New grower guide

Not So Secret Garden: Top Tips For The Budding DIY Recreational Grower (Part I)

The shift is coming. As of January 1, recreational cannabis will be legal in California, the most populous state in the USA. While projections flutter for every part of the cannabis industry, the new recreational user has a choice: Buy at the local dispensary, or grow at home.

For some it may be a no-brainer — you have extra space, a closet or garage available for an indoor grow, or a fantastic spot in full sun outdoors in an enclosed yard or on a private balcony.

Every state with legal recreational policy has its own limitations. If you want to save money in the long run, and be in total control of the cannabis you consume, figure out how to make the legal plant limit work for you, depending on what city or state you live in.

To help you out, we’ve provided a comprehensive and easy-to-follow guide for first-time growers — and in particular, those who want to grow in soil with an organic or veganic grow op. Don’t know what veganic is? Read on to find out.

1. How Does Your Garden Grow? Learn Basic Horticulture

For your first indoor grow with soil, I suggest you start by teaching yourself basic horticulture and botany. It’s not as difficult as you think. I recommend these two books:

2. Organic Or Veganic — Which Will You Choose?

What will separate your homegrown product from what you can buy elsewhere will not only be the strain you grow, but how you grow it. I can’t say enough good things about growing organic, and furthermore veganic (using plant-based fertilizers instead of anything with animal products, like bat guano or worm castings).

The cannabis in dispensaries currently doesn’t have to comply with any real organic certification because there is no policy or legislation in place. Cannabis that is not grown organically is not healthy and often has high traces of heavy metals and other toxins that could prove harmful when ingested. Grow organic — you’re worth it. Please don’t think twice about your own health.

There are several advantages to a plant-based, highly sustainable, veganic, indoor grow. For one thing, the plants are usually healthier. Animal-based products are not always reliable. There’s increasing scrutiny over brands that make false claims on their packaging, and I’ve found pieces of plastic and other trash in soil products I’ve previously purchased. Plus, there is also not enough regulation when it comes to the actual animal products that are being used. For example, animals could carry diseases or pass on toxins from antibiotics or steroids they have been forced to take. When it comes to the commercial market for soil and nutrient products, the more diligently you source your products, the better off your homegrown bud will be.

Plants use less energy to pull nutrients out of soil that doesn’t have animal-based products in it, and the plant can metabolize better with plant-based fertilizers like compost. They’re less susceptible to pests and disease, can yield better harvests, and have a lower carbon footprint.

3. Strain, Clone — Grow What You Like

Research what strain you like and want to grow. Go to different dispensaries to try some flower and see what works for you. Most strains are different though named the same, because a variety of farmers grow them. However, a lot of the same qualities will be present.

There’s a market full of hybrids; explore the latest and greatest, but try some classic indica and sativa strains as well. Plan to purchase organic clones — it’ll be easier than growing from seed your first time. You want female plants with strong genetic information that the cultivator can share with you.

4. Labor, Time And Money — Growing Is A Full-Time Job

In the beginning, your grow needs attention everyday. You need to develop a relationship with the plants and watch them for pests, disease, or general catastrophe, so plan to spend an hour a day on observation. Be prepared to commit yourself to the craft and experience of controlling your cannabis grow. Labor and time are a necessity. In other words, don’t plan a long vacation until you have everything dialed in and are confident you can run your grow from a remote control system (i.e. SmartBee Controllers) that offers you smartphone control.

There are many things to be purchased for your grow: high-pressure sodium (HPS) and metal halide (MH) light bulbs, ballast and hood, soil, nutrients, water, humidifier, thermometers, fans, light timer, pH meter or test kit, grow bags (or build a raised bed table), charcoal or carbon filters, high-quality clones, plus factoring in the monthly power costs. You can plan to spend approximately $2000 on your indoor, six-plant grow, and harvest at least one pound per plant.

5. The Unbearable Lightness Of Your Grow Space

You need to figure out where you will grow indoors. Maybe in your garage, a spare bedroom, or a large closet, but aimf for a space of 6 feet by 6 feet for six plants. Make sure it’s clean and off limits from pets or children. Well-ventilated space is what you’re after, so pay attention to airflow and temperature. This can be controlled by fans and humidifiers, but if you have a room that maintains good airflow, start with that.

The grow space has to be light tight. There can be no light leaks during the dark periods, otherwise your plants will get confused and it could cause them to produce male flowers. An option is buying a tent or some kitschy all-in-one kit to put into a space in your home. There are many on the market and advantages are that they’re lined with reflective material to help disperse the light, and have design elements that compliment your lighting, ventilation, and other temperature and water control components. But when it comes to cost, I wouldn’t buy one. Just build out your space.

