Grow Environmentally Friendly Marijuana
Why You Should Care and What You Should Do About It
Remember when growing marijuana was an activity for environmentally conscious, Earth-loving… well, hippies? Now it is almost a mainstream activity as states across the country are starting to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana.
The industry is growing fast. With increased demand, farms of all sizes have sprung up rapidly. Some farms, large or small, grow marijuana indoors, under grow lights, using hydroponics. These farms use water and electricity in high amounts. Large outdoor farms use tons of water and spread pesticides and fertilizers on the earth.
The end result? Growing marijuana has become a drain on resources and a threat to the environment. Growing marijuana, indoors or out, is a very “un-green” activity.
Growing Environmentally Friendly Marijuana:
Water Intensive Marijuana Industry Raises Environmental Concerns
Thirsty Pot Farms Stealing Water Amid Drought
Marijuana is Not So Green After All
Environment takes big hit from water-intensive marijuana cultivation Berkeley News
State’s precious water supply takes hit from marijuana
Despite what you might think, it’s not the indoor hydroponic grows that are sucking up the most water.
Here are a few facts about growing marijuana outdoors and water usage:
- Outdoor grows in California use 60 million gallons of water A DAY during the growing season, 5 times the amount used by all the residents of San Francisco put together.
- There are three watersheds in CA containing an average of 30,000 marijuana plants each. Each of these plants uses about 6 gallons of water per day. That is more than 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools over the course of the growing season.
- Another CA estimate says an average of 22 liters (5.8 gallons) is used per day to water outdoor plants.
What does this mean for you as a small-time grower? Take a peek at this last headline:
California marijuana farmers face country’s first water-related regulations The Guardian
Water regulations: they will affect large growers first and trickle down to impact small growers later.
So you have two options when it comes to saving water during your grow: learn to conserve water while raising healthy plants now, or be forced to later.
We’ve done some research to help you get started conserving water while growing marijuana.
How to Conserve Water While Growing Marijuana Outdoors
Even a small garden outdoors can suck up a lot of water. If you live in California or other drought stricken regions, you may find yourself faced with strict water usage laws. How can you keep your marijuana plants healthy when your lawn is withered and brown?
Mulching is the single most important thing you can do to conserve water. Mulch is any material that you use to cover the soil around your plants. No soil should be exposed! Exposed soil dries out quickly.
Benefits of Mulch:
- Shades the Soil: mulch decreases evaporation by 25-50%. That’s a lot of water.
- Increases Amount of Organic Material in Soil: Mulch breaks down over time, enriching the soil. Soil with more organic material can hold more water.
- Reduces Soil Compaction: compacted soil can form hard pans that cannot absorb water
- Promotes Healthy Microbial Activity: like probiotics for your plants.
You should use whatever organic material you can get your hands on for mulch. It’s best if it is abundant and free, or at least cheap. Here are some options for mulching marijuana plants:
- Straw or Hay
- Wood Shavings
- Grass clippings
- Manure and Bedding
- If manure is fresh, do not dig it into the soil. Lay it on the surface and let it slowly compost in place. Dug it in can provide too much nitrogen and burn your plants, but using fresh manure on the surface is safe.
You can also use an inorganic mulch like gravel or stones. While organic material makes the best mulch, if you don’t have access to any cover the soil with gravel or stones. They will protect the soil from evaporation.
My favorite option is a living mulch. This is another plant that grows low to the ground and covers the soil. Clovers are a great choice as they also add nitrogen to the soil.
2. Water Deeply and Rarely
If you water a little bit every day you train the roots of your plants to stay near the surface to get water. Once your seedlings have three sets of true leaves, start watering deeply once a week. You can ease into it with twice weekly waterings if you like. You should soak your plants so that the soil 6” deep is wet.
Watering heavily once a week will encourage your plants to send roots deep into the soil to search for water. Your plants will be stronger and more self-sufficient.
3. Water at Night
If you water in the heat of the day you lose a lot to evaporation immediately. Water early in the morning, or at night is even better. Plants do most of their growing in the nighttime, and they need water to grow.
4. Use Drip Irrigation
Water the plants directly at their roots. You can do this by hand with a hose or can, or use a seep hose or drip irrigation. This way all the water gets delivered to the roots of the plants, and none is wasted. Sprinklers are incredibly wasteful.
5. Space Plants Closely Together
Your goal is to shade the soil. Closely planted crops cover the soil and prevent evaporation. You also have a smaller area to water and more water goes to the roots of your plants.
