Where green fingers study the high art of cultivating weed
If you hear Louise Maxwell talking to "Monster Fluffy" in her garden, don't assume it's her pet dog or cat.
It's the Durban woman's 3m dagga plant.
Despite having grown 15 dagga plants on her own, she is now attending free classes to learn to grow weed in just 12 lessons.
Maxwell is set to graduate soon alongside 150 classmates - including doctors, pharmacists, housewives and retirees - who have attended the course offered by horticulture store CannaMart and Africa's first medicinal cannabis dispensary, Holistic Releaf, in the Durban industrial area of Glen Anil.
The classes started on October 1 - not quite two months after the Constitutional Court decriminalised adults' smoking dagga at home and growing enough for personal consumption. As the first class, students were given free seeds from the Holy Smoke brand for their practical lessons.
The syllabus covers the ins and outs of growing dagga, and the students have applied the theory to their own crop.
"I had been growing cannabis for a little while before it was decriminalised. I wanted to learn new techniques, see what I was doing wrong and just to produce a better end product for myself," said Maxwell.
She learnt more about the nutrition of her plants and how to identify deficiencies.
"I have tweaked my grow. I do pH balance in my water. I learnt how to trim the plant and what other nutrients I can put in if I want to go organic because a lot of outdoor growers like to go organic."
Maxwell's 15 plants have to be grown outdoors because they are "massive".
For now, she doesn't intend to expand, as she is uncertain about the legal limit on the number of plants one can grow.
"The government has not yet said how much is allowed. But it all boils down to personal consumption. I may need 20g a month while someone else may need 20g a week, so I assume people grow according to their personal needs," she said.
Winston Sanders, who works in the printing industry, decided to attend the course because he wanted to gain more knowledge about his "hobby".
"I have been growing cannabis for a while and I wanted to better myself. Reading about it and gaining tips from the internet is not the same as going to an interactive class," he said.
"My plants are now on my balcony. You have to pass them to enter my home. There isn't as much stigma as there was before the Constitutional Court ruling."
On the first day of the course, the ages of the students surprised their 22-year-old teacher, Michael Govender.
"When we first thought of the course, I thought we were going to get all of the younger people, like the people who are interested in the recreational side of it, but I was completely mistaken.
"We have people of all ages. We even have some grandfathers," said Govender.
The doctors and pharmacists who attended were interested in learning the composition of the cannabis plant.
"They were very interested in creating oils for themselves and just to start
the growing process on their own, " said Govender.
He admits to having no horticultural or botany qualifications.
His education, like that of the other course teachers, came from "showing an interest in growing cannabis in my own personal space".
Shortly after the Constitutional Court ruling, Holistic Releaf Wellness and Pain Management Centre founder Krithi Thaver realised there was a need for classes to teach people how to grow cannabis.
"There are a number of techniques that can be used to really maximise the growth of this amazing plant and we wanted to share the knowledge we have with those wanting to learn," said Thaver.
The course is divided into sections to teach beginners, intermediate and advanced students. After completing the course, students receive a certificate - though Thaver doubts anyone will be including it in their CV.
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