If you’ve ever thought you don’t have enough time or space to grow, think again. In today’s economically stressed America, people are working longer and harder than ever to make ends meet, but you can still grow great weed, relax your mind and supplement your income -- and fit it all into your busy schedule. This inexpensive and simple system, created by the King of Queens, demonstrates just how easy it can be to grow your own magnificent herb in just minutes a day, and harvest up to three crops a year.
In New York City, in a seemingly ordinary two-bedroom apartment in the borough of Queens, magic is occurring. Buds dripping with crystals fill a hidden 12-foot x five-foot room holding 60 plants in soil, contained in breathable one-gallon felt bags that sit in flood trays above water reservoirs. With four kids to take care of, the King works long hours to support his family, and so he’s devised this efficient ebb-and-flow soil system that allows him to maintain a small horticultural operation with the least amount of time and effort, while still growing happy plants in their natural medium.
A system like this can be constructed in a few days using readily available materials: off-the-shelf containers, fluorescent lights and fixtures, fans, ventilation hose and wood from Home Depot; pumps, PVC pipe fittings, flexible hose, felt grow bags, clone-start trays, Mylar sheeting, soil, soil amendments and nutrients from the local hydroponics store. And it can be maintained and operated daily with the flick of a switch or by using an automatic timer.
The basic idea here is that water is pumped from a reservoir on the floor into an elevated plant tray for a given period of time each day, and the nutrified solution recirculates by draining directly into the reservoir below. Essentially an ebb-and-flow table of the kind normally used for hydroponic setups, the twist here is that the porous polyester-felt bags enable soil to be used as the plant and nutrient medium, which many agree produces superior cannabis.
The system is infinitely expandable, and you can start with just one or two eight-plant trays and add more as desired. The King has all the tray pumps plugged into a power strip connected to a timer, so that they all turn on at the same time to irrigate the trays. The ventilation intake and exhaust fans run continuously, creating a gentle breeze. Besides providing CO2 replenishment and air replacement, the moving air sways the plants’ stems, which helps to strengthen them as they grow heavy buds. The lights are also plugged into a timer, which means the system can be fully automated for several weeks if desired, although the King keeps a watchful eye on his plants and often turns the pumps on manually. (And on the rare occasions when whiteflies or spider mites have reared their tiny heads, the King swears by a foliar spray of neem oil and Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap dissolved in water to eradicate the invaders.)
Of course, besides great nutrients, great genetics are essential for a grow’s success. The King is primarily growing three strains: an indica named Crash, and two of the King’s own crossbreeds, Midnight Special and Green Amber, as well as a few related strains like Green Special and Midnight Purple. The plants are usually started from clones taken from several mother plants, although good seeds are planted when available.
The plastic flood trays used for this project happen to be 40" x 20" x 7" Sterilite 67-quart Wheeled Underbed Boxes, but any large and flat plastic containers of a similar nature will do. (The mothers are also contained in these trays, under a bank of eight fluorescent bulbs located below the King’s sleeping loft -- although this may not exactly be the “underbed” purpose Sterilite had in mind.)
Since each tray holds eight, one-gallon felt bags and is suspended above its own large nutrient reservoir, the best bet is to construct a simple wooden structure of plywood and two-by-fours to elevate the trays a few inches above the reservoir containers, about two feet off the ground. (Metal wire shelving will also work well.) If you don’t want to cut the wood yourself, many lumber suppliers will cut the wood to your specifications for a small charge. Building the structure along a wall is advisable for extra stability and bracing, and this facilitates hanging the reflective silver Mylar. Keep in mind that water and soil are very heavy, so while the structure you create doesn’t have to be refined or pretty, it does need to be sturdy.
To prepare each tray for the reservoir feed pipe and the overflow drain pipe, measure and drill two clean 3/4-inch holes in the bottom, at least one foot apart lengthwise or even at opposite ends of the tray, taking care not to crack the plastic. If you’re placing the tray on a piece of plywood above the reservoir, measure and drill matching holes in the wood to allow the 3/4-inch pipes to pass through; you should drill larger holes in the wood than those in the tray, so that the pipe alignment needn’t be super precise.
