Thursday May 6, 2021

By Matthew Mongelia

Growing

The debate among growers over outdoor vs. indoor cannabis cultivation has been around for decades, and will likely continue on for many more. The two methods have a number of unique factors giving them strengths and weaknesses depending on the goals of the growers. Yield, potency, bud structure, and terpene, and cannabinoid production are all affected by the growing environment. 

Traditionally, the vast majority of CBD flower is grown outdoors, so much so that many have taken to seeing outdoor-grown bud as the standard of quality for CBD. However, in the modern market, that view is incomplete. Few consumers have had indoor-grown CBD flower, and are unaware of how it compares to the outdoor CBD holding the lion’s share of the market. Can one be said to be better than the other? Join PotGuide as we take a look at Indoor vs Outdoor grown CBD flower, and which reigns supreme.

Pros and Cons of Growing Cannabis Outdoors

Growing cannabis outdoors in the open air has numerous benefits, not only in conserving energy and water but also in taking in more of the natural forces that shape the agriculture in a given region. In agriculture, this is known as terroir and has been traditionally applied to things such as fine wine and heirloom vegetables. The same is true for cannabis (for example landrace strains), and can greatly impact the quality and characteristics of a harvest. However, for each variable the environment affects, there is a pro and a con. 

For example, let's look at air supply. Outdoor growing is ideal in a sense because, hey, free fresh air with no need (or less need) for circulation equipment. On the flipside, that “free” fresh air can come at a tradeoff. Outdoors, plants are more susceptible to pests, pollution, and contaminants, and have a higher possibility of unintentional pollination (good for your gardenias, but calamity to cannabis). Similarly, temperature is more difficult to control in an outdoor operation. Colorado’s off-season freezes have been the bane of many mile-high growers for decades.

Outdoor cannabis grow
Outdoor grows are more susceptible to damage from weather, pests, and other things out of one's control. photo credit

Using the sun as a light source is superior in terms of sustainability; it allows for a lower carbon footprint and significantly cuts down on energy costs for mass production. However, output is tied to the seasons, and fluctuations in available light will affect crops. Outdoor grows will also have variable water demands, depending on the weather, the local soil, and differing strains of cannabis.

Overall, outdoor production is seen as “easier” (with many caveats to that description) and more cost-effective, because it demands far fewer resources. The tradeoff is less control over each variable in production, and thus less control over the final product, making consistent high-quality bud harder to achieve. 

Pros and Cons of an Indoor Grow

Plants have been farmed outdoors since the beginning of farming, and as stated previously, that makes easy sense: resources are readily available outdoors in large quantities. However, the primary reason farming moved indoors is for control. Growing indoors allows for meticulous adjustment of each of the four main resources that plants need.

Whereas outdoor grows have nearly unlimited fresh air, indoor grows require ventilation and temperature control systems. HVAC systems tend to be some of the highest price-tag items involved in building an indoor grow. Conversely, with the cost of technology comes the ability to regulate temperature within a few degrees, and to test and filter air for contaminants. When the weather gets too cold, simply click on the heat. Hail, rain, even hurricanes become far less concerning within concrete walls.

A large indoor grow
Growing CBD indoors allows for more control over the environment. photo credit

One of the biggest boons to indoor grows is the use of advanced lighting systems, with even the most basic allowing for far greater control than any outdoor grow. At the tradeoff of energy and materials, indoor lighting allows growers to finely adjust light spectrum and timing for perfect photo manipulation. Lightbulbs tend not to care how long a winter day is supposed to be, or if it’s cloudy out and can replicate whatever spectrum and amount of light is perfect for a particular growing stage.

While growing outdoors is considered “closer to nature,” when it comes to water and soil management, that isn’t always the case.  Being closer to nature also means being subject to the greater factors that affect soil quality beyond the grower’s control. Indoors, it is easier to care for soil and nutrients in a confined space, especially when accounting for contaminants. Water can be more easily automated and controlled as well.

living soil
Living soil is a community of organisms working together to break down organic matter in soil which, in turn, provides valuable nutrients to plants and other surrounding organisms. photo credit

Living Soil is considered among many to be the highest standard in soil for premium cannabis. To our knowledge, Secret Nature is among the few in the CBD arena making use of living soil, grown indoors, and from our experience, the results have been fantastic. If you’re looking for what we consider as the high standard of indoor CBD, it’s Secret Nature. While living soil can certainly be done outdoors, in the world of cannabis it can be harder to keep uncontaminated.

