By Rebecca James, ILoveGrowingMarijuana.com
Remember when growing and smoking marijuana was widely considered a “hippy” activity?
Cannabis has a rich history as part of a movement that was focused on living peacefully without harming the planet or other human beings. Yet today marijuana is grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, not to mention vast amounts of water. Indoor growers use large amounts of electricity to power grow lights and pumps.
These practices are damaging to the environment and to your health. Who wants to smoke chemical laden buds? If you grow your own marijuana, there are many simple changes you can make to reduce your dependency on chemicals and fossil fuels.
This guide will teach you how to grow marijuana naturally.
Why should I grow marijuana naturally?
Growing marijuana naturally will:
Save you money
Imagine you didn’t have to purchase nutrients, pesticides, algae tablets or mite sprays?
Keep your grow stealthy
A natural grow is a stealthy grow. You are purchasing fewer products that could link you to a marijuana grow, and you will need to make fewer visits to your grow site.
Result in better tasting bud
Growing naturally boosts the amount of terpenes and flavonoids in your final product. These molecules provide the rich flavors and smells of great buds.
Help the environment
Growing marijuana naturally will reduce toxic runoff, conserve water and lower your carbon footprint.
There is no need to sacrifice yield to grow naturally. With a little attention to detail and some practice you can enjoy high yields without the cost or effort of growing with chemicals.
Is growing marijuana naturally the same as growing marijuana organically?
Let’s define a few terms here before we get started:
This is a loaded word. Organic certification of fruits, vegetables and meats require strict adherence to federal guidelines regarding the use of chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics, among other things. Growing organically is expensive and not necessarily the healthiest or most efficient system.
This article is not about growing marijuana organically. It is about growing marijuana in an efficient and environmentally conscious way. By natural I mean using sustainable, renewable methods to produce high yields and potent buds without breaking the bank or your back.
This is another approach to farming that is worth mentioning because it is gaining popularity. In addition to using compost and natural fertilizers, biodynamic farmers use more esoteric methods. They consider the cycles of the moon to time plantings and harvests, prepare homeopathic style remedies for the Earth and work carefully to improve the soil.
There are some biodynamic principles that are useful for growing marijuana, especially the considerations for the soil. These have been incorporated into this article.
Growing outdoors vs. growing indoors
Ideally you should grow marijuana outside. The natural soil provides nutrients, the sun provides light, the rain gives the water and the entire life cycle of marijuana plants progresses naturally. This is not always possible, due to stealth concerns, climate and light cycles. After all, what if you need a crop to mature in the middle of winter?
Tips for growing marijuana naturally outdoors
The two biggest environmental concerns with outdoor marijuana growing are pollution and water consumption. Excess nutrients and pesticides contaminate run-off polluting water tables, rivers and eventually oceans. Growing strains that require large amounts of water in arid or drought-stricken climates is an irresponsible and unsustainable choice.
What can you do?
– Use Natural Nutrients and Pesticides
– Use Nutrients Sparingly to Reduce Run-Off
– Use Drip Irrigation
Or water by hand to ensure that the water goes directly where it is needed. Sprinklers are incredibly wasteful.
A layer of leaves, straw, shavings or even stones around the base of each plant will help prevent evaporation and keep water in the soil.
Plant closely together
This shades the soil, reduces evaporation and makes it easy to water just the plants you want to grow. Keep in mind that marijuana planted this way will need ample nutrients to stay healthy and produce high yields. Check out the section below on natural nutrients for ideas on enriching the soil
Be sensible about how and when you water your garden. Water at night or in the evening to reduce evaporation. Once the plants are three to four weeks old, start watering deeply just twice a week. This will encourage the plants to develop strong, deep roots instead of staying at the surface.
Choose the right strain for your climate
If you live in a dry, arid climate grow a strain that evolved for that climate like Durban Poison, Power Plant or Afghan.
Tips for growing marijuana naturally indoors
Obviously an indoor grow is going to use more resources. For good yields you need grow lights, you may need a ventilation system and a hydroponic set-up as well.
There are a few things you can do to decrease the environmental and the financial costs of an indoor grow:
Use full spectrum LED grow lights
Full spectrum LED grow lights are the best choice for a more natural grow. You will enjoy higher yields with less waste because the available light matches the wavelengths of light that plants can actually use. This means less light is wasted. LEDs stay cool, requiring less ventilation and fewer fans to prevent burning. They use about 50% less electricity than equivalent HID grow lights.
Choose feminized strains
You should be thinking about efficiency with an indoor grow. By the time you let male plants mature to the age you can identify them you’ve wasted 3-6 weeks of light, power and nutrients on plants you’re just going to throw away.
Grow fast finishing strains
Pick strains that finish flowering in eight weeks, not twelve or fourteen. Faster finishing means fewer resources invested.
Train your plants
Use marijuana training techniques to take full advantage of the available light. Techniques like Sea of Green, Screen of Green or Low Stress Training all strive to help more light access the entire plant. These techniques boost yields while reducing the energy requirements of the entire system.
Natural nutrients for marijuana
Cannabis needs nitrogen (N), potassium (K), phosphorus (P) and a number of trace nutrients to grow well. Whether you are growing in soil or using a hydroponic set-up, there are natural sources you can use to provide these essential nutrients.
Using natural nutrients in soil
Growing marijuana in soil is the easiest way to provide abundant natural nutrients. Healthy soil has all the nutrients necessary for a marijuana plant to grow a beautiful crop of buds. Unfortunately, soil gets depleted over time. If you are planting in an area that has been farmed previously or you hope to reuse potting soil from a previous container grow, you will need to add nutrients back in.
The best way to improve soil is by adding compost. Compost is broken down plant material that is high in organic material. In addition to providing a rich source of nutrients, the organic material holds both water and air, providing a healthy environment for the roots of your plants.
There are several ways to go about producing compost for your cannabis garden or containers.
Traditional composting means making a large pile (at least 3’ X 3’ X 3’) of dry and fresh plant material. You want to use about 60-70% “brown” material such as straw, hay, dead leaves or dried stems and fan leaves from your last grow and 30-40% green material. The green stuff can be kitchen scraps, grass clippings or fresh plant waste.
Keep the pile evenly moist but not wet. It will heat up to about 110°F, killing any weed seeds and providing a good environment for healthy microbes that will decompose the material. You will need to turn the pile every six weeks. In three to six months you will have a heap of rich, black soil that can be spread atop your garden, tilled in or mixed into a container.
If you have mature compost, you can soak it in water for ten days to make a rich compost tea. This solution can be sprayed on plants once a month to boost growth. You can also make a compost tea out of fresh plant material by soaking it for about a month. This works best if the solution is aerated or at least thoroughly stirred each day.
If you don’t have the space for a large outdoor compost pile, consider making a worm bin in your kitchen. All you need is a plastic tub with a lid, newspaper, kitchen scraps and red wriggling worms.
The worms will digest everything from kitchen scraps to plant waste, quickly turning it into rich worm castings full of nutrients. This works much faster than traditional composting, but on a small scale. A worm bin is also a convenient and stealthy way to dispose of trimmings from your marijuana grow.
Composting in place
If you are growing outdoors you can also compost in place to return nutrients slowly to the soil. This means simply leaving kitchen scraps or plant waste around the base of the plants and allowing them to break down over time. Keep in mind that this can attract unwanted rodents or pests to your garden. It is usually best to compost kitchen waste separately.
Using plants to add nutrients to soil
If you are growing outdoors in soil you can use other plants to enrich the soil. Here are a few common plants you can grow throughout your marijuana garden that will keep the soil full of nutrients.
This popular tea herb brings up minerals from deep in the soil. It can be grown throughout the garden and easily reseeds itself.
Like chamomile, borage pulls trace nutrients from deep in the soil and makes them available at the surface. Borage also grows quickly, providing lots of green leaves that can be added to the compost pile or cut and dropped to compost in place as a good mulch.
Clover does double duty in your garden. Not only does it pull nutrients from deep in the soil to the surface where they are available to marijuana plants, it also forms a thick living mulch. This living sheet protects the soil from erosion and holds moisture by preventing evaporation.
Try planting clover around your cannabis plants in containers. They provide the same living mulch benefits, reducing the amount of water you use and stabilizing the soil.
You can also plant a cover crop before each new grow to replenish nutrients that have been used by your cannabis plants. Good cover crops to replenish the soil include nitrogen fixing legumes like alfalfa, beans or fast growing green manure plants like mustard or buckwheat that can be tilled in to boost the organic material content of the soil.
Using natural nutrients in a hydroponics system
You can use natural nutrients when growing marijuana in a hydroponic system. However there are some special considerations to using natural nutrients in a hydro set-up.
There are two types of hydroponic nutrients: synthetic and organic based. Synthetic nutrients are specially formulated to be available for uptake by plant roots. Organic fertilizer components depend upon natural microbes to break them down.
The end result of either process is the same: ions that the plant can absorb and use for growth. But the processes involved in making synthetic nutrients are often harmful to the environment. And those of the biodynamic gardening perspective would say that they also bear a less healthy energetic signature as well.
Problems with organic based nutrients in a hydroponic system
Synthetic nutrients do not interact with organisms in the water, so you can pour them directly into the tank and allow it to run without changing the water for two weeks or longer.Organic nutrients do interact with organisms in the water and break down, becoming a stinky mess in your grow room. They can also clog drippers and small pipes throughout the system.It’s not just organic nutrients that have a downside. Potent synthetic nutrients easily burn plants and are not forgiving of errors.
How to use organic nutrients successfully in a hydroponic system
There is a simple trick that will allow you to use organic nutrients in a hydroponic system without any problems: create a dual level hydroponic system.
This means building a set-up that allows you to add nutrients directly to the primary growing medium, which remains separated from the pure water reservoir below.The set-up actually mimics nature, as the cannabis plants roots typically absorb nutrients only in the top 1/3 of each root. The bottom of the root is for water absorption only. Some growers also incorporate natural nutrients like worm castings (from your vermiculture bin!) into a drip irrigation system.
Natural nutrient recipes for growing healthy marijuana
You can purchase organic nutrients for a hydroponic or soil grow, or you can make your own compost. These methods supply nutrients to the roots of each plant.
