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So you’ve decided you want to take the plunge and start growing your own medicine, what comes next? Assuming you don’t live in a place where cannabis is a non-issue such as California, Uruguay or the like, security will be your top priority before you get the ball rolling. If your grow space can be detected by nosy neighbors, you will have to seriously reconsider your location. In addition, despite the fact that you would surely love to share your gardening skills as well as that tasty harvest with the world, the fewer people know about your garden, the less likely it will be discovered by unwelcomed guests.
Once you think you have a secure enough location, you can now move on to selecting and designing the space.
Contrary to popular belief, a cannabis garden does not have to be all that big to produce a satisfactory crop. There are plenty of tiny gardens in operation that can consistently produce high-grade, top-quality buds and remain undetected in the process. Many student loans have been paid off with such stealth gardens as well, which might give you an idea as to how common such grow spaces are. Regardless of how large or small your grow space will be, you will have to provide six things in order to guarantee the survival of your plants: light, water, temperature, humidity, nutrients and CO2. If you think you can manage these essentials, you can start designing your grow space.
What Counts As A Grow Space?
Necessity is the mother of invention and the ingenuity of cannabis farmers knows no bounds, so it should come as no surprise that you can turn nearly any space into a fully functioning cannabis garden, though yields may vary. In addition to the six fundamental environmental factors mentioned above, a good grow space should also take the following into account:
- A power supply to run all electrical equipment (lights, fans, air filters, etc.).
- Ventilation to ensure proper air flow/exchange.
- Surrounding walls for security and light proofing as well as odor control.
- Sufficient height to give your plants space to grow.
If you have these elements covered, you can turn almost anything into a functioning grow space. This can be a spare bedroom, a section of your basement, a closet, an attic (though temperature control can be an issue in the warmer months), a cabinet/cupboard, a pre-made tent/growbox or even a shelf. Some very inventive growers have even converted old appliances such as PC cases and refrigerators into productive grow spaces. You will obviously be limited by the size of your space, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t produce a satisfying crop despite the physical limitations.
The great outdoors is also an option provided you can ensure security and discretion, though the requirements for setting up a space outdoors will considerably differ from indoor designs. More on that later.
Indoors: Rooms and Closets
For many growers, this is the most common and best option as rooms and closets can easily be hidden from prying eyes, providing that ever-so-crucial security and discretion and generally provide enough space for a decent harvest. You can dedicate a whole room, such as a spare bedroom, or a walk-in closet for this purpose. In such a situation, you should easily be able to supply electricity for your lights and other electrical devices as well as a water supply for thirsty plants. Despite being in an enclosed space, however, you should also take into account potential giveaways, namely noise and light leaks. Noise can be generated by oscillating fans, squirrel cage fans for air filtration, noisy ballasts and HPS lamps. Soundproofing your space isn’t absolutely necessary if you live alone, but it can go a long way, particularly if you have unexpected guests. Many fans will come with silencers or some type of insulation to minimize noise, consult your local grow shop for the latest solutions. Light-proofing your space is also a good idea as a preventative measure. Light emanating from unexpected sources will catch anyone’s attention and will most certainly pique their interest. In many grow box or tent setups, light leaks tend to come from air inlet/outlet holes, though there are many solutions for eliminating or minimalizing this issue, such as light-proof air inlets or duct elbows.
Grow tents have become a highly popular option as they come pre-fabricated with all of the necessary components needed to get a garden started. All you need to do as a grower is find the right space and assemble the unit. Grow tents can come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, but finding a suitable one shouldn’t take very long, though the number of options can be overwhelming. Grow boxes and cabinets are very similar to tents in that they come as plug-and-play units for the most part and require very little assembly by the grower. Some even have electronic drivers that monitor and regulate humidity, temperature and CO2 levels, making gardening even easier. There are also several grow cabinets on the market that come with separate chambers for growing clones/seedlings and vegetative growth/flowering and some are already set up for hydroponics, making the process even more of a cinch.
Cupboards, cabinets and shelves
If pre-fabricated grow spaces aren’t your thing or are a bit out of your price range, converting existing furniture such as an unused cupboard, cabinet or even a shelf into a mini-garden is also an option, though they will require some tinkering to provide air inlets/outlets, reduce noise and prevent light leaks. Shelves are a frequently overlooked option as they don’t provide the discretion of a cabinet or closet but they are very well-suited for growing shorter plants (approx. 2-3 feet/0.6-0.9 m). Despite not having that much room to grow vertically, plants can be spaced out in multiple rows along the length of the wall, which means more plants will fit into the garden. In such setups growers will have to consider the right type and length of lamp, however shelves can also be used in an outdoor or greenhouse setting as well.
Rotary and coliseum gardens
Designed to use light and space to their fullest extent in order to achieve maximum yields, rotary and coliseum gardens are specially constructed gardens where a light is placed in the middle of a round or semi-circular enclosed space around which plants rotate. Since there is no reflector behind the lamp, light is emitted in every direction which the plants then use. Such gardens can be soil-based or hydroponic/aeroponic, however their price and advanced technical design can be a little off-putting, particularly for novices. They can also be a little unwieldy in terms of design, so make sure you have enough room to accommodate them.
Outdoor setups can be very tricky as you run a greater risk of being caught or having animals peck away at your precious crop. If you happen to live in a jurisdiction where growing out of public view is legal (Spain, parts of the US, etc.), it is much easier to set up a controlled outdoor garden where you have access to water, nutrients, tools and can set up some sort of security barrier in the form of a fence or hedgerow. Guerilla style gardens are a popular option in places with relatively lax laws on domestic cultivation but still carry a big risk. In addition to not having ready access to basic necessities (water, nutrients and various tools may have to be transported over difficult terrain), security is also a major issue. Getting caught will most certainly land you in hot water and you also have no recourse should you get robbed of your crop or have it eaten by wild animals. If done properly however, the yields can be very rewarding. Simply put there is no substitute for sun-grown cannabis and the free energy from the sun makes it even more tempting. For many growers though, the risk is still too great to do on a regular basis.
Designing Your Garden
Every garden will be unique in some way and particularly so if you are growing in stealth mode, so there is no one-design-fits-all-spaces model, however if you cover the basics (light, water, temperature, humidity, nutrients and CO2 supplementation, etc.), designing your garden should be a breeze.
If you have designated a room or closet as your grow space, you will have to start by clearing out as much as possible in order to prevent potential contaminants and to give yourself and your plants plenty of breathing room. Also make sure to have a power source (electrical sockets, etc.) nearby to quickly and safely set up electrical equipment.
- A good start would be to remove any carpeting or rugs as they can potentially harbor unwanted visitors such as pests, bacteria or some type of mold. If this is an issue, you might want to go with an impermeable grow tent instead.
- Once your floor has been cleared, line it with plastic liner to guard against spillage, pests and to make cleaning your space that much easier.
- Once your floor has been setup, it’s time to work on your walls. Ideally, they should be as clean as possible and as flat as possible and should be located not too far away from a power source.
- Next, line the walls and the inside of the door with some type of reflective material. Mylar is a very popular material that is highly reflective and impermeable, though it can be pricey. If you aren’t concerned with impermeability, painting the walls flat white is your next best option as flat white paint has a reflectivity of up to 90% (vs. 95% of Mylar). If molds and fungal attacks are a concern, add a fungicide to your flat white paint to have one less potential garden enemy to worry about.
- Install your lighting system. Depending on the size of the garden, you may require more than one lamp. If you are using a HID setup, a 1000 w lamp can easily cover a space up to 20 ft2 (1.9 m2), however two 600w lamps will also do the trick. Fluorescent lamps can also be used to grow some quality buds, though remember plants should receive about 50-70 watts per ft2 (535-750 watts per m2). A 1000w HPS lamp can easily provide a bedroom/closet garden with enough power to produce a good crop and not be noticed by neighbors or the electricity company, though many growers will find that a 600w lamp or two will do just as good of a job. LED lamps have also exploded in popularity and can produce top quality buds just like a HID setup but use much less power and generate much less heat. Remember to include a suitable ballast (if applicable), reflector, pulleys, chains or a plant yo-yo to regulate lamp height and to use a timer lest you manually switch the lights on and off.
- Lamps of any kind will generate additional heat in your garden and HID lamps and ballasts can easily turn a small garden into a sauna if no ventilation or temperature controls are used. A hygrostat/thermostat are absolutely key to monitoring the ambient conditions of your garden so make sure to install a reliable one (digital ones are cheap and very dependable).
