‘Ask Ed’ Chronicles ‘High Times’ Co-founder’s Guides to Growing

Ed Rosenthal's new book is an ideal quarantine read for the green-thumbed cannabis lover.

The world may feel like its upside down, but as Ed Rosenthal reminds us, cannabis — when properly watered and fed — will still stretch its sticky green fingers skyward. The High Times co-founder and master cultivator is currently sheltering in place at his East Bay home, where he tends to his plants and continues to dispense valuable advice on growing and harvesting the best of buds.

At present, the 75-year-old author is paying close attention to a home grow he started in February.

“I have some seeds from Humboldt Seed Company that I’m growing,” Rosenthal says by phone from his home in Oakland. “I think it’s their Cherry Pie and another variety of theirs.”

Unlike today’s ranks of amateur bread-bakers, growing weed isn’t merely a hobby for Rosenthal — it’s his vocation. He’s sold more than 2 million copies of his books and holds the distinction as the author of the only cannabis horticulture title ever reviewed by The New York Times. His most famous work, Ed Rosenthal’s Marijuana Grower’s Handbook, is required reading at Oaksterdam University.

In order to ensure his current crop gets exactly 12 hours of sunshine, Rosenthal keeps tabs on when the sun will rise each day and covers his plants to protect them from exposure to excess light. Tackling the challenges of gardening — especially when it comes to cannabis, where matters of overfeeding, overwatering, climate control, and pH balance can all easily complicate the process — may pose a welcome distraction for homebound cannaisseur with access to a yard.

The timing of Rosenthal’s latest title, Ask Ed: Marijuana Success: Tips & Advice for Gardening Year-Round, is thus fortuitous. Available now, the book collects 20 articles Rosenthal has written — all focused on his backyard experiments. Paired with questions submitted by readers to Rosenthal’s long-running “Ask Ed” column, the new book is a departure from his past titles, many of which were more academic in nature.

Ed Rosenthal waters his herb garden. Photo by Tonya Perme.

“Some of my books are like college texts or tomes,” Rosenthal says, “but this is not one of them. You’ll be able to breeze through this really easily. Most of the articles are about 750 words and they aren’t dealing with technical stuff.”

Instead, Ask Ed is packed with gorgeous photos and helpful tips, like Rosenthal’s suggestion that those with small gardens consider putting their plants on moveable platforms.

“If you use something with wheels,” he explains, “you can move your plants around the garden. That way, as the sun’s position changes with the seasons, you can move your garden along with it.”

Rosenthal knows that Bay Area home growers will often face challenges when it comes to finding space for their plants. Fortunately, his experiments — Ask Ed compiles four years’ worth of Rosenthal’s home projects — address some of these obstacles.

In one experiment, Rosenthal replicated a practice he’d observed in Morocco, where planting is accomplished by throwing seeds out into a field and seeing what crops up. This method produces plants that sprout extremely close to one another. Naturally, Rosenthal decided to try it out for himself. The results: small but potent plants grown at an expedited harvest rate. One issue with this method is that it will likely require growers to cultivate more than six plants — the maximum number permitted by California law.

Rosenthal doesn’t fret too much over any potential consequences, although his advice must be measured against the reality that anyone growing in excess of six plants is risking a penalty of six months in county jail and a fine of up to $500.

“I know some of these things may take you outside of the law,” he says, “but if you’re in San Francisco or the East Bay, you’re not really going to be threatened by the police. I understand that the law limits the number of plants one can grow, but I just don’t think that’s the main concern the police have these days.”

You probably shouldn’t grow this much pot at home — but Ed Rosenthal isn’t going to narc you out. Photo by Lizzy Cozzi.

As a figure in the medical marijuana movement who has found himself in federal court for cannabis cultivation and long advocated for reform on the issue, Rosenthal has seen public opinion shift dramatically on the matter in recent years. While the relatively tranquil, fulfilling work of growing weed continues to be his primary focus now, he also remains invested in a future where there is safe and legal access at a federal level.

“You know, they used to say that marijuana was a gateway drug,” Rosenthal observes. “Now, in New York, if you have a prescription for opioids, you can go into a marijuana store and use that to obtain medical marijuana. It’s a little bit of a change.”

In terms of advice he can offer to potential readers of Ask Ed, Rosenthal believes his new text is best summarized with a playful warning.

“Using marijuana may not be addictive,” he cautions, “but growing it definitely is.”

‘Ask Ed: Marijuana Success: Tips & Advice for Gardening Year-Round’ by Ed Rosenthal. 160 pages, $19.99. To purchase, visit edrosenthal.com.

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