growing cannabis in soil under lights

So after a few weeks of mourning, I decided to give pot-plant parenting a second try. And this time around, I was determined to spare no expense — potential tax savings be damned. I invested in a bathroom scale so I could weigh the plant between waterings, and when Taylor offhandedly suggested an LED grow light so I could raise my little green girl indoors, I immediately ordered one and cleared a spot in my garage, not far from where my hard-partying friends used to routinely smoke plants like her in the pre-pandemic days.

But the desire to get my grow on also has a lot to do with how I grew up in rural Vermont.

Mother-son pot entrepreneurs? Vape pens that match your track pants? We have questions.

When I was a kid, my family had a small farm (so small that it hardly qualified as a farm by Vermont standards) that started with a cow and grew to include a pig, chickens and a flock of sheep that grazed the field beyond our vegetable garden. Only the milk cow, Star, who had come into our family as my brother’s 4-H project, was ever named. We’d been taught from an early age that the rest of the hoofed and clawed creatures around us were livestock (as opposed to pets) and cautioned against forming an emotional bond.

In early July, the curing phase of Operation Ganja Green Thumb hit Week 8. From the beginning of this botanical adventure, this was the moment I’d been thinking about and waiting for, with visions of sticky bud dancing in my head. Now was the time to literally taste the fruits of my labor, to consume something I’d planted and watched grow to maturity. This was the culmination of my very first seed-to-sesh journey, a chance to bring the lessons of my growing-up years and my enthusiasm for cannabis full circle all at once. The time had finally arrived, and, even without fear of legal retribution, I found myself reticent to pack a pipe or roll a joint and take a taste of my own medicine.

And there’s one last tiny hitch in the homegrown giddyap — and one that’s of particular importance in a city like L.A. where most of us live cheek by jowl: any plants you’re growing must be in a locked space that is not visible to the public.

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In mid-January, I planted my second seed. When she burst forth from the soil Jan. 19, the split seed casing clinging to the top of the green shoot reminded me of an armored helmet. Having just watched “Wonder Woman 1984,” I impulsively decided this powerful woman would bear the name of the Amazonian superhero’s secret identity: Diana Prince. Eager to avoid my earlier mistake, Diana Prince was transplanted to her forever home just five days later and then locked safely in my garage under the new grow light (20 hours on, 4 hours off). I visited my baby daily, watering her just enough to keep her healthy and thriving.

In addition to having a hand in bringing eggs, bacon, chicken and milk to the table, my siblings and I saw how wool becomes yarn. We learned how to make rhubarb wine (the first kid down the stairs in the morning usually gave the crock full of fermenting fruit a good stir), how to bake bread on a wood stove (the Dutch oven came in clutch) and how to turn the sap from the trees around us into maple syrup. In short, we were doing farm-to-table before farm-to-table was even a thing, and it gave me a keen appreciation of the effort that goes into things that I otherwise would have taken for granted.

Fast-forward two months and, instead of the towering THC-laced tannenbaum I was hoping for, I was headed into Christmas week with a seedling — all of 5 inches tall — curving out of its pot at a 45-degree angle. Since A Pot for Pot purchases include growing consults via email, I sent off a few photos and a plea for help. A few days later, I heard back from an upbeat consultant named Taylor who wrote: “Thanks for reaching out! What a cute little plant!” Then came the bad news: Based on the photos I’d sent and the timetable I’d described, Mariah wasn’t going to get much bigger. Taylor’s theory was that I had probably waited too long to transplant Mariah from her seedling cup to her 5-gallon fabric pot, unintentionally creating bonsai bud in the process. But the silver lining, as Taylor pointed out, was that because of her stunted size, there would be more than enough nutrients in the soil mix to support a second attempt in that same pot.

As the eighth week stretched into the ninth, I dutifully burped the curing jar every few days, gazing at the contents with awe before snapping the lid back in place and putting the container away, but I didn’t try it. Was I, on some subconscious level, afraid that I wouldn’t get high enough (or, even worse, not high at all) off my homegrown handiwork? Perhaps the thrill had really been about the process — the pursuit of happiness — the whole time and not about the ounce of weed curing in my pantry. Or maybe I wanted the best for my baby and was dragging my feet only until Diana Prince had cured a full six months?

On May 8, I hacked the branches from the stalk and felt a sharp pang of sadness. After that came a flurry of activities that included drying the branches upside down (using coat hangers, binder clips and a rolling clothes rack), then trimming the buds and finally curing them in an airtight container. (Final yield at this point: 26 grams — just short of an ounce.) According to Taylor’s email, it’s this last part — the curing — that brings out flavor, eliminates the chlorophyll and makes for a smoother smoke. The recommendation was to cure the herb two to eight weeks. Taylor noted that some folks prefer the go-slow approach and will cure their bud for up to six months.

