Cannabis has been consumed by humans for thousands of years, whether for recreation or medicinal purposes, it is clear that humans have been reaping the benefits of this beautiful plant for as long as we can remember. It is no surprise then, that with the ‘green revolution’ sweeping across North America and other parts of the world that more and more people are looking to start growing their own product. Whether you’re looking to save money or be certain exactly what’s going into your medicine, here’s all you need to know about why you should (or shouldn’t) start growing!
People choose to start growing for various reasons. Many cite costs being one of the reasons that they choose to grow, rather than paying $50 for a half ounce, you can pay the same amount in electrical and upkeep costs and get 10 times as much. Another reason is wanting to have a choice in what you grow! If you are a medical patient, you may need a different strain (perhaps one with a higher CBD to THC ratio) compared to a recreational user – growing your own supply would ensure that you have maximum control over your cannabis.
It’s possible that you don’t have secure access to cannabis so growing may be your only option. Furthermore, if you are living in an illegal state then you may often have to interact with and encounter drug dealers who – let’s face it – aren’t always the most friendly/have your best interest at heart so there is an extra element of safety which comes alongside growing. More than anything else, growing cannabis is a fun, rewarding experience which is an excellent test of your patience and planning skills.
While growing cannabis indoors is a great hobby, please ensure that you have considered the following:
- In some places, growing cannabis is illegal without a license granted by an appropriate government department so please check your local laws before starting anything.
- You are looking at a commitment of roughly 4-5 months of your time and effort. From the moment you germinate your seed to when you can smoke your own bud will be at least 4 months. This includes roughly 3 months of growth, a week for drying and then ideally 6 weeks of curing, however a 2 week cure will have a significantly noticeable difference in appearance, taste and flavor so can be done as the bare minimum.
So you have decided to grow! There are many factors you need to consider when deciding exactly how you want to do your first grow. Firstly, are you growing indoors or outdoors and why?
Outdoor grows are prone to having problems such as pests, nutrient deficiencies and adverse weather however indoor grows often don’t have these problems because the grow environment can be fine-tuned.
The general cost of growing outdoors is almost always less than growing indoors; you would need just a few things:
Depending on the phase of development of your cannabis plants, they may require at least 8 hours of sunlight a day and temperatures shouldn’t dip below 15 C otherwise you risk slowing down or even halting growth completely. That being said, cannabis is called “weed” for a reason – it can grow in very difficult conditions, so as long as you are giving your plants the best you can for their particular environment, they will be fine.
Generally not very expensive, a lot of people use the soil available in their yard and enrich it using their own combination of fertilizers or buy a bag of commercial growing soil such as Fox Farm, Biobizz or Plagron.
You need a private space where you can grow without the threat of being caught. This can be a safe place in the woods, in your back garden or in a communal grow space – whichever you choose, it is important to be able to get to your plants at short notice; to give them water in a heatwave, for example.
Indoor growing requires a greater, and more expensive, setup. As well as privacy and a secure location, basic things you’ll need are:
- A light – this can be HPS/HID, CFL or LED with all have their pros and cons.
- A suitable grow medium – soil/soilless. For the sake of simplicity, this article will not consider hydroponics which requires more thought and a meticulous approach.
- Correct pH – Cannabis prefers a growth medium and feed pH of between 6 and 7 if in soil and 5.5 – 6.5 if using a soilless setup.
- Nutrients – nutrients are the basic building blocks of plant life; they help plants grow during the vegetative period and help them produce fine buds throughout and towards the end of the flowering period.
- A controlled grow space.
Now that you are convinced that indoor growing is for you, what do you need to get started? Follow this guide to help.
Choosing a grow room is like choosing a first car, you can look at all the brand-new, expensive cars that you want but the reality is you will only have so much to spend and not want to make too much of an investment on the off chance you decide growing isn’t for you. Firstly, you need to to look at the space you are working with. Do you have a tent, a closet or an entire room? Naturally, your expenditure will vary depending on the size of grow you want to do. A tent is a cheap and effective way to do your first grow and even if you have access to an entire room, in certain instances it is better for you to have one large or multiple smaller tents within the room.
A grow tent is exactly what it sounds like; a durable, waterproof, light-leak proof tent with reflective walls to help ensure your grow is as facile as it can be. These come in a range of sizes, so you can choose one that’s best suited to your space and needs. Most tents will come with support bars to hang your light, appropriate cutouts for fans as well a zip to access and securely close the grow space.
To provide the correct temperature and relative humidity, you will need to ensure that the heat and moisture, that will be released during your grow is appropriate managed. This can either be done using extraction fans to remove excess heat from the light or alternatively, you can use an air-conditioning unit to help reduce the temperature and humidity. While this wouldn’t be the first course of action for an indoor grower, especially one who is trying to keep costs down, this can be a useful solution if you have no other option. Either way, it is vital to ensure adequate ventilation. Keep your grow tent temperature below 30C.
