You don’t have to be a commercial cultivator to impact the environment. Whatever scale you’re growing at, the practices you adopt will inevitably have wider consequences for local ecosystems and the planet as a whole. Fortunately, however, there are ways to mitigate these negative effects, and a few small tweaks to your setup can set you on the path to more sustainable cannabis.
Is Outdoor Cannabis More Sustainable?
Obviously, marijuana that is left to grow under natural conditions will generally be more sustainable than plants cultivated in a controlled indoor environment. Yet it’s not always as simple as that. The methods used by the grower can massively affect the sustainability of both indoor and outdoor weed.
For example, while growing outside may do away with the need for artificial lighting and ventilation, the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides can cause major harm to the local environment if run-off is not dealt with properly. Outdoor cannabis cultivation, therefore, requires some forethought if it is to be sustainable.
To grow inside or out will depend largely on your location, as the local climate will determine how many months of the year – if any – you can cultivate cannabis in the open air. Making the switch to outdoor growing may therefore mean only producing bud when it is in season, which is, after all, the only truly sustainable way to grow cannabis or any other plant. Luckily, weed that is properly dried, cured and stored can easily last for a whole year, so by planning your outdoor harvest properly, you shouldn’t have to worry about your stash running dry.
If growing outdoors simply isn’t an option, though, using a greenhouse can be a pretty good compromise. Doing so enables growers to use sunlight rather than relying on artificial lighting, yet also allows for manipulation of the growing environment when needed. For instance, if the days are short, then electric grow lights can be switched on for a few hours after the sun goes down.
For those who simply must grow their weed indoors, however, investing in energy-efficient equipment such as LED lights can go a long way towards reducing emissions. Most electrical equipment comes with information about energy consumption on the label, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to this data if you want to grow more sustainable cannabis.
As previously mentioned, chemical fertilisers and pesticides are bad news for the environment. Yet, the good news is that it’s perfectly possible to keep your plants well-fed and protected using only organic methods. Natural fertilisers like guano or compost teas – which can easily be made from ingredients like kelp, molasses and garden waste – are excellent alternatives to artificial plant feeds and do a great job of supplying plants with the right NPK values.
Meanwhile, natural insect repellents can easily be made at home using ingredients like garlic, clove oil, and cinnamon oil and can be sprayed onto plants to keep pests at bay. Another sustainable method of cannabis pest control involves using natural predators like nematodes and carnivorous insects, which act as an army of bodyguards that protect plants from leaf-munching bugs.
Finally, companion planting with other beneficial species is a highly effective and sustainable means of assisting the growth of cannabis plants. For instance, Basil, rosemary and chilli plants do a great job of repelling insects, while nitrogen-fixing plants like beans and clover can help add vital nutrients to the soil.
Choose A Sustainable Growing Medium For Your Cannabis Plants
Not all cannabis growing mediums are sustainable. Rockwool, for example, is often used in hydroponic systems yet is the result of an industrial process and takes many years to decompose. Peat moss, meanwhile, is regularly added to soils and other mediums but is the source of significant environmental destruction. It is thought that peat bogs store up to a third of the world’s soil-based carbon, and the harvesting of peat, therefore, releases massive quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Luckily, creating one’s own fully organic and highly nutritious soil is actually pretty easy and requires nothing more than a little compost, manure, ash and guano. For those who prefer not to bother with soil at all, though, coco coir is the most sustainable cannabis growing medium on the market, being a completely natural material generated as a by-product of coconut farming.
As drought becomes increasingly common across large parts of the globe, responsible water usage should now be a major priority for all cultivators. Cannabis plants need to drink a fair amount, so it’s worthwhile putting some thought into how to keep their thirst quenched.
Mulching your topsoil with straw, hay or leaves prevents water from evaporating and therefore keeps plants’ roots moist for longer. This means you won’t have to water as frequently, which is important if you want to grow truly sustainable cannabis. Catching rainwater and using this to feed your plants is another excellent idea and can help to minimise the strain on local water sources.
Waste management represents a major pillar of sustainable cannabis production. Ideally, we’d all re-use or recycle everything, eliminating the need to send any garbage to landfill sites. While this may not be possible in most walks of life, it’s undoubtedly achievable when it comes to growing weed.
It’s possible to use just about every part of the cannabis plants, with the leaves make great additions to salads, smoothies, and juices, while stems can be harvested to make tinctures. And if all that sounds like too much hassle and you’d rather just dispose of your unsmokable plant material, then make sure to chuck it into your compost rather than throwing it in the bin. That way, you’ll get to recycle all the nutrients in your dead plants without sending anything to the tip.
As the climate changes and pest populations fluctuate, it’s highly probable that new genetic adaptations will soon become necessary for cannabis to thrive. Unless the plant can develop the ability to resist new biotic and abiotic stresses, cannabis growers will be forced to abandon sustainable practices in favour of more indoor growing and chemical treatments.
By saving seeds, however, the global community of weed growers can work together to safeguard a wide variety of phenotypes, some of which may not seem particularly attractive now but may one day help the cannabis species survive in the face of new environmental conditions threats. Therefore, collecting seeds is all about the long game and is likely to significantly enhance the sustainability of cannabis cultivation well into the future.