- For ventilation, basic oscillating fans are cheap and simple options and depending on the size of your grow space, you might want to use more than one. If your room or closet is already equipped with a reliable AC unit, this is also a good option for controlling temperature and humidity.
- Since the air inside a room or closet will not have the same air exchange as an outdoor garden, CO2 will have to be supplemented. CO2 tanks with reservoirs and meters can be easily obtained and installed and your yields will noticeably increase. For smaller spaces, CO2 mats and tabs are a simple solution, though this way it is more difficult to precisely control CO2 levels.
- In order to remain inconspicuous, you will also have to take into account odor control as your garden will get rather stinky, especially the closer you get to harvest. Solutions for this include the use of a carbon filter in your air outtake/vent line, a negative ion generator or some sort of odor neutralizer in the form of a gel, spray, etc.
- Another giveaway that some growers face is light leaks from lamps. It is absolutely crucial to light-proof any windows and doors that could potentially reveal an orange glow coming out of somewhere it shouldn’t be.
- Set up your containers/pots/hydroponic garden and remember to keep the wiring/electricity simple, untangled, in an easily reachable place and away from any water whatsoever.
Should a room or a walk-in closet not be the best indoor option for you, you can create a room within a room (grow tent/box/cabinet), which will be a more compact and easily manageable method of cultivating indoors. Most ready-made units will have all of the above ready to go, so you don’t have to worry about things like odor control, light leaks, ventilation, etc., however one thing to keep in mind is ambient temperature. If your unit is located somewhere where the temperature can get high in the summer, such as an attic, you will have to compensate for this unless you have a built-in AC unit. To be on the safe side, run your unit without any plants for a day or so during the day to see how warm your unit will get on the inside and adjust accordingly.
If you are converting an enclosed space such as a cupboard or other type of furniture or if you are constructing your own cabinet/box, you should follow the 11 steps above to make sure all of the basic safety and security measures are taken. DIY kits with instructions are readily available online and in most cases are low-cost and simple to construct.
Outdoor growing is an entirely different beast as mother nature is control of the ambient conditions, though this means that growers can focus their attention on other priorities. As mentioned above, security and remaining inconspicuous are of utmost importance in such situations. If you are doing a controlled grow, such as in a garden hidden from public view or a greenhouse, you can proceed as you normally would with any other type of plant, though remember to have a water source nearby. One thing that could potentially tip people off to your grow is the smell of your plants, especially come harvest time. If you do happen to have a power source nearby, you can use an ozone generator to mask the smell of your plants. Otherwise, you can turn to mother nature herself and find some other companion plants that will mask the scent of your cannabis such as basil or rosemary.
If for whatever reason you decide to take a stab at guerilla growing, you should remember the three Ss: sun, soil and secrecy. Find a spot that gets plenty of sunlight, e.g. a south-facing hillside, has good, fertile soil (which might require testing to be on the safe side), and make sure no one can easily find it. This will be the biggest challenge in guerilla growing as you have nothing to defend your garden from law enforcement, thieves, animals or severe weather. Water pumps will also most likely have to be used unless you can find a spot near a creek or river.
In addition to keeping your garden clean and maintaining electrical safety (for indoor grows), it is also crucial to regularly check your plants’ vitals such as pH levels, humidity, and temperature for indoor gardens,and in all cases to check for pests, fungi and nutrient deficiencies.
One thing you should certainly NOT do is talk openly about your garden. Secrecy and security go hand-in-hand and the fewer people are aware of your garden, the lesser the likelihood of you getting caught. As tempting as it may be to tell your friends and family about your ganja gardening skills, you’ll be able to put those skills to use longer and harvest more buds by keeping a tight lip.
Pro-tip #1: If you’re worried that the smell of your outdoor garden may be noticed by neighbors or passers-by, place some deer repellant near your garden to mask the smell of your cannabis. You can also use those pesky deer as an excuse for the foul-smelling repellant should a nosy neighbor ask.
Pro-tip #2: Use deer repellant to repel actual deer from your guerilla grow. There aren’t many safeguards in such situations but at least you can mitigate the risk of your crop being eaten by wild animals.
Whether you decide to have an indoor or outdoor space, you should have a basic idea of what’s needed to get the ball rolling. If you can maintain a safe and secure grow space (preferably in secrecy), you’ll be able to reap the rewards for a long time. Choose wisely and happy growing!
- *Cannabis Tours, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons