Prohibition brought cannabis indoors, but outdoor cannabis is still a force to be reckoned with.
Traditionally grown outdoors, cannabis cultivation moved indoors as a response to overhead helicopters and uptight neighbors, in times of Prohibition. And with decades of refinement and technological advancements, the bumper yields that many growers reap under hi-tech lighting solutions, and precision-controlled environments are hard to give up. And even though the coast is clear for some, few want to take the financial risk of putting roots down in the earth again. That being said, there are multiple reasons why growing cannabis outdoors is making a comeback.
Growing Cannabis Outdoors has a Low-Carbon Footprint
Indoor growing offers year-round cultivation, precision control of environmental conditions, and the all-important product standardization that consumers come to expect in newly legalized markets. But, these benefits come at great financial cost. And, as an ever-mounting number of concerned onlookers argue, an environmental cost too.
A study published in Energy Policy (2012) Mills, Evan. The carbon footprint of indoor Cannabis production. (2012) Energy Policy. 46. 10.1016/j.enpol.2012.03.023 analyzed the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production. Researchers estimated that producing one kilogram of indoor cannabis generates 4,600 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions. Further estimates put U.S. aggregate emissions as high as the collective emissions from three million cars. The statistics may shock many, but the low carbon alternative of growing cannabis outdoors may be the very antidote that environmentally-conscious growers are looking for.
Between chemovar selection and navigating the restrictions imposed by climatic and geographic conditions, here are the hurdles of growing cannabis outdoors.
Selecting the Right Chemovar
When deciding upon growing cannabis outdoors, one critical decision is that of chemovar selection. The climactic and ecological conditions of the area should be a strong determining factor in the chemovar choice. Many varieties of cannabis have evolved specific mutations to deal better with particular climate conditions or local pests.
Certain chemovars have a history of doing well in certain areas. By way of example, some may flower sooner than others and escape the late fall rains and ever-shorter days. Matching the chemovar choice to local conditions will have direct implications on the final yield.
Choosing the Right Location for Growing Cannabis
The yields obtainable on outdoor grows are heavily influenced by the location and condition of the grow area. Always choose a fertile area with existing lush green vegetation if planting into the ground. Valley floors tend to be a great location and often have rich topsoil that resulting from alluvial deposition.
One issue with valleys is that of sun exposure. Many remain in shadow for long periods during the day and are often one of the first places to succumb to frost in the colder months. Growing cannabis outdoors requires abundant sun exposure. Furthermore, lacking a fertile valley, a south-facing slope is often an excellent choice for an outdoor grow.
Water Solutions for Growing Cannabis Outdoors
A steady water supply is a definitive requirement for growing cannabis outdoors. There are several options for water filtration, and different growers opt for different solutions. While some growers hand water each plant manually, others devise more elaborate solutions. Automated drip emitters, sandboxes, and settling tanks are all common and allow for an expanded grow operation.
Setting up close to a stream or river is beneficial and removes many of the barriers to a successful outdoor grow operation. Many outdoor growers also use inline fertilizer injectors to deliver nutrients to the plants.
Force Flowering Outdoor Cannabis
Whether to cultivate several harvests during the outdoor gardening season or to ensure that a single harvest completes before the first frost, force flowering is commonly employed in outdoor cannabis gardening.
As the name suggests, it forces the cannabis plant into the flowering state sooner than it otherwise might reach it. Growers living in northern climes often use this tactic to great effect. After all, the sustainability of their grow operation depends upon it. Ideally, the plants are curing long before the conditions become too cold or the first frost arrives.
The process of force flowering involves reducing the hours of daylight exposure to a cannabis plant. Growers achieve this by covering the plants with a non-transparent material that leaves them in darkness even while it’s still bright outside. It may involve placing a garbage bag tent or a tarp over the plants. Or, perhaps even something more high tech like a closing roof running on a timer.
Once force flowering is initiated, growers should always see the process through. Flowering cannabis is sensitive to changes in light exposure, and forgetful gardeners who miss a day may force the plant to return to the vegetative state.
Legal and Ethical Issues Around Outdoor Cannabis Gardening
Growing cannabis outdoors is a surprisingly contentious issue. Many legal jurisdictions within the U.S. prohibit outdoor growing. But, while this may be a stigma-induced hangover to try and ensure the smooth reintegration of cannabis into our culture, other issues seem potentially more pressing. Pesticide drift from crops planted nearby may unavoidably infect outdoor cannabis grows, as can pollen drift from nearby hemp plantations.
Where it’s legal, outdoor gardening is therapy in and of itself. Furthermore, many growers impartial to the bumper yields more easily obtained indoors might well find it a fulfilling way to grow their very own medicine.