PUMP & FITTINGS
Attach the feed and overflow drain-pipe fittings from below to the holes in the elevated tray, ensuring that the screw fittings and rubber grommets create tight seals. The feed-pipe fitting should be flush with the bottom of the tray, as the water will drain back into the reservoir through the attached feed hose when the pump is turned off. The overflow drain-pipe fitting, which drains the water back into the reservoir while the pump is running, should protrude into the tray about one inch or so above the tray bottom.
The King inserts a two-inch length of removable 3/4-inch pipe into the drainpipe’s 3/4-inch coupling fitting that allows him to easily raise or lower the height of the drainpipe, depend- ing on the water needs of the plants.
Next, connect the 1/2-inch pump hose from the reservoir to the feed-pipe fitting; trim the pipe if needed. (The King is using a standard Hydrofarm pipe fitting that accepts a 1/2-inch hose and screws into a 3/4-inch hole, with a useful debris trap on top.) Then connect the 3/4-inch overflow drain hose below the tray to the drain fitting. The drain hose can be trimmed as needed so the outflow remains above the water line in the reservoir, in this case a 29" x 20" x 15.5" GSC 27-gallon Strong Box plastic tub. For each reservoir and tray, the King uses an Aquarium Systems Mini-Jet 404 Pump (about $25) with standard 1/2-inch fittings, but any similar hydroponic pump will do.
Inexpensive and low-heat fluorescent lights are used here not just for clones, but also for vegetation and flowering, with six or eight mixed warm-white and cool-white Philips four-foot, 34-watt T12 bulbs placed in fixtures hung right above the plants.
Importantly, two more bulbs are placed in an upward-facing fixture between the two rows of plants in each tray, to supply that extra light boost that really makes a difference when grow- ing with low-wattage fluorescents. Each four-foot bulb spans slightly more than the 40-inch dimension of the trays used here, which is ideal.
Compared to plants produced under high-wattage lamps, plants grown under fluorescents will not grow as big or tall and will not produce as much -- but, the King is quick to note, this doesn’t affect the actual quality of the product, and “the end result is the same” as herb produced under brighter and hotter lamps. Fluorescents will also keep your electricity bill under control and in a more ordinary usage range, and they produce much less heat -- and therefore are much less likely to attract attention.
Suspend the light fixtures above the plants using nylon cord, rope or chain attached to the ceiling or strong wall brackets. If you go the extra mile with a pulley system for the cord (or simple S-hooks for the chains), you will be able to raise or lower these low-heat lights easily as the plants grow, ensuring that they are always just above the buds. Also, silver Mylar on one side of the trays -- here pinned on the adjoining wall -- significantly enhances light dispersion and efficiency.
The King uses eight-inch flexible ventilation hose for both the air intake and exhaust, with an eight-inch inline fan discreetly pulling air from behind a window screen through a hose into the growroom, and another fan at the other end of the room pulling growroom air into a hose and through an inline carbon filter, before cleverly exhausting the cleaned air into the apartment.
“If you exhaust directly to a pipe outside, especially in a rural area, then if helicopters come with heat detectors, they will detect a red-hot spot where the air comes out of the pipe,” the King explains. “But if you exhaust the air into the house, it is evenly dispersed and there’s no hot spot to detect. It’s also a benefit because it keeps the adjacent rooms warmer. You also have more control of the smell,” he adds. “What happens if your carbon-filter system is leaking and reeking? You’ll be able to detect the problem smell in the home, instead of it just going directly outside to the street and attracting attention.”
Now the real fun begins. To start the growing cycle, clones are dipped in General Organics Bioroot solution to wet the stems, then dipped in Bontone Rooting Powder before insertion into one-inch Oasis cubes presoaked with the Bioroot solution. The cubes and clones are then placed in a tray containing the solution (added to a depth of 1/2 inch) and covered by a clear dome under four four-foot fluorescent tubes. After nine days, the solution is dumped, the cubes are rinsed, and the solution is replaced. By the 14th day, the roots have popped out of the cubes, and the clones then are transplanted into Aurora one-gallon polyester-felt soil bags and placed on the trays to vegetate. “The felt bags aerate the roots very well -- much better than plastic pots,” states the King. “The tips of the roots come out of the bags, and the roots don’t grow in a circle like in plastic.”
