Should you grow marijuana indoors or outside? 

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Shortly after the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act was passed in 2008 — that seems like such a long time ago as we approach 2020 — I heard a grower boast that his indoor grow could produce better stuff than any outdoor garden. At the moment, my thought was that you can't beat Mother Nature. However, since then I've been convinced that modern growing practices and technology indoors can indeed produce more potent THC flowers than growing outdoors under the sun.

That's kind of strange because as a gardener I can grow tomatoes and cucumbers in my yard that are way better than what's available at most supermarkets. My parsley and basil are pretty good, too. And I'll say that I'm not ashamed of the lone cannabis plant I had out there next to the beets and carrots — a branch of the OG Kush family that has so far yielded favorable early returns.

It's not bad, although not to master blaster levels. It grew on cow manure and my own compost — which pretty much everything else back there is growing on. I'm not a super gardener who knows all the specific nutrients for this and that. Mostly I've depended on good soil, compost, sunshine, and water. That's what I depend on for the cannabis too. I'm not among those guys across the room who are talking the scientific stuff about molecules, light cycles, and other scientific stuff.

I'm glad that those folks do what they do. It's good work, and I can go pick up the supercharged stuff at a provisioning center when I want some. And it's not like the stuff from the yard is bad. Now that the stuff is legal and I have privacy fences, it seems OK to have cannabis in the garden among all the other plants. That way I can check on it along with all the other plants. Just as I note the development of asparagus and broccoli, I look for signs of buds forming and how they mature.

And there's that sense of accomplishment that comes with having grown your own stuff. Just as anyone who's grown their first tomato is filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment, the joy of growing cannabis can be its own reward — although there is indeed another reward looming.

I first began gardening in the early 1990s, joining my wife, who had been doing it for years. Cannabis was a part of it from the start. We lived in the Brightmoor neighborhood, and none of the neighbors seemed to care. Having big gardens over there has become a thing. I grew in five-gallon buckets in the yard. I had a bud room built inside my garage and would transfer the buckets inside when the plants got big enough. Having that room in the garage extended my grow season by a couple of months.

I stopped growing cannabis later after my daughter was born because I realized she could be taken away if I was busted. That and a short attempt at a basement grow room was more work and expense than I cared to give. But now things have changed, and I like having a plant to bring some variety in my cannabis access.

It's just one plant, some five or six ounces of dried flower. I can use it to make some butter and not feel like it's costing me too much, maybe infuse some oils or gift a little to friends. I've grown more back there. One year I put one in early, and it grew higher than the edge of my garage roof. Now I plant a little late in the season so the plants don't get too big and noticeable.

One learns a few things about how to manage a garden over time. For instance, bugs are very, very bad for indoor gardens. Outdoors, not so much. The bad bugs are out there but there are other bugs on the loose outdoors that control them. Indoors, you're mostly involved with chemicals of one sort or another to fight problems. One can fight spider mites inside with ladybugs, but then you have ladybugs in your house.

Here are a few more key differences:

Outdoors you have lots of room, but also the possibility of other people observing what you're doing. (One year in Brightmoor I had several plants stolen. That hasn't happened lately, though.) If you're doing any kind of commercial grow, that's a problem. Gardening indoors affords more privacy, but the ongoing costs for equipment and electricity make it a more costly endeavor.

Outdoors, the plants get bigger. If you're purely going for volume, a well-tended outdoor plant could bring in a pound of flowers. Indoors can't produce plants that big because most home growers don't have rooms with high ceilings to allow for high growth. Those plants lose on volume, but the level of environmental control possible inside can produce some fantastic results in terms of cannabinoids and flavors. That said, a good outdoor grower in the right place can produce pretty good stuff. The northern California Emerald Triangle weed that fueled legalization in the 1990s was grown outdoors. The Hawaiian buds that were top of the line for so many years were grown outdoors.

One issue with growing outdoors is possibly getting your plants pollinated by nearby male plants. Even if you only plant female plants, all it takes if one male plant in the general area to cause your flowers to be full of seeds. Now that might turn out to be a happy accident and the creation of a new strain. But it also lowers the potency of this year's crop.

Probably the biggest difference between indoor and outdoor growing is that indoors gives continuous crops. Right now the outdoor growers are bringing in their crop, and there won't be another until next fall. Indoor growers harvest and get right into their next crop. They can bring in three to four harvests in a year. If you're growing commercially, you have to bring in a steady supply to keep your business going.

There is one method to get some of the advantages of both — the greenhouse. You get both environmental control as well as the advantage of natural sunlight.

There will no doubt be more innovation coming. People have been growing marijuana outdoors for thousands of years. We've only been growing indoors as a result of marijuana prohibition for several decades. It seems that more new stuff will come in the world of indoor growing.

In the meantime, growing outdoors is not going to disappear — if only because folks like me can take it easy and grow a little something in the yard. It keeps me in the game, and not totally beholden to them folks with the megabucks. Plus, it's great to sit on the back porch and watch your garden grow.

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