Growing Weed in Colorado in the late 1980s

I lived in Boulder County, Colorado, in the late 1980s and had an opportunity to learn about indoor marijuana growing from a friend who had been doing it for a number of years. It seemed easy enough, so I decided to try my hand at it.

I bought numerous books on growing marijuana and read them. Ed Rosenthal's Marijuana Grower's Handbook was probably the best of what I read at the time.

I needed a place to grow and I had no intention of doing it in a rental unit of any kind. I just didn't want to take the chance that the landlord would come over. So I bought my very first house, just to have a place to grow marijuana.

I had some criteria. It had to be a stand-alone, detached house in a decent neighborhood. It had to have a basement. And most importantly, I had to be able to afford it. I really didn't have much money and planned on financing the equipment for the start-up by crashing a credit card or three.

I contacted a real estate agent whom I picked by looking in the newspaper to see whose name appeared the most. I explained to him what I wanted and explained that I could not afford to pay more than $1,000/month for the mortgage. Furthermore, I told him that I probably wouldn't be able to qualify for a mortgage, so he needed to find what was then known as a house for sale that had a non-qualifying assumable mortgage attached.

What this essentially meant was the that mortgage holder could assign the mortgage to me without having to go through the bank or any qualifying nonsense. Realistically, the orginal mortgage holder remained responsible, but that's how it worked back in those days. Needless to say, that type of mortgage no longer exists.

So, amazingly, the realtor found 3 houses that fit my criteria. He described each of them to me over the phone and I decided that one of them was ideal, in a town just outside of Boulder, where I lived at the time.

I made an appointment and went to see the house. It was beyond perfect, in a family-oriented neighborhood of fairly new homes, well kept, with nice yards and gardens. The house itself backed onto a huge farmer's field, so I had no worries about neighbors on that side. The backyard had an incredible fruit & vegetable garden and was mostly fenced with a 6' wooden fence.

The price for the mortgage was $1,005/month. I made the deal then and there and signed the assumption. Within a month, I was able to move in.

I was amazed. Here I was, with my very first home, and I bought it to grow weed in. Crazy!

We moved in and set up house and I started to learn about the place and figure out exactly what I needed to do.

My first criteria was security. I didn't want prying eyes seeing what came and went. The house had an attached 2-car garage with a separate area for the washer & dryer. I was able to cut a hole in the wall from the washer/dryer area directly into the stair landing leading down from the ground floor of the house to the basement. I created a small doorway and now had a way of moving things into and out of the house without being seen.

This being Colorado, my 1954 GMC pickup truck aroused only admiring looks and everyone understood why I would want to park such a nice antique in the garage, along with my totally restored, show-winning (2nd Place), 21-window ragtop 1964 VW Bus.

Having once had a gardening business, I had a bit of a green thumb and set out to make sure that the yard and gardens looked magazine ready at all times, again making the neighbors happy with their new neighbors. With my long hair and beard, I really looked like what I was and the neighbors didn't really relax until they learned that I was a 'computer consultant'. That explained everything apparently. Having a sweet, drop-dead gorgeous, blond-haired, blue-eyed wife didn't hurt, either.

I knew that smell was going to be one of my biggest problems. Marijuana smells, very distinctively, wonderfully, but it smells! I needed to insulate the basement from the rest of the house, so I installed a #2 oak, tongue & groove floor with a double plastic barrier beneath it. I chose #2 because it showed a lot more of the graining and knots of the wood as opposed to the #1, which was too perfect. I also had to forego using the central furnace system, as it was located in the basement and would draw its air supply from there and then pump it up into the house, hot, moist, marijuana-laden air. I found out the hard way the first time I turned it on.

That meant a fireplace insert, as they were just starting to pass laws restricting the burning of just about anything. The new fireplace inserts at the time were incredibly efficient, burning 90+% of the combustibles and producing very little smoke pollution. It kept the house perfectly warm throughout the cold Colorado winters. I think I bought 3 cords of wood each year and that easily saw me through the winter.

I then, through contacts, found a union electrician to whom I paid $1500 to tie me in to the electrical supply coming to the house, but before the meter and in such a way that any cursory inspection would not be able to detect it. He dug a hole about 4 feet long and 18 inches wide, down to where the main power line was coming to the house. It was probably 2-3 feet deep when it was done.

This is Colorado in the winter. The ground is mostly clay-like to begin with. The digging was brutal. The electrician had this novel clamp-like device that would clamp around each of the wires, the main feed to the house and the bootleg line he was going to attach to leach the electricity for an entirely new fuse box in the basement, solely for the growing equipment.

Just as he was getting ready to attach the clamp, I told him that if he fucked up and died, that I was going to bury him in his hole. We all laughed, but I was seriously scared. Electricity does that to me. But everything went okay. I can still remember him commenting that the unbelievably thick, insulated gloves he was wearing while he tightened the clamp, driving needle-like spikes through the insulation down into the meat of the wires themselves, were getting really hot. I was so scared.

One thing that was incredibly lucky with respect to the electricity was that CP&L (Colorado Power & Light) would put a good-sized transformer in a neighborhood and run the feed from it to 6-8 homes. The transformer for my house happened to be in my backyard, which I completely enclosed with fencing. There were some gaps in the fencing from the front yard to the back which I closed, giving me total enclosed privacy in the backyard.

