Beginner’s Grow Guide
While the laws, limitations and regulations are different for each state, almost every state with some form of legalized marijuana does allow home cultivation to some extent. Even though it’s completely legal, some people do not take advantage of their right to grow cannabis due to the perception that it is too difficult, expensive or time-consuming.
The first step in setting up your personal cannabis grow is creating a suitable space in which to do it. This space doesn’t even need to be a typical room—it can be a closet, tent, cabinet, spare room, or a corner in an unfinished basement. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to tailor your equipment (and plants) to fit the space.
- Step 1: Designate a cannabis grow room or space
- Step 2: Choose your cannabis grow light
- Step 3: Give your cannabis plants air
- Step 4: Pick your climate controls and monitors
- Step 5: Decide on a cannabis grow medium
- Step 6: Pick a container
- Step 7: Feed your cannabis plants nutrients
- Step 8: Water your cannabis plants
Start small and scale up
When starting your first grow project, you’ll want to start small for multiple reasons:
- The smaller the grow, the less expensive it is to set up
- It’s much easier to monitor a few plants than a large number
- Your mistakes as a first-time grower will be less costly
Remember, most new cannabis growers will experience setbacks and lose plants to pests or disease. A failed grow of two plants will put a far smaller dent in your wallet than a lot more plants.
When designing your space, you’ll need to take into account not only the amount of room your plants will need, but also your lights, ducting, fans, and other equipment. You’ll also have to leave enough room for you to work. Cannabis plants can double in size in the early stages of flowering, so make sure you have adequate head space!
If your grow room is a cabinet, tent, or closet, you can simply open it up and remove the plants to work on them; otherwise, you’ll need to make sure you leave yourself some elbow room.
Cleanliness is Crucial
Make sure your space is easily sanitized; cleanliness is important when growing indoors, so easy-to-clean surfaces are a must. Carpeting, drapes, and raw wood are all difficult to clean, so avoid these materials if possible.
Keep it Light-Tight
Another crucial criterion for a grow room is that it be light-tight. Light leaks during dark periods will confuse your plants and can cause them to produce male flowers.
When deciding where to grow your cannabis, keep the following variables in mind:
- Convenience: You’ll need to monitor your plants carefully. Checking on them every day is important, and beginners will want to check in several times per day until they have everything dialed in. If your room is hard to access, this crucial step will be difficult.
- Temperature and humidity concerns: If your grow space is already very warm or very humid, you’ll have issues controlling your grow environment. Choosing a cool, dry area with ready access to fresh air from the outdoors is highly recommended.
- Stealth: You’ll most likely want to conceal your grow from nosy neighbors and potential thieves, so be sure to pick a place where noisy fans won’t garner any unwanted attention.
The quality of light in your grow room will be the number one environmental factor in the quality and quantity of your yield, so it’s a good idea to choose the best lighting setup you can afford.
Here’s a brief rundown of the most popular types of cannabis grow lights used for indoor growing.
HID grow lights
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HID (high-intensity discharge) lights are the industry standard, widely used for their combination of output, efficiency, and value. They cost a bit more than incandescent or fluorescent fixtures, but produce far more light per unit of electricity used. Conversely, they are not as efficient as LED lighting, but they cost as little as one-tenth as much for comparable units.
The two main types of HID lamp used for growing are:
- Metal Halide (MH), which produce light that is blue-ish white and are generally used during vegetative growth.
- High pressure sodium (HPS), which produce light that is more on the red-orange end of the spectrum and are used during the flowering stage.
In addition to bulbs, HID lighting setups require a ballast and hood/reflector for each light. Some ballasts are designed for use with either MH or HPS lamps, while many newer designs will run both.
If you can’t afford both MH and HPS bulbs, start with HPS as they deliver more light per watt. Magnetic ballasts are cheaper than digital ballasts, but run hotter, are less efficient, and harder on your bulbs. Digital ballasts are generally a better option, but are more expensive. Beware of cheap digital ballasts, as they are often not well shielded and can create electromagnetic interference that will affect radio and WiFi signals.
Unless you’re growing in a large, open space with a lot of ventilation, you’ll need air-cooled reflector hoods to mount your lamps in, as HID bulbs produce a lot of heat. This requires ducting and exhaust fans, which will increase your initial cost but make controlling the temperature in your grow room much easier.
Fluorescent grow lights
Fluorescent light fixtures, particularly those using high-output (HO) T5 bulbs, are quite popular with small scale hobby growers for the following reasons:
- They tend to be cheaper to set up, as reflector, ballast, and bulbs are included in a single package
- They don’t require a cooling system since they don’t generate near the amount of heat that HID setups do
The main drawback is that fluorescent lights are less efficient, generating about 20-30% less light per watt of electricity used. Space is another concern, as it would require approximately 19 four-foot long T5 HO bulbs to equal the output of a single 600 watt HPS bulb.
LED grow lights
Light emitting diode (LED) technology has been around for a while, but only recently has it been adapted to create super efficient light fixtures for indoor growing. The main drawback to LED grow lights is their cost: well designed fixtures can cost 10 times what a comparable HID setup would. The benefits are that LEDs last much longer, use far less electricity, create less heat, and the best designs generate a fuller spectrum of light, which can lead to bigger yields and better quality.
Unfortunately, there are many shoddy LED lights being produced and marketed towards growers, so do some research and read product reviews before laying down your hard-earned cash.
Induction grow lights
Induction lamps, otherwise known as electrodeless fluorescent lamps, are another old technology that has been recently adapted to suit the needs of indoor growers. Invented by Nikola Tesla in the late 1800s, the induction lamp is essentially a more efficient, longer-lasting version of the fluorescent bulb. The main drawback of these fixtures is their price and availability.
Plants need fresh air to thrive, and carbon dioxide (CO2) is essential to the process of photosynthesis. This means you will need a steady stream of air flowing through your grow room, easily achieved by means of an exhaust fan placed near the top of the room to remove the warmer air, and a filtered air inlet on the opposite side near the floor.
You’ll need to ensure that temperatures remain within a comfortable range for your plants, between 70-85°F when lights are on and between 58-70°F when they are off. Some varieties of cannabis (generally indica strains) prefer the colder side of the range, while others are more tolerant of higher temperatures.
The size of your exhaust fan will depend on the size of your grow space and amount of heat generated by your lighting system. HID systems put out a ton of heat, especially if they aren’t mounted in air-cooled hoods. People who live in warmer regions will often run their lights at night in an effort to keep temperatures in their grow down.
It’s advisable to set up your lights, turn them on for a while, and then determine how much airflow you’ll need to maintain a comfortable temperature for your plants. This will allow you to choose an exhaust fan suitable for your needs. If the odor of cannabis plants in bloom will cause you problems, add a charcoal filter to your exhaust fan.
Alternately, you can create a sealed, artificial environment by using an air conditioner, dehumidifier, and supplemental CO2 system, but this is quite expensive and not recommended for the first-time grower.
Finally, it’s a good idea to have a constant light breeze in your grow room as this strengthens your plants’ stems and creates a less hospitable environment for mold and flying pests. A wall-mounted circulating fan works well for this purpose — just don’t point it directly at your plants, because that can cause windburn.