VEGETATION & FLOWERING
After the clones have been planted in good soil in the felt bags, the King’s three-week vegetation cycle begins, with the fluorescent-light array on for 18 hours a day. He generally uses four soil amendments: organic bone meal, organic Espoma Rose-tone 4-3-2, bat guano and seabird guano. Each reservoir is filled with about 20 gallons of plain water, which then picks up and recirculates the fertilizing nutrients in the soil as the trays are flooded and drained. For all the amendments used, the King generally follows the mix amounts indicated on the product labels.
During the vegetative cycle, when the plants are very young, the King turns the pumps on manually to flood the trays only every few days. But when the flowering stage begins, the pumps are turned on -- manually or with the timer -- nearly every day for about an hour. The soil draws the moisture to the roots, and it should be allowed to dry out somewhat between waterings, a process accelerated by the warmth of the lights. (It is important not to overwater, which can cause root rot and damage the plants.) The plants will grow slowly under the fluorescents, but they will grow steadily as long as there are a total of at least eight bulbs—and 10 or more can be used, along with Mylar sheeting.
To switch the plants to the flowering stage, the King changes the photoperiod to 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness for eight or nine weeks, after which the buds are harvested and pinned on a drying rack to cure. Why not the standard 12 hours on/12 hours off? “Each day, you save two hours of electricity,” the King notes matter-of-factly, “and that adds up.”
He also limits his plants to a height of 18 inches, tying down tall stalks and buds with string to steer them sideways. Fan leaves are diligently pulled off the plants as they turn yellow in the later stages of growth, to maximize the plants’ energy for bud production. The lights always remain just above the tops of the plants, which is especially important for this type of low-wattage system, as light intensity decreases very quickly with distance. About every two weeks, the nutrient-imbued water in the reservoirs is dumped and replaced with fresh water, and the tubs are cleaned each time. During flowering, the King sprays the plants every few days with a foliar solution of water and Maxicrop, and around the sixth week of flowering, he makes a nutrient tea using the soil amendments and waters the plants by hand.
THE KING’S SECRET
For the last two weeks of flowering, however, the King turns off the pumps and exclusively waters the plants by hand every few days “as needed” from five-gallon buckets into which he mixes a 1/2 cup of his secret ingredient: molasses. “It gives the herb more body, makes it more sticky, makes it crystallize more, makes it swell up,” he confides. “Molasses is alive. It works to break down the amendments in the soil. It makes the herb sweeter.”
This certainly appears to be the case, as the King’s herb is phenomenally potent, sweet-smelling and absolutely covered in crystals. All of which goes to show that advanced cannabis knowledge, time-saving watering techniques and humble fluorescent lighting are indeed a winning grow formula.
Grow Supplies (per eight-plant tray)
Plastic flood tray
Plastic water reservoir
Hydroponic pump (Aquarium Systems or similar)
Two-foot length of 1/2" hose
(Hydrofarm or similar)
3/4" feed-pipe screw fitting with debris trap and 1/2" hose connection (Hydrofarm or similar)
One-foot length of 3/4" hose (Hydrofarm or similar)
3/4" PVC screw fitting with 3/4" hose connection
3/4" PVC pipe coupling (plus 2” length of PVC pipe, if desired)
Reflective silver Mylar roll or sheets
Soil amendments and clone nutrients
Molasses (the secret ingredient!)
Clone tray and clear dome
One-inch Oasis cubes
Eight one-gallon polyester-felt vegetable bags
Two 8" hoses, length as needed
Two 8" inline fans and hose-mounting hardware
Carbon odor filter and hose connections
Construction and Lighting
4' x 8' plywood sheet, cut as needed Two 8-foot 2" x 4" (1.5" x 3.5") boards, cut as needed
1" x 2" (3/4" x 1.5") or similar light wood lengths to construct drying rack Wood or sheetrock screws
Chain (and S-hooks) or nylon cord (and pulleys)
Chain/cord hooks, plaster or sheetrock anchors and screws (to hang light fixtures to ceiling or wall brackets)
Four-foot fluorescent lamp fixtures (to hold six to 10 bulbs overhead and two below facing upward; each fixture can span two eight-plant trays) Phillips 4-foot, 34-watt T12 bulbs, mixed warm-white and cool-white Two electric timers
Power strips and extension cords
Thumbtacks or tape (to hang Mylar on wall or light fixture)
Drill with Phillips screwdriver bit and 3/4" bit
Wood saw, manual or electric Pliers or Channellock Screwdriver
Tape measure and pencil