Almost every cannabis lover in my life has considered starting their own casual home grow operation, but few have managed to pull it off. It turns out, it takes a great deal of work! I spoke with some cannabis growers in Portland about what it takes to grow good bud and the mistakes they made along the way. I gathered enough info to ascertain that it’s possible to start a very modest indoor home-grow for around $300.
Know Your Limits
Firstly, don’t get overzealous. Most people I know attempting indoor grows don’t have the adequate space for a huge operation, and there are legal limitations to consider anyway. The Marijuana Legalization Act that voters approved last year allowed adults to grow, cultivate, and process up to six flowering marijuana plants, 12 immature plants and unlimited seedlings in their homes.
But I recommend starting with 2-3 plants for your first grow. Portland apartments can be tiny, and if you're living in one, any more is tad too ambitious. Cannabis plants need enough space to thrive. Start with one plant per square foot, and give them even more space if you intend to extend the flowering stage longer than 6-7 weeks.
Besides, lawmakers on Maine’s marijuana committee passed an amendment to the adult use bill last month that limits the number of flowering plants from six to three, so it’s best not to get ahead of the ever-evolving marijuana law. (Growers who currently have more than that have until November to limit their operation to three plants.)
Invest In The Right Tools
The cannabis plant is pretty damn resilient (it’s called weed for a reason), but it also requires a lot of love and attention. You really can’t just buy a couple flowerings, stick them under a light, forget about them, and expect them to flourish with a high yield. Here’s what growers both casual and professional consider absolutely necessary.
First and foremost, if you want to grow cannabis that’s even a tiny bit comparable to the levels of dankness currently offered in dispensaries and on the “black market,” you’ll need artificial lights. According to one home-grower, the basic rule of thumb is 50 to 75 watts per sq. ft, assuming each plant takes up one square foot. Serious growers are using HID (High-Intensity Discharge) lighting, HPS (High-Pressure Sodium) or MH (Metal Halide) systems, but for a more casual grow just use LEDs — they’re less effective, but cheaper on your electricity bill, easier to manage, and they don’t get as hot as their counterparts.
Whatever LEDs you go with, make sure you’re buying the whole system that comes with a bulbs, reflector, ballast, timer, and electrical inputs/outputs, which allow you to mimic sunlight outdoors and the natural “growing season.” You can pick an LED light system big enough for three plants for around $50-80. Set the timer to be on for 18 hours a day, and off for six during the vegetative stage, and 12 hours on and 12 off for the flowering stage.
Next, buy a grow tent. They harness energy from your lights and enhance vegetative growth, and are perfect for growers living in a studio or small apartment. Pick up a cheap one for about $40 on Amazon, or a more elaborate one with separate chambers for cloning for $180.
Other things you might consider buying — but aren’t completely necessary — are exhaust fans to reduce heat and humidity, and thermometer/hygrometer to keep track of them.
Lastly, you’ll need cannabis seeds — which can be purchased legally online or at dispensaries in Portland for $10 to $15 — and some soil nutrients like Dyna-Gro or Earth Juice for $15 a quart.
Know When To Back Off
Sometimes successfully growing high-yield cannabis plants requires you to step back and let them do their thing. Growers have told me the biggest mistakes they’ve made when starting their operation is overwatering, overfeeding, not providing the proper drainage, and generally messing with the plants too much. Constantly watering, picking leaves, or changing positions of the lights/pots are all stress factors for the plants that you should try to minimize.
Water your plants every 2-3 days and only enough to keep the top inch of topsoil dry. Any more and you’ll suffocate your plants’ roots. Unsure if your plants needs watering? Growers swear by the “lift the pot method” which requires you to lift the pot/bucket and judge by its weight. If the pot feels too light, than it means that the plant has probably used up all the water.
The first signs of overwatering are drooping/wilting leaves, and the first signs of overfeeding are burnt leaf tips. More food does not equal more growth, so don’t get impatient if you’re concerned with your buds not emerging fast enough.
Don’t Skip On Pruning
A first time grower can get about 1.5 ounces of smokable product per plant, but an experienced grower can get a lot more, upwards of a couple pounds. Pruning, the process of cutting or pinching branches just above the node once they’ve begun flowering so the plant spreads out in areas it’s not already occupying, is helps you get the good stuff. Do this early, and often.
Check your pH levels
Make sure you’re monitoring whether or not the water you’re using on your cannabis plants is too acidic or basic. If you don’t, you’ll get sick plants. Ph testing kits are only about $10 and are a hugely important part of the grow process. Ideally you want to use water that is between a pH of 6.0 to 7.0, which allows your plants to absorb the nutrients it needs.
And these tips are really just the tip of the joint — I haven't even touched the topic of harvesting and curing. Growing cannabis the right way takes a lot of work. Do you have what it takes?