Indoor Grow Room Basics: Grow Beds
Most indoor Cannabis cultivators are familiar with plastic buckets. They come in all sizes: smaller than 1 gallon all the way up to 5 gallon and even larger. Plastic buckets are readily available and get the job done, but here are some of my personal observations after dozens of indoor medical marijuana crops.
1) Roots travel directly from the base of the stem of your favorite marijuana plant down and outward, never to return. When the roots hit the wall of the container they are in they are then forced to turn 90 degrees and then spiral around and around never touching the soil inside this outer circle they have made, effectively wasting all that soil in between.
2) Plants that have fully filled their container are always healthier and more productive than plants that have this unused or ‘extra’ soil. The unused soil equals unfulfilled root mass, root mass equals bud weight, so underdeveloped roots equal harvest loss. Harvest loss equals fewer trips to Tijuana—I mean The Strip Club—umm, what I meant to say was, less waste!
3) Waste not, want not; you could carefully shake off the unused soil and reuse it indefinitely. In fact, I have successfully reused soil many many times this way. It is because of recycling soil this way for so long that I noticed patterns begin to emerge. Full containers equal full formed plants, with big healthy buds coated in resin and trichomes—even the water leaves get covered with crystal. Less dense roots make less dense plants, period.
4) In an effort to fully fill the containers with roots by harvest time, I would first root clones in rockwool cubes and then, when they were busting roots, I would put them into 16 ounce plastic cups filled with soilless mix like Sunshine #4 or ProMix. When these cups needed to be watered more than once a day, they were then transplanted into 1-gallon buckets. By this time they were also ready for budding. This is where it would get tricky. If they were transplanted too soon and there was no root binding to hold the whole root mass together, shock and root damage can occur. If they become root bound too soon, they could literally dry up and die before you even notice. Now factor in 8, 16, 32 or more budding plants that you have to manually lift each and every day for the entire budding cycle so that you can gauge if they are light enough to need water but not so light that they die. Over water even one plant out of 32 and it will drown from lack of oxygen in the soggy soil. I’ve considered putting load sensors under each plant but the program would have to compensate constantly for the actual weight of the plant, not just the weight of the soil. Moisture meters would work but you would still need to individually adjust each plant daily. To automate this system would be a logistics nightmare.
Case point: buckets work and they are a lot of work to maintain. Did I mention how many hours I’ve spent scrubbing buckets and rinsing buckets and filling buckets and lifting buckets? Is there a better way? Look out the window; do you see any trees or wheat or corn growing in buckets? I didn’t think so. Ready for the secret to simplified success indoor? Simply shrink the “back 40 (acres)” into the back 4(feet) or 5 feet or whatever fits your indoor grow space requirements.*
To keep it simple, let’s build a 4 by 4 foot square grow box using treated 2” x 12” lumber 16 feet long. Don’t get scared, just go to the lumber yard and purchase a 16 foot 2”x12” and ask them to cut it into 4, 4 foot pieces. This service is free, all it costs is patience. Use a 4’ x 8’ sheet of ¾” plywood for the bottom and have them cut this into two 4’ x 4’ pieces. Purchase enough PVC pond liner to cover your projects’ inside and outside so the staples are on the outside. I get a 6 foot square piece to easily cover my 4 foot square grow bed. Pick up a staple gun and staples, I broke down and finally bought an electric stapler after I got Popeye forearms from manually stapling panda (Black/white) fabric in my vegetative room. Purchase good quality 1-1/2” wood deck screws and 8, FA100 framing angles for the corners or use 4, 10 inch perforated angle iron brackets. The framing angle FA100s are pictured here.*
Hopefully you’ll have a hammer and a screw gun, but if not, buy them now. This is all you’ll really need for a basic box. The PVC pond liner is by far the most expensive part of this project, but it will last a lifetime. You could use heavy duty plastic if dripping isn’t a problem like in a basement setup. You can also opt to put wheels on it for mobility or build a stand to bring it up to waist level for easy tending of your crops. I always used the floor for my buckets so I still use the floor for these boxes. Ever seen a farm on wheels?
