Cannabis: A beginner's guide to growing marijuana

It’s legal in Alaska and easy enough to buy, but since you’ve managed to keep your houseplants alive, maybe you’re thinking to yourself that it’s time to try growing your own cannabis. So where should you turn for advice? You’d think the senior cultivation editor at High Times would be a good source. Who would know better?

Well, probably no one, but unfortunately the new book by said editor, Danny Danko, while serviceable enough as a place to start, doesn’t offer much more.

“Cannabis: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Marijuana” is Danko’s entry in the vast and rapidly growing field of cultivation guides cluttering bookstore shelves. Given his credentials, it will likely be a popular title, but there isn’t much to it.

Danko begins from the premise that readers of his book will be absolute novices at growing and maintaining their own supply, and for those who are, it’s got the essentials. He begins with space preparation (should you opt for a grow room, tent, or box?), explains the differences between indica and sativa as well as hybrids, then takes in everything from seed selection to final harvesting.

It’s all there if the basics are all you want. Sexing your plants (kill the males!), cloning, choosing and maintaining a mother plant, proper watering and fertilizing techniques, discussions of potential crop killers such as insects and fungus, and so on.

There are several problems, however. The first is that Danko moves through this material so quickly that he skips all the fine details. Overwatering is to be avoided, but how to avoid it is barely touched on. He repeatedly stresses the importance of keeping your lights a proper distance from the plants, but beyond advising a trial and error process, he doesn’t provide much additional help here either. Pruning and trimming get mentioned, but there are precious few serious tips. And so it goes. He breezes through each step with little more than a list of needed tools and a quick explanation.

Things are further hampered by the illustrations, which are minimalist. You’d think someone from High Times would want detailed art or even photographs, but instead there are only simple drawings, and the colors are cartoonish and hardly accurate for what you need to pay attention to.

Danko also sticks exclusively to indoor growing. With so many states now going legal, plenty of people are raising a few cannabis plants in their gardens and greenhouses, and the essentials of this process should have been included. But he acts like it’s still illegal everywhere and needs to be kept hidden. That’s certainly the case in much of the country, but every year the reach of prohibition shrinks further, and any decent grow guide needs to address this reality.

The biggest problem, though, is that all of what he presents here is freely available on the internet and in much better detail. This is the dilemma that writers face in the electronic age. If they want to sell books, they need to present information that isn’t accessible with a three-second Google search. Danko, who certainly has knowledge to spare when it comes to growing, doesn’t do this. Where he could have offered readers personal insights that come from extensive experience, he’s essentially created the equivalent of the most basic of websites, printed it to the page, and asked people to spend money on it. Why bother?

There is valuable information here, like the importance of keeping your tools and grow space clean, how to tell male plants from female, and why you don’t want to rush the process. On this latter point he offers the one quotable line in the entire book: “Like the story of the turtle and the hare, growing great marijuana is not a race won by sprinting.”

But at a time when this information can be found anywhere, and when excellent and exhaustively researched cultivation guides are rolling off the presses, “Cannabis: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Marijuana” comes across as a relic from another time. This book would have been handy in, say, 1983. In 2019 you can do better for less (or even nothing) and still get more pro advice than you’ll know what to do with.

So if you are new to growing, skip this book and start with any of the myriad websites containing the same information. And if you do want a printed source, spend your money on one of the encyclopedic ones. “Cannabis: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Marijuana” is little more than the ditch weed of grow guides.

David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Comments about this story? Email

Cannabis: A Beginner’s Guide to Growing  Marijuana

Danny Danko

Hampton Roads Publishing


144 pages


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