When it comes to growing organically indoors, there has always been the question of how organic an indoor grow actually is. Due to the numerous options available for different growing styles and grow mediums, indoor growers have a wide variety of opinions on this matter. While I admire the purity of full- sun, organic outdoor growing, there will always be a place for indoor gardens. The question is, how can we translate outdoor growing methods indoors? The answer is completely up to you, the indoor grower (except for the sun part…there’s only one of those). Finding a happy middle ground between the two is often the key to maximizing results.
First, we should start with a key definition. What makes a grow “organic”? For me and, I believe, most ethical growers, it means using only products that can be derived from nature without the need for a chemically processed extraction. If you can make it without lab equipment, then it’s probably organic. Of course, there is far more to it than that. Heavy metals and GMO inputs play a role as well. Most importantly, if it doesn’t say “organic” right on the label in plain sight, or if it isn’t CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture) certified as an organic input material (OIM), it probably isn’t. You can always double-check by visiting the CDFA fertilizer database at: https://apps1.cdfa.ca.gov/fertilizerproducts/
They currently uphold some of the strictest organic guidelines in the nation for registering a product as an OIM. They are much stricter than OMRI and other such third-party organizations. But more importantly, how and when should these organics be used indoors? Again, the answer is completely up to you. Here is some helpful information I’ve found about the various growing styles:
FULLY ORGANIC INDOOR
This tends to be container gardening, usually in five to 45-gallon containers. (Yes, I said 45 gallons. Some people like big plants indoors in Oregon.) They are often fabric containers, with organic soil and organic nutrients. When good organic soil is nurtured with good compost teas and inoculation, and a truly thriving rhizosphere is created, this style is remarkably effective and, in my opinion, produces the best overall quality cannabis. Good organic growers can regularly beat two pounds of flower per 1,000 watts of light indoors, while maintaining a fully certified organic regiment. If dried and harvested correctly, their flowers will usually be tastier and have a more varied and accentuated terpene profile. But it takes work. Extra work. Batches of organic nutrients and teas must be brewed for 12-24 hours for maximum effectiveness and only remain at peak effectiveness for 48-72 hours before they begin to degrade and must be disposed of. In addition to this, organic dries must be hand applied.
ORGANIC SUPER SOIL
This is another popular method, but it has several drawbacks and is difficult on a large scale. Super soil involves mixing up soil with heavy amounts of (hopefully) organic amendments and letting it age or “cook” for 60-90 days. This results in a soil that you can just add water to, for the entire life of the plant. Sadly, many growers are hasty, lazy, or both and don’t give their super soil enough amendments. They also don’t wait long enough for the soil to cook and end up planting into an inferior and often hot mix. One main drawback of using super soil is the loss of control in the timing of your feeds during certain weeks of flowering. Most growers learn from experience that nutrient needs can vary greatly by week and, more significantly, by strain. Not all plants feed equally through the entire growth and flowering cycle. Another drawback is the inability to flush the soil properly toward the end of the plant’s life cycle. There could still be too much food in your soil at the very end of flowering. This is especially problematic if you’re trying to grow quick flowering strains.
FULLY MINERAL INDOOR GROW
There are many different styles of this, but they all involve fully mineral salt-based nutrients, usually liquid nutrients delivered via automated dripper systems in an inert media, often in smaller (1-5 gallon) containers. For these grows, 60/40 coco/perlite mixes, peat/perlite professional baled mixes, and pure coco fiber tend to be the most common indoor growing medias, but there are some folks still kicking it old school in clay pellets or rockwool cubes. These systems are important for many commercial growers, as fully mineral indoor grows are simple to automate and are able to run on the cheapest possible inputs. This style can produce fast growth, consistently good yields, and solid bag appeal for a relatively low cost per gram. Unfortunately, flowers from these grows often fall short in quality, specifically in regards to the crucial transition from smell to taste. The harvesting and curing process plays a huge role, but oftentimes, herb from fully mineral indoor grows looks great, smells great, tests great, but it tastes and smokes like…meh. In a world where, more and more, it seems like everybody has quantity, quality is an increasingly marketable trait.
This brings us to, in my opinion, the “goldilocks option.”
MIDDLE-GROUND INDOOR GROW
Again, there are many styles of middle-ground indoor grows. They all involve using some organics and some mineral inputs to provide plants with a “best of both worlds” experience, with regards to plant inputs. The growing media choice for these grows is usually a 60/40 coco/perlite mix, pure coco, or a good coco-based soil with plenty of perlite. The liquid nutrients are usually an organic and mineral hybrid and are usually delivered via fully automated feeding systems. Products like Tiger Bloom from Fox Farm, Pure Blend Pro from Botanicare, and the Soul line from Aurora Innovations are well-known and popular examples of this type of nutrient. The advantage of using an organic and mineral hybrid in a middle-ground grow like this is that you can make significant gains in terms of quality without adding too much extra work for yourself. Yields and timelines are typically about the same as the fully mineral grows, but the finished product ends up being of a noticeably higher quality, particularly in regards to terpene profile.
So, whichever grow medium you choose, let this be a guide to help you choose the best strategy for your indoor garden.