Three months, four seeds from Amsterdam, five centimetres of dirt and Bob's your uncle.
"Fuck it. I'm ordering seeds from Amsterdam," I told my friend, sick of having to brave the corner of Rockey and Raymond streets in Yeoville, where I had been scoring marijuana for as long as I could remember.
I got a friend who was passing through to bring them over – all four of them – and even then, a few years ago, they cost €20 each. I remember they had elaborate packaging with pictures of giant plants. I eagerly dug up the grass against a wall at the back of my garden and got my neighbour over to help.
We made four small holes about 5cm deep and then gently pressed the dark soil back over the seeds with our palms. A few days later, this was in early January as far as I remember, four tiny shoots poked out of the earth. The seeds – at that price – were apparently guaranteed to be females, which are greatly preferable to the males.
Not a day went by without me heading out to the patch. After a week they were as high as my hand; another week, up to my knee; after about a month, they settled at just above head height. They were now beginning to thicken up nicely.
Some say you need to shake the plant slightly to stimulate the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which I did. I also went out with a pair of scissors and snipped off the familiar leaves, which will concentrate the THC into the heads, or buds.
Three months later the plants were beginning to droop under the weight of the heads – huge bulbous buds that gave off that strong, dangerous smell and left your fingers sticking together after you'd touched them. Hearsay has it, and there is a lot of hearsay among amateur marijuana growers, that this is the stage at which hashish is harvested. Growers would run through the fields wearing sheepskins, after which the resin would be combed out. Well, I wasn't going to try this and did not have a field, just a few giant plants growing at the bottom of my garden.
I remember some other near scrapes, such as having to cover the plants with a sheet when builders arrived, but at long last the day had arrived. The plants now towered over me, almost bent double from the weight of giant heads, at least as thick and as long (and as hairy) as my arm.
I leant down, pressing my face among the fragrant leaves, and, getting a good grip on the stem, ripped it from the ground. The roots came out and were useful for tying the plant to a rafter in the garage to dry.
I left it there for about a week and then, calling my neighbour over again, carried it triumphantly into the kitchen, knocking a vase off a shelf on my way in. I tried to preserve the length of the heads and only snipped off the rapidly drying leaves. I then crammed as many heads as I could into Consol jars, which I stored in my pantry alongside my other preserves.
I now had more than I knew what to do with, but decided against selling it and instead gave it away to anyone who asked. It was superlative, light green, slightly sticky and glittered with white THC crystals.
It became famous, in its own way, and among the eastern suburbs of Johannesburg and certain parts of Cape Town was known as the Long Arm.