This story is dedicated to the memory of Todd M., a good grower and a good friend.
 

Allow me to first throw out a few disclaimers. Our chief concern here in the Cultivation Department, as always, is the safety and well-being of our readers and growers, as well as the families and neighbors of said growers. To grow marijuana safely is sometimes contradictory to doing it inexpensively. Cutting corners can be easier and may save time and money, but remember this: It’s one thing to get busted growing weed, but it’s an entirely different thing to get busted growing weed because you burned down your house, or an entire apartment building, and people suffered or were injured because of you. This is what we want to avoid. Growing quality cannabis should be a safe and soothing experience, not the contrary.

           

So in order to protect yourself and those close to you, yet at the same time be able to grow excellent ganja in your own home (on a budget), there are only three words you need to know: Keep it simple. Trying to do too much can get costly as well as dangerous and is usually not even necessary. So take a step back and look at your space, and together we can create an inexpensive and safe (but still very effective) method for you to grow your own right in your very own home.

 
Getting Down Some Basics

Let’s approach this logically. The basic tenets of plant biology, or gardening in general, begin with four basic elements: water, light, gases and solids. To start, all four of these elements contribute in some way to photosynthesis—the plant’s natural process for manufacturing sugars, or food, for it to live and grow. Water and light are self-explanatory, but the other two require brief explanations. Gases, such as CO2 and oxygen, are integral to the process of photosynthesis. Solids, such nutrients or fertilizers, are minerals and vitamins that also aid in photosynthesis, food transfer within the plant, cellular growth and disease prevention.

 

A curious fact that many growers don’t often realize is that CO2 was first introduced into indoor growrooms to treat the problem of heat. With rising growroom temperatures due to high-powered lamps and poor ventilation (two areas that we’ll cover in the third section of this article), many indoor growers began using CO2 to open the plants’ stomata, which close up when the plants overheat, thus preventing photosynthesis. By keeping your growroom simple and using the right lighting and ventilation, you can avoid this problem and eliminate almost any need for CO2. And that’s just one example of the many ways you can begin saving money while setting up a top-notch growroom right now!

 
Gases and Nutrients

When it comes to gases and solids, it’s not always necessary to artificially infuse these elements into your growroom. Ambient CO2 levels in our natural atmosphere are high enough for sustaining healthy, happy marijuana gardens. Additionally, oxygen—which is only absorbed by a plant through its root system—is also readily available in plentiful amounts in the air surrounding us. The key to ensuring ample oxygen uptake at the root level lies in using an airy grow medium that allows for good air penetration.

           

Nutrients and fertilizers take on a slightly different function than do CO2 and oxygen. While some grow mediums, like outdoor soils or high-quality soilless mixes, contain some amounts of nutrients and minerals, it is sometimes a good idea to supplement your garden with mild amounts of nutrients, especially in the later phases of growth and flowering. If you’re using a synthetic grow medium such as rockwool or expanded clay, you will most certainly need nutrient additives. Still, remember to keep it simple.

 

Whether you’re growing hydroponically or using a more organic method, don’t go nuts buying the most expensive nutrients on the market or something that has 15 different parts and an insane mixing and feeding schedule. There are plenty of high-quality, inexpensive two- or three-part feeds that work very well. Reputable brands such as Botanicare or General Hydroponics make relatively inexpensive nutrients that are easy to use. All you really need is a two-part nutrient solution: one for use during the vegetative phase (labeled “Grow” on most bottles) and one for use during the flowering phase (labeled “Bloom”). Nutrients are always labeled in the same order, N-P-K: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). Nutrient fertilizers are formulated to include these and other major nutrients (known as macronutrients) as well as the essential micronutrients that your plants will need during each phase of growth.

 

And just like that, you can eliminate the need to add tanks of CO2, regulators and timers, air pumps, spaghetti lines to the root zones, dozens of bottles of nutrients, huge mixing buckets and all that other expensive gear that growers throw in their growrooms. Keeping it simple saves time and money and not only makes for happier plants, but also happier growers.

 

Build-Your-Own Price Sheet:

 
Simple two-part grow/bloom nutrients (2 quarts): $25
Advanced 15-part nutrient program: $425
 
Simple CO2-boost organic kit: $135
CO2 tank, regulator kit and timer: $360
 
 
Lighting and Ventilation

This is perhaps the most important section for your growroom, and the reason is twofold. First, lightning represents both the most expensive and the most dangerous aspect of your indoor grow op. And second, as mentioned earlier, lighting also presents one of the biggest hazards to your plants—heat.

