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Nico’s Nuggets: First-Time Grower Dilemmas: Mediums & Lighting

Nico Escondido

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Aloha, Nico. Love reading your advice! My family and I have decided to start our very first grow very soon on the southern coast of Oregon. My 20-year-old son and I keep butting heads over our grow medium. I have an aquaponics setup (with either Tilapia or Koi) in mind with tons of full-spectrum LED lighting and the reflective sheeting. He says outside in common dirt would be best. Again, first time growers here, so any advice? (I should mention I'm no n00b on aquaponics.) Also, on LED lighting, any personal preferences on brand or style? Is it wiser to shell out the $1,000 for the best you can find online, or is saving money possible when providing your babies with indoor lighting? Any advice would be cherished. – Thanks, J. via NicosNuggets@hightimes.com

Wow… Thanks J. for writing in with such a multi-faceted question! I’d have to say this is the most advanced question for beginners I’ve ever received and there is a lot at play here so let’s get right to it.

To begin, the first question really is whether to grow indoors or outdoors. To be honest, you guys are lucky to have the luxury to be able to do both, not many people do. But there are definite pros and cons associated with each type of garden. In general, the basic theory is usually that you can get better quality indoors, but bigger yields outdoors. I’m not sure that those are absolutes, however, as I have seen some very good quality cannabis grown outdoors.

The biggest benefit of outdoor growing centers upon one part of your overall question – light. The Sun is, by far, the best option for optimal plant growth. We have no indoor light bulb that can match its quality or power, so this is something I would urge you to consider. Additionally, sunlight is free and eco-friendly. When considering grow lamps for indoor use, you will want to attempt to mimic these qualities with your indoor lighting. That being said, LED lighting still poses problems in this regard. We are just now starting to see true, full spectrum LED lamps – and even some that have the output of our usual HID bulbs (in terms of photon-flux/light energy). However, as you pointed out, these lamps are quite expensive (usually upwards of $1,300), and at that point you are not only losing value over HID lamps, but these LED fixtures are pulling as much electricity and creating as much heat as HID lighting.

Newer LED lamps are closer to full-spectrum, but to get there prices have risen drastically, as have heat output and power consumption.

Now, this isn’t to say you should just go outside and use the free sunlight and not give it another thought. Outside growing poses it’s own set of challenges as well. Your email also brought up the question of grow mediums. Your son (by the way, super stoked to hear about the family-style grow you two are about to embark on, that is really great to hear) mentions the use of “common dirt” if you were to garden outdoors. You need to be very careful here and really study the soil that your plants will go into. Truth is, most outdoor growers still import their own organic or composted soils into their outdoor gardens. In fact, the most successful outdoor growers rarely go below the ground surface, but rather build large container boxes (4’x4’) above-ground and fill them with their own amended soils. Common problems with natural topsoil and ground holes include high clay content, poor drainage, high pH/ low EC, and little aeration of the root zone.

Now, when it comes to using aquaponics, I’d usually warn-off beginner growers from attempting such an advanced system for their first grow, but since you stated that you are no newbie at this game, it significantly changes my viewpoint. If you have the means and the expertise, I think this is very worthwhile endeavor to undertake. However, when I say this it is the technical, weed geek in me that is speaking. I love the idea of a challenge, of learning and progressing the world of cannabis cultivation. It is not the practical grower or even the pot connoisseur in me that would recommend this system, because I do think that in the end there are much easier ways to get the same final result. But aquaponics are a sustainable, eco-friendly way to cultivate cannabis and – when done properly – can provide excellent nutrient values to a garden.

So what does all this add up to? What would I recommend for you and your son? Well, to be honest, I think you should try both – run a pseudo-trial, a side-by-side if you will and see which works out better! Of course, if this is not practical I’ll leave the choice to you with the following advice…

If you grow outdoors, build a few container boxes and purchase some good quality composted soil (there are loads of suppliers in the PNW). Use the power of the Sun in conjunction with a good trellising and pruning program to grow 10-foot trees of your favorite strains. You will get a great yield and not be disappointed in the quality (especially if you use organic amendments for nutrient supplements).

If you grow indoors, definitely rock the aquaponics systems, it will be fun and rewarding. Look for nutrient deficiencies every day, though, as you will likely need additional supplements such as Cal-Mag etc. If you choose and LED lamp, buy the best one you can (check out truthlighting.com) and let me know how it turns out. But if you want just as great results at a few bucks cheaper, go with your MH/ HPS combo or, if you want the best HID lamp, go with a Gavita and watch the show!

Thanks very much for your great questions J. and best of luck to you and your family in all your cannabis endeavors. Remember, the family that grows together, stays together!

Thanks for reading everyone and remember: Grow… And help the world grow, too!

Got questions? Email 'em over to Nico at NicosNuggets@hightimes.com and be sure to put “Nico’s Nuggets” in the subject line!

Follow Nico on Social Media: @Nico_Escondido (Twitter) & @Nico_High_Times (Instagram)

Top photo: Outdoor growing offers the potential for higher yields and beautiful buds.

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