by Anthony Franciosi
As a marijuana connoisseur from way back, I’ve seen it all—from sneaking tokes in secluded locations to storefronts on Main Street where cannabis is grown.
It’s been a bumpy ride, but public sentiment is finally moving in the right direction. Legalization looms large in the minds of millions, and with the potential decriminalization of marijuana in California later this year, the stage is set for cannabis groweries to become “the next big thing.”
But not all grows are created equal – the same way that not all farms are created equal. Your marijuana, like your coffee and your vegetables, can be conventionally grown or organically grown. Growing organic is a way to produce consumables without fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified substances. Conventionally grown, then, is just the opposite.
As we’ve seen in recent years, thanks to the green movement, eating organic (aka all-natural) is much healthier. The same goes for marijuana. But the “all-natural” idea goes well beyond just growing without chemicals to embrace producing zero waste and creating minimal environmental impact.
It’s with these ideas in mind that I’d like to share what it takes to run an all-natural growery.
When you think about what it takes to grow anything in the wild, pretty much all you need is soil, light and water. But that simplicity masks a much more complex system that involves pH balance, nitrogen fixing, interaction with plants and insects, and a whole host of other variables. Mother Nature takes care of these things on her own, but when you move your growing operation indoors, YOU are the one responsible.
So while the basics of an indoor site are pretty much the same as an outdoor grow—soil, light and water—the indoor operation requires systems to address the plant’s other needs. What’s more, the indoor growery has to be concerned with environmental impact: the amount of water it uses, the amount of electricity it uses and what it does with its waste, etc. Balancing these variables while still producing a productive crop can be a tricky business, but when you get it right, you can produce some of the best marijuana around.
Unique Features of an All-Natural Site
I’ll use our company – Honest Marijuana – as an example of how to grow all-natural product while minimizing environmental impact.
We use high-efficiency light-emitting ceramic (LEC) lamps to not only ensure a closer approximation to the sun, but to consume 30% less electricity than other lamps. To further reduce our power draw, we are investigating incorporating solar panels as a means to power our grow lights.
We want our final product to be all-natural and toxin-free, so naturally we want the water we feed the plants to be the same. We use a high-quality sediment filter to produce water that is as clean as a mountain stream—just the way Mother Nature intended it.
We also work to minimize the inflowing water by consulting a monitor that tracks usage and ensures that the plants get just enough water, but not too much. We then water using the “top feeding” method to ensure that less than 5% water is wasted.
We also protect the outflowing water by only using products that are approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).
Our climate control system uses 30% less electricity than a standard HVAC system and has the unique ability to feed wasted power back into the system so that it can be reused. In addition, when temperatures drop low enough (below 45 Fahrenheit), the climate control system uses the outside air to maintain temperatures inside. This can lower our power draw by a further 60-70%.
Soil, nutrients and fertilizers
We’ll touch on this a bit more below, but all of our soils are OMRI-approved organic, meaning they do not contain any synthetic additives. When our crops have been harvested, our soil is composted and reused for landscaping purposes.
Like our soil, the nutrients and fertilizers we use are either OMRI-approved or USDA-approved organic. This ensures that we are getting nothing but all-natural components for our grow process.
Soil: Avoiding Plant Pitfalls
Since we’ve touched on soil in the section above, it’s important to understand that not all soil is created equal … especially for all-natural growing.
Using the right soil can prevent most of the nutrient deficiencies that can harm your cannabis plant. There are as many different ways to mix good soil as there are people growing cannabis, but they all have pretty much the same components in common: composted base soil, natural additives (like phosphate, salt, azomite, dolomite and humic acid), organic fertilizer (like bat guano, horse dung, cow dung, bone meal and blood meal), and water. For a simple and effective recipe for soil, and what we call 420 fertilizer, check out “How To Grow Marijuana: The Ultimate Organic Guide.”
Once your plants are growing, it’s important to keep your eyes open for common nutrient deficiencies, such as boron, calcium, copper, manganese, molybdenum, nitrogen (deficiency and toxicity), phosphorus, potassium, sulphur and zinc. These deficiencies will manifest on the leaves of your plants and should be remedied as soon as possible.
Overwatering can also be an issue and is directly related to the amount of drainage your soil has. Overwatered plants are starving for oxygen. To remedy this, you can poke holes in the soil to allow oxygen to filter down to the roots. Of course, you’ll also want to reduce watering time, improve drainage and maybe increase temperature and airflow to speed up water absorption.
Selecting Strains for All-Natural Growing
Without going too deep into the discussion, cannabis can be classified into three types: indica, ruderalis and sativa.
Indica and sativa cannabis requires that the light they receive be reduced (called photosensitivity) as the growing season progresses (to mimic the approach of fall). Because of this, photosensitive strains can be difficult for casual growers. Ruderalis, on the other hand, is not photosensitive and is commonly called “autoflowering.” This means that the plant will flower automatically (and sooner) without the need to vary the amount of light.
Of course, all strains will benefit from all-natural growing but it depends on how much time you have to dedicate to the care and feeding of your cannabis plant.
Branding & Marketing
If your all-natural growing operation is set up for commercial purposes, you’re going to have to deal with branding and marketing.
Marketing can be done in any number of ways, but you should emphasize the fact that your product is all-natural. You also want to make sure that you take the time to explain to the consumer why all-natural is better (not just for the end product but the environment as well). An attractive website and a well-written blog or newsletter is an excellent place to tout the benefits of all-natural cannabis.
As for branding, again, you want to play up the fact that your product is all-natural. Use words that convey cleanliness and purity in your advertising. You might also consider the packaging in which you sell the herb as a way to stand out among your competitors. If you have the funds, a custom-printed mason jar is a great way to make your product stand out. Your customers can even bring back and refill (for a discount?) the container rather than making use of disposable plastic baggies. This reduces the environmental impact even further.
The marijuana industry has not developed a clear system to classify crops as organic yet, and unfortunately many companies claim they are all-natural or “organic” when they aren’t. So we reached out to an organic certifier who typically works for the larger federal organic certification companies and had the company evaluate each ingredient in our process.
Despite not being able to actually certify our process because of the current legalization model, we proved to ourselves that what we do is truly organic. The consumer will be able to tell it’s truly organic by the subtle nuances and distinct smells and flavors developed from soil-grown, organic, honest marijuana.
An all-natural growery is a great way to get the best of both worlds: superior herb and the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing you’re not polluting your plants or the environment. It may take a bit more time and effort, but the results are well worth it.