Start with a clean work space with enough light. Jam some good music to make it fun. Roll up a couple of fatties and spark one up, survey your domain while you toke. Have your camera ready for a story of your own, roll the camcorder for a YouTube video. Remember, if you want to make anything MORE difficult, just try and film it! As you smoke your jay check to make sure that you have everything:
- [item icon="10003" ]Screwing device (cordless drill/driver preferred)…………….$100[/item]
- [item icon="10003" ]Screws (get a box of 100 1-1/2” deck screws)……………..…$10[/item]
- [item icon="10003" ]Staple gun and box of ½” staples…………………….………..$40-$50[/item]
- [item icon="10003" ]4- 4 foot 2”x12” treated outdoor grade lumber………………..$30-$40[/item]
- [item icon="10003" ]8- FA100 brackets (or perforated angle iron for corners)…......$8[/item]
- [item icon="10003" ]2- 3.8 cu. Ft. bales of ProMix or Sunshine Mix #4………........$50[/item]
- [item icon="10003" ]1- Sheet of ¾” plywood for bottom cut into two 4’x4’ pieces...$16[/item]
- [item icon="10003" ]2-16 inch by 10 feet long pieces of panda cloth, (optional)[/item]
Minus the screw gun, were talkin’ less than $180 bucks including the dirt! A 4’ x8’ plastic hydroponics’ tray costs $200 alone, so these are quite economical as well as functional. The screw gun will make life easier for your next projects as will the staple gun.
Simply lay the wood on top of each other and stagger them as shown in this nice picture I took for you. Line-up the framing angles as shown here. Make sure they are even with the edge of the wood and centered, the ends should be clear.
Use at least 2 screws per bracket. After the brackets are all attached, set the sides up in an over-lapping pattern and begin screwing the box together.*
When you have all 4 sides screwed to each other, set the plywood on top. There will be a ½” gap all around your plywood because the outside diameter of the box will actually be over 49 inches due to the thickness of the wood; please take this into consideration if you need your box to be an exact size, this is the simplest way.
Square the plywood to the box and begin setting screws every 6 inches all along the perimeter of the plywood, making sure not to go inside the box but making sure to get each screw securely into the wood. I use a hammer to ‘tack’ the screws in place to make driving them in one-by-one much easier.
Now I turn the whole thing on its side and cover the outside with black/white fabric with the white side showing to give it a clean finished look and to keep wood splinters contained. I staple fabric to the bottom and the inside leaving an almost upholstered look. I’ll bet there are some upholsterers out there that could do a custom leopard-print tuck-and-roll job that would make mine look juvenile by comparison.
Once my outside is covered and I’ve cut and installed small scraps of plywood to act as feet,* I flip the box right-side up and check for any screws or splinters of wood poking up where they don’t belong.
Once my quality control department okays it, I fold the pond liner into thirds then center it in the middle of the box. I pull it up the inside and staple it to the outside, then repeat on the opposite side. Then I staple the other two sides.* The corners are tricky and I wish I were an upholsterer, but this isn’t going to Sack’s 5th Avenue or the Louvre Museum in France—although it would be nice to see it in the Smithsonian some day, ha ha. Back to the doobie—I mean, the story.
Another reason to make these boxes no more than 4 feet square is because they are darn heavy, even without dirt! I put mine on a hand cart and carefully wheel it into my apartment building on the 5th floor like I’m just movin’ furniture, cause that’s what it is, right? Cover it with a sheet or a tarp and treat it like a valuable piece of artwork and people couldn’t care less. They literally won’t even notice because people hate moving and so they don’t want to get stuck helping you; you are invisible in plain sight, I love it!
