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Sustainable Gardening Practices for Growing Cannabis

January 10, 2017
Indoor Marijuana Leaf under lights
Growing and maintaining your very own indoor cannabis garden can easily burn a hole through your pocket. Between frequent visits to a hardware store and the local hydroponics shop/garden center, building out and maintaining even a small home grow can be quite expensive. Add on recurring monthly utility expenses and the inevitable costs of growing and maintaining a cannabis grow with changing seasons and the final overhead can quickly burn a hole through your “budget grow.”


Why Buy at the Dispensary When You Can Grow Cannabis at Home for Cheaper?

One way to heavily reduce overhead in your garden is to incorporate sustainability practices throughout your operation. Every decision you make in your grow, from the lighting you choose to the medium you plan to grow in, will have a variable impact on your spending over time. Listed are a few helpful, cost-effective strategies to consider for incorporating sustainable practices into your indoor cannabis garden

Cannabis Grow Lights With Lower Energy Output

sustainable cannabis gardening tip: grow lights with lower energy output

If you’re running a small grow, say a less than 1000w light system, chances are you aren’t overly concerning yourself with the electrical nuances. However, having a basic understanding of the electrical system in your home can give you a great advantage when setting up the most cost-effective garden possible.

Here’s an example: Most homes are equipped primarily with 110v circuits, though in areas such as the kitchen and bathrooms, there are often 220v circuits. This is because your refrigerator and washer/dryer tend to run at 220v. If you’re running these circuits at 80% capacity (the recommended max), at 110v, you’re afforded just under 1800w of available power, doubling that number for 220v. Between a light system, fans, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, heaters, and the variety of other energy-sucking mechanisms at play in your garden, running up wattage may be easier to do than you thought.


Four Steps to Picking the Right Grow Lights

Consider growing with lights that require less energy, such as LED systems, ceramic metal halide or LEC (light emitting ceramic) lights. Many growers prefer to spend the extra money up front for these lights in order to save more over time in their energy bill. Dollar for dollar, LEDs are the most sustainably cost-effective solution for lighting in an indoor home grow. LECs are not too far behind either, with a 300w system producing results similar to what most 600w HID systems will give you.

When incorporating climate control solutions into your garden, consider natural solutions. Many times, creating airflow pathways in and out of your garden can reduce temperatures to the point where air conditioner units become unnecessary. Practices such as running lights at night are also a great way to take advantage of the natural cool air. By reducing the need for various devices, you’re naturally bringing your energy bill down while alleviating your circuits from unnecessary stress.

Sustainable Cannabis Grow Mediums

sustainable cannabis gardening tip: sustainable grow mediums

Another cost-effective strategy is to incorporate the most sustainable grow medium possible into your regimen. No-till, organic gardening practices are a great way to make your garden more sustainable. By building and maintaining an active food web within your soil, containers almost never need to be changed out between grows; simply remove the root ball and re-transplant.

Organic gardening is much less expensive in that proper super soils require little to no amendments over time — their nutrients are readily available within the soil. Feeding regimens for an all-organic grow are often simply reverse osmosis water, and that’s it, thus, eliminating the need for expensive nutrients that must be refilled over time.


How to Grow Organic Cannabis at Home

Many organic garden remedies can be concocted using simple everyday household ingredients, another cost-effective way of eliminating expensive small bottles that seem to disappear all too quickly.

Cloning Cannabis for Perpetual Growers

Marijuana plants in a cloning machine

Heading to your local dispensary to pick up new clones or seeds after every grow season can be costly. One way to reduce overhead over time is to create your own cloning regimen within your garden. The initial upfront cost for a small cloning space can be surprisingly low if you stick to the basics. Over time, having a perpetual garden equipped with a cloning area will save you hundreds of dollars in seed/clone costs.


How to clone cannabis plants

To get started with cloning you will need a small t5 fluorescent light (24” will do just fine). You’re also going to need a cloning tray with a dome in order to retain proper relative humidity for the clones to root out. A few other helpful items to purchase up front are cloning gels, aerated grow mediums such as coco or rock wool cubes, thermometers and hygrometers, and a sterilized blade of some sort.

Again, the upfront cost of these items may set you back a few dollars, but this will save you lots of money over time. More expensive cloning units are available and may be a solid investment if you plan on incorporating cloning into your long-term grow plan.

The Power of DIY Cannabis Gardens  

sustainable cannabis gardening tip: DIY garden

With grow technology advancing at a rapid pace, it becomes easy to rely on new innovations to outfit our gardens with the latest products. Keep in mind, however, that while some purchases are unavoidable, you don’t necessarily have to break the bank in order to get your grow started. If you have the time to invest, consider a DIY buildout as a cost-effective way to manage your low overhead garden. DIY projects almost always require less monetary investment so long as you’re willing to add a little elbow grease.

Keep in mind that DIY grow builds may have some learning curves to overcome. Luckily, with the Internet at our fingertips, and a large community of DIY growers eager to share their information, you should be able to find a blueprint to any given project relatively easily.

Sometimes, getting creative is what it takes to reduce overhead in your garden. With these four basic cost-effective strategies, hopefully you’ll be able to build a more sustainable grow that will end up saving you in the long run. By reducing your energy output through smart purchases and careful planning, choosing a sustainable grow medium, incorporating cloning techniques, and embracing the power of DIY, you can substantially bring down your overhead over time.

Patrick Bennett's Bio Image

Patrick Bennett

Patrick lives with his wife and daughter in Denver, where he spends his time writing, photographing, and creating content for the cannabis community.