6. Collect Rain Water
During the wet months (if there are any) you can collect rain water and store it for the dry growing season. A water catchment system can be as simple as a 55 gallon drum placed under the gutters. You could also build a tank or use a cistern to hold larger amounts of rainwater. Or connect a series of drums along the side of your house. You can often find used 55 gallon drums for free, making this an easy and cheap way to store water for your next grow.
You can also re-purpose grey water for your cannabis plants. Use water from sinks, washing machines or bathtubs. Just be sure to use biodegradable soaps and detergents.
7. Choose the Right Strain
No matter what your conditions are, dry, wet, hot or cold, you should always choose a strain suited to your climate for an outdoor grow.
These landrace Sativas are from South Africa. The plants are tall with long fingered leaves and thrive outdoors in a dry climate. And you can’t beat Durban Poison for an upbeat, cerebral Sativa hit. This is great smoke from a tough, dry season plant.
- Type: Sativa
- THC: 8.6%
- Height: 250 cm
- Yield: 450g/m2
- Flowering period: 8-9 weeks
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Another Sativa, this strain flowers in under 10 weeks and offers a bright, social high that will delight Haze lovers. It likes heat and a dry climate, making this a great option for a drought garden.
- Type: 75% Sativa 25% Indica
- THC: High
- Height: Under 2 meters
- Yield: 110g/plant
- Flowering period: 8-10 weeks
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A heavy set Indica with thick, leathery leaves, China Yunnan is a big plant. Her thick leaves retain water and shade the soil around her. Dry weather encourages her biggest buds, which have a spicy flavor. The hit is fun. It starts out silly with strong visual effects before chilling out into a mellow body stone.
- Type: Indica Dominant
- THC: High
- Height: Medium
- Yield: High
- Flowering period: 8-9 weeks
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Another Sativa from the South African savannah, Power Plant needs a long growing season but tolerates dry soils well. The smoke is harsh, and the high can be debilitating.
- Type: 80% Sativa 20% Indica
- THC: 13%
- Height: Tall
- Yield: 500 g/m2
- Flowering period: 8-9 weeks
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A short, bushy Afghan landrace strain these plants need very little help from you to produce rock hard buds. The plants are small, bushy and hardy. You can even hide them amongst your veggies. They tolerate periods of drought with grace, and the buds have a numbing hit that is popular with medical users.
- THC: 15-20%
- Height: Short to Medium
- Yield: High
- Flowering period: 7-8 weeks
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This strain from the deserts of Oaxaca, Mexico likes heat and needs a long summer. She is big and sprawling. Her yields are low, but the high is incredible. It is bright, giggly, energetic and creative.
- Type: 100% Sativa
- THC: High
- Height: Tall
- Yield: Low
- Flowering period: 11-13 weeks
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Simple Changes Make A Big Difference
If you make a few of these simple changes, you’ll see your water usage drop a long way. And you’re garden will be easier to manage, requiring fewer hours of labor. Your soil will be enriched by the mulch, and it will keep weeds at bay. Choosing the right strain for your region will make growing a breeze. After all, this is a weed we’re dealing with. If it likes the soil and the climate it will thrive with little help from you.
Growing Marijuana Indoors Drains Energy Resources
Outdoor grows may be sucking the water tables dry, but indoor marijuana growers are sapping valuable energy resources. In the process, they are expelling costly carbon emissions into the atmosphere. According to a Humbolt University study growing marijuana indoors for a single joint results in two pounds of CO2 emissions.
Here are a few facts about growing marijuana and energy usage:
- The average grow box or tent for four marijuana plants consumes as much electricity as 29 refrigerators.
- According to a 2012 study, indoor marijuana growing accounted for 3% of California’s total energy usage that year.
- Across America, the electricity use for indoor marijuana grows is enough to power 1.7 million homes, the equivalent output of 7 large power plants.
- Producing 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of marijuana is equivalent to driving a car that gets 44 miles to the gallon across the country five times.
To sum it up, the energy it takes to produce a single joint is enough to make 18 pints of beer or power a 100 Watt light bulb for 25 hours.
Energy consumption is about more than using limited resources. All of the energy comes with an emissions cost as well.
Here’s how growing marijuana is contributing to the greenhouse effect:
- For every pound of marijuana grown indoors 4,600 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere.
- The production and distribution of marijuana in the US produces the equivalent emissions to 3 million cars.