Colorado had a law which basically stated that if the public utilities personnel wanted to access their equipment and it was on your property and the property was enclosed, that they had to ask permission to come onto your property to do their thing. In the time that I grew weed, they called 5-6 times, asking permission to come do whatever on their transformer. I was always happy to have them, and appreciative of the warning. I would simply go downstairs and throw the master breaker for the entire grow operation until they left. Whatever they were doing, they weren't going to find any serious 'leaks'.

The next step was to create my growing spaces in the basement, where I had approximately 880 square feet to work with (80m). It was already sort of framed out for rooms, so I utilized what was there for the most part. The smallest room became my stock room and nursery, where I would start my cuttings on their way to planthood.

The other room, larger, I made into my 'veg' room, where the cuttings were allowed to grow to 'full size' before being put into the bud/flowering room, which took up almost 1/3 of the total space. I had a small working area between the bud/flowering room and the others where I did my cuttings and processed the harvest to a degree. It was also where I kept all of my timers and my watering system for everything but the nursery.

Veg Room

Bud Room
I covered all of the walls in mylar foil to reflect the light back onto the plants instead of just wasting it into the concrete walls. My watering system consisted of large, plastic 55-gallon trash cans fitted with toilet bowl floats to automate filling the cans so that I didn't have to be there; they'd just automatically refill themselves when the float got to a certain level. It was never going to run dry. There was a pump in the bottom of the trash can that pushed the water through PVC piping which ran between the rows of buckets. From the PVC, I used very small plastic tubing to connect to watering spikes in each bucket.

Watering System

Watering System Detail - There are 3 spikes on the yellow regulator. Each one restricts the water to a degree. I found that I wanted the least amount of water and only watered my plants twice a day for 1½ minutes at a time.
The next problem to deal with was heat. The nursery had a single 1000-watt light, the veg room 4 of them, and the bud room 12. That's a lot of heat. I ended up purchasing a 3-ton air conditioning unit that I placed outside the house on the ground in front of the only window into the basement and ran the total output into the bud room. Running it 24/7/365, I was able to keep the temperature to 90º-92ºF, just at the edge of what was tolerable for the plants.

Even adding several industrial-grade dehumidifier units only kept the humidity to the 80-85% level. My cats loved hanging out down there between the buckets on the cool cement floor. I swear there must be a connection between marijuana and catnip.

I added 2 industrial-grade oscillating fans in the bud room at opposite corners, as close to the ceiling as I could mount them. I did the room volume calculations and rented 5 50-lb bottles of CO2, the best and favorite food of any and all plants. By adjusting the output regulator, I was able to drop the equivalent of 1500ppm of CO2 into the room, the maximum the plants can ingest, right on top of the oscillating fans which would then circulate it.

Each light in the bud room accommodated 7 plants, for a total of 84 plants in various phases of budding. The bud room was 12/12 light/dark, which forced the flowering/budding phase, while the nursery and veg rooms were 18/6 light/dark, plants not being able to use more than 18 hours of light in a day. They need to 'sleep', too.

Bud Room

Bud Room
My seeds were ordered from The Seed Bank in Amsterdam via snail-mail. I ordered 8 seeds of the Northern Lights #5 x Skunk #1 hybrid. It took 6 months to finally receive them and they showed up in a brown envelope sent from Canada. No matter, it only took 2 of the seeds to start things going and I quickly found a couple of plants to use for mother plants for future cuttings. Within 6 months, all of the rooms were full.

A typical cutting to harvest cycle was approximately 4 months, so I had the bud room in 4 different phases of development which allowed me to harvest 4 lights (28 plants), every 2 weeks, year round. Once I discovered the trick to proper watering amount, my yield per plant went from 0.75 ounces to 2.25 ounces. I was averaging $15,000 every two weeks and that required approximately 10 hours of actual work due to the automated systems I had installed.

I was using Fafards #1 soil-less mix and some 15-30-30 fertilizer which really pumped the buds up fat. Remember, marijuana is a weed, so it doesn't like much water and you can't give it too much food or it will burn it up.

I had some issues with spider mites, so I found a company in Washington state that sold ladybugs, whose favorite food in the galaxy is spider mites. I'd order 5,000 at a time and just turn them loose in the bud room. Great organic growing, even back then.

Harvest time was when the serious work went down. It would take 4-5 hours to harvest and properly process 28 plants. They had to be cut down, the leaves trimmed, and then hung upside down on wire hangars in front of an oscillating fan for 3-4 days to dry out properly, though never too much. Gotta keep the buds fat and sticky.

This particular strain of marijuana produced a huge central bud which we used to refer to as a 'donkey dick'. It would be approximately a foot long and 6-8 inches in circumference. They were incredible. There was still plenty of 'normal' buds on the plant, too.


I had a few very close friends who would help me with harvest time. I paid them what was considered crazy money for the help and also gave them a donkey dick per harvest. Over the 3-year period that I did this, several friends would suddenly freak out during a harvest and leave, never to return. The paranoia of getting caught was sometimes overwhelming, and when the air is full of the dust/pollen of the plants while the scissor work is going on, you get stoned beyond belief without even smoking.

In the end, I had a wonderful helper/assistant to whom I eventually sold the business -- I believe that's a first in the United States, selling an up-and-running marijuana growing business, complete with inventory (several hundred plants), house, and cars. This would have been in the very early 1990s. He only wanted to do it for a year to see what it was like to make the 'big money', and that's what he did. After a year, he wound the business down, cleaned out the house completely, and I helped him sell the house (took about 2 hours with that non-qualifying assumption).

Please feel free to check out the video below.
The photos above are only screen captures from the video.