Here we will take a broad look at the entire grow process. So, if you want to learn more about any of the topics discussed here, be sure to check out the individual chapters where we will tackle each topic in more detail.
Why Grow Your Own Cannabis?
Cost: Over time, growing is always cheaper than buying
Discrete: You never have to go to a dispensary
Safety: You know exactly what is in your plants
Consistency: You can grow as much as you need
There is also one benefit that is typically overlooked: by having access to the entire plant, you have a lot more options when deciding how to harvest and process the plant. This goes far beyond just being able to control how to trim, dry, and cure your buds. From being able to use the fan leaves in salads or breaking down the stalk and stems for manufacturing, to being able to create seeds for future grows, or having the option to not even dry a plant and just create live resin concentrates with a freshly harvested plant, by having full control of the grow and access to the plant at all stages of the life cycle, the number and types of products you can make are limitless.
Setup Costs, Space Required, Time Needed and Expected Yields
For upfront setup cost: If you are growing outdoors, a basic grow will cost around $50 for gardening supplies, fertilizer, and seed. Indoors, a basic small one plant grow tent setup should run around $200, while a more advanced setup suited for multiple plants, including a carbon filter to remove the plant smell, will run around $500.
In terms of how much space is needed, a cannabis plant will continue to grow indefinitely as long as it stays in the vegetative stage, so it doesn’t matter if you are starting with a small grow tent or a large closet, because either way you can always train a plant to conform to your grow space. With that said, you will need at a minimum a 1ʹx1ʹx4ʹ space to yield a respectable harvest from one plant. For recurring costs, if growing outdoors, utilities include the cost of water, which is practically free. For indoor grows, the cost of electricity per grow will vary from setup to setup, but on average, it should run around $50 per plant for a typical 3-month grow cycle.
For expected yields, an outdoor plant that was planted in the spring and harvested in the fall, with no grow techniques used, should provide at least 5 oz of dried buds. Indoors, a 3-month growth cycle in a small grow setup should yield at least 1 oz of dried buds, while larger grow setups can yield significantly more per plant when grown longer. The best part is, as you gain more experience and utilize more advanced grow techniques, the yield per plant will keep going up.
The Cannabis Plant
Cannabis is an annual plant, which means that in the wild, it will typically only go through the entire life cycle once a year. So, whether you are planning on growing indoors or outdoors, the key is to be able to reproduce what the plant expects from its natural outdoor habitat for it to develop optimally. The typical life cycle of a cannabis plant starts from a seed, germinates into a seedling, continues to grow larger in the vegetative stage and then finally blooms in the flowering stage.
Cannabis plants are also separated by male and female plants. The female plants are the only ones that flower with buds producing the trichomes containing cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). While the cannabinoids also produce a lot of other chemical compounds, THC and CBD are the two that are well known to provide the psychedelic and medicinal benefits typically associated with cannabis. On the other hand, the male plants contain almost no cannabinoids, and instead, only produce pollen sacs to pollinate the female flowers to create seeds.
Now, that might sound like a great idea to have both male and female plants around to be able to produce both buds and seeds, but the problem is that when a female plant is pollinated, she will focus all her energy on creating seeds and stop producing cannabinoids. So, unless your goal in growing cannabis is to make cannabis seeds, you do not want male plants in your grow space. Note that this isn’t as big of an issue for new growers as it used to be because of the availability of feminized seeds, which are seeds that only produce female plants. Also, when starting a grow with seeds, on top of feminized seeds, you will also need to know about the 2 major types of seed strains available: a “regular” photoperiod variety and an “autoflowering” ruderalis variety.
The ‘regular’ photoperiod plants are more common and have a life cycle that is based purely on the amount of lighting the plant receives. So, for example, outdoors the plant will grow in the vegetative cycle during the spring and summer months when there is plenty of sunlight throughout the day. When the plant detects less sunlight in the fall and winter, the plant will go into the flowering cycle. Indoors, photoperiod plants will stay in the vegetative stage as long as the plant receives 13 or more hours of light a day and will switch to the flowering stage when the plant receives 12 hours or less of light a day.
The automatic ruderalis plant will go through its life cycle based purely on the age of the plant, no matter how much sunlight it gets, and it will generally go through the entire plant life cycle slightly quicker than that of a photoperiod plant, generally finishing the entire growth cycle in 2−3 months.
Both types have their advantages. Autoflowering plants have short life cycles for quick harvests and they don’t have any strict lighting schedule requirements, which works great for off-season outdoor grows, while the regular plants are easier to control, so they’re much more mistake-friendly and will yield significantly more with a longer vegetative stage.
Another way to grow cannabis is with clones. Clones are any stem of a cannabis plant that, when cut and planted, will grow new roots and become a copy of the original plant. This method completely skips the seed and seedling stage of the plant’s life cycle, which saves time as well as guarantees that the plant will have all the same traits and be the same sex as the plant it was cut from. Clones are great because of those reasons; however, for most people, access to another cannabis plant to obtain clones is usually not an option, although once you have your first plant from a seed, you can start taking clones from it. Also, only regular photoperiod plants can be cloned.