Is Indoor CBD Flower Better Than Outdoor CBD?

Whether one can be said to be better or worse depends on the criteria of the consumer, but let’s take a look at some of the common factors that growing environments affect.

Cannabinoid and Terpene Content

It is only in the era of indoor growing that THC percentages climbed into the 20’s ( and even 30’s), and that is thanks to very fine manipulation by growers. While outdoor can produce cannabis with good levels of terpenes and cannabinoids, it rarely compares to the consistently high levels achieved through indoor growing.

Factors such as improper nutrition and stress, which are harder to tightly control outdoors, will hinder the plant from high production levels.

In cannabis plants, whenever energy is devoted to one place, it must come at the cost of another. So if a plant uses energy to stay alive, it’s using less of that energy to produce cannabinoids. In CBD these benefits come out as flower with robust bouquets of terpenes, and greater overall cannabinoid content. If those factors are important to you, indoor is probably the way to go.

Quality

We’ll probably get a lot of letters and emails about this, but, speaking generally, outdoor-grown cannabis tends to be of lower quality. What exactly do we mean by lower quality? Specifically bud structure, terpene, and cannabinoid content, and consistency. We want to be clear to point out that that’s not to say outdoor bud is low quality, just that it tends to be lower quality than indoor.

Secret Nature CBD bud
You can count on Secret Nature's indoor grown CBD flower to always be top-notch quality. photo credit

Indoor CBD tends to mean a smoother and more flavorful smoking experience. Again, using Secret Nature as an example, in terms of quality, CBD bud grown indoors can often be almost indistinguishable from the carefully cultivated THC flower you’d find in a dispensary.

Indoor also allows for easier creation of small-batch and artisan growing, which has been largely absent from the CBD scene until recently.

Price

Especially in the world of CBD, outdoor tends to be far cheaper, and this is due to lower resource demands and the different workload involved. Outdoor is easier to grow in large quantities as well, and that excess supply allows growers to charge less.

Indoor can sometimes be pricier due to needing more attention and care, in addition to requiring more resources to produce it. However, the tradeoff then tends to be quality. If you’re paying indoor prices and getting outdoor quality, then it’s time to look for another indoor CBD flower provider.

Final Thoughts

In the world of CBD, outdoor has been ideal for large-batch production to make isolate and distillate. In these preparations, the base material is less important, as it will ultimately be separated from the final product. For the THC world, this can often translate to concentrate for edibles or topicals, but the concept is the same. As such, outdoor grows are vital to the industry. 

Furthermore, and there might be a good amount of placebo effect in the mix, but sometimes there seems to be something a little special about things grown in pure sunlight. However, it is harder to maintain consistency and quality batch-to-batch. That one batch you tried and liked might not come around again the same way any time soon, or ever. 

CBD Nug
While both are great, indoor CBD flower is typically set to a higher standard. photo credit

Across the market, professionally grown indoor cannabis and hemp is always what’s looked to in terms of the standard of quality. The buds that win Cannabis Cups and competitions are grown indoors. The majority of bud on dispensary shelves is indoor grown, which is the real standard of quality in today’s cannabis landscape

Indoor techniques are what the professionals use to offer the best product for retail, and the same holds true in CBD. There may be something nostalgic about good outdoor, and almost every seasoned consumer of flower has had one outdoor batch that has made them question their assumptions of indoor superiority. However, it always seems to be the exception that makes the rule.


Which do you like better, outdoor or indoor CBD? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: Sylvia Becerra Gonzalez (license)


Matthew Mongelia Matthew Mongelia

Matthew Mongelia is the Content Manager for PotGuide.com. He holds an MFA in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BFA in Creative Writing from CUNY Brooklyn College. He has worked in the industry in numerous roles for over 5 years while covering cannabis content from coast to coast. Like so many in the industry, he first became acquainted with cannabis as a medical patient, and has been a passionate advocate for the plant ever since. He is a writer for the comic Dark Beach, and has previously covered music and cultural content for SOL REPUBLIC.



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