For almost as long as I’ve known about the cannabis plant, I’ve wanted to grow my own weed. This is partly because I like everything about it; not just the psychoactive effect of combusting and inhaling it, but also the way it looks, from the slender serrated fan leaves to the densely packed flowers shimmering with a crystal-like dusting (called trichomes, these tiny, hair-like structures are home to the high-producing compound THC). I like the skunky smell of a live plant, and I appreciate the fact that it’s only the female of the genus that will get you high.

That’s why, when faced with midpandemic boredom, in a state where it’s legal to grow (under California law, anyone 21 and older can grow up to six plants for recreational use) and with an unused everything-but-the-seeds kit from A Pot for Pot (purchased while researching The Times’ 2020 holiday cannabis gift guide) lurking in the corner of my home office, I decided to connect with my roots by trying to get a pot plant to put down the same. By following the process from start to finish, I reasoned, I’d be able to better appreciate how those dried little nuggets of instant staycation get from the soil to the dispensary shelf.

I knew these folks would be out there, somewhere, just as I was, hopping on the quarantine gardening train for some of the same reasons — and no doubt some different ones. Some would be planting their own pot to do an end run around corporate cannabis (which, with each passing day, looks more and more like Big Pharma and Big Tobacco). Others would pursue pot parenthood to save money (buying weed in L.A. — legally — includes taxes that increase the cost of THC-containing products by more than a third) or to stick a green thumb squarely in the eye of Johnny Law as a kind of cosmically satisfying payback for decades of cannabis prohibition. (Growing your own is legal in the Golden State, but it remains illegal under federal law.)

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If you’re wondering why on God’s green earth anyone blessed with the SoCal sunlight would choose to grow a cannabis plant indoors — and shell out money for a light to do it to boot — it’s worth a slight detour here to give you the straight dope on growing your own dope in the state of California (and, by extension, Los Angeles, because the city doesn’t have its own regulations addressing personal cultivation).

By late March, Diana Prince was stretching skyward and entering her flowering stage. Two months later, she was nearly as tall as me and appeared ready to harvest. Gun-shy from my earlier experience, I sought one last consult. (“Just going off your timeline, she is definitely ready,” replied Taylor — punctuating the sentence with a green emoji heart.)

In the run-up to 4/20, a look at some of the ways Southern California is shaping the cannabis conversation.

Taken altogether that means your ability to become a legal pot-plant parent in L.A. — despite what your biological (or botanical) clock is telling you — hinges on who owns your house, how big your yard is and how much money you’re willing to spend on grow kits (like the 5-gallon, $99.95 one I was using), LED lights ($169.95) and feminized cannabis seeds ($89 for five Lowryder Autoflower seeds).

I planted my first seed on Oct. 19, 2020, opting for an easy-to-grow strain called Lowryder. Considered one of the first autoflowering strains of marijuana — meaning the plant flowers after a set period of time instead of taking its cue from seasonal light changes — Lowryder is a cross of Cannabis ruderalis , ‘Northern Lights No. 2′ and ‘William’s Wonder’ that yields a compact, indica-heavy plant. Based on the grow guide included in my kit, my plant would be ready to harvest just before Christmas. In a nod to the holiday season timetable, when the first green sprout popped out of the soil a few days later, I nicknamed her Mariah in honor of the chanteuse whose 1994 album “Merry Christmas” seems to flower like clockwork year after year.

Harvesting hemp and cannabis is a lovely experience. It is one we recommend to any weed lover who has a passion for all aspects of the plant. You learn so much about cannabis and botany/biology in general. Most growers believe they learn something new with every harvest.

Also, watch out for male plants in your crop. If you wish to grow high-THC buds, the only thing you want in your crop is female plants. If you have a male in your crop, REMOVE IT. Once it reaches maturity and its pollen sacs burst, it fertilizes the females. At this point, they’ll start developing seeds rather than growing buds. While the plants won’t die, their ability to yield buds is ruined.

The main drawback is that they require numerous accessories to run correctly. As a consequence, the overall cost can ramp up pretty quickly, depending on how much you’re willing to splurge.

It shouldn’t take long to get the hang of things and start producing some beautiful, flowering cannabis plants, but you’ll need to make room as your plants grow. From the first signs of flowering, you can expect a plant to double or even triple in size by harvest time.

There’s no doubt a bit of a learning curve involved. You’ll make your fair share of mistakes. However, trust us when we say it’s all worth it in the end.

