Traditional Ganja Cultivation Techniques – Bengal, 1894

There’s a far older name for seedless bud than ‘sinsemilla’, namely ‘ganja’.

The ‘sinsemilla technique’ was first set down in writing sometime around the 15th Century in a massive Sanskrit alchemical compendium named the Ānandakanda (आनन्दकन्द) or ‘Root of Bliss’.

The photograph above is ‘Gathering the Ganja Crop’, shot in Bengal in mid-February 1894 for the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission.

To successfully raise a crop of good ganja entails skill and know-how, not just seed of tropical Sativas – i.e., ganja landraces – though this is essential too.

In historic cultivation centres such as the Ganja Mahal in east Bengal, ganja farming traditionally involved repeated field visits by a specialist ‘ganja doctor’ (poddār), whose task was to identify male and hermaphrodite plants, snapping the offending individuals for later removal by the farmer. To be a ‘ganja doctor’ remained a viable career until as recently as the 1980s in the South Indian state of Kerala.

This 1894 shot of the ganja harvest in Naogaon shows other techniques and factors that were regarded as essential for getting a ganja landrace to yield a refined product – i.e., pungent, resinous, and potent buds.

Raised beds or ridges (śuli) were prepared on the lightest, best-draining loams available – this ‘terroir’ being highly sought after for ganja. The land was repeatedly ploughed and well manured. One month old seedlings were transplanted from a nursery to these beds around mid-September. The correct timing and extent of the cycles of irrigation and further manuring were essential.

Harvest commenced around mid-February and went through to mid-March. The point during senescence at which ‘fan leaves’ drop off entirely was and is used as a general indicator that a ganja crop is ready. More important was the loss of chlorophyll, with flowering tops turning to gold or brown hues. Most important of all was that the buds were heavy with resin.

All but the seedling phase of this process takes place outside monsoon. Most of the above points hold true anywhere good ganja is cultivated today in the Asian tropics, particularly in regions such as Thailand, Orissa, and Laos.