Everything You Need to Grow Cannabis
All over the country, states are legalizing cannabis and making it possible for enthusiasts to grow their own weed legally. Many new growers have the enthusiasm and the drive, but lack the experience necessary to grow great cannabis. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right place. This guide is here tell you everything you need to know to get started growing cannabis at home. While this is not an exhaustive list of every option out there, it will get you started with basic directions and materials needed.
You have a few choices to make before you begin. Do you want to have an indoor grow op, or outdoor? How many plants do you want to grow, and how much space can you dedicate to your new garden? Take stock of your home situation as well as your financial situation before you get started so that you can make a reasonable budget for the time, expenses and space that your garden will take up.
Indoor grow ops will be more expensive to start, because you have to buy hydroponic equipment such as lights, fans, trays, reservoirs and pumps, and grow tents or grow cabinets, not to mention the added cost of electricity. But, growing indoors has the advantages of a controlled environment, a potentially larger crop, and convenience if you do not have land. Outdoor growing is exceptionally cheap and easy if you have fertile soil and a nice sunny spot for your garden, but you only get one growing season per year and if you do not have a lot of space it can definitely decrease the size of your harvest.
If you haven’t already, familiarize yourself with the basic parts of the plant and the chemical constituents of cannabis. This will help you understand some of the more complex aspects to growing, such as lighting schedules, troubleshooting when plants are not doing well, determining the sex of your plants to make sure you have all females, etc. If you are afraid of doing something wrong and ruining your harvest, put those worries to rest! Growing cannabis is easy, after all that is why it is called “weed!” You may not end up with dispensary-quality crop the first go round, but even the smallest harvest is a great reward when it came from your own grow op.
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Growing Weed Outdoors
Planting a cannabis garden outdoors is a great option if you have land or even a balcony that gets plenty of sunlight. Weed needs full sun to grow, so make sure that you pick a spot that is not shady at all. If you are planting directly in the ground, your soil should be very fertile, dark and loamy before planting. If you have poor soil, amend it with composted manure at least one season before planting. The soil needs to have good drainage as well, so that the roots can fully dry out in between watering. You can also easily grow weed on a balcony or porch using potted containers or grow trays. Purchase pots that are at least one gallon in size so that your plants have plenty of room to grow roots. You can use regular potting soil, amended with some gravel or sand for good drainage.
- Clones: Clones are baby plants or seedlings. Check your local dispensaries or craigslist boards to find the strains you want to grow.
- Fertilizer: You can either buy premade liquid fertilizer (a better option for hydroponics) or use your own compost or compost tea.
- Water: A natural water source or well is the best option. Try not to use fluoridated or chemically treated municipal water sources, because those chemicals will end up in your buds. If you must use tap water, filter it first. You can either water your plants manually or use a drip irrigation system for more convenience and accuracy.
- Garlic: This is the best organic, all natural pesticide and fungicide you can use. Just blend up a few cloves of organically grown garlic with water, let it soak overnight, then strain and use a mister to spray your plants once a week or more as needed to prevent and treat mold, mites and other pests.
- Protection: Depending on where you live, you may want to build a fence around your garden to protect it from deer, gophers and other animals who might want a snack.
- Monitoring: If you want to get really technical, you can purchase a 4-in-1 measurement tool that reads your soil’s pH, moisture level, temperature and sunlight intensity. This can help determine if you are watering too much or too little, if your soil is properly draining or if you need to use more or less fertilizer or a different type.
When to Plant:
The best time to transplant your clones depends on where you live. Unlike most garden variety fruit and vegetables, temperature is not as important as sunlight. You can grow cannabis in very cold temperatures as long as it gets enough sun. The goal is to prevent the plant from going into the flowering stage of growth as long as possible so that it gets nice and big before growing buds. To keep it in a vegetative state of growth, the plants need to get at least 12 hours of full sun per day. As soon as the sunlight falls below 12 hours per day, they will enter the flowering stage. You can let the plant stay in vegetative growth for a few weeks or a few months depending on your preference and how soon you get the plants in the ground.
It is important to keep your plants well watered, but it is just as important to make sure that they do not get “wet feet.” The roots need to dry out completely in between watering. One way to check if they are getting too much or too little water is to check the leaves – they should spike towards the sun. If the leaves are completely flat or drooping, you need to adjust your watering schedule. Automatic watering systems with timers really help if you have this issue.
