Should you grow at home?
Absolutely! As I'm sure you've realized, the positive aspects to home growing are countless. Pardon my unscientific reasoning a minute here. Over the years, I've noticed that Mary Jane always smiles on first time growers. The generosity and optimism of the plant itself seems to influence us directly when we tend to it and we become more like her.
Even if you've never grown anything else before, cannabis is a good introduction to gardening. You may have heard that it's hard to grow, but that's only (somewhat) true indoors. Outdoors, it's easier than tomato's because you're only growing flowers. Besides, cannabis is just plain tough and can survive more abuse than a tomato plant.
First things first plant the seeds
When people ask me how to get started growing, I have the one simple answer; Plant the seeds! The first thing to do is get the seeds started. Wet paper towel or direct in soilmix. Don't fret too much about how, just get them going. They'll soon need light, so you'll have to buy one. After that, get more equipment as you see the need for it.
Light, Water and Rootspace in that order
Plants needs fit into a hierarchy. Light is at the top and influences watering directly. The more light a plant gets, the more water it consumes. If the plant gets enough water, it's roots will fill a container and need repotting soon. As the roots grow, the soilmix may reveal some nutrient deficiencies. I know, that escaleted quickly! Don't worry we'll burn that bridge when we come to it. Follow my methods and you should have no trouble at all.
Fluorescents and LED's have one huge advantage over HID's
There are basically three catergories of lights to choose from. You probably have fluorescent and even maybe some LED's in your home or car. HID (high intensity discharge) lights are mostly used for outdoor stadium, streetlighting and indoor growing and aquariums. HID's come in various wattages and color spectrums. I like the MH bulbs better than the yellowish HPS. The new CMH bulbs are very nice, but more on that later.
The problem with all HID's is that they are a single point of light source. Like a candle, only really bright. A fluorescent or LED array spreads the light over a large area, more like a skylight. The plants don't care much either way, but our job can be greatly complicated by the single point source.
When you turn on any light, you begin paying for the electricity. How much of that light reaches the leaves of plants is what dictates water usage and speed of growth. In many growrooms, even those of experienced commercial growers, you can see wasted light from HID's. The problem is the difficulty of arranging plants under the single point source in such a way that they block most or all of the light coming from that bulb*. Light hitting walls directly heats the room up much more, so the room needs additional circulation.
Arranging plants under a fluorescent or LED array is far easier. That means higher efficiency. Even though an HID may cost less per watt than fluorescents, it doesn't matter if you can't get all the light to the leaves. LED's are of course, more efficient than either and have the same advantages as fluorescents. I don't know much about them yet, but I'm sure I'll have some soon!
*It's called the Stadium setup
Soil mix and containers
I make my own soilmix, but you can get excellent results using commercial potting mix from the nursury. My local 'straight' garden center now carries some of the potting mixes made for cannabis. It amazes me how long it took them to start carrying those lines considering how big the market has been.
I did actually try a small bag of one of the cannabis brands, can't actually remember which. It was one of the main ones....anyway. It was a bit 'hot', and too high in organics. Not enough sand, gravel and drainage materials.
Adding non organics to improve drainage is always a good idea with cannabis. It needs a lot of oxygen at it's roots, but also likes to feed heavy. The added drainage insures against overfeeding by allowing easier 'flushing' as well as increases O2 at the roots. Here's some ingredients for drainage.
Sand is good, but it should be as coarse and sharp as possible. Beach and river sand is terrible because the grains are rounded by the water action. Sand also provides silica, an important nutrient. Lava is good, but the crushed kind is harder to find. You can buy the big stuff and just smash it yourself. Perlite is just puffed up lava. It's ok, but doesn't last as long (if you're recycling soilmix, which I recommend) as lava. Fired clay additives are really good. Commercial brands like Hydrolite, Turface (for golf courses) are good, but unscented kitty litter works great as well.
I've been adding quite a bit of charcoal to my soilmix lately. It seems to do lots of nice things. I write more about that in other sections. I also always add oyster shells in large handfulls.
Those inexpensive plastic nursury containers work best. Terra cotta pots look great, but they dry out a bit faster and cannabis already consumes water like a fire. Tall skinny pots are better than short wide ones.
Indoors, you're unlikely to need a container bigger than 2 gallons. Other people may tell you to use a 5 gallon pot, but I would flower a plant at roughly 48" (4 feet) tall in a 2 gallon pot. 4 feet is pretty much the tallest plant you can light efficiently under an (single) HID, so I say 2 gallons is tops.
You can purchase small size plastic pots, or make them out of plastic 'solo' cups. I use the cups. I start out in a half filled 9oz, then transplant back in same pot filled up. Then, they go to 20 oz, then 1 quart. Then, 1 gallon, then 2 and flower. Each increment should be roughly one week apart and plants should roughly double in size during that time.
No shock transplanting (watch the vid)
No such thing as a watering schedule
Cannabis is easy to grow, but it does have two things that make it a bit harder than other plants. One is it's toughness makes diagnosis of problems hard. Generally, by the time we see symptoms, we have more than one problem to solve.
The second difficulty arises from it's quickly changing watering requirements. Since water is the delivery system for nutrients, watering problems are often mistaken for nutrient deficiencies. Even advanced growers can get into trouble simply because they're not meeting a plants watering needs and then add to the problem by trying to treat a deficiency.
If a plant is repotted when before it gets rootbound, it gathers momentum and grows even faster the next week. Timing the repots correctly preserves the momentum. A fast growing cannabis plant will outgrow about one container a week. Trying to save work by going from a small container to a much larger one will just result in slower growth.
The first watering after repotting may last a few days, but the second one will come much faster. There can be no schedule! It's just day to day.
Overwatering is not really too much water. After all, plants can grow with their roots directly in water. Overwatering is the result of not enough oxygen at the roots. A soilmix that doesn't drain well or has too much organic material can starve roots of O2. With a well draining soilmix, there is only danger of overwatering very soon after repotting. Once the roots have reached the bottom of a container, the danger of overwatering almost disappears. Now, we need a runoff tray. It's much more important to avoid underwatering now that overwatering is impossible.
The importance of a runoff tray
Plants' roots grow in search of water. By the time they've begun to circle the bottom of any container, they would like more water than the soilmix in that container can hold, even completely soaked. The best way to give them this extra water is with a deep runoff tray.
How can you know when it's time for a runoff tray? If you put a plant into a reasonable next size up container and it doubles in size, there's no doubt that the roots are all over the bottom. It's not quite rootbound, but soon will be. That much top growth indicates the same amount of root growth, which means that plant will be thirsty!
The main difference between hydroponically grown cannabis and container/soil mix is that hydro yields more. The primary thing that limits the yield of any commercial crop you can think of, indoors or out, is water. The simple reason container growers observe lower yields is that they are not meeting the watering needs of the plants. Runoff trays don't just help, they make ALL the difference. Learn to use them, and you'll be able to match hydro yields in containers.