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  • JP

    I wanted to simply help out the growing community with a few tips on staying legal, first this article recommends using 220v/240v electrical for your lighting but this is completely illegal. At least in a resididential home.nwe are not all mmj growers here. Next you need express permission from your fire marshal to use metal halide or HPS bulbs. Which are expensive on 120v anyway, $60 a month for flower, double for veg. Then your zoning matters!!! I repeat your zoning matters!! Most localities won’t allow a flora grow in. R1 or R2 residencies, not just cannabis but any flora. You must follow ALL state and local laws, meaning you need to read your city code, yes you have a city code, it’s long, read it. In there it probably states no funny or uncertain smells may permeate to public space, ventilation with carbon filters is a requirement to achieve this ordinance. Please follow your laws, stay legal people it matters..

    • Rich Nelson

      Great points! …most people don’t know about said laws …but if your growing at home it might be smart to do so

      • Hseus

        It is up to regular people to join their city councils and get these disgusting overreaches of municipal jurisdiction removed from legislation/by-laws.

        I fear it will literally come to the point where people who are for freedom will have to take up arms against those that would dictate how everyone should live their lives. The anti-cannabis crowd seems dead-set on a civil war over a non-toxic plant.

        • Robert Wayne

          Where are the Musicians who protested in the 60s, 70s,? We need to March on DC. Make it an event so big it can not be ignored. Vote out old time assholes, find reps who support legal weed.

    • Brian Prewett

      Hard to stay legal when Possession of Seeds is still illegal in Montana. Hard to stay legal when you can only possess 1 ounce of dried bud. The biggest plant I’ve grown was about 30 ounces after it was trimmed, dried, and cured. Hard to stay legal when legal is completely clueless and illogical.
      In order to ‘stay legal’ I have to clone for a week, grow for 2 weeks, flower for 2 months. Which makes a constant cycle of endless cloning and way more work than it has to be. End up spending $1,000’s a month…

      Ignoring the ‘laws’ 6 plants in the ground in the springtime… spend about 12 hours total through the summer tending them… then harvest a year supply in the fall. Total cost of less than $200, including my time…

      We need to kick out every lawmaker that has signed off on these predatory laws. Ban them from office for life. Their job is to make laws that are in the best interests of the people of the United States of America. The laws they are making are proof enough that they are not working in our best interests.

    • Brian Prewett

      If you follow ALL the laws… you wouldn’t be able to grow in Montana.
      Our wonderful lawmakers that pretended to be farmers before they went into politics forgot about seeds.
      The possession of seeds is illegal in Montana.

  • Brian Prewett

    With lighting Dollar for Dollar… SUNLIGHT is the optimal choice. 1 summertime crop can last all year long and costs under $100 if you do it outside. 4 foot tall, 20 foot long steel cattle panels are $20 each… Make them into an upside down U shape and you have a secure greenhouse that doesn’t cost much. If you have to do it indoors, 600 watt lights have the optimum electrical efficiency due to the losses in the conversion from 110/220 power supplies. Old wiring can ignite under the strain caused by 1000 watt lights…If it’s built before the 90’s… figure 1200 to 1500 watts for max… (not per Socket… but per Breaker)… ALWAYS spend the extra $10 for the Safety Glass on the reflector, cause it sucks cleaning the glass from popped bulbs out of everything (including the plants under the bulb)… LED lights have really been the only choice for lighting for the past decade, despite the old HID/MH technology being easy to obtain since they’ve got entire warehouses of them all mass-produced up, collecting dust on the shelves. If you’re handy with tools and such, you can save yourself about 50% of the costs of building a system… if you build your own… Cost of a bucket, grommet, hose, air pump, water pump, rocks… $50 (you gotta drill a 1/4 inch hole all by yourself)… vs prebuilt exact same system $80+… Somehow shipping ends up being like $20 for a 5 gallon bucket(so go to Home Depot/local store and buy the bucket for $5 or less) Or, just grow it outside like a normal plant in your garden.

  • Brian Prewett

    For clones… Use a bottle. 16 ounce Ice Tea bottles to 2 liter bottles…clear gallon jug is about the biggest you want to try. Poke 4 holes in the sides about 2 inches from the bottom. Cut the top off(there’s usually a ring or a spot you can cut it at, or cut off, so that the top will slide back over the bottom. Use a needle and thread through the holes to suspend a cube in the center(not touching the bottom). Put your cutting in the cube, fill with bottled water to just barely above the bottom of the cube, set the lid on the top, then put the whole bottle in your grow room(16+ hours of light), or under a small light source, or in a summertime windowsill… within a week you’ll see roots growing. When the roots start, it’s time to Open the top of the bottle. Give it a day or 2 with the lid off, then remove the whole top. It’s now ready to grow.

    Bam… you just made a clone, without using any chemicals. (Now, read the bottle of cloning junk you were using…See how it says…For Ornamental and Non Food use only… THAT MEANS DO NOT USE THIS JUNK TO CLONE PLANTS THAT ARE GOING TO BE CONSUMED FOR MEDICINAL PURPOSES.)
    Do what you want… that’s just my opinion. I just turned 40 this year, been growing since I was 12 after I cracked my skull a couple times and doctors were like, “You’re going to have to deal with headaches for the rest of your life. But, we can’t give you any more of our medicine or your internal organs will liquefy.”…

  • Thank you for the interesting article. We have developed a financial model for a cannabis cultivation business, including indoor, greenhouse and outdoor growing.