When you read guides on growing cannabis, particularly organic growing, they often expect you have a certain level of horticultural knowledge. Not all of us grew up with gardens, though. As we approach legalization in Canada, we thought it was a good time to produce a truly basic guide to growing — one that makes no assumptions about your prior knowledge. If you have a basic understanding of how a plant grows (put a seed in the ground, water it, and a plant pops up) you can learn the basics of cannabis growing here.
Cannabis plants take up space. That’s a simple fact. You can grow small plants in small spaces, and big ones in big places, but you’ll need a bare minimum of a couple square feet per plant. For your first grow, we recommend growing just one or two plants. You’ll probably make mistakes and do some experimenting as you get started, so don’t risk ruining a big crop for your first ever attempt. To accommodate outward growth for each and give yourself some leeway, try for 3-4 square feet per plant, plus several feet of growing room above the plant. An unused closet, spare room, or grow tent is ideal.
Our guide is going to focus on indoor growing, as it offers you the greatest control and yields the highest quality cannabis. Outdoor growing has many more variables to consider, like the weather, change of seasons, security issues, and higher risk of pest infestation. We don’t recommend it for the best results, or for inexperienced growers.
Get the Gear
Before you start growing cannabis, you need to get some gear. While you could just throw a seed in some dirt, water it, and hope it works out, that’s not going to produce very good bud — if the plant even survives. Instead, it’s well worth investing in the proper gear. Not only will this result in higher quality bud, it will also make the process more straightforward. Just follow the instructions to a ‘T’, and you’ll be growing bud in no time!
Just the Essentials
Here’s a list of the absolute bare-bones essentials to get started growing:
- Cannabis seeds or clones [This guide is only intended for those with medical licenses to grow cannabis. You cannot otherwise legally purchase seeds or clones.]
- Grow tent (optional but strongly recommended). Grow tents are closed, box shaped frames covered in canvas — a tent. The insides are made of reflective fabric, to maximize efficiency from your growth lights. They come in a range of sizes, from 2’x2’x4’ to more than double that size. For your first grow, a simple 2’x2’x4’ tent should be sufficient, unless you’re fairly confident you’ll use more space in the future.
- Soils and fertilizers for each growth stage. We recommend our Craft Cannabis Kit as a one-purchase solution for organic growing! There are lot of considerations in choosing a growing medium, and a lot to learn about growth stages and the differing needs of mature and immature cannabis plants. The Craft Cannabis Kit contains all the soil, fertilizers, and growing instructions you need to get started. If you choose other soils and adjuncts, you run the risk of getting frustrated trying to understand some fairly complex growing science. Finally, you may want to read up on some of our growing guides to learn about some growing concepts in a straightforward way.
- Potting containers. 5-gallon buckets work very well for this, but any similar-sized container should do just fine. Be sure you’ve drilled holes for drainage every few inches around the base of the container.
Trays to catch drainage from your potting containers. Otherwise, you’ll get muddy water all over your floor. Not ideal. You don’t want your plants to sit in standing water. If too much drains into the tray, you may need to drain the excess water periodically.
- A light. There are so many options for what kind of light to choose, from LEDs to CFLs and specialized HID lights. Some of these options produce a lot of heat or use a ton of power, like HIDs, while others are relatively cool and energy efficient. For first time growers, LEDs are a good choice. They are simple to set up (simply suspend them about 18” above your plants, adjusting height as they grow) and use little power while generating only small amounts of heat. A light is generally the biggest up-front and ongoing cost for indoor growing. Expect to pay a minimum of $75 for a grow light, and anywhere from $20-$75/month in electricity bills, on top of whatever you’re paying now.
Once you’ve got all your gear in order, you’ll need to assemble everything. As each grower likely has a different setup in terms of space, type of light, soils, and cannabis strains, it’s hard to provide catch-all advice for your particular setup. However, there are some basics to keep in mind.
Germination and Watering
First, if you’re working with seeds, you’ll need to germinate them. Germinating cannabis seeds is very straightforward. All you’re doing is ‘waking up’ the seeds with warmth and moisture. In theory, you can get seeds started by simply burying them a half inch to an inch into your growing container’s soil, and watering them into the soil. However, you may find water management difficult in a large container. Planting in a small container, like a disposable cup with holes punched in it, can help you ensure you don’t flood your plant, damaging or killing it.
You should water whenever the top half inch to inch of soil feels dry. Water until the soil is saturated, and about a fifth of your water has filtered through the soil and into the drainage tray. This will wash out salt buildup that can cause nutrient deficiencies over time.
Some people prefer to germinate their seeds in seedling plugs, then transplant the plug into their main growing container once the seedling is established. Seedling plugs offer perfectly ideal germination conditions for cannabis seeds. You can purchase them at most hardware stores and garden centres.
Entire books could be written on pruning cannabis. There are dozens of ways to train a cannabis plant with the intention of producing higher yields, and this guide simply can’t cover the full details. The basic principle is to improve airflow and ensure leaves and buds are exposed to proper amounts of light. Pruning the lower branches of your plant that receive little to no direct light is a good start. Removing small branches tangled in the canopy of the plant will increase airflow and exposure to light. You can also trim individual leaves that are shrunken or dying off due to lack of light.
You can (and certainly should!) learn a lot more about cannabis pruning than this guide covers. Don’t expect your first few grows to have perfect pruning jobs. It’s a skill that takes a lot of practice.
Feeding and Light Schedules
Regardless of your method, once your plant is germinated (or your clone is transplanted) you’ll need to set up a watering, feeding, and light schedule based on the growth stage of your plants. Before the plants enter flowering stage, they should be exposed to light for 18-20 hours a day. This helps them grow foliage and roots without triggering the flowering stage, which is when they’ll begin developing buds. Keep them in the vegetative state until they’ve filled out your growing area.
Once your plants are an appropriate size, it’s time to enter the flowering stage. You’ll do this by changing the light cycle to 12 hours light, 12 hours dark. If you’re using our products, you can use our growing calendar tool to establish feeding, watering, and light requirements throughout the flowering duration. Otherwise, you’ll need to do some research into the nutrients and adjuncts you’ve chosen to use. Proper nutrition will ensure high yields of great bud.
Harvesting and Curing
After you’re done the flowering phase, you’re ready to harvest. There are a variety of ways you can harvest buds, but the simplest way is to simply trim off each branch containing the bud, and hang the branches from the ceiling in a dark, cool room, with a fan on low speed to circulate air. Once the buds are dry to the touch and the branches are brittle, it’s time to thoroughly trim the buds, removing stems and leaves. Place the buds in sealed containers to cure, opening the jars a few times a day for several days to allow moisture to escape. Store them this way for several weeks to allow the bud to cure fully. This ensures you’ll have great tasting, potent bud.
That’s pretty much all there is to basic cannabis cultivation. Like many subjects, it doesn’t take long to grasp the basics, but takes years of research and practice to become truly proficient. You’re going to learn from your mistakes and keep improving with each successful grow. We’ve written some growing guides to help you understand some of the more complex growing concepts. Keep at it, and you’ll be a pro in no time!