A carbon filter is an air filter which passes “contaminated” air over a mesh of activated carbon to scrub it of any smell before passing out the other side completely odor-free. This is a tried and tested method to remove grow-related aromas and is the industry standard for commercial growers. A carbon filter usually goes on the inside of your tent and is connected to an extractor fan via a duct. This is a must have for stealth, especially when growing more pungent and smelly strains like Skunk.
Cannabis prefers to grow at a certain pH, this varies depending on your growing medium and is between 6 & 7 for soil grows and between 5.5 and 6.5 for those using soilless growing techniques. A pH meter or indicator strips are an essential in every growers toolkit; you need to ensure that the pH your feed is correct for your chosen medium.
Cannabis enthusiasts have a range of options when it comes to choosing a growth medium. Due to its rugged nature, the plant can be grown both in soil or in the absence of soil, using an alternative material to support the plant roots and weight.
Soil requires a feeding pH of between 6-7, this is because soil has live bacteria in it which require a biological pH to ensure they can still function. However, this also functions as a buffer so it is not as important to be accurate with your pH. Furthermore, most soil mixes do not need any extra nutrients in the feed, for at least a few weeks, as they contain all the essentials the plant needs from the start, unlike soilless growing.
Soilless grows use an inert medium which means you will need to provide all of the nutrients in the water during feeding. Commonly used mediums are peat coco (coir), vermiculite or perlite. A key benefit is faster growth than soil, however a limitation is having to be very accurate with pH and feeding nutrients by hand. Hydroponics and aeroponics systems allow for optimal nutrient intake and generally provide growers with more yields but they need constant attention and are not so forgiving like soil.
Now that you have decided what growing medium you want to use, you have to consider what container to use. Cannabis is so versatile that you could grow it in a bucket or even a normal garden pot, however modern grow techniques indicate that there are more efficient alternatives such as fabric or air pots.
Due to the more porous nature, this allows for better air permeation through the medium and provides the roots of the plant with oxygen that they need for growth. They also offer better drainage which is often a key issue for beginners.
Fabric pots are often made from recycled material and are exactly what they sound like, they provide for excellent drainage and allow for some air to pass through them, especially in between watering.
Air pots are made of plastic and offer the key benefits of fabric pots, however they have far greater air permeation which accelerates growth, particularly during the vegetative period.
The choice of grow lights is perhaps the most important decision when starting a grow because there are various options available, all with their benefits and downsides.
Compact fluorescent lights are a great choice for growers looking to do a small/micro grow as they do not let off much heat and are often low in energy consumption. Another key benefit is they can be kept at a distance of as close as 2-5 inches from the tops of the plant, unlike HPS or LEDs. This is beneficial for those growing in a space bucket or inside a PC case where space can be an issue. However, they do not have great penetration so there will be very little light available for bud sites lower on the plant so they are not ideal and not recommended for larger grows.
High pressure sodium lights are an excellent choice for those looking to do larger grows. These lights provide excellent penetration, are very bright and are not very expensive (compared to LED). They have been the go-to for growers for a long time and I’m sure will continue to be used in the future. However, they waste a lot of energy on heat which can be an issue for those looking to do a smaller grow, as there would be additional costs incurred in keeping the grow space cool. Many HPS systems have cooling systems called “cool tubes” which connect the light directly to exhaust fans, removing the excess heat generated by the lights, allowing them to be placed closer to the plants and thus provide for better light penetration.
Light emitting diode grow lights are the most advanced form of horticultural growth lamps. They are used in various forms; diode panels, quantum boards and the newest form chip-on-board (COB) LEDs and offer the ideal light source for any grower. They are powerful, efficient and very versatile, however they tend to be more expensive than their counterparts and due to their high power, they need to be positioned at a greater distance compared to HPS.
For a beginner, it is advisable to purchase an LED light as they are they’re easiest to use; the majority are plug and play and unlike HPS and CFL, they still retain some value if you decide growing isn’t for you.
You want to ensure clean air is coming into your tent and that you ventilate your used air either outside or into another room, as recirculated air isn’t great for cannabis plants. As well have having a high level of CO2, your plants need to be within certain temperatures. There is leeway on either end depending on which strain you choose to grow, however cannabis prefers to be between 22 and 27 C.
Relative humidity (RH) is the amount of water in the air in the form of moisture. This is very important, as the plant needs different relative humidity depending on what stage of the cycle it is in. While in vegetation, plants thrive with higher levels of RH, while in flower RH should be lowered in order to prevent mold and mildew forming. In general, use the following:
- Vegetative: 50-65%
- Flowering: 30-45%
There are many techniques you can employ to ensure you have a fruitful harvest of high-quality buds including different forms of training you can do to the plant. This includes:
- Low-stress training, topping and defoliation
- Ensure you do not have any light leaks; it is important that when it is night time for the plants, they should not have any light on them. This is usually not an issue if you use a tent or a have a dedicated grow room however if you are growing in your closet, for instance, or inside a large PC case, you will need to ensure that all sources of light have been blocked out.
- When you water your cannabis plants, always do it as the lights are coming on – avoid watering right before the lights do off.
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