Keep it low maintenance. Your plants need to be off the ground so they’re not susceptible to mold or pests and have better airflow. Build or buy a small table or rack for them to sit on. Keep in mind that the space needs to be big enough on top to allow you to suspend your lights and move as needed as your plants grow tall and strong. The lights are usually hung at least one foot from the ceiling.

You can either keep the walls a flat white, use reflective bubble insulation, or other materials like Panda Film to help reflect light and keep it within the grow.

6. Keep Your Cool About Climate Control

Temperature is super important! Cannabis plants live in between 70 and 85 °F (21–29 °C) when lights are on, and between 58 and 70 °F (14–21°C) when in the dark. You will need to create a steady stream of air flow to help manage this, and you will monitor it from a digital thermostat timer device attached to a 6-inch inline fan. The fan needs to remove the warm air and any filtered air opening.

After you set up your lighting, run your system for a while and observe how it feels. If you need more airflow to maintain comfortable temperatures, adjust your fan as necessary and see where it should be placed. Add a circulating fan on a wall if need be, but don’t ever point a fan directly at a plant. A light breeze in the grow room is lovely because it helps strengthen the plants and deflect bugs. Charcoal filters can be used on your exhaust fan to help minimize scent if that’s an issue for you. In other words, if your neighbors are uncool.

Keep the temperatures as low as possible to encourages trichome production. Maintaining the plant’s happiness is top priority and they can get hurt if large amounts of heat crash their growing process. Using an easy digital timer for the light, you’ll set it for the same times every day.

7. Light Up Your Plant’s Life

Learn to become diligently aware of how high your lights are from the plants. As previously mentioned, lighting should always be hung at least one foot below the ceiling. You should use HID lights, specifically a metal halide (MH) and a high-pressure sodium (HPS). The MH lamp is used to make blueish light that the plant needs during the vegetative stage, and the HPS is closer to red-orange and needed during the flowering stage. The light requires a specialized hood and ballast set-up; they’re not standard or compatible with any home fixtures.

You need to secure the light to the ceiling and be able to adjust the height as necessary. Ballasts come in magnetic and digital in a wide range of price points. Get an air-cooled reflector hood to mount your lamps — a 400 or 630-watt lamp will work great.

New grower guide

A young cannabis plant potted in soil

8. Soil And Green

Unless you have a great compost going in your backyard — which would be awesome — you will need to build soil for your plants. There are high-quality, organic, pre-fertilized potting soils available that will make it easy for you when you transplant your clones into 10-gallon grow bags.

Depending on if you’re growing organic or veganic, you will be adding animal-based or plant-based nutrients to help create a thriving, healthy population of mycorrhizae and soil bacteria, which help the plant roots absorb the organic matter in the soil. If you start with a great store-bought super soil (or even mix 50 percent potting soil, 50 percent compost yourself) you start out strong.

9. Nourish Your Plants With The Best Nutrients

Plants need to be fed nutrients to grow and prosper. If you don’t feed your plants regularly, you’re hoping the soil will carry them through their whole growth. It could, but you’ll have a way better chance of a good harvest if you feed them nutrients. Don’t go crazy thinking about which ones to use, there are many organic options available. Do some online shopping research, stay away from any synthetic nutrients, and check out the brand’s suggested feeding regimen to make sure you understand what you will have to do to feed weekly or daily. Nutrients are formulated differently for the vegetative and flowering stages.

Solutions are usually liquid or powder and need to be mixed with water, tested for pH level, and then applied to the soil. Testing pH level is critical to keep the plant happy, and easy to do with your meter. Never add nutrient solution or water from above the plant — always feed it to the soil!

Plants need the following macronutrients in order to thrive:

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K)

And they need these micronutrients in much smaller quantities:

  • Calcium (CA)
  • Magnesium (Mg)
  • Iron (Fe)
  • Copper (Cu)

Your job is to maintain the right balance of nutrients daily, which helps your plant reach the maximum genetic potential of the strain, in terms of its cannabinoid and terpene production. Pay attention to your plants when you start to feed them, noting any changes. It’s worse to overfeed your plants than to underfeed them, so observe them for irregularities.

Next week in Part II of our guide to organic and veganic growing for new soil growers, we’ll break down what happens during each grow phase, and look at some of the things to be wary of, like nutrient lockout and flushing for a smoother smoke.

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