Final Thoughts on Growing Cannabis Indoors.

General potting soil doesn’t work very well. You want a high-grade horticultural potting mix, which is light and airy. Some mixes come “charged” with a small amount of nutrients to get you through the first few weeks. However, these will need regular fertilizing later.

You must also operate within the boundaries of the law before getting started. Growing marijuana remains illegal in many U.S. states. Make sure home cultivation is allowed where you live before proceeding. Assuming you are legally able to continue, keep reading our detailed guide to growing cannabis indoors.

The light source you use in your grow room plays a significant role in determining the quality of the plants. I recommend spending a large portion of your budget on a good lighting setup. It is worth it in the end, particularly if you plan on growing long term.

This is when you can extract the male plants and eliminate them. Male plants will have what look like little clusters of bananas; these are the pollen sacs. Female plants will have sharper early-stage calyxes with white hairs (pistils). Those growing from female clones or pre-purchased feminized seeds should have no concerns about male plants.

You can get these macronutrients pre-packaged in liquid or powder form (if you’re using an un-supplemented soil mix). However, a lot of organic “super soils” already contain them in sufficient amounts.

Since warmer air rises, mount your exhaust fan(s) high so they can suck out hot, stagnant air. On the flip side, your intake fan should be mounted low so it can provide a good supply of cool, CO2-filled fresh air. This technique allows for a constant supply of fresh air for your plants. It also helps keep temperatures to a manageable level.

Fluorescent lights are generally much cheaper and easier to use than the other options. They represent an excellent option for propagation of young plants or those with extremely low yield expectation. And remember: watts = grams. Low wattage will not prevent you from growing potent little flowers. They also don’t require a connection to an external ventilation system. Fluorescent lights are far less powerful than the other options. However, for novice DIY growers with a single plant or two and little space, they might be your best bet.

The most commonly used lights for DIY-style growing are probably HID (high-intensity discharge) grow lights. They typically represent the best overall value in terms of cost, efficiency, and ease-of-operation.

Soil is less expensive, easier, and offers a higher margin of error. However, you need to carefully select the soil you use because quality can vary enormously.

Make sure that you have enough space to work in!

Step 8: Cannabis Plants LOVE Water!

The drawback is they can cost 3-5 times more than a decent HID setup! If you’re serious about getting into growing and have money to spend, however, give serious consideration to LEDs. But do your homework to avoid ‘scam’ LEDs online.

You don’t need a particularly large growing/cultivating space. A typical grow room for a small-scale grower is a small tent, cabinet, or designated area in a spare room, even an unused corner of the house is sufficient! Here are a few helpful tips to get started.

Make sure there are holes drilled into your growing container so the water can drain out. When watering, try, and only moisten the soil rather than saturating it. This allows you to fully saturate the pot without overwatering. Try not to water until they’re almost dry. This is called cycling.

The first step is to cut off the big water leaves, otherwise known as the fan leaves. They have minimal THC in them and are generally removed. You’ll notice a visible difference between the long, green fan leaves and the smaller sugar leaves. The latter is covered in resinous glands (trichomes).

DIY indoor growers are unable to perform a 24/7 watch over their plants. However, you can provide adequate care by setting aside a few minutes a day. Routine checks, such as ensuring things like temperature, humidity, pH, and water levels are correct, are essential.

There are some outstanding pre-filled soil kits specially designed for increased airflow. Keep these in mind when deciding what to grow your first cannabis plants in.

Lastly, consider using an RO filter as excess levels of chlorine and unfiltered minerals could harm the plants. You may want to choose a distilled option or at least filter it before adding it to your soil. Mineral-laden tap water can cause unwanted build-up in the cannabis root systems, which can lead to detrimental root disease.

LED grow lights.

If cost isn’t a consideration, LED (light-emitting diode) lighting is the preferred option for most marijuana growers. These are highly efficient light fixtures for indoor growing. They use less energy and create very little heat. LEDs produce wavelengths across the light spectrum, so they can be used for both the vegetative and flowering cycles.

Another idea is “all-in-one” automated hydroponic setups, which may help you experience faster growth and more abundant yields. This is only the case if everything is done correctly – all the time, every time (unlike soil which has natural buffers to give you some wiggle room).

The final step involves harvesting your plants. Once you get used to the process, you’ll find it more enjoyable than tedious.

If you’re growing from seed, you need to wait until the flowering stage. After a week of nighttime photoperiod, the plants will start reaching maturity and will develop reproductive parts at the nodes.