The leaves are also a great surface for nutrient absorption. Here are a few recipes for nutrient rich sprays that you can apply directly to the leaves of your cannabis plants.
– Calcium Phosphate Spray (Use a Calcium/Phosphate spray when you switch from vegging to flowering)
During this stage your plants need extra help. Calcium strengthens the stems so they can support heavy buds, while phosphorus enables the roots to absorb more water and nutrients. This simple recipe from the Unconventional Farmer makes a spray that you can apply directly to the leaves of your plants when you switch the lights over. Keep in mind that this spray needs to be made at least three weeks before you plan to start flowering. Here’s how it’s made:
Gather enough egg shells to make 1 cup when crushed. Thoroughly rinse egg shells. Cook shells in a dry skillet until some shells are black (calcium) and some are white (phosphorus). Place in a jar with 5 cups of vinegar and watch it bubble. When the bubbling stops, seal the jar, let sit for 20 days and strain.
When you are ready to use the spray, mix one tablespoon of the vinegar/egg shell mixture with one gallon of water.
– Simple, Fast Nitrogen Spray
This is the fastest, easiest recipe that you can use when your plants need a nitrogen boost. Some people think it is a little on the gross side, but I say take advantage of the resources at hand to grow the best buds ever. All you do is mix one part urine (yes, human urine) with 10 parts of water in a spray bottle and apply directly to leaves.
Remember, urine is sterile and very high in nitrogen. Many home gardeners use this recipe when they don’t have time to brew a compost tea. It is just as effective, much faster and a lot less work.
– Bokashi Fermented Stems
A Bokashi culture is a quick way to produce nutrient rich compost tea using fresh stems and leaves (or any other plant material). Simply add the culture to a bucket of plant material and cover with water. In just a week you’ll have a bucket of nutrient rich fertilizer that you spray on the leaves or add directly to the soil.
Some hydroponic growers use this or similar nutrient teas in their soil-less systems. Keep in mind that a reservoir containing any organic nutrient solution should be changed frequently to prevent decomposition and unpleasant odors.
Beating mold and pests without chemicals
Nutrients are not the only source of chemicals applied to marijuana plants. Both soil and hydroponic growers alike face the ravages of pests and mold. Here are some tricks and techniques for dealing with common marijuana diseases and pests naturally.
Companion Plant to Repel Pests
You can use other plants to fight pests for you. These easy to grow, common garden plants are perfect for combating the bugs that plague marijuana:
Repels aphids, spider mites and potato beetles
A popular flower, chrystanthemums contain pyrethrin, a natural insecticide that kills damaging insects and harmful root eating nematores.
Repels spider mites.
Foxglove and mullein both attract the insect dicyphus which eats whiteflies, aphids and spider mites.
A delicious aromatic vegetable, garlic is the most famous anti-pest companion plant. It accumulates Sulphur, a natural fungicide and repels aphids, root maggots and snails.
Mexican marigolds are best, though any variety will do. They release a stinky chemical into the soil that makes all the surrounding plants taste like marigold, a flavor repugnant to most damaging insects.
Repels aphids. Menthol, which is in all mint plants, repels harmful insects while attracting beneficial pollinators.
Attracts beneficial mites and pirate bugs to eat spider mites, fungus gnats and scales.
Attracts predatory wasps and ladybugs to eat harmful insects.
Natural pesticide sprays
You can mix your own natural sprays to repel most of the common pests that threaten your cannabis plants. Here are a few of the most effective recipes:
Chili Spray for Spider Mites
Just put some hot chilies of any variety in the blender with water. Be sure to strain the mixture or it will clog your spray nozzle. Coat the entire plant, the grow medium and the surrounding area with the chili spray. Wear gloves and glasses to protect yourself from the spicy fumes.
You’ll have to repeat the process at least once as the eggs already laid by the mites hatch out.
If you don’t want to grow garlic around your plants, you can still enjoy its pungent pest repelling properties by making this garlic spray. Just boil roughly chopped garlic in water and steep till cool. Strain and apply to plant leaves.
Tomato Leaf Spray
Crush tomato leaves, soak in water for several days, strain and spray. This works best against grasshoppers and white flies. You can also experiment with your own pesticide spray. Common and useful ingredients include:
– Mineral Oil
– Dish Soap (use very sparingly)
– Neem Oil
– Tomato Leaves
Growing Marijuana Naturally is About More than Health or the Environment. Growing marijuana naturally requires a shift in your mind-set. You have to let go of many of your preconceived notions about cannabis cultivation. Start by incorporating just one of the ideas in this article into your next grow. See what happens.
Any step towards natural growing and sustainability will benefit not only you but the entire planet. Perhaps more importantly, it will make marijuana growing more readily accepted by the government and the community in general.
Right now cannabis is grown wastefully, squandering resources and generally pissing off the neighbors and communities near growers. Not only do we want cannabis to become widely legalized, we want it to be approved of so we don’t have to constantly battle for the right to grow. Be smart, grow natural and watch the world open up to the idea of widespread marijuana agricultural.
Thanks for reading. Please leave questions and comments below.