October 31, 2008

Marigolds Make Way for Marijuana in Suburbia

Filed under: annuals, flower gardens, flowers, marigolds — Tags: , , , — patoconnor @ 1:21 pm

Marigolds Make Way for Marijuana in Suburbia                 

   Police Say ‘Grow Houses’ Have Proliferated Because They Offer Privacy and Move Growers Closer to Their Markets

By PATRIK JONSSONChristian Science Monitor

 SNELLVILLE, Ga., March 11, 2007 — The only permanent residents in the manicured, multigabled ranch east of Atlanta were illegal.

No, not that kind. They were little green creatures of the cannabis family — in short, marijuana plants.

Raids on 40 houses in 12 suburban Georgia counties over the past two weeks are one recent sign of what police say is a national trend in marijuana marketing: growing the illicit crop year-round indoors, using suburban homes as “grow-houses.”

Grow-houses — a spacious incarnation of the old grow-room — have proliferated like suburban-garden gnomes, as antidrug squads have chased growers off remote mountainsides and out of cornfields. In these basements, lights hum with thousands of watts across a sea of plants lodged in a hydroponic soup of nutrients. Upstairs, there’s usually no furniture, police say, except a cot, a chair and a rabbit-ear TV.

“It’s the most impressive thing I’ve seen in 20 years of law enforcement,” says Lt. Jody Thomas of the Fayette County Drug Taskforce.

Police say the ‘burbs give growers a degree of solace and safety, protected by suburbia’s premium on privacy and even a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prevents law officers from aiming heat-sensing equipment at homes unless they first obtain search warrants.

The trend also signals that “production is moving closer to consumption” — a path that leads straight to the suburbs, says Jon Gettman, editor of the Bulletin of Cannabis Reform in Lovettsville, Va., which promotes legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.

Alarm about suburban pot-growing is rising, and some worry that efforts to eradicate crops grown outdoors are driving the illicit industry to become more entrenched in middle-class America, a la Showtime’s hit TV show “Weeds,” about a suburban mom who sells pot.

“This is horrifying,” says Sue Rusche, president of National Families in Action, which works to help children and teens resist drug use.

In the early 1980s, 80 percent of marijuana on U.S. streets was imported, mostly from Mexico, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which works to stop arrests of marijuana smokers. Today, 40 percent of the supply is grown domestically — about half of it indoors under high-wattage lights that turn dank basements into sweltering hothouses.

While outdoor growing is risky and the results inconsistent, indoor growing, which began 30 years ago, has become a science, as amateur botanists produce potent varieties in controlled environments. Experts say it was only a matter of time before syndicates began applying basic black-market principles: higher potency and consistent yields equal more profit.

“It’s Adam Smith 101,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML in Washington. “In a world of prohibition, if you can grow it in your little suburban home and cure it properly, it goes right to the top of the market and you see an incredible level of profit that all the other dealers don’t enjoy.”

Here’s how it worked, according to Fayette County’s Lieutenant Thomas: A wealthy buyer tied to a group of Cuban nationals in Miami bought homes in the endless suburbs of metro Atlanta. So as not to raise suspicion, growers illegally cut into public utilities such as water and electricity. Fences would go up in the backyards, and basement windows would be blacked over. “Baby sitters” would arrive late at night in pickup trucks, often talking on cellphones. Sometimes they would live in the homes on cots.

Harvested at 90-day intervals, the cured “buds” fetched as much as $6,000 a pound in New York City, where most of the suburban Atlanta crop was shipped. Police say a single house could yield more than $1 million in profit a year. Others say the figure is probably lower because authorities often overestimate per-plant yields.

Georgia has lagged behind in indoor busts, with just one last year. The U.S. government eradicates some 3.5 million marijuana plants each year, mostly outdoors, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Of some 800,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2005, 90,000 were for trafficking or growing, according to the FBI. The bureau does not further break out its numbers, but experts say growers by far make up the fewest number of arrests.

“We would never have found it without this tip from Florida,” says Thomas, referring to a similar series of busts of the same organization in the Miami area earlier this year. “It’s so extravagant, yet it has some amount of legitimacy. There’s often a car parked in the yard, but no traffic in and out, no buyers.”

Growers may have had several reasons for setting up shop in subdivisions like Summit Chase here in Snellville. A key one, though, is the privacy ethos. Darrell Lamb, a local high schooler, says the smell of pot would “slap me across the face” as he and some friends shot arrows in the nearby woods. But he never called the police.