           

Let’s begin with choosing the best lamp for your growroom. The first rule: No matter what size your space is or what system your garden utilizes, never buy a cheap or secondhand lamp. Growroom lights use a lot of electricity, and the wiring and ballasts that supply that electricity to the bulb is the difference in whether or not a fire can start in your growroom. Therefore, this is not the place to skimp on costs.

           

The next thing to focus on is your actual growroom size. High-intensity discharge (HID) lamps are sometimes too intense for a very small space. For spaces smaller than 4’ x 4’, you may consider using fluorescent bulbs, perhaps something on par with a bank of T5 or T8 fluorescents. These bulbs are inexpensive, use way less power, give off very little heat and provide excellent spectrum for plants—but they will yield less than HID lamps come harvest time.

 

If your space is slightly larger, or has more space for ample air circulation and ventilation, you can consider larger lamps. Metal halide (MH) and high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs are the most popular choices among growers, but if you’re going with only one fixture, HPS is the usual choice. Some ballasts allow growers to switch bulbs, using an MH during the vegetative (“grow”) cycle and HPS during the flowering (“bloom”) cycle. These bulbs usually range from 250 to 1,000 watts. Figure 1.1 shows the coverage areas for bulbs of various wattages.

 

Another important consideration when choosing your lamps is the type of ballast your lighting system will utilize. Today’s grower has two options: core and coil ballast (magnetic) or an electronic (digital) ballast. The newest and most efficient ballast on the market is the electronic ballast, but it’s also the most expensive. Choose a ballast that suits your budget—but again, it’s always best to buy a new unit that comes directly from the store or manufacturer with a warranty.

 

Depending on the size of your growroom and the bulb size you use, ventilation becomes increasingly important, as does general air circulation. Ventilation can be as simple as a small intake fan at the bottom of your space and an exhaust fan at the top of the room. Good air circulation can be achieved with another small oscillating fan situated on a table or wall mount near the top third of your canopy. Ventilation helps prevent heat from building up in the growroom, and the circulation helps keep the temperature down, as well as moving air past the leaves for better CO2 absorption. 

 

Using HID lamps makes it essential that your room is properly ventilated. Some people choose to air-cool the bulb and reflector hood with inline fans and ducting, and even though this is a very good option, this method can get very pricey. To keep things inexpensive, install an air vent at the bottom of the room’s door and put a small floor fan inside the room to pull air in. To exhaust the room, find a spot to vent air out near the top of the room, where the heat will be accumulating. A small window might work, or you could cut a small hole in the top of a wall or door—and again, installing an air vent will also work very well. Affixing an exhaust fan to this vent or hole can be done by hanging the fan on chains from the ceiling or using a wall mount. In extreme situations where high vent holes might pose a problem, you can use flexible ducting attached to a floor-based fan. Hang the ductwork high in the room—preferably over your light—and work it down the wall to a fan that is blowing the hot air out of the room. Flexible ducting, chains, air vents and wall mounts are all relatively inexpensive items and can usually be found at your local hardware store or Home Depot.

 
 
Wattage
Coverage Area

Height Above Canopy

250
4’ x 4’
12” – 18”
400
5’ x 5’
14” – 24”
600
6’ x 6’
18” – 30”
1,000
8’ x 8’
24” – 36”
Figure 1.1 shows coverage area of HID bulbs.

Build-Your-OwnPrice Sheet:

 
4’ four-bulb T5 fluorescent system: $150

            Dual (intake/exhaust) window fan: $20

4’ eight-bulb T5 fluorescent system: $280

            10” power intake floor fan: $30

            16” oscillating fan with stand: $30

400-watt MH/HPS system: $297
400-watt MH/HPS digital system: $290

            6” inline can-fan (440 cfm): $185

            6” flex duct, non-insulated (25’): $27

1,000-watt HPS system: $180
1,000-watt air-cooled HPS system: $260
 
 
Wick Systems and Earth Boxes

For even less maintenance, but at slightly greater cost, other good options for small indoor grow ops are wick systems and Earth Boxes. Both systems allow the grower some flexibility in choosing a grow medium and utilize built-in reservoirs so that plants can go days at a time between waterings.

           

Wick systems do exactly what the name says: They wick up water from a bottom reservoir to the root zone, sometimes utilizing an actual rope-type wick to draw water up, and sometimes allowing the grow medium to act as a wick. The reservoir is usually filled from a tube that begins above the surface of the grow medium. These systems come in a variety of sizes, from buckets to troughs to entire trays.

           

Earth Boxes are basically all-in-one, self-contained wick-system gardens. They don’t use an actual wick, but rather allow the roots to grow all the way down to the reservoirs where water is stored. The plants can wick up, or drink, water as needed. The water can be mixed in a nutrient solution or added straight.

