marijuana growing

Bud Money: Exploring Low-Tech, Low-Cost Marijuana Growing Strategies & Equipment

Northern California fires. Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Maria. Not to mention all the tropical storms and subsequent floods that hurt many marijuana growers this year alone. Heartbreaking numbers of grow ops were wiped out, and in some worst-case scenarios, growers even lost their homes and loved ones.

These catastrophes have led growers to ask the one question: How do you restart your marijuana growing after a disaster?

Even if you haven’t experienced a calamity but you’ve stopped growing and want to restart again, many wonder if there’s a way to create a low-tech, low-cost marijuana growing situation so you can at least get back in the growing game with a fighting chance.

Growers recovering from disasters or who are low on funds often resort to cost-cutting strategies, methods and materials to get their new garden started.

This inevitably involves compromises in regard to ease of operation, daily workload, environmental control, number of plants and crop outcomes, but most of us would agree that growing some bud is better than growing no bud at all.

Compromise: Outdoor Vs. Indoor Marijuana Growing

Probably the most basic choice you’ll make is whether to have a marijuana grow op outdoors or indoors.

Outdoor growing is much less expensive because sun, wind and air movement are free. You can get large yields without spending much money on materials and equipment. But outdoor marijuana growing comes with unavoidable risks, losses and hassles, such as security breaches, pests, diseases, and the inability to totally control temperature, humidity, and photoperiod.

Greenhouse growing or growing in backyard spaces using irrigation systems offers the ability to partially control some environmental and cultivation protocols, but in most cases outdoor growing uses soil in the root zone and depends upon sunlight hours rather than controlled-duration artificial lighting. Bottom line, it’s nowhere near as precise or controlled as indoor growing.

If you have the privacy and space to do an outdoor grow op, it’s best to plant your crops in springtime and remain diligent about protecting them from thieves, police, pests and diseases.

Some Compromise: Indoor Marijuana Growing Compromises & Sacrifices

Indoor grow ops are by far the safest, most efficient and productive method of growing cannabis, but they also cost a lot more money and require more build-out and hands-on work than outdoor growing.

It’s a stark fact that when you’re looking to build the lowest cost indoor grow room, you have difficult decisions to make about where to cut corners.

At minimum, you need the following for an indoor grow op:

  • A secure indoor space with reliable electricity.
  • Artificial lighting.
  • A light stand on which to hang the lights.
  • A fan or multiple fans.
  • A power strip and extension cords.
  • The ability to control grow-room temperature and humidity.
  • Reflective materials for the walls.
  • A timer that controls your grow lights.

To run a maximally productive indoor grow room, you’d also want to invest in gear and supplies that include quality hydroponics nutrients, reverse osmosis water filtration, CO2, a hydroponics root zone (instead of soil), a scrubber and automated irrigation equipment.

Many growers who previously used one or more full-size rooms in their home for a grow op choose to restart their grow using a small grow tent, grow chamber, even a closet.

Grow rooms do best with professional LED or high intensity discharge (HID) grow lights. But as with any equipment, the less you pay, the less you get.

Quality LED grow lights can cost at least $800. A worthwhile set of 1000-watt HID bulbs, a ballast and a reflector can set you back $450 at least.

Compromising on grow lighting means compromising on light quality and intensity, and electricity consumption efficiency.

To save money, growers might choose fluorescent grow lights, less-expensive grow lights, or smaller grow lights.

Each of these choices affects the square footage and height dimensions of the illuminated area, which in turn affects the number and type of marijuana plants that can be successfully grown.

If a grower goes too cheap and buys cut-rate grow lights, crop growth rates and yields can be significantly reduced. The return on investment of even running the grow room might not be worth the risk, cost and hard work if a grower is using underpowered or inferior lights.

These same kinds of trade-offs happen with other choices, too.

If the grower chooses not to have a reverse osmosis water system, their nutrients program will be compromised because their water is full of contaminants that affect root zone health.

If the grower chooses not to use properly manufactured and designed hydroponics nutrients for marijuana, or grows in soil indoors rather than in some form of hydroponics system, yield and growth rate will be reduced.

Some growers rely on hand-watering instead of pumps, reservoirs and timers. This almost always creates problems, such as plants dying of thirst from drought, or being overwatered.

If the grower chooses to hang grow lights from ceiling hooks using crude hanging materials rather than release-type light hangers or a light stand, then their workload increases because it’s more difficult to adjust light height and keep the lights stable.

And what of climate control? Ideally, an indoor grow op has its own dedicated air conditioner specific to the grow space, a hygrometer/thermometer, a dehumidifier, an exhaust fan, timers, and a carbon scrubber system.

But with a low-tech, low-cost grow op, the grower may choose to omit much of this gear. I’ve seen growers who’ve had no air conditioning at all! As you might expect, indoor grow ops that don’t have the equipment and infrastructure to keep cannabis in its target vapor pressure deficit, temperature and humidity ranges don’t perform as well as climate-controlled grow ops.


Growing cannabis under natural sunlight vs. indoors with an expensive lighting rig is one way to cut costs.

No Compromise: Cannabis Genetics & Nutrients

Growers who endure busts, fires, hurricanes, floods or any natural disaster probably lost their cache of cannabis genetics.

The beleaguered grower might be under the impression they can’t afford to buy premium marijuana seeds or clones, but this way of thinking will ultimately have a negative impact on the quality, quantity and suitability of the buds produced.

I advocate for growing only the most reliable, viable, high-yielding, high-potency marijuana strains.

Five seeds cost less than 10, and one clone costs much less than many clones. Instead of getting cheaper marijuana seeds or clones and harvesting mediocre weed, go for top-shelf quality over quantity.

If all you can afford are a few seeds or a couple of clones of a high-end marijuana strain, that’s better than buying 10 cheaper seeds or five cheaper clones of inferior strains.

Remember, you’ll get females from your marijuana seeds even if you buy regular seeds instead of feminized, and you can turn those plants (or clone females) into mother plants so you don’t have to buy seeds or clones anymore.

Another no-compromise sector is hydroponics nutrients. Cheap nutrients hurt your plants and lower your yields. Go for premium nutrients, even if you have to buy small bottles and not get all the products available for a full-menu feed program.

In the name of saving money in a harsh situation, it isn’t my preference to have to cut costs by rationing the nutrients I purchase and use, but in troubled times I might have to do just that. As Mick Jagger once sang:

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

I leave you with one final bit of hard-earned wisdom: Don’t buy used grow gear, unless you’re absolutely sure it’s as good as new.

I’ve seen cash-strapped growers throw good money after bad, desperate to start a grow op when they didn’t have enough bankroll to buy new grow lights, hydroponics systems, pumps and timers.

Old pumps fail, plants die. Ballasts fail, fires start. Used grow bulbs are worn out and waste electricity. Old reservoirs crack and spill gallons of water, creating risk of electrocution.

Be patient with your desire to grow marijuana. I understand how bad it feels to have a grow op stolen from you by natural or manmade disasters — or the po-po. It could be that the best strategy is to save your money until you can afford new equipment and provide the best growing situation for your plants, given the circumstances.

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