Setting Up Your First Indoor Grow – Low Budget
Indoor growing is an excellent option for those looking to continue their harvests through the winter months, and is especially useful for growing autoflowers as the amount of space required to grow a few plants is quite small. Indoor growing, however, does not come cheap, so we’ll be breaking this topic up into a few categories depending on your available budget. In this article, we’ll cover the best options for a low budget indoor setup for your autoflowers, finding a balance between affordability and quality.
Budget Grow Tents for Growing Autos
The first thing you’re going to want is a space to grow. This can be as simple as a cupboard, or as complex as a dedicated room in your house.
Closet grows are a common choice among budget growers, especially those living in smaller spaces where they may not have the space for a tent. Though there are some considerations you should take into account before starting your first closet grow of autos. First, you should ensure that there is still enough space to place a small oscillating fan, as you will need air movement among your plants. Next thing to consider is the temperatures, grow closets tend to get quite hot and if you don’t have a way to extract air from the closet, this can lead to heat issues as well as possible bud rot when humidity levels rise during flower. You should also ensure that the walls of the closet are as reflective as possible, white paint often works well, though some prefer to use mylar or first aid blankets which can be bought for cheap at places like Clicks. The biggest downside with closets is the lack of extraction ability, though for many budget growers, they will already not have the finances for an extraction fan, even if growing in a tent.
Grow tents are the best option in my opinion, they have highly reflective interiors, which will boost the amount of light your plants receive. They also have extraction vents where you can use venting to bring air into, or remove air from your tent. They will also have bars on the roof for the mounting of lights, all in all a grow tent should accommodate everything you need to cater to your grow. When looking for your first tent, your decisions on size should relate to how much space you have at home, and how many autoflowers you’re planning to run. For budget growers, it won’t make sense to go for a very large tent, not only because of the high price of the tent, but also the requirement in lighting to sufficiently cover the area.
An 80×80 tent offers enough room to grow 4 small to medium sized autos, or one large auto. A 100×100 tent would give you enough space to grow up to 6 small autos, or 2 large autos, while a 1.2×1.2 meter tent will allow you to grow about 6 medium, or 4 large autos in it. The pricing difference between these sizes is often not too great, so consider carefully when purchasing.
Grow rooms are entire rooms of one’s house that is dedicated to growing. This is generally done for larger grow operations, as the amount of lighting required to cover a 3×3 area is quite high and rather expensive. If you simply wish to place your plants in a room without any reflective walls around the plants and simply have the lights shining down on the plants, this can be done — though isn’t ideal. The cases in which this works best for budget growers is for those growing with LEDs that shine directly below, and have little light coverage, as there is then less wasted light.
Budget Grow Light Options
Onto what is arguably the most important part of your grow setup. Lighting is a vital aspect of growing and will be a large determining factor on whether you end up with light fluffy buds, or dense nugs. Unfortunately lighting doesn’t come cheap, especially if you’re looking to grow some dense bud. We’ll break this section up into pricing ranges, as there are many options to consider. If you’re going to spend a lot of money somewhere, this is the place to do it. Make sure to check review consensus for all brands you purchase.
R1000 to R2000 Budget
While you may be able to pick up some lights for under R1000, I wouldn’t personally recommend starting to grow with anything under a grand, and even in this price range you’re probably going to upgrade your lights within a year of growing. However, if you’re looking to test the water, this price range can still get you some lights able to bring you in some bud. In this price range, you can probably grow two autoflowers.
LEDs can be found for cheap, these ‘blurple’ LEDs for this price are typically Chinese lights and can be acquired on Amazon for good prices, or purchased locally. While I support the notion of supporting local business, the fact is that it is often difficult to throw away a better lighting option solely to support local companies. Be careful when buying LEDs as these affordable grow lights often advertise being 1000W when they only draw 150W from the wall. Ignore the wattage when they advertise them as 300W, 600W, 1000W etc. Instead, look up what the power consumption of the light is, as the wattage from the wall is what is really going to impact your grow. Anything around 150W or more will be able to flower one or two autos decently, with 200W+ often being able to cover enough for 2 moderate sized autos. LEDs will usually be dual or full spectrum, meaning they can be used for both veg and flower, make sure you get one of either, though full spectrum will offer you light into the UV and IR range too, which can be beneficial to trichome production. The efficiency of LEDs is moderate.
CFLs are another option for the beginner auto grower. They have very little penetration power, so they are best used with an even canopy, which can be achieved with training your autoflower. CFL bulbs are quite affordable and one can pick up 150W bulbs for around R500. CFLs exist in dual spectrum, though it is more common to use a blue and a red spectrum, swapping them out depending on the plant’s life stage. Flowering plants will use a red spectrum (warm) while vegging plants will require cooler blue spectrum bulbs. I haven’t had great results with CFL aside from vegging, but there are definitely those out there who have. Note that you will also ideally have to acquire a reflector for these lights. When growing with CFL, it is recommended to have some smaller, less vibrant lights around the plant as supplemental lighting, due to the aforementioned issues with penetration. The efficiency of CFLs is fairly low.