 

Whether you choose a traditional wick system or an Earth Box, the best choice for a grow medium is potting mix or some soilless pro-mix. Many growers will mix coco-coir (shredded coconut fiber) or other airy mediums into potting mixes to allow better air penetration.

 
Build-Your-Own Price Sheet:
 
Earth Box (29” x 13.5” x 11”): $48
Hydro-Buckets (set of 12 pots, 6”/ 1-gal.): $150
 
 
Watering and Grow Mediums

Since the goal of this article is to put together a budget-conscious growroom, this section pertaining to watering is relatively easy: water by hand. It’s free and easy, minus maybe the cost of a watering can. In a day and age when numerous watering systems dot the market, if you can water your garden yourself once a day, it will pay off not only in dollar savings but also in countless other ways, such as experience and a better understanding of gardening.

           

Flood tables, drip and NFT (nutrient-film technique) systems, bucket systems and so on will all cost unmanageable amounts of cash if you’re building a growroom for under $1,000. And this doesn’t just include the upfront costs of a $350 or $500 hydro system, or the endless list of peripheral timers, knobs and tubes, but also the maintenance and replacement-part costs that inevitably come after every harvest. Larger systems always require extra thought and money. There’s nothing quite like six or eight 2-gallon buckets with a soft pro-mix as the grow medium and a little pump pail and spray-wand.            

 

And that brings us to grow mediums. Obviously, if you eliminate the hydroponic and aeroponic methods, that leaves very few choices remaining. You can use bags or buckets, or you can build (or buy) a tray, table, trough or bed that you can fill with medium. Watering clay aggregate or rockwool by hand is not a very common practice; the more traditional (and recommended) method would be to fill your grow container with either soil or a soilless mix. Soilless mixes look and act much like soil, but they’re much softer and usually peat- or sphagnum-based. Pro-mixes can also have perlite, vermiculite, coco-coir or wood pieces mixed in.

           

There are a few advantages that soilless mixes have over actual soil. Soilless mixes are sterile and insect-free, which is very important when growing indoors. Additionally, these mixes are much lighter than soil, and the additives, such as perlite or wood chips, help air to permeate the medium, getting more oxygen to the roots. The perlite and vermiculite are also excellent at absorbing and holding moisture for the plants to use later, even after the medium is dry.

           

Of course, the advantage of soil is that it is acts as much more of a buffer for the roots during feeding cycles. This can be particularly helpful for beginner growers who have less experience applying nutrients to gardens. Because roots are extremely sensitive and delicate, they can easily sustain root burn from overfeeding or—even worse—nutrient lock-up from a buildup of excess salts due to heavy nutrient application. Soil will naturally buffer some of this and aid in breaking down nutrients into elemental forms for easier uptake by your plants’ root systems. Many growers who use non-soil mediums such as pro-mixes, clay or rockwool will mix a microbial water treatment into their nutrient solution to introduce natural microorganisms and beneficial bacteria into the grow medium. This aids the roots in nutrient uptake and helps prevent mold or fungus from forming—a very cheap and effective solution to a common problem.

 

Build-Your-OwnPrice Sheet:

 
Potting soil, 50 lb. bag: $25
            Ebb-and-flow hydro system (3’x 3’): $350
Pro-Mix, 50 lb. bag: $36
            Eight-bucket hydroponic system: $290
Expanded clay, 50 liters: $40
            2-gallon watering tank and wand: $30
 
Microbial water additive (4 oz.): $5
 
 
Budget-Conscious Growroom Tips and Price List

• 600-watt bulbs create less heat, run more efficiently and are usually cheaper than 1,000-watt systems.

 

600-watt HPS bulb/ballast/reflector: $330

 

• Rather than purchase a roll of reflective Mylar for your growroom walls, use aluminum foil, which is way less expensive. Just make sure not to wrinkle the foil.

 
Reflective Mylar (100 sq. ft. roll): $35
 

• Space problem? In lieu of a closet, you can use a Hydro Tent to house a small indoor garden. Smaller tents are inexpensive enough to consider for tight-budget ops.

 
Hydro Tent, 4’ x 4’ x 8’: $240
 

•Also check out single-pot, stand-alone bucket-drip systems that feed plants from the top using a drip emitter as a low-maintenance and inexpensive solution for easy indoor gardening.

 
Top-feed bucket drip system: $40
 
 

Price index information supplied by Hydrowholesale.com, HIDHut.com, CO2Boost.com, EarthBox.com, BotanicalBrother.com HomeDepot.com and Target.com.

 

THIS ARTICLE WAS FEATURED IN THE JANUARY 2009 ISSUE OF HIGH TIMES MAGAZINE: