Monday March 8, 2021
By Trevor Ross
There’s a common refrain about the ability of cannabis to grow wildly when given the proper resources, “that’s why they call it weed!” You’ve probably heard this a time or two, even from experienced growers, making it seem like weed is as easy to sprout as dandelions. There are countless complexities to undercut that view (especially when trying to maximize quality and yield), but in a certain sense, it’s true. Cannabis is a plant like any other and can thrive with little more than water, dirt, and light. So why don’t more people grow?
One of the factors that keep many aspiring growers on the sideline is the initial cost, investing in complex, automated systems recommended by experts and professionals. But growing cannabis is for everyone. While you may not be able to start with your dream setup, that doesn’t mean you can’t start. Here are some cost-effective (and even free) strategies for growing cannabis.
Automated Grow Hubs $199
Having control over your home grow is extremely important if you want to produce high quality cannabis. That's where grow hubs come in. Automated products like the Niwa Grow Hub offer a multitude of handy, commercial-grade features that can take your home cultivation to the next level at an affordable price. Even cooler, metrics like VPD (Vapor Pressure Deficit) along with measuring temperature, humidity, light level and dew point can all be controlled centrally from the Niwa app (available on Android and iOS).
Automated grow hubs also allow access to features such as automated watering, current garden data (up to the past 30 days) and even customized lighting schedules. Being able to review different data points within a grow offers increased insight and control, which ultimately can lead to greater performance and output.
The Niwa Grow Hub runs on a powerful software platform that helps home growers build out fully automated environments while features like "Grow Recipes" allow cultivators to dial in custom parameters. The best part is all you need to do is plug in your existing devices, (such as lamps, fans, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, A/C, pumps, or heaters) configure your settings, and let the Grow Hub do its magic! If you really want to nerd out, check out the online manual for more details.
Containers and Mediums $5 - $100
What you grow your weed in boils down to little more than a specialized bucket, even when doing more involved setups like hydroponics, and there are plenty of budget options to get started!
Many amateur growers use plastic storage bins as their reservoirs, drilling holes in the lids to suspend their plants from. Dedicated hydro containers can easily exceed a hundred dollars, but if you’re willing to modify your own reservoir, a 12-gallon storage bin can be had for as little as $8, and 27 gallons would still only cost about $10. Almost anything will work as long as it keeps light off the roots.
Air Pump / Stones
If you’re growing in water, oxygen equipment is necessary, but thankfully it doesn’t have to be expensive. Single-output pumps are as cheap as $15, and even multiple outputs can be found under $40.
Air stones can be bought individually or in bundles, but in either case, you can expect to spend at least $10-15 to get started.
Again, almost anything can be used as a pot, as long as it has adequate drainage and enough room for your roots (about 5 gals/plant is a good starting point). Plastic pots can be found at any garden center for a little as $5.
Be sure to avoid potting soils with time-release fertilizers, as they are not manufactured with your cannabis in mind. But even organic potting soil can be found for about $5 per gallon
Free Options: Just about anything sanitary and dark will do! Make sure it’s water-tight for a hydro system or porous and draining for soil systems. Saving where you can will offset costs for necessary equipment like your air pump.
Potting soil can be imitated with the dirt beneath your feet. To minimize the risk of introducing pests or disease, simply collect topsoil from healthy, thriving plants.
Grow Lighting $25 - $150
Lighting can be one of the most important aspects of a grow, but that doesn’t mean that you have to pay top dollar for it. Especially in recent years, the average price of quality lights has been dropping as the industry grows.
LEDs are energy-efficient and produce no extra heat for you to account for. Prices can climb quickly for a premium array, but standing lamps can be found for just over $20, and single, hanging strips as low as $45.
A long-time standard in cannabis growing, some growers still prefer high-intensity discharge lights for the heat they produce or the custom power control.
In that case, kits including a small hood, a ballast, and one bulb each of metal halide and high-pressure sodium, start at $120. This can be a good option if you have access to an experienced grower to consult, as they likely will have the most familiarity with them.
It’s tempting to avoid any unnecessary cost when growing on a budget, but you also want to avoid unnecessary mistakes. These life-saving switches cost as little as $10 and pay for themselves the first time your lights slip your mind.
Free Options: Of course there is a free source of light outside, or beaming in through any window. The sun will always be your best source of free, regimented light. Consider building a DIY greenhouse or cold frame to utilize as much sunlight as you can.
If you’re looking to mitigate smell, then you’ll likely need to invest a little more into a filtering system, but in terms of getting your plants some much-needed air circulation, there are excellent affordable options.
If you’re growing in a tent then you can find an inline fan for as low as $20, but you may want to go the extra mile for a climate control fan around $150. For growers using a common room – or corner of a room – there are other options.
Plenty of growers get by just fine with plain area fans for as little as $30, especially if temperature regulation is not a problem.
If there’s a window in your grow room, you can equip it with a twin-blade window fan for about $50. The benefit of these is they can be set to blow in, out, or both at once, giving you more control for a low price.
Free Option: Basic ventilation can be achieved by simply opening a window, and your cannabis will be perfectly happy in the outdoor air. But remember that fresh air can carry in pests and pollen.
Liquid nutrients can be purchased for between $30-40, and often come in two or three bottles to be administered at different stages of your cannabis’ life. Soil growers can use these too, with the additional option of powdered organic fertilizers that run about $4 per pound, usually sold in 5 lb. increments.
Hydroponic and soil systems can usually use the same nutrients, the catch is that you want to avoid organic fertilizers in hydro systems because they can invite bacteria to start growing in your reservoir.
Free options: Rainwater is naturally higher in nitrogen than tap water, but if you plan to collect rain runoff, be careful what it’s running off of. Some shingles and roofing materials shed chemical residue.
Devoted composters are quick (and correct) to point out that compost is a soil amendment more than a fertilizer, but it’s still packed with natural nutrients. Cut your soil with compost, or soak the compost to make “tea” that can be used to water your plant. It will never match the efficiency of directed, concentrated fertilizers, but it’s a good source of micronutrients, and the price is right.
Seeds $2 - $50
Of course, everything discussed here is for the benefit of one thing: your plant. So where are you going to get your actual cannabis from?
Several online retailers provide seeds for as low as $2 for regular seeds, about $5 for a feminized seed, and $15 per automatic feminized seed. Remember to account for shipping.
Clones are the cuttings of cannabis plants that are induced to produce roots, so the genetics of a specific plant can be sustained and duplicated. The price of clones varies wildly by state, anywhere from $5 - $50.
Free Options: Growers do their best to cultivate feminine plants that do not produce seeds, but sometimes they still turn up in a bag or bud. That trash can be recycled into treasure. Clones can be produced from any plant you or a friend already has access to.
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. If you want to begin growing cannabis, just begin, with whatever means you have available to you. The sooner you begin growing, the sooner you begin to learn. And the hands-on experience you achieve with less expensive materials will only be magnified later when you begin to upgrade your equipment and expand into different mediums.
Do you have any good tips for growing on the cheap? Share them in the comments!