Can you start an indoor grow for under $500?
The answer to this question is yes. Getting a cannabis grow operation put together can be a daunting challenge. New growers often feel overwhelmed by the options and variety of growing equipment. This scares off many who don’t want to spend hours and hours researching. Most people just want to have something that is effective, easy to set up, and simple to maintain.
The real challenge with this goal is that each grow is different. It’s hard to tell if you need a big HPS, LED or fluorescent light without at least an idea of where you want to grow. Discussions about using soil vs. hydroponics vs. aeroponics often get bogged down in the minutiae of the differences. In the end they all work but each method of cultivation comes with its own benefits and challenges.
Buying a premade grow kit takes care of the equipment and methods but gets costly. A full setup can cost 200% or more than buying the parts separately. It isn’t uncommon for full kits to cost thousands of dollars and still not have every single piece of equipment a person wants. Things like clippers/scissors, canopy netting and pesticides are rarely included in even the biggest kits.
You don’t need everything
The indoor cultivation market is massive and continually expanding. There is a tool or gadget for everything you could possibly want to do. Tools can be more precise than old-school methods but rarely provide novel information. Remember that just because there is a special tool for something doesn’t mean you need that tool.
You don’t need an app-connected Bluetooth pot that monitors soil aeration levels to know when to water. Simply stick your index finger up to the knuckles in the ground then look at the finger. If your finger is damp, the plant has enough water. If dry, soak the soil until water comes out the bottom of the pot. It really is that simple.
But you do need some things
Some tools do end up being more important than others in certain circumstances. A PPM meter is mostly wasted on a soil garden but is a key piece of equipment when growing in deep water culture. An air conditioner is wasted on a room that never gets over 75° but becomes mandatory for crop survival when temps spike over 100°.
Because indoor gardens use artificial light, they do draw a significant amount of energy. The lights also produce ample amounts of heat. HID lights like high pressure sodium and metal halide bulbs produce the most. But even LED panels can crank out enough heat to cook plants in a small grow space. This makes air circulation within the grow space vitally important.
In addition to dealing with the heat generated by lights, an air ventilation system ensures that plants always have fresh air to breathe in. Supplementing Co2 into a garden adds additional environmental requirements that most people don’t have the energy or will to deal with.
Here are the basics
- TopoGrow 2-in-1 Indoor Grow Tent 36″X24″X53″ 600D High-Reflective W/2-Tiered for Lodge Propagation and Flower Plant Growing $101.99
The biggest benefit of a tent is the ability to block out the light. This tent has a couple sections that you can grow seedlings/clones in one section and grow mature/flowering plants in the other. The 2×2 foot section is perfect for one to four mature plants. The 1×2 foot section has a shelf in the middle which divides the vertical height in half. This means that you can have two light cycles going within one tent without problems.
You can always go bigger (like a whole room) but it will be difficult to find a smaller tent that separates clones from mature plants. This is important because clones and seedlings require 18-24 hours of light while flowering cannabis requires 12 hours of darkness. If light leaks into the grow space during the night cycle, it can ruin a cannabis crop.
- VIVOSUN Air Filtration Kit: 4 Inch 203 CFM Inline Fan with Speed Controller, 4” Carbon Filter and 8 Feet of Ducting Combo $94.88
This air filtration and venting system comes complete with carbon filter, adjustable in-line fan and some ducting. Fans are rated based on how big their duct diameter is and how many cubic feet of air they can move per minute (CFM). The fan we chose is 4 inches wide and is rated to 203 CFM. The carbon filter will last this grow for years with proper maintenance and ensures that no smell escapes the tent during flowering.
This fan is rated to 203 CFM which is plenty for this small space venting into the surrounding room. A larger fan may be needed if the ducting has turns or is especially long. Just keep in mind that the bigger the room and longer the duct, the more powerful the fan needs to be.
- DuroLux DL822S T5 2Ft 2 Fluorescent Lamps Grow Lighting System with 5000 Lumens and 6500K Full Spectrum and Super Low Profile 3.5″ Wide Reflector $29.99 ea
- HLG 65 V2 4000K Horticulture Lighting Group Quantum Board LED Grow Light Veg & Bloom 4000K | Version 2 High-Efficiency Upgraded LM301B LED’s $99.00
We chose to go with two 24 inch T5 fluorescent lights and an HLG LED panel for this operation. There are two small 2-tube units for the 1×2 foot sections provide soft light for small plants without burning them. But we put a big Horticulture Lighting Group Quantum Board LED for the main grow chamber to super power growth. Everything is rated to 120 volts so the whole system plugs into standard wall outlets.
The main benefits of T5/LED lighting are reduced power draw and heat generation. T5s draw very little power and produce far less heat than HID bulbs but aren’t especially efficient. One benefit of the T5s is that we can swap out all the bulbs to optimize it for vegetative growth, flowering or some combo. This makes it easy to change if we decide to use one of the side chambers for flowering later on. We could have opted for 150 watt HID lights but the small spaces would need coolers and the LEDs are just more efficient per watt.
- Inkbird ITC-308 Heater Cooler Device Temperature Controller Carboy Homebrew Fermenter Greenhouse Terrarium 110V 10A 1200W $35.00
With this many pieces of electrical equipment, you are going to quickly start running out of outlets. You are also going to want some way to automatically manage lighting. Luckily, a timed power strip deals with both problems at once. The unit we chose has 3 constantly on plugs and 3 timed outlets. Plugging the lights into the timed section ensures a consistent light cycle while the other plugs allow fans and other equipment to operate all day.
You can ignore the temperature controller if you live in a moderate climate with little temperature variation between night and day. But if the area you have the tent in changes more than 15-20°F (7-10°C) between night and day the temperature controller becomes much more important. The temperature controller we chose is able to monitor the grow space and adjust the vent fans, heater, and air conditioners automatically. This ensures the optimum growing conditions are maintained at all times. It also reduces the risk of a variety of potential issues like mold, fungus and leaf burning.
- Grow Planter Bags, 6 Pack 3/5/7 Gallon Fabric Planting Container Planting Pots Garden Plant Planter Bag for Vegetables, Fruits, Flowers $14.99
We chose a variety pack of fabric pots for a couple reasons. First, soil is the most forgiving medium to grow in. The small size of this tent means that losing a single plant significantly impacts us. Hydroponic systems require electricity to operate. A short power outage may lead to complete crop failure in a hydro grow system but has little effect on soil.
Second is the fact that fabric pots provide better conditions for root growth plastic pots. Fabric pots naturally drain and aerate the soil evenly. Roots also air prune themselves in fabric pots, reducing the chance of root-binding. All in all, fabric pots minimize potential for root rot and a variety of other root problems while providing a durable and reusable container.
There are a ton of soil options on the market today. The more a grower knows about soil amendments and plant chemical production, the more particular they tend to become when it comes to soil and other grow mediums. It’s important to get the right mix of nutrients to maximize plant growth but there is a lot of wiggle room on this. You can choose pretty much any soil for cannabis but some options perform much better than others. One product that has proven the test of time in the majority of situations is Fox Farm brand soil. Their Ocean Forest line of soil is world renowned as ideal for cannabis growth.
No matter how good the soil is to start, cannabis needs additional nutrients as it grows. Specialty fertilizers like Dakine420 Nitro Nutrients provide plants with everything they need. It is a powdered nutrient so it’s very stable over time and takes up almost no shelf space. You can go with any nutrient system designed for soil but we really like the results we got from this product.