Subcool: Remembering a Cannabis Legend
The cannabis community lost a luminary earlier this year when Subcool passed away. Longtime Maximum Yield contributor Eric Hopper knew Subcool over the years and shares some stories and insights about Subcool’s passion for marijuana and his quest to create the perfect organic soil.
On Friday, January 31, 2020, after years of battling Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency (AAT) and COPD, legendary cannabis breeder Subcool passed away. Among cannabis growers, Subcool will be immortalized by the highly potent cannabis strains he and his team developed over the years, including Jack the Ripper, Space Bomb, and Vortex. Regarded as one of America’s pioneer cannabis breeders, Subcool’s contributions to the cannabis community have influenced growers all over the world and will continue to do so. He will most likely be remembered for his potent strains and extensive breeding, but Subcool gave so much more to the cannabis community than just his incredible hybrids. In fact, he dedicated the majority of his life to sharing his knowledge and passion for growing cannabis.
I met Subcool in 2005 when he began shopping at the indoor gardening center I managed in Salem, OR. He introduced himself as Monty and, as our trust and friendship grew, eventually disclosed that he was Subcool. Subcool’s birth name was Montgomery Ball, but later he had it legally changed to Dave Bowman.
Throughout his life, he went by many different names: Monty, The Green Avenger, Dave Bowman, and The Weednerd; however, most members of the cannabis community will remember him as Subcool.
The cannabis industry has changed rapidly over the last 10 years and it may be difficult for today’s weed community to comprehend how underground things were in the US only a decade ago. Virtually all growers, authors, and breeders at that time chose a pseudonym for fear of being prosecuted under US federal laws (even though states like Oregon had medicinal marijuana programs). Monty became Subcool — a memorial to his past life in the refrigeration industry. It was a job Monty never wanted to, and never did, return to.
We quickly became friends because of our shared passion for organic cannabis cultivation. In person, Sub was impossible not to like. He was kind, patient, generous, humorous, and a loyal customer. His southern accent made him stick out like a sore thumb in the Pacific Northwest and was something I often teased him about. When I met him, he already had a vast network of underground cannabis growers who he referred to as his “Green Avengers.” Along with his own garden, these growers were how Subcool developed and tested most of his early cannabis strains and Super-Soil recipes.
Between 2005 and 2010, I worked with Subcool on many projects. I helped him with his original Garden in the Mist video series. As a videographer and photographer, Subcool was a true artist. He would spend hours getting just the right lighting and angle for a single bud shot. After seeing him in action, it was no wonder his cannabis photographs were renowned for their exquisite detail. It was a running joke that his photographs were essentially “bud porn.”
Though I occasionally assisted him with his photography work (and by “assisted” I mean we smoked bowls and I watched him work), our professional relationship consisted of working together to fine-tune his Super-Soil recipe. Subcool kept a low profile, but he often used online forums to write about his Super-Soil, where he purchased his growing supplies, and he even mentioned me a few times as a good source of information. This, along with his Jack the Ripper strain being selected as one of High Times Top 10 Strains of the Year, led to a number of my customers wanting to meet Subcool. As can be imagined, his endorsement was good for business. Our agreement was to never give his number or disclose his true identity to anyone. On more than one occasion, I was offered cash for an introduction. I never accepted and I would call him up right afterward to have a good laugh about how it was probably an undercover police officer.
One day a new customer, who would later be known in the cannabis community as Dioxide, was trying desperately to get Subcool’s phone number. He said he had an opportunity to meet Willie Nelson in two days at a biofuel station in Eugene, OR., and wanted to invite Subcool. He would later become a friend, but at the time I had no idea who Dioxide was so I basically said, “Ok, sure, I’ll see what I can do.” His desperate persistence made me uncomfortable and I didn’t even bother to get his information. I assumed he was either a narc or just another grower full of shit. I called Sub to tell him the story; expecting him to laugh and say, “yeah right.” But to my surprise, he got super serious and said, “you gave him my number, right?” I told him I hadn’t because I didn’t have any idea who the guy was. Sub was extremely disappointed; he had always wanted to meet Willie Nelson. I felt sort of sorry, but at the same time, I still thought Dioxide could be an undercover officer or just a crazy fan. As fate would have it, Dioxide came back to the store the next day and I got his information. They connected and Subcool not only met Willie Nelson, but was able to personally give him a sample of some of his homegrown cannabis. Willie opened the container, smelled the dank, and said something to the effect of, “you guys in Oregon always have the best weed.”
In my opinion, Subcool’s most significant contribution to the cannabis community was his Super-Soil recipe. He spent half a lifetime trying to perfect an organic method of cultivation that could be replicated by anyone. He wanted everyone to be able to grow high-quality organic cannabis. Over the years, he openly shared his successes and failures in many online forums, along with all the magazines in which he contributed, including High Times, Skunk, Treating Yourself, Heads, Weed World, and West Coast Magazine. He was an entrepreneur, but he was more so a philanthropist, as he donated his time, knowledge, and money to both individual growers and the cannabis community. Over the years I knew him, he donated thousands of seeds to medical marijuana patients.
A quick search for “Subcool’s Super-Soil” will bring up hundreds of articles and forum discussions, many of which were posted or commented on by Sub himself. Subcool’s Super-Soil recipe not only includes the ingredients to make the soil but also detailed instructions of how to use it for each stage of cannabis growth. As previously mentioned, I was fortunate enough to work with Subcool on the ongoing process of fine-tuning his soil recipe. We worked together to source the very best dry organic ingredients available on the West Coast. Even though it was completely underground, he and his network of growers were surprisingly organized and would continually test ingredients and varying ratios in order to find the perfect mix. With each advancement along the way, Subcool shared his and his Avengers’ experiences. His willingness to share information saved countless growers years of development, not to mention all the blood, sweat, and tears along the way. To this day, using Subcool’s Super-Soil recipe is one of the most effective and foolproof ways for novice growers to produce high-quality organic cannabis. Looking back over the years, I try to calculate just how many cannabis gardens across the globe were successful thanks to Subcool and his contributions to organic cannabis cultivation. In my mind, the number would be astronomical.
Read also: The Strain Hunters: Loss, Legacy, and Landraces
I moved away from Oregon in 2010 and Subcool relocated to California shortly thereafter. For a while, we stayed in contact by email or phone and at cannabis events. Our correspondence faded over the years, but I always considered him a friend. Like everyone else, Subcool experienced ups and downs in his life. In 2017, he lost his home, his breeding plants, and many seeds in a California wildfire. This would have been enough to make anyone, especially someone with a debilitating condition, call it quits, but not Subcool. Instead, he moved to Arizona and continued his legacy within the cannabis community. Under the new company name of Dank (the name of his 2008 book Dank: The Quest for the Very Best Marijuana: A Breeder's Tale), Subcool continued to offer growers unique and potent cannabis strains and even started a Dank line of consumable cannabis products. Sub is no longer physically with us, but his spirit lives on through his monumental contributions to the cannabis industry.
Personally, I will remember his generosity, his sense of humor, his passion for organic growing, his artistry, and his ability to remain positive even in the most dire of situations. RIP Subcool; you are missed, but not forgotten.