Where is all this energy going? It’s powering lights, HVAC systems, ventilation set-ups, hydroponic pumps, CO2 generators, dehumidifiers and even the diesel generators used in many clandestine grow operations. The energy costs of growing marijuana indoors build up quickly, even for a small grow.
How to Conserve Electricity Growing Marijuana Indoors
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce the energy usage and carbon footprint of your next indoor marijuana grow.
1. Use a Greenhouse
The single smartest move you can make when growing marijuana indoors is to do it under natural light in a green house. According to Peter Lehman, director of the Schatz Energy Research Center, energy use is drastically reduced for plants grow in natural light.
A greenhouse provides other benefits as well:
-Decreased use of pesticides and fungicides
-Decreased HVAC costs
However, a greenhouse is not always an option, especially if stealth is essential to the success of your grow. Fortunately there are other steps you can take to reduce your energy usage.
2. Switch to Full Spectrum LED Grow Lights
The gains here are two-fold. First of all, high quality LED grow lights for marijuana use about 50% as much energy as an equivalent HID light. That’s a massive energy savings right there.
Additionally, LED grow lights don’t get hot like an HID. This means lower AC and ventilation costs.
3. Use Daylight CFL’s During Vegging
Save energy during the vegetation stage by using blue light spectrum “daylight” CFL lights. If you can supplement with natural light your plants will thrive.
4. Use Light Efficiently
5. Grow Seasonally
Many of the energy costs of growing marijuana indoors are due to environmental control. Growing marijuana in the winter in Colorado or in the summertime in southern California is going to put a strain on your HVAC systems. Plan to grow enough bud during the natural growing season in your area to minimize costs associated with controlling temperature and humidity.
6. Choose the Right Strain
There are many factors involved in choosing the perfect strain for your grow. Obviously your personal preferences are important, especially if you are trying to meet specific medicinal needs. However, you should also think about:
- Your Climate – If it is cold and humid in your region, choose a strain like Holland’s Hope that is mold resistant and tolerates cold. Picking the right strain for your climate will save energy on your HVAC system, ventilation and dehumidifier
- Yield – Get the most out of a single grow. Higher yield means you need fewer plants and fewer grow cycles to achieve your goals.
- Finishing Time – A faster finish means fewer hours of running your grow equipment.
- Flowering Type – Auto-flowering varieties actually take more light than regular seeds, typically using an 18/6 or even 24/0 cycle of light/dark. Regular seeds can be switched to 12/12 as soon as you want to start flowering.
7. Control Your Ventilation System
Your ventilation system may need to run on full power in the middle of summer when temperatures are skyrocketing in the grow room. But when the outside temperature is 55°F this is unnecessary.
You can adjust your system simply and cheaply by installing a basic 5-level electric transformer, like those used to adjust ceiling fans.
Dangerous Inputs: Chemicals in Cannabis
Medicinal marijuana is getting a lot of attention right now. It is extolled as a natural and healthy alternative to synthetic pharmaceuticals. And yet this “natural” product is produced with some dangerous inputs.
Chemical pesticides and fertilizers pose twin threats: possible contamination of the buds may cause health problems while waste products threaten the environment.
Pesticides on cannabis are dangerous. Period. Consider this:
According to a detailed report by watchdog group Beyond Pesticides, citing over forty studies:
- 65% of pesticides residues present on dried marijuana are transferred to the smoke.
- Compared to 1-1 1/2 % with tobacco
- In part this number is high because most marijuana is smoked unfiltered
- When inhaled these residues have a direct path into the bloodstream.
- Authors of the Journal of Toxicology state, “high pesticide exposure through cannabis smoking is a significant possibility, which may lead to further health complications in cannabis users.”
Fortunately there are natural ways to manage pests in cannabis. We’ll discuss them in How to Grow Organic Marijuana below.
Cannabis requires a lot of nitrogen to grow well and produce those heavy, crystallized buds we love. But using fertilizers to grow marijuana has a variety of ugly environmental consequences:
- Production – The process used to create many fertilizers produces waste products that are harmful to the environment.
- Run-Off – Any unused nutrients end up either in the water or the soil.
- Soil: In the soil they can create nutrient hot spots, burning native plants and encouraging invasive species.
- Water: In the water excess nutrients encourage algae growth, decrease the levels of dissolved oxygen. Run-off from large indoor or outdoor grows can literally destroy a river or lake ecosystem.
