Growing your own medicine

Growing your own cannabis may sound a bit on the extreme side. If you live somewhere where it’s legal to buy marijuana for medical or recreational use, why bother growing it? And if you live somewhere that criminalizes weed, growing it may seem a bit foolhardy. But look at this from another angle: growing it instead of buying it on the black market means you’re disconnected from the ‘street seller’ process. This won’t save you if you get busted but it might well help your argument that it’s only for your health. It’s also safer than making shady deals on street corners.

Growing your own will still be cheaper than buying from a legal dispensary, as long as you have the space to set yourself up. You’ll eventually be going through an ounce (28g) or more of plant material (buds and small leaves) in a month, which can cost anywhere from $180-$400 depending on your location, for good quality cannabis. I did the sums and it’s definitely worth it for me.

Here’s a basic shopping list based on my experience; first the major items, then the extras:

The grow tent (approx $100/€90/£80)

Make sure you have a good enough space for your grow tent. If you have an attic space this can work well, although summer/winter temperature extremes can be tough to manage. How about a basement? Or a garage or a garden shed, as long as you can run permanent power to it? Or maybe just a spare room? You’ll need a tent that’s over five feet high to accommodate your plants and hanging lights, and it needs to be deep and wide enough for your NFT tray.

The NFT tray & pump (approx $60€55/£48)

Hydroponics will give better yields than growing in soil, but most kinds can be a little tricky to set up and manage. NFT is different; this ‘Nutrient Film Technique’ method pumps a thin film of nutrient-rich water over roots, giving them the food and oxygen they need to thrive. It’s simple to set up; buy a ‘Nutriculture Gro-Tank GT205 NFT Kit’ and you’ll get the necessary pump, cover and spreader mat with it.

Tip: the benefit of an NFT system is that it’s almost hands-free! Keep the reservoir topped up, and you can happily go away for days, even a week, without worry. You can’t do that confidently with pots of soil, even with drip irrigation gizmos. (Also, in my experience pots of soil grows smaller plants.)

Fan & ducting (approx $80/€70/£63), optional carbon filter (approx $70/€62/£55)

Where you put your grow tent will dictate how you need to approach ventilation. If odor control is important and you can’t put it somewhere remote, get a carbon filter as well as a fan and ducting. This won’t be cheap, but it can work wonders for removing the heavy, pervasive smell of fresh cannabis flowers and leaves. Try to get a 6-inch fan and ducting system rather than a smaller one; having a reasonable air exchange and movement is actually important for general plant health.

A 300W LED ‘grow light’ (approx $80/€70/£63)

LED grow lights are extremely energy-efficient; a 300W rating means it delivers roughly the amount of light energy of a traditional 300W lighting setup, but it will use less than a third of the energy to do this. LED grow lights have mainly red and blue LEDs; plants reflect rather than absorb green light, so it’s a waste of energy producing that wavelength. Good ones will also have one or two UV and IR LEDs as well, which adds to the general health and well-being of growing plants. 

This setup will grow a couple of plants happily, three at a push, although you’d benefit from a bit more light.

TIP: Rather than getting a single bigger light, think about getting a second one: a second light safeguards you in case one fails. One of my old no-name LED panels lost all its blue LEDs a few weeks ago; it now just shines red. Not a big problem as it’s still some benefit, but it would be bad news if that was my only one. Similarly, once your pump has gone for a few ‘grow seasons’ it’s worth having a backup handy in case it fails or clogs. A pump failure would kill the crop within a day.)

Plus the smaller bits (approx $100/€90/£80 altogether?)

Three separate extension leads to avoid confusion: one for the NFT pump (this must never go off!), one for the light/s (you’ll need a 24h on/off timer when flowering), and one for the fan (I have a cheap plugin thermo sensor that only triggers the fan when the temp goes above 82F/28C).

Grow room pulley hangers for hanging the LED grow light(s). You’ll need to adjust the height regularly as the plants grow, so a simple ratchet pulley system is really helpful. You should be able to find a pair for under $10 no problem.

Don’t forget some nutrients to add to the water. Maybe $15 for a bottle of concentrate that’s good for hydro-style growing.

A plug-in 24-hour timer switch for when your plants start flowering and need a roughly 12/12 day/night light regime rather than the 22-24 hours of light that gets them growing in the earlier vegetative stage.

Finally, some seeds or cuttings. I use Seedsman.com for my seeds but there are lots of other places online. Just remember the laws in your area; in some states and countries it’s legal to grow cannabis, but in most places it’s unfortunately against the law. Weirdly, it’s legal almost everywhere (but still check!) to buy and keep seeds as long as you don’t germinate them – and yes, that is a bit pointless. So unless you live in a *really* restrictive country you can buy seeds without concern. Just be careful who knows what you’re doing with them; loose lips sink ships! When it comes to your health, the last thing you want is to have to stop doing this.

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