Growing Cannabis Indoors
If you are growing indoors, you have a lot of different options available as far as your grow system goes. If you want to keep it super simple, you can grow your cannabis in pots by a sunny window the same as you would outside on a balcony. You can also add hydroponic lighting if you want to control the vegetative/flowering stages more closely. Or, with a full hydroponics system you can create a fully customized growing environment for your plants.
There are as many ways to set up a hydroponics system as there are gardeners, but the most popular set ups are flood and drain or modified drip irrigation. These are the best options for cannabis because they allow plants to dry out completely in between watering, unlike some other hydroponics systems that keep the roots constantly wet with nutrient solution. This can be good for growing vegetables but is not ideal for cannabis. We’ll go over flood and drain and drip irrigation in detail below.
When growing indoors it is important to stay on top of pests. You need to recognize the signs of infestation and get rid of them before they have a chance to ruin your crop. Some common signs to look out for are smell (watch out for a moldy odor), white spots on the leaves, or black spots on the leaves. Pay close attention to your plants and research anything that seems off. One of the best preventative measures is to use a garlic spray regularly to make the plants unattractive to pests before they ever have a chance to move in.
Flood and Drain
Flood and drain, or ebb and flow, is definitely the most popular hydroponics method out there. This system works by flooding a tray full of weed plants in perforated pots with nutrient solution and then draining it back into a reservoir. The plants are flooded at different time intervals based on lighting, number of plants, plant size, temperature, humidity, etc. It takes some experience to get the schedule right, but the basic goal here is to give your plants the maximum amount of nutrients while still allowing the roots to oxygenate (aka dry out) fully in between flooding intervals.
- Clones: Check dispensaries or local craigslist boards.
- Reservoir: This is where you store the water and nutrients that will flood your grow tray.
- Flood tray: Your plants go in the flood tray.
- Submersible pump: You will also need tubing.
- Nutrient solution
- pH Up/Down solution: Keep your nutrient solution pH at a steady 5 to 6 depending on the strain.
- Perforated pots
- Garlic solution (crush up a few cloves, soak in water overnight, and strain) and mister
- Hydroponic lights:The kind of light you purchase depends on the size of your system and how much you want to spend. LED lights are the most expensive but last the longest, are full spectrum and use very little electricity. You will definitely get your money’s worth out of an LED lighting set up. HIDs are the classic choice but they burn out quickly and use a lot of power. Fluorescents also work, but only for vegetative growth, as they are not full spectrum. T5 lights are the most common fluorescents for hydroponics.
- 2 Timers: You will need a timer for both the lights and the water pump.
- Grow medium: Options include coconut coir (fiber from coconuts), hydroton (small clay balls), and perlite (volcanic material). The most important factors here is to have a growing medium that is pH neutral and has good drainage.
- Ventilation: This could be as simple as an open window, or it could mean small clip on fans, high powered fans or in-line fans and ducting, depending on your set up.
You can also buy a ready-made flood and drain hydroponics kit that includes everything you need to set up a garden right away.
Flood and drain systems can be as simple or complex as you need them to be. You can start out small with a single tray and a few plants and grow your system as you go, adding additional trays and lights and other equipment as needed. When your system gets big enough that it becomes hard to manage, or if you want to go fully automatic at any point you can can add in automatic humidity controllers, pH balancers and more to make it a hands-free operation.
Drip Irrigation Systems
Drip irrigation hydroponics systems combine features of outdoor growing and flood and drain systems for the best of both worlds. This system is a great water saver, because unlike other hydroponics set ups, you use only exactly as much water and nutrients as the plants need, without having to re-use nutrient solution until it is spent and then run the water down the drain. Drip systems allow for a more controlled release of solution and create less waste.
The materials needed for a drip system are basically the same as a flood and drain. Instead of flooding the tray however, you would hook the pump up to a drip line system and place an emitter over each individual plant. Set the timer, and you are good to go! Or, as a much easier alternative you can purchase an all-in-one drip irrigation system instead of building one yourself.
Harvesting and Processing
When should you harvest your cannabis crop? Like so many other questions in gardening, this depends on what kind of system you are using, your climate, when you planted, and a ton of other variables. If anyone every tells you that you must harvest your weed after a set number of days or weeks, do not listen to them! You can use a general time line for your particular strain or climate as a guide, but you should rely more on your senses to tell when the plants are ready.
After your plants go into the flowering stage of growth, they are headed towards harvest. You will start to see large buds develop and the trichomes will start looking sticky with resin. Spend time with your plants every day so that you can notice the subtle changes in color, size and aroma that will indicate when they are ready to harvest. When the trichomes start turning orange, harvest is getting close. The buds should be sticky, swollen and shiny with resin and about 1/4 of the trichomes should be amber colored when the plants are ready to harvest. It helps to use a magnifying glass when you inspect the trichomes.
Materials Needed for Harvest:
- First, cut off the major branches at the stem. The bigger the better, but it depends how much space you have to dry your plants. If you do not have a lot of space it is OK to cut smaller pieces.
- Cut the leaves off (optional). You can either cut the leaves off individually with scissors or a utility knife before hanging the plants to dry, or leave them on while you dry the buds. Connoisseurs prefer cutting leaves off before drying, but the end result is not much different. You can use a tumbler to remove the leaves once dried
- Use the string and nails or clothesline to hang the plants up in a well ventilated room. You may need to add additional fans if the room feels muggy or damp. Your drying room should be cool and dry at all times – mold is your worst enemy at this point!
At this point, you should decide what you want to do with your buds. Do you want to smoke them or process them into cannabis oil, cannabutter for brownies and other treats, or tincture? If you want to smoke the buds, continue with the steps below. If you prefer one of the other methods, see below for more information on each.
Curing the Buds
- Within a few days to a week, your buds will start to feel crispy to the touch on the outside. At this point, cut them off of the stems and place them in paper bags (only fill each bag 1/4 full)
- Keeping the bags open, shake them a few times per day and make sure no moisture collects. After a few days, reduce to shaking once per day. Use your discretion here and keep a close eye on the moisture levels.
- When the buds start to feel like they are only moist on the very inside of the bud, the next step is to roll the bags shut. Continue opening the bags each day and shaking them, one or two times a day as needed. This step becomes easier with experience. Again, just make sure that the buds never sit in the bags long enough to gather moisture.
- After a few days in the rolled-shut bags, transfer the buds to your canning jars (cleaned and dried, of course). Fill the jars 3/4 full with flowers and screw on the lid.
- Take the lids off of each jar and lightly agitate them for a few minutes every day, starting a few times a day and working your way down. Watch for condensation on the inside of the jar, this is your sign to ventilate the buds. Work your way down to agitating once a day, then once every other day, then once every three days and so on.
- This process can take a few weeks up to a few months depending on your environment and the season. This is a very delicate process and needs constant attention or you may ruin your crop.
- Your finished buds should have a pleasant, Christmasy smell to them. This is another one of those things that comes with experience and you will improve over time. If at any point you smell a moldy or mildewy smell coming from the jars, throw your crop out because it is ruined! This is why it is so important to keep on top of it and never let moisture build up.
Processing Buds with Solvents
If you do not have the time, patience or experience to cure your buds into smokeable quality, you have a lot of other options at your disposal using solvents. You can make cannabis oil, cannabutter, or tinctures.
Cannabis Oil: Check out our in depth guide to making cannabis oil using alcohol as a solvent. This gives you a super concentrated, medicinal quality product with an extremely long shelf life. It can be used on its own as an edible, added to food, or even smoked using a vaporizer.
Cannabutter: In our article explaining how to make pot brownies, we go over all the steps you need to follow to make cannabutter. Cannabutter is the most common solvent form of weed that is made because it is by far the easiest and cheapest method. If you don’t like butter you could use other cooking oils like olive oil or coconut oil. You can cook with any of these exactly the same as you would use regular oil, or you can even use it to make lotions or salves.
Tincture: This is a high potency alcohol solution that you use drop by drop. All you need to do is pack the dried buds and leaves into a large glass jar 3/4 of the way full, pour everclear or vodka over the plant material to fill the jar, cap it and wait 4-6 weeks. This makes an extremely potent liquid that should only be used a few drops at a time – no shot glasses full!
Liniment: Don’t throw those branches and twigs away! You can use them to make a linament for sore muscles or injuries (not to be used on broken skin). Just follow the instructions for making a tincture, but instead use chopped up stems and rubbing alcohol.
Want to find the best materials for your cannabis grow op, including lighting, fans, grow tents and grow cabinets and more? We have put together easy to use lists of the best equipment available for marijuana growers. Check out our posts about the best hydroponic lighting, including fluorescent bulbs, T5 fluorescents, LED lights, and everything else you need to grow great weed. You can even find ready-made hydroponic grow systems and watering systems that let you set up your grow op in less than a day.