Whether you’re using an organic soil mix or growing hydroponically, your cannabis plants need the “super seven” macronutrients. In no particular order, these are:

A hermaphrodite cannabis plant will produce flower that’s full of seeds, ruining your chances of a decent yield of smokable buds.

Think about how big you ultimately want to grow your plants when deciding on pot size for their final home. I suggest one-gallon of soil for every foot tall you intend to grow them. Regardless, plants don’t like waterlogged conditions so perforate the bottom of the bucket so the water can drain as needed.

Other mixes are “neutral,” without any nutrients present. These mixes need appropriate amounts of fertilizer right from the start. Amendments to soil ingredients include compost teas and mycorrhizae bacteria, as well as other organic compost nutrients.

Equip yourself with these cheap and easy-to-use tools to take measurements in your indoor cannabis setup:

Your cannabis wants a safe, healthy place for root development. Without healthy roots, your cannabis will never thrive. Roots are in charge of water retention, nutrient absorption, anchoring the plant, and they also facilitate vegetative growth.

Different lights produce different colors of light. Here’s a brief rundown of the most popular types of cannabis grow lights used for indoor growing.

Although you’ll be controlling the climate inside the grow space, climate outside the grow space will affect your plants. If the environment outside your grow space is very warm or humid, you’ll have issues controlling your grow space. Choose a cool, dry area with ready access to fresh air from outside.

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 much less.

Regulating Humidity.

Drainage is key, as cannabis plants can get waterlogged and develop root rot . If you repurpose containers, be sure they have holes in the bottoms and set them in trays.

When designing your space, you’ll need to take into account room for your plants, as well as space for lights, fans, ducting, and other equipment. You’ll also need space to work on the plants. Cannabis plants can double in size in the early stages of flowering, so make sure you have adequate head space!

Examine the tops and undersides of leaves for pests or discoloration—spider mites live on the underside of leaves—as well as stalks and branches. Also, check the soil for pests.

When growing weed indoors, you’ll likely have to add nutrients to your plants. You won’t need to add nutrients every time you water, but get on a schedule where you water every other time, or two on, one off.

Below is a list of things to consider and equipment you will need to purchase to get started growing marijuana indoors.

You can let your plants get as big as you want, and can control when they flower and when you harvest, and you can start another batch right away or whenever you want. You can grow any time of year, even straight through winter or summer, and you’ll get consistent crops each time.

Every space is different and there will be a learning curve to growing in yours.

Many growers will start plants in a one-gallon pot and then transplant up to a bigger pot as plants get bigger. A lot of growers will transplant once, from a one-gallon to a five-gallon pot, and harvest from there. If your plants get bigger, they may need a seven- or ten-gallon pot.

These come in different shapes and sizes and are a great way to get rid of odor in an indoor weed grow. Also known as “carbon scrubbers” for their ability to get contaminants out of the air, these employ activated and highly ionized carbon to attract particulates responsible for carrying odor, such as dust, hair, mold spores, and volatile organic compounds, and traps them in a filter.

Traditional plastic containers.

Carbon filters usually work best when positioned at the highest point in your grow space, where the most heat accumulates.

These are just some examples of amendments commonly used in different types of soils. Heavily amended soils will have long lists that break down all organic nutrients they contain. Some companies create soils that offer a great structure with base nutrients, but allow you to fill in the gaps as you desire.

The growth stages of marijuana can be broken down into four primary stages from seed to harvest:

Here are some ways to mitigate odor when growing weed indoors.

Fluorescent light fixtures, particularly those using high-output T5 bulbs, are quite popular with small-scale cannabis growers because:

Even in legal states, you may want to conceal your crop from judgmental neighbors and definitely from potential thieves. Growing indoors allows you to grow discreetly behind a locked door.

Indoor climate.

As much fun as growing marijuana indoors is, having a home that perpetually smells like fresh weed can be a serious inconvenience, if not to you than possibly your neighbors. Although weed odor from a small indoor grow in a closet is much easier to manage than a large grow with several flowering plants, both can produce pesky odors that will permeate an entire home if left unattended.

Fans are a must in a grow space to move air around, so buy some of those before an AC unit. If you find that fans aren’t bringing down the temperature enough, then you may want to invest in an AC.

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 temperature in your grow room much easier.

Unlike outdoor growing, you aren’t tied to the sun and the seasons. You will be providing the entire environment the plants need to grow, including the grow medium—soil, rockwool, etc.—and regulating the amount of water and nutrients they receive, as well as controlling temperature, humidity, and more for them.

Controlling temperature in your indoor grow room or cannabis garden can be achieved by manipulating these factors:

The two main types of HID lamp used for growing are:

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.