The Eel River in Norther California is currently at great risk, due in part to the practices of guerrilla cannabis growers in the surrounding mountains. In addition to sucking water from the river to cultivate their plants, the nutrient rich run-off has caused algae blooms. Coupled with lowered water levels, this is heating up the entire river, making it uninhabitable for many species of fish.
Pesticides and fertilizers are not the only sources of chemicals involved in marijuana growing. Chemicals are used to adjust pH levels in hydroponic systems. They are used in abundance to clean systems between grow cycles.
Keep in mind that white vinegar and baking soda can be used to replace nearly all of your household cleaners, for your grow room, your bathroom and your kitchen. Vinegar kills mold, algae and bacteria while baking soda absorbs odors and is abrasive, making it ideal for scrubbing.
How to Grow Marijuana without Chemicals
The following ideas will help you grow healthier cannabis. Your environmental impact will be gentler and your bud will be better for your body. This is not a guide to growing organic marijuana. “Organic” implies a specific certification that requires strict adherence to many practices. These are simply easy ways to produce better bud with a nod to the environment.
1. Alternatives to Pesticides
Here are some tricks and techniques for dealing with common marijuana diseases and pests naturally:
Use Companion Plant to Repel Pests
Whether you are growing indoors or out, try planting some of these common herbs and flowers amongst your cannabis plants to fight pests:
- Repels aphids, spider mites and potato beetles
- A popular flower, chrystanthemums contain pyrethrin, a natural insecticide that kills damaging insects and harmful root eating nematores.
- Repels spider mites.
- Foxglove and mullein both attract the insect dicyphus which eats whiteflies, aphids and spider mites.
- A delicious aromatic vegetable, garlic is the most famous anti-pest companion plant. It accumulates Sulphur, a natural fungicide and repels aphids, root maggots and snails.
- Mexican marigolds are best, though any variety will do. They release a stinky chemical into the soil that makes all the surrounding plants taste like marigold, a flavor repugnant to most damaging insects.
- Repels aphids. Menthol, which is in all mint plants, repels harmful insects while attracting beneficial pollinators.
- Attracts beneficial mites and pirate bugs to eat spider mites, fungus gnats and scales.
- Attracts predatory wasps and ladybugs to eat harmful insects.
Make Natural Pesticide Sprays
If insects do strike, don’t reach for chemical sprays. Mix up your own using simple household ingredients.
Try these recipes:
1. Chili Spray for Spider Mites
Mix hot chilies of any variety with water in the blender. Strain the mixture and pour liquid only into a spray bottle.
Spray the entire plant, the container and soil or grow medium with the chili spray. Wear gloves and glasses.
Repeat once daily for 7 days to kill any newly hatched mites.
2. Garlic Tea
Just boil roughly chopped garlic in water and steep till cool. Strain and spray the tea directly on your plants to enjoy all the pest fighting benefits of garlic.
3. Tomato Leaf Spray
Crush tomato leaves, soak in water for several days, strain and spray. This works best against grasshoppers and white flies.
There are many other possibilities. Experiment making your own spray by mixing and matching these ingredients:
- Mineral Oil
- Dish Soap (use very sparingly)
- Neem Oil
- Tomato Leaves
2. Alternatives to Fertilizers
There are many ways to feed your plants without resorting to chemical fertilizers. It is helpful to break down tips for natural nutrients into two categories: those to be used with soil and those that work in a hydroponic system.
Using Natural Nutrients for Marijuana in Soil
The trick here is to use healthy soil. Quality soil will provide all the nutrients your plants need, from the essential nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium down to dozens of trace minerals essential for optimal growth.
However, soil is often depleted over time, especially if it has been farmed using conventional methods. If this is the case with your soil, you need to improve it.
Improve your soil by:
- Adding Compost – Make your own or purchase mature compost and mix it into your soil before the grow. Compost is not only a source of natural nutrients, but it also adds organic material which holds both water and air, creating a healthy environment for the plant roots.
- Growing Nutrient Adding Plants – Companion planting for marijuana is an easy way to improve your soil. Plants like chamomile and borage pull up minerals from deep in the earth to enrich the soil, while legumes like clover or beans add nitrogen to the soil.
RELATED: Mix your own Super Soil for higher yields and tastier buds.
If you plant marijuana in healthy, rich soil you won’t need to feed it any additional nutrients. Just water regularly, keep an eye out for pests and await your harvest.
Using Natural Nutrients in a Hydroponics System
You have two nutrient options when growing marijuana in a hydroponic system: synthetic or organic.