Now with your new grow bed in its home, simply fill it with 2 bales of your favorite potting mix and your favorite plants or clones. Nothing is quite as satisfying as planting 5 rows of 5 columns of little green soldiers in minutes compared with hours filling buckets, but that isn’t the best part. Your plants will be healthier than they have ever been because they all share the same resources, so having one wet plant and 14 dry plants and one over watered plant will never happen again. The roots grow straight and true in every direction giving each plant all the resources they need. I only use organic nutrients by Botanicare and I never need more than ¼ the recommended dosage. This eliminates over fertilization and also eliminates the necessity to leach. Have you ever heard of a farmer leaching his field with 3 times the volume of the soil with water; yeah, that is called a flood and they are frowned upon in farming (Can you say soil erosion?). I have grown dozens of crops this way and have had no adverse effects. The same soil can be reused indefinitely, just like real soil. Take care of it and it will take care of your plants for you. I’m actually feeding the soil and the microbes in the soil feed my plants just like outside in nature.
I use pure water for the last 4 weeks of budding; week 4 is the last dose of nutrients the girls get before harvest. Special batches will also get a small dose of Sweet* organic carbohydrates from Botanicare in the 4th or 5th week of budding. By harvest time the nutrients are pretty much used up, so in goes the tender new crop and they get their regular ¼ strength dosage of Pure Blend Pro Bloom food for the next 4 weeks, and then nothing but water for the last 4 weeks of their life. Just like a real farm, only I don’t have to plant a diversionary crop or let my field “rest” for a season like cotton farmers. That is because crops like corn and cotton ravage the soil of nutrients where hemp and marijuana are nurturing to the earth. Not to mention the petroleum-based chemicals and pesticides that these agricultural crops rely on for sustenance. Marijuana roots bind the soil and remove impurities as proven in Chernobyl, with hemp actually sucking the radiation from the ground and helping to clean up a catastrophe the world will never forget. Good stuff in, good stuff out. There is really no need for 50 million different additives and concoctions when all you need is good organic fertilizer in small doses and good clean water in healthy doses. Too much anything is a bad thing, remember moderation. I use Superthrive, Liquid Karma and Pure Blend Pro (Grow, Bloom formulas and Compost solution) and that is it, except that I pH everything down to 5.5 to 5.6. Why, you may ask, when all the experts say 6.2-6.3 for soil?
Here is my logic. Marijuana likes nutrients to be in the 5.5 to 6.5 pH zone. With rockwool, I use the recommended ph of 5.5 and my plants love it. As soon as the plants go into dirt, there would be adverse reactions like yellowing leaves and slower growth of both root and stem mass, so I purchased one of those cheap $10 dollar soil pH meters and quickly learned that all my soil was 7.5 to 8 pH across the board. Even a new unopened bag of Pro Mix reads 7 pH, so I decided to run everything at 5.5 to 6.0 and check it out. So, here I am telling you to water and fertilize your plants adjusted 5.5 to 6.0 pH and let them rip. The nutes start climbing in pH as soon as they hit the soil, so starting them at the low end of the spectrum will allow your plants to absorb more nutrients for a longer time before the pH inevitably climbs above 6.5 and starts to lockout these very nutrients and preventing the plants from receiving the nourishment that they need to bud for you. This is the simplest and most cost-effective approach to modern high-quality medicinal-grade marijuana. Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)!
As I mentioned earlier, pots need to be checked daily. Grow beds don’t need to be watered every day, 5 gallons of water is perfect for a single 4’x4’ bed. Plant your new crop right on top and water it in, the roots will start growing down and your plants will be well nourished. A good watering can last 4 to 7 days, freeing you valuable time to build more grow beds and cut more clones and plant more seeds for next year’s breeding program and experiments. Now you’ll have time to write cool stories or just enjoy life, plus your plants will be healthier, heavier and cleaner, too.
Now that you got the idea, just do own your thing and don’t be afraid to experiment. Indoor pot farming is still in its infancy and we have not even scratched the surface of pragmatic technology and breeding genetics. We are on the forefront of a revolution to empower ourselves to treat ourselves with our own medicine grown with our own two hands under our own roofs. Nothing is quite as fulfilling as getting your hands in the soil and sowing your own crop of naturally healthy plants—except harvest time! It won’t be long now, thanks for reading my first installment of the Jef Tek Evolution.