R2000 – R4000 Budget
LEDs remain an option for this budget as well, and the bigger budget can get you some stronger LEDs for your autos. Though I am hesitant to recommend LEDs as an option when one’s budget exceeds R3000, as there are some better options out there for that price range. However, if heat is an issue for you, such as in a small closet grow, LEDs could be an option… Or read below on COBs
COB (chip on board) is a type of LED that has been gaining tons of traction in recent years. They have an excellent light spectrum, as well as providing the some of the best efficiency out there. Don’t be fooled by purple coloured COBs though, as the output of these cheaper COB lights do not match up with what you’re looking for, and in many cases an LED could get you better results at the same price, with that said, if you’re on a very tight budget and you find a COB with purple output and a good draw from the wall, it may be able to edge out a blurple LED for that price. What you should look for are warm white COBs that run at between 3000K and 4200K. This spectrum will suffice for both veg and flower, and you can have some great returns, with dense buds. That said, you ideally want at least 1 COB per plant and if you’re lucky you may be able to bring in 2 legitimate COBs for this budget, perhaps a touch more with customs. Autocobs are hugely popular overseas with autoflower growers, but again you’re going to be looking at R2200+- a light. An 80×80 tent could run one COB with some success though 2 would be preferable, while a 1x1m tent will require a minimum of 2 to 3 COBs. When growing in larger tents, the cost begins to rack up a bit with 6 COBs generally being used for 1.2×1.2m tents. If you decide to go the COB route, make sure that your COB chips are a trusted brand (Vero, Cree or Citizen for example) and that they run on good drivers, the most popular being Meanwell, or sometimes the Samsung drivers. COB grow lights are great for autos and also run cool, ideal for smaller spaces.
CMH/LEC (Ceramic Metal Halide) is a grow light option which brings with it some of the best efficiency and spectrum outside of COBs. They are extremely close to natural sunlight in their output and run a touch cooler than the metal halide or high pressure sodium options. A CMH, also known as LEC light tends to come in 315W and 630W. For this price point it is possible to bring in some 315W CMH for under R4000, including ballast, reflector and bulb. These lights are absolutely great, and a technology that never really took off in South Africa. They run warmer than LED, CFL and COB so they aren’t good in small areas like a cupboard grow where temperatures can already be problematic. However, a single 315W should be able to flower a 1x1m tent. Bulbs for LEC are not cheap, and replacing your bulbs will be a bit costly, so that is something to take into consideration too.
If your budget is higher than R4000 for lighting, this guide probably isn’t for you. And you can find more information on what your options are in our upcoming article on setting up your first indoor auto grow with a moderate budget.
Nutrients & Watering
Now that we’ve got the two real big expenses out of the way, we can look at some of the more affordable (although relative) aspects of growing autos. Nutrients are a vital part of your indoor grow, and while some outdoor growers may get away without feeding their plants, indoor growers will need a variety of nutrients. For newer growers, your arsenal should at a minimum include: A nitrogen heavy feed for vegging, a phosphorous and potassium heavy feed for flowering and then some micros. If you choose to grow with salt based nutrients, you can use the General Hydroponics Flora series, while if you decide to grow organic, the BioBizz brand is well trusted. Autoflowers aren’t that heavy on nutrient requirements, so your nutes should last you a long time.
You will need to ensure you have a pH meter for your water and feed. Reliable digital meters are expensive, so for a cheaper option I’d recommend using one of the liquid based testing kits which sell for under R100. You will also need a way to increase and decrease your pH levels, there are solutions for this, as shown above, or for organic grows you can use lemon juice or baking soda.
Pots, Ties, Soil etc
When growing autoflowering cannabis strains indoors, you don’t need a large pot and a 10l pot will do just perfect. A reliable and yet still affordable option is the Freedom Pot from Freedom Farms, though any container with good drainage and about 10l – 13l capacity will do fine.
Soil is another fairly costly aspect, especially good soil. Freedom Farms classic is a favourite of mine, especially for new growers. Thankfully with your 10l pot size, a single R150 bag can give you 3 pots of soil, which will last you from seed til harvest, with some growers also reusing their soil for future grows.
You can buy ties from gardening stores for fairly cheap, or even use pipe cleaners and clothes pegs, in order to assist you in training your plant during growth.
You can grow your first auto for as little as a couple thousand, though the more you invest the better your yields and final products are going to be. It is always possible to add additional elements to your setup as time passes. I started out in a cupboard with nothing but a cheap LED light and some soil.