An Optimal Environment Below Ground
Now that we’ve covered the basics of a cannabis plant, let us take a look at the environment a cannabis plant will need to thrive, starting with what’s beneath the plant: the grow mediums and nutrients the plant needs. There is a wide range of grow mediums available, with one end being the most traditional route of soil and the other end utilizing all the advances in growing technologies with hydroponics.
Each grow medium has their pros and cons, but generally, the closer you get to the composted organic soil, the simpler it is to start and maintain, which is great for beginners because soil is more forgiving to mistakes, such as over- and under-watering. Soil buffers the roots from temperature spikes, and is cheaper to start out. The closer you move towards the advanced hydroponic setups, the more complex and expensive it gets, but with more control, it leads to quicker grows and larger plants for the experienced grower. Due to this, we will be focusing on soil grows, as overall it is much more beginner-friendly.
As for the nutrients a plant needs, there are three major ones you will need to know: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). While cannabis will require about the same amount of potassium throughout its entire life cycle, as it is responsible in helping with overall plant functions, it will need more nitrogen in the vegetative stage and then more phosphorus in the flowering stage. This is because nitrogen helps with leaf and stem growth, which happens mostly in the vegetative stage, and phosphorus helps with flower and fruit development, which is essential during the flowering stage.
Cannabis also requires a much smaller amount of other nutrients; these are usually abundant enough in soil and tap water to not have to include with soil grows, but they will be needed with hydroponic grows, which is the key difference between hydroponic nutrients and soil nutrients.
An Optimal Environment Above Ground
Now, above ground, we will need to recreate a favorable environment for the plant, which includes the right range of temperatures, humidity, fresh air, and lighting.
The first big thing to consider is the air, more specifically the carbon dioxide in the air. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. So, without a fresh air source, the plants will suffocate, which is not an issue for outdoor growers. But for indoor growers, you will need a way to constantly cycle in a fresh air source.
The temperature and humidity of the air are also important. When starting out, cannabis plants like to be around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the daytime with a humidity range of 50%-70%. Once the plants are in the flower cycle, they are used to slightly cooler temperatures of 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and a lower humidity range of 30%−60%.
If your grow environment is slightly out of this range don’t worry as cannabis plants can usually handle a variance of plus or minus 10 degrees or 10% humidity at the cost of slower growth, but anything more than that will need to be corrected or it may drastically impact the health of your plants.
As for light, the light intensity and the amount of lighting a day a plant receives is usually the most important factor in how fast a plant grows. Because of this, the longer and brighter the light a plant receives, the larger and faster it will grow up to a certain point. Outdoors plant’s can’t receive “too much” light from the sun so the longer the better, but indoors, it is possible to overdo it with the grow lights, so be sure to follow manufacture guidelines on how much space a grow light will cover.
Light is also important because, as mentioned earlier, regular photoperiod plants will only stay in the vegetative state as long as they receive more than 12 hours of lighting a day. In fact, if a photoperiod plant receives 12 hours of lighting a day or less starting from a seed the plant will go straight to the flowering stage, completely skipping the vegetative stage, resulting in a significantly smaller harvest. Automatic ruderalis plants do not have this issue though, which is why these type of plants are able to reach maturity faster than regular plants because they are allowed more than 12 hours of light a day during the flowering cycle. In fact, cannabis plants do not even require a night cycle and are able to grow 24 hours a day under lights, although for most grow spaces, constant light is not practical due to electrical and heat constraints, which is why 18 hours a day is typically recommended.
As for lighting options, if you are growing outdoors, just be sure to place the plant in a sunny spot where it can get the most sunlight throughout the day. If growing indoors, there are three common options for lighting: high intensity discharge lights, fluorescent lights, and LED lights. Each has their pros and cons, but because of the constant drop in LED pricing, the pros of LED lighting typically outweigh the other 2 lighting types for new growers because of their low costs, ease of setup, low electricity requirements, and low heat output while providing an intensive light.
Other Things to Consider Before You Start
If you are trying to keep a grow discrete, the smell of a cannabis plant is very noticeable in the flowering cycle, especially if grown indoors. Luckily, there are ways to mitigate and eliminate the smell with the a carbon filter and inline fan setup, so this will need to be taken into consideration if odor control is going to be an issue.
Also for indoor grow spaces, inline fan noise and total electrical draw is something that most new growers don’t think about until the equipment is already installed. Before designing your setup, if you are planning on utilizing an inline fan and noise is going to be an issue, you will want to look into noise-reducing products such as noise-reduction clamps, a soundproofing wrap, or a speed controllable inline fan to mitigate as much noise as possible. Electrical draw of all the equipment, especially because of the watt intensive grow lights, will also need to be added up beforehand, as it might be too much for a single electrical outlet. It is important to check your electrical box to ensure the outlet you are using can handle the total electrical draw.
Did this guide help? This article was taken directly from The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Growing Cannabis book, so if you like the advice above you'll love the rest of the book, which includes a lot of exclusive content not found anywhere else. You can find both the e-book and paperback copy on Amazon, and it's free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription!