship. Johanna then featured Penny’s backyard garden in her own book on growing weed in the garden, and a year later, Penny’s book was published.  

The intention behind Penny’s book was born out of the desire to teach a friend to grow cannabis outdoors. Penny searched for resources to help her friend, but found nothing suitable to her needs. She found books tailored to commercial growers that were great for growing indoors and good for maximizing profit and yield, but nothing for the humble backyard garden.  

“So I started thinking about it, and eventually my book’s outline came to me fully-formed.” 

The Healing Benefits of Cannabis & Penny’s Home Garden

Penny Barthel is a curious and forward-thinking foodie. She studied nutrition and food science, botany and biochemistry. She loves to know the origin of the plants she’s growing and found cannabis to be interesting because “this plant, that’s so beautiful, has been so misunderstood, vilified, and used as a tool for oppression and racism. And yet it helps people reduce alcoholism and pain, and it improves immune function. There are so many connections over so many disciplines, and I kept finding myself coming back to cannabis as a plant of interest.”

Penny describes cannabis as a gendered plant that is also an annual; it’s one of only two plants in the world with these unique characteristics, because gendered plants are generally perennials. With cannabis, some plants are male while others are female, and the lifecycle of the plant goes from seed to seed in less than a year’s time, making it an annual. 

“What we really want is unfertilized, fully mature, frustrated, female flowers that say ‘fertilize me!’ They’re not blooming for us, they’re blooming for themselves, to attract pollen and produce seed.” 

Penny grows exclusively outside from seed and gets started early in the season in her nice backyard plot, whose healthy soil requires no fertilization other than a compost amendment. Penny has grown spectacular marijuana, including a variant she selected herself that ended up producing a 1:4 cannabinoid ratio with a 20 percent overall cannabinoid content, which is dispensary level cannabis. 

“For seeds with unknown genetics that I grew outside in my garden, it was fabulous weed! That was very encouraging and very freeing.”

Penny Barthel, Elevated Recipe Developer

Once she has harvested her delicious bud, Penny loves working on recipe development. Her all-time favorite recipe is a simple salve made with a very rich concentrate for topical application. Find that recipe in her book, along with the Personal Plants platform, along with a few of her amazing, fresh-tasting gummies

Penny likens her gummy making, with alcohol-based cannabis tinctures, to the techniques of a skilled mixologist. In her kitchen, Penny makes gummies flavored with satsuma, as well as with vanilla bean, chocolate mint, warm chai spice, and coconut lime. Her unique, bite-sized recipes are a delicious way to easily dose cannabinoids, whether you want CBD for stress-relief or THC for sleep.

While the majority of the book focuses on growing techniques and recipe creation, it also briefly touches on the history of cannabis along with some ancient rituals and spiritual practices associated with the plant. In conversation, Penny offers her own unique perspective on the matter

Cannabis: A Tool for Spiritual Leaders

“I am a practicing Christian. I go to church. So for me, I would say that cannabis has largely been shunned, although not in my particular church in Berkeley. But the question is, ‘how can you be a Christian and upright citizen and still use cannabis?’”

Many other non-monotheistic spiritual practices implement cannabis as a very important part of ritual and daily wellness, but with Christianity, she explains, “it’s like you have your medical practices and you have your spiritual practices, and they have nothing to do with each other. So, I’m a curious thinker and I’m open to the world of nature, and I think to myself, well God made cannabis, if we indeed believe what we say we do, then it’s all part of the same universe.”

Penny provides an incredibly fresh and progressive perspective on the matter and offers these beautiful words of wisdom: “For my Christian kin, I would say that when Jesus walked into a village, he did one of two things — he spoke truth to power and he then healed people.” 

“He healed them bodily, he healed their social status and he would also heal their mental status. And it started to sound to me like cannabis has many of the same attributes, so not only is there not a problem for Christians but it should be embraced as something that is very consistent with the person who we follow. I would say that’s how I have tied those things together.” 

Let’s Sesh, Ladies!

Aligning the passion for teaching with the dedication to helping others heal, Penny and co-hosts Kaisha-Dyan McMillan and Deidre Greene have recently developed an e-learning platform about all-things cannabis, called Let’s Sesh. Together, the team of ladies have come together to offer in-person and online courses, and DIY kits for the canna-curious.  

“I love teaching, and Let’s Sesh has been such a gift. I was also a junior high science teacher and loved experiments; now Let’s Sesh is my classroom. It’s a way to get people to take ownership of their own health — spiritual health, emotional health, physical health, and I would say the social health of our nation and of our world. And that’s my end goal, for people to take ownership of their own health and feel empowered to make greater change.” 

For more information on Penny’s gardening techniques, check out 5 Must Have Tools for the Cannabis Gardener. 

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