While synthetic nutrients don’t necessarily affect the quality of your buds, the process used to produce them creates harmful by-products. It is easy to over-fertilize because synthetic nutrients are potent. At best you burn your plants, at worst you pour excess nutrients into the watershed, damaging local rivers and lakes.
There are some challenges when it comes to using organic nutrients in a hydroponic system. They can interact with organisms in the water, clogging drippers and small pipes in your system. This problem can be overcome with one simple secret:
Build a Dual Level Hydroponic System
In a dual level system you add nutrients directly to the growing medium, keeping them separated from pure water in the reservoir below. This actually is the most natural way to feed your plants, as only the 1/3 of a cannabis root absorbs nutrients. The bottom part is just for sucking up water.
A simple example of a dual level system is to add worm castings or organic nutrients to the growing medium in a drip irrigation system.
Use Natural Nutrient Sprays to Boost Growth
In addition to feeding the roots of your plants, you can feed the leaves. Marijuana leaves are great at absorbing nutrients.
Try one of these homemade nutrient sprays to boost yields and improve plant health:
1. Calcium Phosphate Spray
Use a Calcium/Phosphate spray during the transition from vegging to flowering.
Calcium strengthens stems while phosphorus helps the roots absorb more water and nutrients.
Start making this spray 3 weeks ahead of time.
- Gather enough egg shells to make 1 cup when crushed.
- Thoroughly rinse egg shells.
- Cook shells in a dry skillet until some shells are black (calcium) and some are white (phosphorus).
- Place in a jar with 5 cups of vinegar.
- Watch it bubble.
- When bubbling stops, seal the jar.
- Let sit for 20 days.
It doesn’t take much of this concentrate to do the job. Mix one tablespoon with one gallon of water and spray on leaves.
2. Basic Nitrogen Spray
Do you need an emergency input of nitrogen? You could brew a compost tea (soak mature compost in water for 1-2 weeks, strain and spray), but if you lack the time or patience this method works just as well:
Mix one part urine (yes, your urine) with 10 parts of water and spray directly on leaves.
Urine is sterile and very high in nitrogen. Many home gardeners use this as a quick pick-me-up for their tomatoes. Don’t apply more frequently than once per month or you could burn your plants.
3. Bokashi Fermented Marijuana
A Bokashi culture is a compost tea short cut. Simple add fresh stems or leaves (from trimmings, other plants, vegetables, or whatever green material you have on hand) to a 5 gallon bucket. Stir in the culture and cover with water. In one week you’ll have nutrient rich fertilizer to add to the soil or spray on the leaves.
Organic Marijuana Seeds
Buying organic marijuana seeds is a simple way to “green” your grow. The parents of organic seeds are grown organically, without any chemicals or pesticides. Many seedbanks like Gorilla Seeds offer organic strains, and all of the seeds from Royal Queen are organic. There are also a few smaller providers like Mandala and Kingdom Organic that provide tantalizingly tasty strains from organic lines.
Here are a couple of our favorite organic marijuana seeds:
This popular medicinal Indica offers a sprawling initial high followed by a deeper narcotic stone that melts pain and anxiety. This is great bud for baking or cooking.
Mandala Seeds offers high quality organic marijuana seeds, and an easily navigated website. Their Hashberry is a quick finishing, high yielding and easy to grow strain that should be on every medicinal grower’s “try” list.
- Type: Indica
- THC: 15-18%
- Height: Medium
- Yield: 450-550g/m2
- Flowering period: 8-9 weeks
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This famous strain is a mind-blowing Sativa with THC levels hitting 22% for a truly psychedelic experience. The seeds have been notoriously hard to find, but your search is over. These seeds are high quality, with a germination rate of 99%.
Take good care of C99 for the best buds. She is an early finisher for a Sativa dominant strain; you can harvest after just 50 days of flowering. But don’t let her get damp as she easily falls prey to mold. With chilly nighttime temperatures you will see stinky, purple buds.
- Type: 75% Sativa 25% Indica
- THC: 22%
- Yield: low to medium
- Flowering period: 7-8 weeks
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An easy-going skunk, Special Queen 1 is one of the best-selling strains at Royal Queen. She thrives indoors or out, and is even suitable for Northern climates like Britain or the Netherlands. She takes well to SOG or SCOG growing, offers good yields and takes very little maintenance.
Enjoy a strong, stinky Skunk with minimal work.
- Type: Hybrid
- THC: 18%
- Height: 1.5 meters indoors
- Yield: 500-550g/m2
- Flowering period: 7-8 weeks
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