Pat Edwards, who lives across the street, says privacy and anonymity trumped suspicion of the “unfriendly” men who tended the house at 2851 Creekwood Drive, but who evidently did not live there.

“Nobody really speaks to each other on this street, and that’s how we all like it,” she says. “Maybe these guys sensed that.”

Still, people talk. Pre-bust, the biggest gossip in the neighborhood was how the house at 2851 Creekwood fetched one of the highest sales prices in the subdivision, $219,000. Post-bust, speculation centered on whether it would affect property values. Closing up a yard sale across the street, Edwards struck a pragmatic note as she looks to leave the city for her childhood home in south Georgia.

“Maybe they want to buy my house,” she jokes. “I’ve got a big basement.”                            


Marigolds and Nematode Control

  Marigolds and Nematode Control     
Marigolds are one of the toughest summer annual flowers we can grow here in north central Arizona. They tolerate the heat and alkaline soils, but come in many shapes, colors, and heights. Shapes range from single to frilled to massive round balls. Colors include yellow, gold, orange, ivory, mahogany, and bicolor combinations. Heights range from 6 to 36 inches. With this kind of variability, you can hardly go wrong with marigolds.

The African marigold (Tagetes erecta) is the tallest variety and has the pom-pom type flowers. Now, there are also shorter varieties of African marigolds available. French marigolds (Tagetes patula) are shorter and bushier usually reaching a height of 6 to 12 inches. Signet or dwarf marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) have small (1/2 inch) blooms and lacy, fragrant foliage. All marigolds do best in full sun and require a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight. Prepare soil as you would for a vegetable crop by adding composted organic matter, a little phosphorus, and some soil sulfur if you have highly alkaline soil. Nitrogen should be applied sparingly. Too much nitrogen will produce lots of foliage and few flowers. They can be grown easily from seed or nursery transplants. Do not over water marigolds and allow the soil to dry somewhat between watering. Seeds can easily be collected and planted in the following year.

Marigolds are relatively pest free and many people interplant them in their vegetable gardens to deter insect pests. While the data is lacking as to whether marigolds actually deter insect pests, they definitely attract beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybeetles, and parasitic wasps. A vegetable garden with some planted flowers is also more attractive and this makes it more enjoyable to work in.

Recent research indicates that marigolds contain compounds toxic to root knot and other plant-parasitic nematodes (microscopic round worms that damage plant roots). Root knot nematodes are not native to our area, but can be brought in with infected plant materials (see the July 7, 1999 Backyard Gardener for more information). The research showed that marigolds, especially certain varieties of French marigolds, significantly reduced root knot nematode populations the following year. Varieties of French marigolds shown to have nematocidal properties are: Bolero, Bonita Mixed, Goldie, Gypsy Sunshine, Petite, Petite Harmony, Petite Gold, Scarlet Sophie, Single Gold, and Tangerine.

If you would like to try using marigolds to manage root knot nematodes, here are some recommendations:

  • At the end of the growing season, remove as many roots as possible from the soil by pulling, plowing or tilling. Doing so will reduce the number of safe places where nematodes can survive during the winter.
  • In winter, till the soil several times to expose nematodes to the sun and weather. You may also want to solarize your soil (see the May 21, 2003 Backyard Gardener).
  • In spring, plant half of the garden with marigolds and half with root-knot-resistant vegetable cultivars (a few are available – look for the “N” on the label). Plantings in blocks or strips are easy to manage. Strips may comprise one or several rows of vegetables. You will need about 300 marigold plants per 100 sq. ft.
  • Use a marigold variety listed above.
  • Space marigold plants, or thin seedlings, so they are 7 inches apart.
  • Fertilize as needed or according to soil test recommendations. Nutrient imbalances can make nematode problems worse.
  • Keep weeds under control.
  • Before the first frost, remove as many seed-bearing flower heads as possible. Then, you will have seed for next year’s marigold patches, and fewer volunteer marigolds will sprout among your vegetables.
  • Till the remaining marigolds into the soil.
  • The following spring, repeat the process with this exception: plant marigolds where you planted vegetables the previous year and vice versa.

Enjoy those marigolds! The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest management. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 ext. 14 or E-mail us at and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column .

Marigolds and Nematode Management – June 16, 2004
Jeff Schalau, County Director, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

Arizona edu                             


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