Indoor, Light Dep, or Sungrown?

The question is often asked, Which is better? Each school of growing has its proponents and its justification in theory. My predilection, obviously, is for organic sungrown, but lately I have been rethinking this issue in order to give each its due. Would you rather have a sungrown or an indoor factory grown tomato? Sungrown, organic, of course. But if the indoor tomato was the only one available, you’d probably slice it up without thinking too much about it.

Some say that the whole indoor grow scene came about because so many busts were happening in the Emerald Triangle in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Growers went indoors because they had to: in closets, in spare bedrooms, in college dorms. Of course, the business-minded soon expanded into warehouses and entire homes. Out of necessity, indoor growers clandestinely experimented with nutrients, hydroponics, genetics, lighting, ventilation etc., to discover what really makes cannabis grow the very best, and great progress was made. Most importantly, the supply of high grade cannabis never stopped and the quality went way up.

Previously, everyone grew outdoors under the manzanita bushes in small holes dug and filled with commercial potting soil. Before that, in the earliest days, soil was made with forest duff, compost and what not. Human urine was saved in gallon jugs to use as fertilizer in the summer, as it is very high in nitrogen. This was mostly so growers would not be spotted buying such ingredients at the local garden store, which was certainly under surveillance. Those were the “good ol’ days”.

With the rise of indoor growing, some outdoor framers learned from the indoor growers. Others experimented and learned on their own, sharing insights and experiences in a kind of pre-internet crowd-sourcing through the grapevine. They developed unique mountain seed strains and began to use organic methods for their crops. Cannabis users began to become more discriminating and knowledgeable as well. Terpenes and trichomes became the subject of conversation, along with THC and CBD. Bling became very important. Around the turn of the millennium, with medical cannabis quasi-legal, many new farmers moved north to the hills to grow in full sun, using the horticultural expertise developed indoors.

I believe sungrown cannabis has surpassed indoor in the fullness of quality, but at the same time I agree with Rick Pfroemmer, that indoor and sungrown are such different and distinct plants that it is difficult to really compare them. Organic, sungrown from seed, spring watered, hand trimmed cannabis, maturing over 8 months, is fundamentally different from that grown in a warehouse under brilliant lights from clones, using city water, synthetic fertilizer and machine trimmed.

There is an important place for a quality controlled indoor grow cannabis to produce a highly consistent product for specific medicinal purpose in an antiseptic environment. Nonetheless, factory grown cannabis needs to drastically reduce its carbon footprint by using solar panels or other alternative energy sources. It also needs to focus on using organic methods and natural amendments, just as outdoor growers need to meet environmental, water source and water discharge requirements. In the event of state inspirational (recreational) legalization, perhaps there will be little need for indoor grows, as greenhouse and sungrows proliferate and supply the whole market.

Indoor grow, OPP Handout Photos
Indoor grow, OPP Handout Photos

Now I know many of you will shout out that indoor is way better than outdoor. Who am I to disagree with someone else’s favorite smoke? You’re right. And I have to say that I haven’t really smoked all that much indoor to know its finer points. As an Emerald Triangle farmer, I pretty much only smoke my own sungrown. As an Emerald Cup Judge from the very beginning, I have had the honor and privilege of smoking much of California’s finest organic sungrown cannabis for the last 12 years. The quality just gets better. What I mean is that organically grown outdoor plants are charged up by the sun for eight months, as well as being irradiated by the moon and stars, so they are energized and imbued with the maximum power and healing potential that nature and plant husbandry can produce.

Light Dep is also a different creature, which many claim is superior to both indoor and sun grown. By causing it to mature earlier in the year by depriving it of daylight, the plants receives more ultra-violet light on its buds flowering in full summer sun, which supposedly increases potency. Again, not having smoked much light dep, I cannot comment on the validity of these claims. One thing seems clear from the test results at the Golden Tarp Awards this year, when nearly half of the entries were disqualified due to powdery mildew and other pathogens: these growers will have to refine their techniques.

Perhaps a blind test is in order. One could take samples of two or three stabilized seed strains and grow them out doing every thing to optimize that method of growing organically, then test at the end both in the lab and with a judges panel. If the judges would agree on the best of each strain and if they were all grown by one method, one might be able to say that method is better than another. But most likely it would show that some genetics do better indoor and some do better in the sun and some in light dep.

So smoke what you like and don’t take my word for it. Just be aware of what you are smoking, how it was grown and the vibe that was put on it by the farmer.

Are you 21 or older?